Sad, sad news tonight. David Jacobs has passed away and (like many others, I imagine) I don’t know what I’m going to do without him. He was the consumate broadcaster, a superb communicator, with that often talked about but difficult to achieve knack of making the listener feel that he was talking directly to them. Like Peel, like Skues, like Everett, listening to his shows felt like being part of one of the world’s biggest secrets. Even though you knew there were millions of others listening you still felt it was you he was really focussing on. That’s a unique and cherishable skill.
He survived having the pages of the news bulletin he was reading live on air being set on fire by a friendly colleague. He presented Pick of the Pops, Housewive’s Choice. He hosted Any Questions for nearly 20 years, chaired Juke Box Jury from 1959 to 1967 and commentated on Eurovision. In amongst that lot he found time to serve a stint as one of the original four Top of the Pops presenters. He was even no mean impersonator – although his early attempts on the BBC General Forces programme were kiboshed at the outset by a producer who told him – “Jacobs, your impersonations are AWFUL. But the way you introduced them… you should be an announcer.” So David became an announcer. Perceptive man, that producer.
He was dozens of different characters in Journey Into Space (including – at the last – Jet himself in one of the brace of revival plays a few years ago). Writer Charles Chilton fondly remembered that he could always give a character part to David – he’d simply whip out another different coloured marker pen in order to delineate which character was which and which accent he’d be using, and merrily carry on. This despite the other cast member’s tendency to smear his lip-mic with Marmite just before recording. Just to see if he’d get through it. He always could. There’s a scene in Journey Into Space in which Jet and his crew are grilled remorselessly by a team of journalists. David’s playing every single one. You wouldn’t know unless you’d been told. If you’ve ever heard Journey Into Space, you’ll already be aware of the impact Jacobs made with his most famous character – the Martian-Controlled-Edwardian-Abductee James Whitaker. The cold, glassy monotone is a world away from the performer’s normal voice and it sends a chill down through the ages.
A man with a mischievous streak, he made himself known around the BBC by the simple and yet somehow devious trick of repeatedly having himself paged in the BBC canteen. The various production staff and decision makers heard his name repeatedly, thought he must be someone extremely useful to be in such demand and started seeking him out. It was years before he confessed, I think. Sellers did much the same thing, ringing up Dennis Main Wilson and pretending to be Kenneth Horne. Brass neck and pure, irreplaceable talent will get you a long way.
He appeared in “Stardust”. Headhunted by Radcliffe and Maconie, he presented records from Cream in the “Jacobs Cream Crackers” segment. Broadcast regularly on the BBC – barring illness – from 1945 to 2013.
His final broadcast was just a few weeks ago. The voice was almost gone, barely more than a quavering whisper, but the show was freighted with warmth. I’m listening to it now and the poignancy is mixed with a feeling of immense gratitude. His old friend Desmond Carrington devoted his show that weekend to a repeat of a lengthy chat with David. I like to think that he was listening at home, chuckling to himself. An inveterate giggler at all times, he’d surely have loved the attention even whilst being slightly bemused by it all.
An extraordinary career, a lovely man. As a dedicated follower of his many different incarnations ever since childhood, I’m going to miss him very very much. But – what a career. Just… what a career. He certainly doesn’t owe us anything. We owe him everything. I’ll miss him.