STORY OF THE KOSSOFFS
The two Kossoff brothers took their different routes into showbusiness. But over long lives and careers, in film, TV and radio each would become friendly and familiar voices to generations of Britons.
Alec Kossoff was the older by some 11 years. Born in October 1908, he was the son of Louis and Anne, who like many others had fled persecution in the pogroms of Russia for a new life in London. And like so many others they ended up going no further than Whitechapel. Louis ended up working in the East End rag trade - a tough and badly paid profession that Alec and his younger brother David were determined to escape.
The young Alec won a place at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), winning a silver medal on graduation. With his newly Anglicised stage name, Alan Keith, he went on to the stage: one of his earliest roles saw him in George Bernard Shaw's own production of 'Major Barbara', in the West End. He also worked as a stand-up comic at the Windmill Theatre ... a tough gig with the comedians filling the gaps between the nude performers that all the punters had really come to see.
But it was on radio that Alan was to become a star. He was already a fixture on the BBC by the mid-thirties. Then in 1959 he came up with a beautifully simple idea that would define the rest of his career. Your Hundred Best Tunes, was first broadcast on the Light Programme, (later to become Radio 2) on 15 November 1959. The show was slated for a 13-week run but was an immediate hit. Alan Keith OBE was still presenting the Sunday night show in March 2003, when he died at the age of 94.
Alan selected the tracks from the BBC music library - generally popular classics. A listeners' poll in 1997 showed a typical selection, with Bizet's The Pearl Fishers coming in at Number 1 just ahead of Finlandia by Sibelius. His criteria were simple: "A tune must be popular, and it must be good of its kind - even if it's only a Cockney ballad it must have class."
The younger Kossoff, David, was born in 1919, and unlike his older brother had no immediate ambitions to go on the stage. His first concern was to get a better-paid job than his father. After leaving school he went to art school and decided to be an interior designer, mostly of furniture. Years later, he would renovate his own London home ... and make the furniture. At the beginning of the Second World War, he was working as an aircraft draughtsman.
His first stage appearance was in November 1942, playing Juan Rojo in a Unity Theatre production of Spanish Civil War play The Spanish Village. He stayed with the left-wing theatre group for three years, directing and performing in plays put on to entertain Londoners in the communal air raid shelters during the Blitz.
Kossoff was to find his roots useful as he began to establish himself on stage and TV in the fifties, specialising in Jews and Russians.
He became a much-loved figure on TV playing Peggy Mount's hen-pecked husband in sitcom 'The Larkins'. And, using his prematurely grey hair as a prop to act older than his years he appeared in two of Wolf Mankewitz's finest movies. In 'A Kid For Two Farthings' the 36-year-old David played an elderly Jewish tailor, trying to keep a cockney boy's dreams alive. In 'The Bespoke Overcoat' the following year he was, once again, a Jewish tailor.
Kossoff himself wasn't an especially religious man and had married outside the Jewish faith. But his next big role saw him reinterpreting the Bible on BBC radio, retelling stories in a friendly, homespun way ... Kossoff was a masterful storyteller. The Book of Witnesses (1971) was a TV series in which he turned the Gospels into pacey monologues. He penned the prayer book 'You've Got A Moment, Lord?' and published 'Stories From A Small Town', based on 19th-century Jewish-Russian folk tales.
The final stage of his career was the most poignant. In 1976 his son Paul, lead guitarist with rock band Free, had died of a heart attack brought on by drug abuse. He was just 25. Kossoff spent the rest of his days using his performing talents to warn young people of the dangers of drugs: touring his one-man show 'The Late Great Paul' round schools and universities.