Peter Dunkley obituary


My father, Peter Dunkley, who has died aged 88, spent his entire working career at the BBC as a producer of television programmes – a job that he often described as “better than working”.

Peter was born in Brockley, south London, to Ted, an accountant, and Helen (nee Gardiner), a shorthand typist. He grew up in nearby New Cross, where the second world war disrupted his early education to such an extent that he went to eight primary schools. His parents divorced when he was 10, after which his mother brought him up alone.

At Haberdashers’ Aske’s Hatcham college the teachers discovered his flair for languages, and when he was called up at 18 for national service in 1951, his linguistic skills got him sent to the Joint Services School for Linguists in Cambridge, where he was fast-tracked to learn Russian alongside luminaries such as Alan Bennett, Peter Hall and Michael Frayn.

Posted to Vienna, he worked with a team of interpreters interviewing Russians who had escaped Stalin’s clutches. This cured him of Stalinism and set him on a course to become a self-confessed “champagne socialist Guardian reader”. He loved champagne, socialism and the Guardian in equal measure .

After national service Peter won a place at Exeter College, Oxford, to study English, and within weeks had met fellow student Shirley Eastman, whom he cast in a play with the hope of casting her in his life. It worked and they married in 1958.

Once he had gained his degree he became a BBC graduate trainee, cutting his teeth as a producer in news, current affairs and education on programmes such as Panorama and 24 Hours. Later in the 1960s he travelled widely to produce series on the US, East Germany, Yugoslavia, Japan and Malaysia. In the early 70s he helped to set up the BBC’s Money Programme, winning the Monet award in 1974 for an episode on the European Economic Community.

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Eventually he became arts director of the BBC’s Open University programming, and in 1979 he produced Russian Language and People, the first Russian language course on TV. In 1981 he created and was the first producer of See Hear, the first magazine programme for deaf people, which still runs today.

Peter retired from the BBC in 1988, after working there for 32 years. He and Shirley moved from Staines, in Surrey, to Dorset, where they pursued their interests in gardening, travel, music, theatre and doing the Guardian crossword together.

He is survived by Shirley, his children, Anna, Charlotte and me, seven grandchildren and one great-grandson.



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