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Last Word
Listen to the latest editionFriday   16:00-16:30
Sunday 20:30-21:00 (rpt)

Radio 4's weekly obituaries programme
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This week
Friday 26th September 2008
(Rpt) Sunday 27th September
Matthew Bannister
Matthew Bannister tells the life stories of people who have died recently: Earl Palmer, William Woodruff, Dame Maeve Fort, David Jones and Hugh Bradner.
Earl Palmer
Drummer who has died aged 83

Little Richard said he was “the greatest session drummer of all time” and Earl Palmer certainly played on some of the biggest hits of the twentieth century. Palmer provided the distinctive rhythm for many iconic songs of the 50s and 60s by artists from Sam Cooke and Ritchie Valens to the Ronettes, the Supremes, Nat King Cole, Ray Charles and the Everly Brothers. But he was still in demand in the 70s and 80s, playing for Randy Newman, Tom Waits and Elvis Costello to name but a few.

Born in New Orleans, Palmer faced racial prejudice - prohibited by law from playing alongside white musicians and forced to hide his affair with a white woman. He moved to Los Angeles where attitudes were more liberal and he could make more money at the heart of the US recording industry. 

Matthew Bannister has been speaking to his fellow session musician, the bass player Carol Kaye, and to Earl Palmer’s biographer Tony Scherman.

Earl Cyril Palmer was born October 25th 1924. He died September 19th 2008.
William Woodruff
Economic historian who wrote The Road to Nab End: A Lancashire Childhood  has died aged 92

William Woodruff rose from a poverty stricken childhood in Lancashire to become an internationally renowned economic historian. Paradoxically, it was a memoir of his childhood which made him a literary star in his eighties. “The Road To Nab End” subtitled “a Lancashire childhood” topped the best seller lists and brought him unexpected fame in the last eight years of his life. We’ve been speaking to his second wife Helga and two of his children, Kerstin and Mark. William Woodruff was born in Blackburn in 1916. He was the son of a weaver working in the textile industry, but when the industry collapsed the family fell on very hard times.

William Woodruff left school at thirteen and became a delivery boy. In 1933 he set off for London and worked in a foundry. Night school and the Workers’ Educational Authority led to a scholarship to Oxford University and a career as an economic historian which took him to Australia, Japan, Germany and finally to Florida.

Matthew Bannister talks to William Woodruff's wife Helga and children Mark and Kerstin.

William Woodruff was born September 12th 1916. He died September 23rd 2008.
Dame Maeve Fort
British ambassadors who has died aged 67 

Dame Maeve Fort was a successful British Ambassador to a number of different countries. She helped to broker a ceasefire in the civil war in Mozambique, volunteered to work in war torn Lebanon despite the risks – and formed a close relationship with Nelson Mandela in South Africa.

Maeve Fort was born in Liverpool and educated at Nantwich Grammar school and Trinity College Dublin. She was not a natural academic, but had a gift for languages which took her to the Sorbonne in Paris.

Matthew Bannister talks to the former Conservative Minister Baroness Chalker who was a friend of Maeve Fort and worked alongside her.

Dame Maeve Fort died September 18th 2008.
David Jones
Theatre, television and film director who has died aged 74

David Jones was a director who worked in television, theatre and film. He edited the legendary TV arts programme “Monitor” for the BBC in the sixties and then played a key role in the Royal Shakespeare Company of the 1970s. Jones took charge of the company’s London base at the Aldwych Theatre, combining productions of new work by contemporary writers with revivals of lesser known classics. He particularly championed the Russian playwright Maxim Gorky who he felt was wrongly neglected. In the 1980s, Jones moved into film, directing Harold Pinter’s “Betrayal” and “84 Charing Cross Road”. David Jones was educated at Taunton School and Cambridge University. He joined the BBC in 1958 and was sent to work on “Monitor” where the team also included Ken Russell, John Schlesinger and Humphrey Burton. In 1962, Jones was made editor of the programme. Working for him was the young Melvyn Bragg.

Matthew Bannister talks to Lord Melvyn Bragg and to the actor David Suchet who worked with David Jones at the Royal Shakespeare Company in the seventies and more recently in “The Last Confession”.

David Jones was born February 14th 1934. He died September 19th 2008.
Hugh Bradner
Physicist and inventor of the neoprene wetsuit who has died aged 92

Hugh Bradner was a distinguished physicist who worked on the Manhattan project which developed the first atomic bomb. But in the non scientific world he will be best remembered for his work on the sea. Bradner had a lifelong love affair with the ocean. He was one of the first Americans to make a deep water Scuba dive and he is credited with inventing the neoprene wetsuit. He also came up with a number of other inventions which revolutionised diving. Hugh Bradner worked at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego California for twenty years.

Matthew Bannister talks to his daughter Bari Bradner Cornet.

Hugh Bradner was born November 5th 1915. He died May 5th 2008.
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