Robert was born and educated in Croydon. After leaving school, he worked briefly in the City, before joining the BBC in the accounts department. He made his first broadcast on the old Empire Service on his 21st birthday in 1934. On the day World War II was declared, and speaking as an anonymous Englishman, he broadcast a last-minute appeal to the German people to stop the invasion of Poland. He was a reporter in the early years of the war before joining the Royal Navy. He was based in Northern Russia as an interpreter for 18 months.
He returned to the BBC as an announcer for the Overseas Service, Light Programme and Home Service (1934 – 1942 and 1948 – 1959) and became one of radio’s specialist newsreaders.
Robert was one of the original team of BBC Radio Home Service announcers who were selected to read the news on BBC Television, with his first appearance on 14th July 1954 on News and Newsreel. He first appeared in-vision reading the 10pm news on 26th September 1955. In September 1957, it was announced that he would be a member of the new team of regular newsreaders; the others were Richard Baker and Kenneth Kendall. And they would be named on screen. The changes were brought about as a result of competition from ITN.
Over the next two decades, Robert would present on virtually all of BBC TV’s news programme brands. Other notable dates in Robert’s career:
- 26th April 1964: presented the first edition of News Review for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing on BBC Two.
- 22nd December 1965: announced, in a voice-only newsflash, the death of BBC broadcaster Richard Dimbleby.
- 19th June 1969: he read the last bulletin – the 10.50pm news – from the old studios at Alexandra Palace.
- 11th September 1970: he presented the last edition of the Main News ahead of a relaunch of that programme.
- 14th September 1970: he presented the first edition of the new Nine o’Clock News.
- 10th November 1972: he presented the last single-presenter Nine o’Clock News.
- 13th November 1972: he co-presented the new two-presenter Nine o’Clock News alongside reporter Richard Whitmore.
Dougall was instructed to wear a logo necktie, a suggestion that offended his gentlemanly taste – so he refused.
On 31st December 1973, he read his final TV news bulletin, completing 19 years and 5 months on the TV newsreading team. He ended the bulletin with the following, which he wrote (his initials appeared at the top of the last page of the script):
Well…that’s the way it is tonight. The news will be back as usual tomorrow; but for me this last day of the old year is my last news. Today is the day I retire from the BBC staff. I first read the news nearly forty years ago now – that was to the countries of the British Empire, in the days when there still was one; and I’ve been doing it ever since, more or less, except of course in the Navy during the war. And as you know I’ve been reading BBC Television News almost since it began nearly twenty years ago. I’m now looking forward to joining the Nationwide programme doing films about nature. So I won’t be entirely on your side of the screen just yet. Good night then and despite the gloomy news may I wish a very Happy New Year to you all…and thank you and the BBC for those forty stimulating years.Robert Dougall, BBC newsreader
In his autobiography, he said that, for lonely people especially, the newsreader appearing night after night over the years becomes almost a trusted friend. On retirement from the BBC, he began a new career as a writer and as well as his autobiography, he wrote half-a-dozen other books – some of them about birds, one of his great interests. He was president of the RSPB for five years. He later presented the Channel 4 magazine series for the over sixties, Years Ahead (1982 – 1989). For BBC TV News’ 25th anniversary, he joined ex-colleagues for a photo in the news studio at BBC TV Centre. He died in December 1999, aged 86.
Video Clips on the Internet
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PICTURED: Robert Dougall. SUPPLIED BY: Paul R. Jackson. COPYRIGHT: BBC.