Where it all began

DesertIslandDiscsI had joined the BBC as a clerk in the Gramophone Library after I left school, and after five years had worked my way up to one of the assistant Librarians.  One of my main programmes was the all time favourite ‘Desert Island Discs’.  I had to collect all the records required for the programme from the library, and test them in the studio for transmission quality.

One particular track of the ‘Castaway’s’ choice was ‘Questa o quella’ from Rigoletto.  It sounded awful, and I thought it was the quality of the vinyl disc, so, I  went back to the library and procured a ‘brand new copy’…..This one was just the same.  With the arrogance of youth, I thought that I could sing it better.  I played the disc ten to twelve times, learned the tune and a couple of the words and went into the studio equipped with head phones.  I should never have touched the studio equipment but on this occasion broke the sacred BBC law.  I set the tape recorder in motion, started the disc and over dubbed the track.

‘Questa o quella’
from a recital I gave in 1988 for Radio France 

I was just removing the headphones when a BUZZ came through them. I heard a voice say “Mr Rendall, I think it is time we had a chat”.  Because I had broken the rules I thought that I was going to be sacked.  I entered the control room and was confronted by the programme producer Ronnie Cook, the presenter, Roy Plomley and the studio manager Larry Parker.

RoyPlomleyRoy Plomley

The first question from the producer was, “Have you enjoyed yourself today?”  What was I to do?  Should I lie, or tell the truth?  I chose the latter and said that it was my best day in six years of working at the BBC.  The next question was, “Have you had your voice trained?”  I said “No” because I didn’t think that when I was 10 it was relevant. There was a pause, and the producer said ……..“We think you should!”.

They invited me to dinner after the recording and then went to the producers flat where I was taught my first Schubert song, ‘Wohin?’ from Die Schöne Müllerin.  Roy Plomley and Ronnie Cook took it upon themselves to write to two London music colleges, and, within two weeks, auditions were arranged.


4 thoughts on “Where it all began

  1. Hi David,

    I’m Ronnie Cook’s daughter and it’s really lovely to see him remembered here in your blog. My Mum Gill will be delighted when I show her. Ronnie passed on in 2012 but Gill is a still a keen opera and theatre goer and will I’m sure send you her very best wishes when I let her know about this great site.

    All good wishes,

    Alison Child

    • Thank you Alison,
      It was really good to hear from you and that you thought it lovely that he was remembered. He, along with Roy gave me the direction and I followed it.
      I am sorry for your and your mum’s loss, but know that Ronnie will really be remembered.

      My sincerest best wishes,

      David Rendall

  2. Hi David,
    I’m enjoying you blog very much, especially the clips. It’s good to learn more about you also. I’m not a cognoscenti regarding tenors, or baritones et al. But I was first introduced to operatic singing when I was browsing through some old 78s on a ship I was serving on and playing over the ship’s SRE. Jussi Bjorling was in the collection, (probably donated from the Wardroom). I fell in love with his voice. Then one Sunday morning I was schlepping up a side street in Trieste and heard lovely voices singing short excerpts from popular operatic works, it was four old men standing round a table in a coffee shop and singing for the sheer love of it. Thereafter I took a closer interest, albeit as a ‘listener’ but I didn’t find a voice which engaged me as much as Bjorling, except perhaps Pavarotti. Then I heard your voice years ago and I have to say, and I am being sincere, your voice is up there for me David. Derek x

    • I couldn’t agree more with your final sentence Derek!!! David and I go way back in time, to our teenage years growing up in Surrey and I still clearly remember the privilege of hearing David sing (with a trained opera singer) a duet way back when I think he was about 17, before the formal training and outstanding career followed!! As you say, his voice is way up there with the greats of his art!

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