Obituary: Ron Sawdon, lecturer and broadcaster who was familiar face on Grampian Television

Broadcaster and lecturer Ronald Sawdon has died at the age of 91
Broadcaster and lecturer Ronald Sawdon has died at the age of 91
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Ron Sawdon had something of a rebellious streak. In fact, he liked to describe himself as contumacious to the end.

A self-confessed member of the awkward squad he was delighted to narrowly miss being conscripted into the Second World War; once drove through Death Valley in a clapped-out car at the height of summer and, as a committed atheist, taught speech and Bible-reading skills to ministers at the Church of Scotland’s Christ College.

He was also energetic, enthusiastic and prolific, involved in education, music, drama and documentaries and known to countless children in the 1970s as a presenter of Grampian Television shows including Rumblie Jumblie, Zoom and Ron and Friends, which once featured Lulu.

Born in County Durham, he moved to London at the age of 12, leaving the former pit village of Wingate when his father took up a post as manager of the Enfield branch of the Liverpool Victoria insurance company. He attended Cedars Upper School in Leighton Buzzard and went on to study speech and drama at the Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance in Sidcup, Kent, becoming a lecturer at Glasgow’s Jordanhill College of Education.

By 1952 he found himself heading to Aberdeen where he toured schools giving demonstration lessons before taking a post as senior lecturer in speech and drama at the former Aberdeen College of Education. His many interests in this field included directing a 1959 documentary film, now held in the National Library of Scotland, on Aberdeen Children’s Theatre, documenting the activities of the Britain’s first civic children’s theatre.

A member of the actors’ union Equity, immaculately-dressed Sawdon, who sported a beard and often favoured a tweed jacket, was involved, as a narrator, in a season of documentary programmes for the BBC in the late 1960s. He also wrote scripts for educational children’s TV and, on moving to Grampian Television in the ’70s, regularly presented shows for a dozen or so years. One of the series he was heavily involved in was Mathman, short, ten-minute programmes aimed at introducing five-year-olds to the Nuffield system of mathematics. He wrote, narrated and introduced the series which ran for several years from 1971-77 and featured a wicked witch, a wise frog and the absent-minded inventor Mr Bumbleboots who built the robot Mathman for his niece Margaret.

In addition to teaching, he directed the College of Education’s operatic performances, amongst them The Magic Flute, Carmen and The Bartered Bride. With ACE Drama, he took shows to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, including Burke and Hare – The Musical, written for a 1978 show and staged at midnight in a theatre not far from where the infamous bodysnatchers operated.

It was around this time that he was sent by the British Council to Romania and Bulgaria, then still behind the Iron Curtain, to compile reports on theatres there – most interesting and enjoyable trips, he reflected.

Travelling further afield he went on a Fulbright exchange trip to the United States where he spent a year, from 1982, working as a lecturer at Los Angeles City College. Accompanied by his wife Caroline, whom he had met while working at Aberdeen’s Tullos School, and the youngest of their four children, Clare, it was on their way home from LA that they drove a tired Volvo, with no air conditioning, through Death Valley during the 3,000 mile journey from California to New York.

Other travels took him around the north of Scotland delivering in-service courses and adjudicating at festivals.

After retiring in 1990 he and his wife, who lived in the suburb of Cults, just west of Aberdeen, travelled widely – back to the United States and to Germany, Holland, Norway, Italy and Australia. Sawdon also enjoyed painting, landscapes and abstracts in particular, and writing poetry.

Ever the entertainer, he wrote his own eulogy and commented that, if there was such a phenomenon as reincarnation he would certainly be prepared to put in an appearance again, providing he was not deposited in the Congo or Kirkcaldy. “Cults would be ok,” he concluded.

Predeceased by their son Benedict and grandson Max, he is survived by his wife of 63 years Caroline, their children Mark, Nicola and Clare, ten grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

ALISON SHAW