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
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
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.
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