Alan Keith, BBC Radio 2’s venerable host of “Your Hundred Best Tunes” for more than 40 years on Sundays in Britain, died March 18. He was 94, the BCC’s oldest presenter and one of its longest on the air — more than 60 years.
Keith came up with the format in 1959, playing his own favorites. After the first broadcast, , listeners wrote in to disagree with his choices, he challenged them to submit their own selections, and the show became one of Britain’s (and arguably the world’s) longest-running radio programs.
Born Alec Kossoff in London (and brother of actor David Kossoff), he won a scholarship to the Royal Acad of Dramatic Art, where he was awarded a silver medal. He went on to numerous West End productions including George Bernard Shaw’s production of “Major Barbara” “Late Night Final,” “Dinner at Eight” and “Magnolia Street,” all in the 1930s.
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He made his radio debut in 1935, presenting a variety show and continued in an almost countless number of radio plays as well as numerous television stints as early as 1938, specializing in playing Americans (such as “The Man Who Came to Dinner”), both on the tube and on film as well as radio.
But it was his one-hour per week on “Tunes” that left his greatest mark. He was fabled for spending incredible amounts of time scouring the BBC record library for the right pieces of music. Beyond that, he was known for his distinctive, comforting voice and informative introductions to the works he played. He is also remembered for his other programs, including weekly shows “Among Your Souvenirs,” “The Golden Years” and “The Years Gone By.” He had planned to announce his retirement in late March — only days before his death.
He was awarded an OBE in 1991.
His wife and he had two children.