Radio Sandwell Local News

Birmingham radio legend Ed Doolan battling dementia

2015-01-26 18:06:27

Ed Doolan

BBC WM radio legend Ed Doolan has today revealed he has been battling dementia for two years.

"I've spent my entire life communicating and suddenly I find I can't communicate," admitted the man who has interviewed every Prime Minister since Harold Macmillan.

But the defiant Aussie promised that he was determined to carry on broadcasting - for as long as the BBC would let him.

Ed, 73, said: "I must say that it's just wonderful to be able to come in and do my Sunday show which we now prerecord.

"I'm finding that it is a very therapeutic thing that I can just come in and record and put the show together.

"If we find we can;t do something, and I can't tell the difference between 1963 and 1983, it's not funny.

"Then you click back in and do it another way.

"The BBC have been brilliant, because what a fantastic opportunity they have to say: 'Ed, you’ve had a good run'... and they could do that quite easily and justifiably I would have thought.

"But the BBC have said it's up to me to decide when I've gone as far as I’m going to go.

"And, at the moment, the show is going well."

Ed can still walk normally, but sometimes uses a wheelchair for speed to get in and out of public places.

With wife Christine by his side to discuss the nature of caring, the couple hoped that by speaking out on BBC WM they would be able to encourage other families to see their doctor, find the right treatment and to carry on with as normal a life as possible.

Ed Doolan

In an interview in the Mailbox studios with lunchtime presenter Caroline Martin, Ed did not give into the emotions which had made him apprehensive about speaking out.

But after two years of thinking about it, he said it was now time to explain why he hadn't participated much in his annual Christmas show at Symphony Hall 'for the past two or three years'.

During that time he has given up his daily BBC WM show.

His replacement hour-long archive programme every Sunday features the pick of his three decades of interviews with stars from Charlton Heston to Danny La Rue and Jasper Carrot, with world leaders from Nelson Mandela to Margaret Thatcher.

Ed reintroduces each clip with his trademark bonhomie.

But prerecording the shows during the week means he can pause ready to start again every time he makes a mistake or loses his concentration.

"I can't do a live show any more," Ed admitted before recording an interview for Caroline Martin's show at 1pm today.

"The BBC have been so kind and so good, they understand if something goes wrong, or if I forget something, we just shut up and start again."

Talking directly to Birmingham Mail readers in a video interview, Ed said: "The paper has been very kind to me over many, many years - I must have done about 950 columns for the Mail.

"Up till now I've kept pretty quiet about this because I wasn't quite sure how to approach it.

"But I think if what's happening to me is happening to other people who can come out and say this is me, this is what's happening, then people don't get frightened by it.

"The images they show on television are so dramatic, but I haven't found it dramatic at all.

"It's a bit annoying and a bit frightening when you lose your track, but you get back on it again.

"I do spend a huge amount of time in the house. I watch a bit of telly and have a bit of a sleep.

"Friends still come round with sandwiches and we’ll have lunch."

Pharmacist wife Christine, 55, added: "People associate dementia with forgetting things, but there are different types.

"Ed has been told he's got Dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB), which involves Parkinson's disease.

"The medication has really helped the latter, but with the dementia it's not that he forgets things because he can remember.

"With him, it seems to be more of an on-off switch - and once it goes off it then comes back on a bit later."

Ed helped to launch BRMB on February 19, 1974, before switching to BBC WM on September 20, 1982.

During all of that time he has rarely missed a show while fighting a string of health conditions which began with a serious car crash on October 28, 1971.

On his way to interview the then Prime Minister Edward Heath in Edinburgh, a multiple pile-up hospitalised Ed for months in Durham - where he began to record a pop programme for Forces' radio.

The crash also left him with a virtually continuous scar from his nose to his ankles.

Ed had only been married for eight weeks to Christine when he needed triple heart bypass surgery in December 1987 just weeks after falling ill with stomach cramps following a belated honeymoon to Thailand in November that year.

Other ailments have required five laser operations on his tongue (1985-87), as well as operations for a non-malignant bowel condition (July, 1993) and a detached retina (May, 2009).

In August 2007, he spent the day of his 20th wedding anniversary with Christine having a pacemaker fitted.

Two weeks later, he had to have it replaced before declaring: "The new one is like a Rolls-Royce compared with a Citroen 2CV."

I have never heard Ed complain about any health issue - and he has not lost his sense of humour either.

Ever the joker, Ed said in today's interview: "I love it when people ask me for directions in the car. I say to them: 'Who the hell are you asking?'."

He also said his friends had "not stopped taking the mickey" about his latest health crisis.

"They are a damn sight ruder now," he said.

"Once friends understand (what has happened to me), all the bad jokes about mental health, maybe it;s terribly wrong, but they do pass in front of me."

Ed Doolan
Ed Doolan and wife Christine during the interview in which he revealed he has dementia

ED DOOLAN FACTFILE

Edwin Myer Doolan was born in Sydney, New South Wales on July 20, 1941.

After beginning his working life as a teacher, Ed's professional radio journey began just 25 years after the end of the Second World War, when he made his bow on August 1, 1970.

Although Ed was Jewish, he was happy broadcasting on Germany radio for the country's own 'Voice of Germany' world service station, Deutsche Welle. 

"I never made a secret about being a Jew and I never came across any hostile or unpleasant act," said Ed, who joined the station less than two weeks after his Catholic father, Ted, had died on his 29th birthday.

"But when I was standing in the lift with much older people I did used to wonder: 'What were you doing 25/30 years ago?'"

In March, 2003, Philip Norman, from Ludlow, Shropshire, was jailed for 18 months for waging a near three-year anti-Semitic hate campaign against the broadcaster.

Ed knew how to apply a forensic mind to details, from council affairs to consumer issues and big interviews and, on air, he was regarded as the 'master of the pregnant pause'.

He has been awarded the MBE for services to radio, won a Sony Gold Award and had the unique distinction of becoming the first person to be awarded honorary doctorates by the University of Birmingham, Aston University and the (former) University of Central England, now Birmingham City University.

Ed's flings with TV included BBC2's Tuesday People and Doolan At Large, as well as a brief stint hosting ITV's Central Weekend discussion show.

The only son of a pre-War mixed-marriage (Ted was Catholic, mum Edna was a Jew), Ed was also one of the first 40 inductees into the Radio Academy's original Hall of Fame alongside the likes of Tony Hancock, Alistair Cooke and John Peel.

Celebrating his 40 years on air in 2010, Ed told me with typical forthrightness: "Even at the BBC you can meet people who know absolutely nothing about broadcasting.

"But they come and go and I've been on air for 40 years. I wish them well. One day people will remember me saying 'What a nice fellow he was'.

"While I'm still alive, though, God knows what they call me!"

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