Zeb Soanes (1989 – 1994)

Alumnus, Zeb Soanes

Zeb Soanes is a BBC Radio 4 newsreader and regularly puts the nation to bed with the Shipping Forecast; he was invited to read the forecast at the Olympics to a worldwide audience of over a billion.

On television his voice launched BBC Four, he made a film about famous voices for The Culture Show and is a regular presenter of the BBC Proms.

“A few months ago, I was in the newsroom at work, covering the death of Baroness Thatcher and was transported back to a classroom at The Denes, just off the entrance hall balcony. It was the afternoon of 22nd November 1990. Suddenly, my History teacher Mr Brown burst through the door brandishing a radio; he banged it down on his desk, turned red-faced to the class and declared with maniacal fervour, ‘Now THIS is history!’ We sat, somewhat bewildered, some rather terrified, listening to the announcement of Margaret Thatcher’s resignation. She had been the Prime Minister since I was three years old and, rather like the Queen, it was hard to imagine how things might be without her. She had been a powerful, formidable character throughout my childhood; the Falklands War, the miners’ strike and the Poll Tax riots are all images I can call readily to mind. It was inspired of Mr Brown to turn over what would probably have been another lesson in the American West to a current event that would become a pivotal moment in our history I would still remember 23 years later.

“I remember, with fondness, many of my teachers at the school and am grateful that they allowed me to be the rather eccentric pupil I must have appeared. When my drama teacher, Mrs Halley, heard she was to have a Zebedee in her class she later told me her heart sank. ‘Poor child’, she thought to herself, having taught a Zeus a few years earlier who lived very much in the shadow of his unusual name. I’d always been imaginative and creative and at The Denes I was given freedom and encouragement; I wrote and produced plays and would spend my weekends at the school painting sets or hanging lights, trusted and unsupervised except for a mid-afternoon appearance from the Caretaker to make sure I hadn’t electrocuted myself or fallen from the top of the tower scaffolding. I was always busy and it wasn’t just the teachers who encouraged me; the support-staff became more like friends: Jill Adams, the librarian, would order obscure drama books knowing I was probably the only one for years who would ask to borrow them; Will Goodman, the IT technician, taught me the essentials of Desktop Publishing to the extent that by my final year I was being paid by the Bursar to design the school’s publications; tips and skills I still use to this day.

“It isn’t only former Prime Ministers that remind me of my time at The Denes. My form teacher, Mrs Reynard (who has recently retired) had a secret love of Hollywood dance movies. When I eventually joined the BBC in London as a Television Announcer I would always think of her whenever I introduced a film starring Fred Astaire!”

See also


Zeb Soanes on Twitter

February 2014

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