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Friday, 18 September 2015

Peter Dion Titheradge BBC Radio Producer of “I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again”

Recently John Tidridge wrote to me and said “I am reading John Cleese's book “So, Anyway...”. quite revealing... funny... on pages 159 and 274 I  noted a mention [very complimentary] of Peter Titheradge... a BBC producer... Ann, tell us more!...” So here is my response.

Peter Titheradge is the four times great grandchild of Daniel Titheradge and Rebecca Baker who started the Titheradge line. He is the grandson of the great Victorian actor George Sutton Titheradge, son of the playwright, songwriter and actor Dion Titheradge and nephew of the famous actress Madge Titheradge. His surname is sometimes misspelt and erroneously appears as Titheridge. Professionally he used the name Peter Dion Titheradge and then after about 1968 it was shortened to Peter Titheradge.

Peter’s parents were Margaret Anne Bolton, from Northumberland, England and Australian Dion George Titheradge. They married on 16 October 1909 in Woolahra, New South Wales, Australia.  Their son, Peter Dion Titheradge, was born in Fulham, London on 18 September 1910 and daughter Margaret Diana Titheradge (known as Meg) was born in Brentford, Middlesex on 12 November 1918. Peter’s father Dion was an actor who made his stage debut in 1908 and then appeared in theatrical productions on both side of the Atlantic.  He was also a producer and writer of songs and playwright.  On the 1911 census the family was at 5 Fulham Park Road, visitors to the home of Mark Dickson Bell a professional footballer.  During Peter’s early life Dion was often away from home performing on the New York stage. Peter and his mother made several trips to America to join Dion and passenger lists show them travelling to Boston in 1913 and New York in 1915. In 1927 Margaret divorced Dion on grounds of adultery with a young actress in 1926 in Weybridge. After the divorce Dion married this actress, Madge Stuart, at St George Hanover Square in 1928. Peter’s father Dion died in 1934 and his mother in 1950.
 
Peter lived in London and electoral registers and telephone directories show us the following residences.
In 1934 Peter was living at 39 Boundary Road Marylebone with his mother.
In 1947 he was living at 7a High Street Marylebone with his mother, sister Meg and sister’s husband Keith West-Watson.
In 1950 he was living at 381 Wimbledon Park Road London
In 1959 he was living at 76 Dorset House, Gloucester Place off Marylebone Road and he continued to live there until his death in 1989.


Peter and Meg followed their grandfather, father and aunt into the theatrical world.  Meg appeared on stage in various small roles on the London stage between 1937 and 1943. Copies of the Radio Times show she also was involved in numerous radio shows and in some of her first shows her brother was also involved in the production and writing side of the programmes.

Peter’s early career saw him following his father’s footstep as a writer.  He wrote songs, some of which he wrote with good friend Ronnie Hill. Throughout his early career there are several references to Peter and Ronnie writing songs and revues together and also of working together on BBC programs. Peter also wrote revues and was noted as “a distinguished writer of West End revue material”. Peter was also a poet and one of his poems “New Improved Sonnet Eighteen” is a parody of Shakespeare’s Sonnet XVlll and is sufficiently famous for it to be studied in some English exams.   He told a fellow writer that he gave up writing because he was no longer angry any more at anything.

Military Records show that Peter was a 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Artillery in 1942. For the first part of the war he was not in the army and was working at the BBC.  There is reference to “his adventurous exploits with the British Army in India” but I cannot find the documentation to further expand on this.  The Imperial War Museum has four pictures in its catalogue (which I have not yet seen) which are group pictures which include Peter Titheridge working for All India Radio/Forces Broadcasting Service. They are taken in 1944 in the Matapan Lines district of Delhi.

Peter’s career took him to broadcasting and he worked for the BBC.  In 1939 he is first listed in the Radio Times involved in the production side of broadcasting doing continuity, producing and writing.  During 1940 and 1941 his name frequently appears in the programme credits.  People have referred to his various roles at the BBC  as “script editor for the light entertainment department”, “organiser for the light entertainment department”, “writer”, “producer”, “talent scout”. An uncollaborated report from a friend of Peter’s family, suggested that he acted as censor to the famous radio show “The Goon Show”. He was co-producer of the iconic radio show “I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again”.  He also produced the radio version of "Dr Finlay’s Casebook" which was an adaption of the TV show and ran on radio 1970- 1978.

In early 1960s Peter Titheradge was sent out by the BBC on a mission to find new talent for radio. He went to universities looking at people who did comedy writing, directing and performing. One such talent spotting visit in 1963 took him and Ted Taylor to Cambridge where he watched the Cambridge University Footlights production “A Clump of Plinths”.  The actors included Humphrey Barclay, Bill Oddie and John Cleese.  John Cleese was about to graduate and go to into a career in law in the city when Peter offered him a job at the BBC writing comedy for radio.  Peter also offered Bill Oddie and Humphrey Barclay jobs at the BBC as producers and writers. So it is thanks to Peter that the actor John Cleese came into the acting world and later went on to form “Monty Pythons Flying Circus” and “Fawlty Towers”. It is thanks to Peter that Bill Oddie, Graham Garden and Tim Brooke Taylor went into comedy and later went on to form “The Goodies”. The Cambridge Footlights show “A Clump of Plinths” went on the West End renamed as “Cambridge Circus”.  After the West End run the show toured in New Zealand under the name “The Peter Titheridge Show”.  From this evolved the radio programme “I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again” often abbreviated to ISIRTA.  It starred John Cleese, Grahame Garden, Bill Oddie, Tim Brooke-Taylor, Jo Kendall and David Hatch. Peter’s claim to fame is that he co-produced ISIRTA with David Hatch. A pilot was broadcast on 30 December 1963 under name Cambridge Circus.  Nine series were then broadcast between April 1964 and December 1973 with a 25th anniversary show in 1989.  The program was a sketch show and featured puns, funny voices, bizarre situations, comic songs and sketches.  This BBC Radio Programme became an iconic radio show and I recall listening to it on the radio (or wireless as it was often called in those days!).

Peter gets a mention in several books written by actors / broadcasters of the times; always the reference is positive and complimentary.  Comments include
“Peter is pleasantly eccentric”
“Everybody’s friend”
“A dear friend and mentor”
“He used to sit in the box smoking furiously. He was unmarried, a certain type of man, very artistic, vey theatrical in his tastes, a delightfully charming man.”


In 1971 Peter suffered from cancer but he recovered and lived until he was 79.  He died on 21 March 1989 in Westminster London at St Mary’s Hospital.   The funeral was held at Golder’s Green Crematorium on 31st March 1989.

A quote from the book “I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue” by Jem Rober says that at Peter’s funeral Humphrey Barclay (a well-known television producer) paid tribute to Peter the poet, wit, adventurer and producer. Humphrey said “If someone were to ask what the following have in common Managing Director of the BBC Network Radio; the author of a Thames TV comedy success and this year’s Academy Best Film Actor anyone outside this circle of friends would have difficulty.   But for any of us, there is an instant answer. Peter. Peter the talent spotter, Peter the mentor, Peter the champion, Peter the wise, Peter the friend to whom David Hatch, Simon Brett, John Cleese among so many of us, acknowledge our unpayable debt.”

Peter is remembered by an award given to new comedy writers “The Peter Titheradge Comedy Award”. Peter’s legacy is to British Comedy. If Peter had not gone to Cambridge talent hunting, or had not been impressed with the Cambridge Footlights and if he had not offered them jobs then British comedy would have been poorer and names like “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” would not be part of our history and one ot the most successful radio shows ISIRTA would not have happened

If you can tell us more information or provide a picture of Peter please get in touch by email (titheradgegenealogy@gmail.com) or by adding a comment.

1 comment:

Martin Sims said...

I have just published a biography of Campbell West-Watson, father of Keith West-Watson mentioned in your article. I am Keith's nephew and remember Peter T. well, as well as his sister, who was my Aunt Meg. I have some extracts of letters which Peter wrote to my mother and some poems which are extremely funny.

I visited Peter a couple of times at Dorset House and we always knew him as a most loveable and somewhat eccentric uncle. I remember that he waved us off from the station in London when our family moved to Australia in 1961.

He subsequently visited us on one or two occasions in Australia.

Both Peter and my mother (Keith W-W's sister) shared a love of cryptic crosswords.

I would love to have some further contact with people who knew Peter as I am contemplating gathering together information about him to write a brief biography.

Please contact me.

Martin Sims
e-mail: martin@culturenet.com.au
Phone +61 412 544 654