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Ed Doolan: Tributes to the people's champion of the airwaves

By Heather Large | Birmingham | Birmingham entertainment | Published:

He was the broadcasting giant loved by generations of radio listeners.

Sandwel's talking newspaper for the blind was launched in April, 1979, with a firm thumbs-up from local radio presenter Ed Doolan

Ed Doolan was a trusted voice on the airwaves of the West Midlands for more than 40 years.

And after being diagnosed with vascular dementia in 2012, he faced the illness with 'indomitable spirit and bravery'.

The broadcasting world is now mourning one of it's own after the legendary Australian-born BBC WM presenter died in his sleep yesterday, aged 76.

Tributes have flooded in for the 'people's champion' who presented more than 9,000 radio shows for the BBC.

Head of local and regional programmes for BBC West Midlands, David Jennings, said: "On his daily show, he was the people’s champion - tireless in his pursuit of truth and fairness for all.

"Ed faced dementia with indomitable spirit and bravery, raising awareness of the condition and continuing to broadcast on BBC WM every week.

Ed Doolan

“His contribution to broadcasting is immense and will continue to inspire presenters across local radio now and in the future.

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"All our thoughts are with Ed’s wife Chris and their family.”

Paul Vaughan, Ed Doolan's agent since 1978, said: "We have lost a great champion and a truly skilled and popular broadcaster and newspaper columnist.”

Former BBC WM presenter Adrian Goldberg took to Twitter to pay tribute.

He said: "So sad to hear about the death of one my of my original broadcasting inspirations Ed Doolan. Innovator, friend, mentor - the best the West Midlands has heard."

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Hero

While West Midlands Mayor Andy Street said: "As a radio-loving youngster, Ed was one of my heroes. The voice of Birmingham in the 1970s and 1980s, he is another genuine legend we have lost."

While former colleague Lizo Mzimba paid tribute to Mr Doolan as 'a wonderful broadcaster, who had a brilliant relationship with his listeners'.

Leader of Birmingham Council Ian Ward said he too was saddened by the news, describing Mr Doolan as 'a giant of broadcasting who worked tirelessly for the city that became his home'.

Mr Doolan was born in Sydney, Australia, but began his broadcasting career in Cologne in 1970 with the German World Service.

He began his British radio career at Birmingham's BRMB, now Free Radio Birmingham, back in 1974 and while there also helped to launch Sandwell's talking newspaper for the blind.

In 1982, he moved to BBC WM where his consumer affairs show, which began in 1988, gained a loyal following as he pioneered social action broadcasting, tackling dishonest traders and injustice.

He would tackle the likes of councils and utility companies on behalf of his listeners when he felt they were being treated unfairly.

Hall of Fame

In 2004, Mr Doolan was the first BBC local radio presenter to be inducted into The Radio Academy's Hall of Fame.

During the same year, he was the first presenter to officially broadcast from the BBC's new studios at the Mailbox in Birmingham.

In 2011, he scaled down the number of times he appeared on air to just once a week with his hour-long Sunday show featuring the pick of his three decades of interviews with stars from Charlton Heston to Danny La Rue and Jasper Carrot, with world leaders from Nelson Mandela to Margaret Thatcher.

It remained a firm favourite with listeners, featuring interviews with stars from his extraordinary personal archives.

Speaking at the time, he said: "What I wanted to do with my life was to become a broadcaster. After 10 years teaching, I was able to do that and to have spent most of my broadcasting life with BBC WM is as great a thrill as I could ever wish to have.

Dementia

But in 2015, Mr Doolan revealed to his loyal BBC WM listeners that he had been battling dementia for some time.

In his own bittersweet way, he said: “I’ve spent my entire life communicating and suddenly I find I can’t communicate.”

He hoped that by speaking out about the illness he could help other people in similar situations.

"Up till now I’ve kept pretty quiet about this because I wasn’t quite sure how to approach it.

“But I think if what’s happening to me is happening to other people who can come out and say this is me, this is what’s happening, then people don’t get frightened by it," said Mr Doolan said at the time.

Last year, the BBC broadcast a documentary following Mr Doolan's battle with the disease, showing how he continued to enjoy presenting his weekly Sunday show.

Over years he received many accolades for his work. Mr Doolan was awarded the MBE for services to broadcasting and charity in 1998.

He also won a Sony Gold Award and was the first person to be awarded honorary doctorates by the University of Birmingham, the University of Aston and Birmingham City University.

His appearances on TV included BBC2’s Tuesday People and Doolan At Large, as well as a brief stint hosting ITV’s Central Weekend discussion show.

Mr Doolan was also known for his huge collection of radio and television programmes on cassette, reel to reel, VHS, CD and DVD.

Heather Large

By Heather Large
Special projects reporter - @HeatherL_star

Senior reporter and part of the Express & Star special projects team specialising in education and human interest features.

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