WORLD-OBITS-L ArchivesArchiver > WORLD-OBITS > 2006-09 > 1158493878
From: "Peter McCrae" <>
Subject: [W-OBITS] BAXTER: Raymond Frederick Baxter--UK
Date: Sun, 17 Sep 2006 12:51:18 +0100
Raymond Baxter, who has died aged 84, was a wartime Spitfire pilot who
became one of the BBC television's best-known outside broadcasters, and the
first presenter of the popular BBC1 science programme Tomorrow's World.
Baxter's lean, craggy face and emphatic punched sentences exuded the
schoolboyish enthusiasm he felt for the up-to-the-minute gadgetry over which
he presided for 12 years. Among many "marvels" - one of his favourite
descriptions - he introduced to viewers were the electron microscope (1965),
the breathalyser (1967), the pocket calculator (1971), and the barcode
With his American wife Sylvia he demonstrated the first video game, a
version of table tennis called Pong, and in another edition he gave the
signal for live rounds to be fired at an assistant wearing a new bullet
He was, said a later editor of Tomorrow's World, "the messenger for the
great white heat of technological advance which in the 1960s was going to
sort out all our lives". Always preferring the role of "action man", Baxter
reported live from the first passenger hovercraft crossing of the Channel in
1966, and made many flights on Concorde, his first when it was still no more
than a prototype fuselage.
He said of the "marvel" of hover flight: "We thought it was going to solve
everyone's transport problems. But it just turned into a high-speed ferry on
one of the most overcrowded waterways in the world. Its exciting amphibian
potential was never exploited."
Baxter parted company with Tomorrow's World in 1977, after falling out with
its new producer, Michael Blakstad. Blakstad allegedly called the
gravel-voiced presenter "the last of the dinosaurs" and Baxter allegedly
said he could never work with someone who rode to the office on a bicycle.
He retired hurt and bewildered to the comforting calm of his Queen Anne
house and 32-acre garden at Denham in Buckinghamshire.
His departure from Tomorrow's World was the second of two traumatic events
to afflict him in 1977. A few months earlier he had broken down and wept
while giving evidence to an industrial tribunal about the sacking of his
gardener, Albert Murphy, for alleged incompetence. Murphy, who was required
to leave a tied cottage, claimed unfair dismissal.
The tribunal found in Baxter's favour, but the court appearance and his
emotional response left a mark. A year later he sold his estate and moved to
a more modest home in Henley, where he lived until his death. He set up a
business which made commercials for British Leyland and promotional videos
and films for business conferences. He also became Honorary Admiral of the
Association of Dunkirk Little Ships.
Raymond Frederic Baxter was born on January 25 1922 at Ilford, Essex, the
son of a schoolmaster, and educated at Ilford County High School. As a boy
his enthusiasms were divided among motor cars, aeroplanes and music. He
learned the violin and sang as a boy soprano, but at the tender age of 14 he
flew with Alan Cobham's flying circus for 10s 6d a day (about £25 in today's
money). He said later: "I've had a love affair with planes ever since."
At 18, he joined the RAF at the recruiting centre at Lords and, disguised as
a civilian, was sent with other hopeful pilots to train in Canada and the
American Mid-West. He qualified as a pilot and was posted to No 65, a
Spitfire V fighter squadron based in Scotland, which mostly dealt with
In the New Year of 1943, following the Operation Torch landings in Algeria
and Tunisia, Baxter was posted to the North-West Africa Air Force, joining
No 93, a Spitfire IX squadron covering the First Army, in July. After a
year, he was sent home to instruct at No 61 Operational Training Unit in
Shopshire; though he had disliked being taken out of active service, he
later said that the experience was "just about the happiest six months of my
life". Instructing fighter pilots for the last three weeks of their training
offered, he recalled, "all the fun of operational flying and the
responsibility of leadership without having the enemy around".
In September 1944 he returned to operational flying himself with No 602.
This was a Spitfire IX squadron (re-equipped from November with XVIs) which
had just been recalled from Normandy. From Coltishall in Norfolk, he was one
of the pilots who dive-bombed Germany's V-2 sites. He was mentioned in
dispatches for his part in these raids.
Towards the end of the war, while still a serving officer, he got his first
job in broadcasting, as an announcer with the Forces broadcasting station in
Cairo. He then spent two and a half years as deputy director of the British
Forces Network station in Hamburg. He told an interviewer: "It was a
complete course in broadcasting - you had to be able to do everything
yourself, and to teach other people at the same time." He was finally
demobbed in December 1946 in the rank of flight lieutenant.
Back in Britain the BBC took him on as an outside broadcast commentator,
specialising in "mechanical sports" - flying, motorcycling and motor racing.
The BBC appointed him their motoring correspondent in 1960 and between 1967
and 1968 he was also director of publicity for the BMC car group. He was
part of the BBC commentating team on numerous Royal occasions, including the
Coronation and the Queen's State visit to Canada. Baxter also covered the
state funerals of Churchill and of King George VI.
Baxter's trademark in covering international sporting events was to double
as commentator and competitor. He took part in 12 Monte Carlo rallies, and
although his team never won he was twice among the highest placed British
competitors. He also took part in the Tulip, Alpine and RAC rallies and in
1953 covered the New Zealand Air Race as a member of the crew of a competing
Leaving Tomorrow's World marked the end of his regular association with the
BBC, but he continued to make screen appearances on special occasions. He
covered the Farnborough Air Show many times - his commentary during the
1950s was responsible for inspiring many to take an interest in aviation. He
was also involved in events to mark the 50th anniversary of the Dunkirk
In 1997 and 1998 he returned to his old programme for two series of
retrospectives, TW: Time Machine, recapturing outstanding moments from the
programmes of the 1960s and 1970s. In July 2000 he was invited to Earls
Court to participate in the presentation of the first Raymond Baxter Award
for Science Communication. To his surprise and delight, he discovered that
he was also the first recipient.
Baxter married, in 1945, Sylvia Kathryn Johnson, of Boston, Massachusetts;
she died in 1996. They had a son and a daughter.
In the 1990s it was revealed that Baxter was, by marriage, the uncle of the
avant-garde American sculptor Carl Andre, of Tate bricks fame - or, as
modern art buffs know it, Equivalent VIII (1966, now in Tate Modern's
permanent collection). Baxter told intrigued interviewers that he had "total
respect" for, if not total understanding of, his nephew's work. Visiting
Andre in New York, Baxter asked: "So where is this sculpture?" "You're
standing on it," Andre told him.
|[W-OBITS] BAXTER: Raymond Frederick Baxter--UK by "Peter McCrae" <>|