Dell was born in Cape Town, South Africa, and graduated from Kearsney College in Natal. He joined the South African Broadcasting Corporation in 1943, introducing for several years a programme called Rhythm Club. Moving to England in the 1950s, Dell worked on Radio Luxembourg (which then had recording studios in London), the BBC Light Programme and its successor Radio 2 until shortly before his death.
The Dance Band Days
Dell's most celebrated programme, The Dance Band Days, ran from 1969 (initially and a little incongruously on Radio 1, the BBC's "pop" channel, launched in 1967 as a replacement for the offshore pirate stations) until 1995 and, in later years, did so in a sequence on Monday evenings with Dell's "other side", The Big Band Sound. The former included recordings by the likes of Jack Hylton, Ambrose, Henry Hall, Geraldo and other dance bandleaders. The main elements of these programmes were retained for a number of years after Dell's death, in a Sunday night programme introduced on Radio 2 by Malcolm Laycock. (Dance band recordings were sometimes played also on the digital channel PrimeTime Radio 2000-6.)
Other work for the BBC
Though Dell mostly presented programmes of music from the dance band and swing eras, he was also an early presenter of Pick of the Pops in 1956 and, in his later years, of Sounds Easy, a Sunday afternoon programme on Radio 2 which was notable for its attention to the recordings of Frank Sinatra and Peggy Lee (both of whom he pre-deceased). He won a 1983 Grammy Award in the Best Historical Album category for The Tommy Dorsey/Frank Sinatra Sessions - Vols. 1, 2 & 3.
In the 1980s, with the onset of digital technology, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation used the Packman Audio Noise Suppressor, a machine developed by a sound engineer, Robert Parker (1936–2004), to produce stereophonic sound of high quality from 78rpm mono recordings (see The Stage, 1 March 2005). Dell provided the sleeve notes for Dance Bands UK (1988), a BBC compact disc of ABC "transfer" recordings, thereby illustrating his authority as a historian of such music.
- Voce, Steve (29 August 1995). "OBITUARY: Alan Dell - independent.co.uk". The Independent (London). Retrieved 28 April 2012.
- The History of Radio 2 - Alan Dell profile at bbc.co.uk
- Alan Dell at the Internet Movie Database
- Independent obituary, 29 August 1995