arts news from kwazulu-natal
miscellaneous news

DEATH OF JOHN SIMPSON (article first published : 2008-04-2)
Veteran broadcaster and radio actor John Simpson died in Durban this morning at the age of 84, after suffering a severe stroke yesterday morning.

Born in 1924 in the North of England near Manchester, he served in the Royal Air Force as a bomber pilot. After the war he came out to South Africa with his wife Beulah and they settled in Durban.

He ran a small but well-organised business called Simpson & Lawrence, selling answering machines and public address systems. Many long-established businesses in Durban today could still be using equipment that he installed.

He started working for radio at least 55 years ago when the SABC studios were still situated in Aliwal Street, reading the news and presenting programmes. As he was an excellent actor and had strong versatility skills, he was much in demand for radio plays, serials such as the long-running From Crystal, With Love and series in which he played hundreds of different roles over the years.

In the heyday of Springbok Radio, Durban was always acknowledged as the home of radio comedy with programmes produced by Tom Meehan Productions and his son Barry of Sound Ideas. John was much in demand for many Springbok Radio comedies but he will always be remembered best for his part as Roland Lennox-Brown (No.1), appearing with Roger Service as the bungling duo from the General Assistance Department in the long-running series, “The Men from the Ministry”.

“It was my privilege to work alongside John Simpson on radio from the late 60's onwards, in the Men From The Ministry and The Navy Lark, to mention just two of the many productions in which John took leading roles,” says Barry Meehan. “He was one of radio's true gentlemen, in that I never once saw him "lose it" in what was sometimes a pretty stressful entertainment medium. His sharp wit and wonderful turn of phrase were his tools of the trade, along with the deep, rich voice so well known to millions of listeners. He was also wonderfully adept at various accents and used to love playing characters, his favourite probably being "Scrotum, the wrinkled retainer" in any number of plays, serials and the like.

“I believe that the secret to his longevity was his cast-iron stomach, as he used to love devouring a packet of chillies from Snappy Snacks before a recording. He used to knock back a whole packet, shake himself, wipe his eyes, and be ready to record. I tried half a chilli one day, and could barely talk for hours afterwards! John will be sorely missed, and as he joins so many others in that great recording studio in the sky, his immortal Navy Lark phrase rings true in a way that his passing has affected so many of us .... "Everybody down!"”

John Simpson also presented a very popular gardening programme for many years titled In Your Garden and his last radio series was titled The Inner Ear.

A highly articulate man who imposed high standards on himself, his professional attitude towards his work remains a shining example to the new generation of radio actors in Durban.

From years of scribbling on scripts in radio studios to while away the time between appearances, he had built up strong drawing skills and while on holiday in the UK several years back, he was inspired by a television programme to take up watercolour painting. Experimenting with the Japanese style of painting, he created a series of charming greeting cards and for a couple of years was invited to work on his cards as artist in resident at the Bonisa Private Gallery in Kloof.

John Simpson is survived by his three children, three grandchildren and one great grandchild.