Born: 24 October, 1925 in Brixton. Died: 14 November, 2014 in London, aged 89
Paul Vaughan was blessed with a voice that was honey-toned, relaxed and lined with velvet. It was familiar to millions from the long-running Radio 4 arts programme Kaleidoscope and the science programme Horizon.
His knowledge of science and engineering proved invaluable as in the early days of Kaleidoscope it was science and arts orientated and Vaughan was its first science correspondent. Over the years, the programme radically altered and Vaughan’s wide interest in the arts gave him the opportunity to interview many leading directors and actors. He combined a fine microphone technique with an air of authority which made him the voice of the programme – he remained with it until it ended in 1998.
Paul William Vaughan’s father worked in the linoleum business but when he was nine the family moved to New Malden, Surrey and he attended Raynes Park County School. He sang the school song written by WH Auden and recalled his school days with much warmth in his first autobiography, Something In Linoleum, (1994). Vaughan spoke with enthusiasm of the inspirational headmaster whom he described as “bullying but beguiling”.
In 1943 Vaughan went up to Wadham College, Oxford but his studies were interrupted when he was called up into the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers. After the war Vaughan completed his degree and formed close friendships with two fellow students, both future broadcasters: Derek Cooper and Robert Robinson.
On graduating, Vaughan worked for a pharmaceutical company for five years before becoming press officer at the British Medical Association. His duties included dealing with the objections to the BBC series Your Life In Their Hands. He proved so skilled an operator in front of the camera that he decided to move into broadcasting.
Vaughan remained just a voice. He seldom appeared on television and preferred the anonymity of being unseen and unrecognised. The BBC programmes on which he worked were widespread. He provided the voice-over for Horizon from 1968 to 1995 and contributed to such prestigious science programmes as New Worlds, Science in Action and Discovery. In 1971 he presented The Story of the Pill – four programmes which gave an account for the non-medical about the development of oral contraception. Vaughan’s informed but in-depth questions led to a greater understanding and dissolved many of the myths. The subjects Horizon covered appealed to both the professional scientists and the ordinary viewer. Vaughan made such subjects as Nuclear flask testing, earthquakes and tidal waves accessible and interesting.
He also built up a burgeoning business as a voice-over specialist and his voice was used on many commercials in the first Orange campaign, which did much to establish the brand so effectively. “The future’s bright, the future’s Orange,” became a catch-phrase, as did Tesco’s “Every little helps” and Colgate’s “All toothpastes are not the same”.
But it was his work for the BBC arts programmes that gained him respect amongst a wider public. He took immense care with his pronunciation and delivery. Vaughan had the ability to listen to the answer and then follow up with a pertinent final question. He never hectored or bullied the interviewee: Vaughan was polite and informed but always incisive and razor sharp with his questions. He was as comfortable with grand stars from Hollywood as with a director at the Edinburgh Fringe, and among the eminent names he interviewed were Gerald Scarfe, Graham Greene, Tom Stoppard and Alan Ayckbourn.
Vaughan had a dry and whimsical sense of humour, as was demonstrated in his second autobiography, Exciting Times in the Accounts Department, which recounts off-microphone events at Broadcasting House: the scramble to contact Stephen Spender on the day WH Auden died: unfortunately Spender was unavailable and Kaleidoscope had to make do with a drunken Laurie Lee, who could only manage “a little grief-stricken sob” for the microphones; the “modest, almost embarrassingly polite” David Niven and hearing Tony Benn exclaim “Goodness it’s James Mason” in a corridor of the BBC.
A programme that brought him great pleasure was New Elizabethans written by Francis Crick and in which James Naughtie examined the lives of those who gave the second Elizabethan age its character.
Vaughan has been described as the first invisible star of television. One commentator wrote: “When God speaks he uses Paul Vaughan’s voice.”
His first marriage to Barbara Prys-Jones was dissolved and in 1988 he married a BBC radio producer, Pippa Burston. She, their two children and four children from the first marriage survive him.