- This article is about the British radio announcer and newsreader, for other persons named Peter Donaldson see Peter Donaldson (disambiguation).
On his return to Britain, Donaldson was educated at Woolverstone Hall School, a state boarding school in Suffolk, from the age of 14. He left after taking O-levels at 16 and joined Sadler's-Wells London in a backstage role. After working with the New Shakespeare Company at the Open Air Theatre in Regent's Park London, and appearing on stage at the Aldwych Theatre London with the Royal Shakespeare Company, he went to Sri Lanka for a film.
In 1968, his father, who was still living in Cyprus, heard an on-air vacancy for announcers with BFBS and Peter applied. He passed the audition and subsequently worked in Cyprus, Aden, Libya and Malta.
He joined BBC Radio 2 in 1970 as a presenter and newsreader but switched to Radio 4 in 1973. However in the autumn of 1974, before it began broadcasting on 1 October that year, he joined the presentation team of Radio Hallam, the commercial independent local radio station located in Sheffield, serving South Yorkshire and the North Midlands. He returned to the BBC after about a month or so and was promoted to Chief Announcer in 1988.
He gave up the post of Chief Announcer and Head of Continuity in 2003 and retired in July 2005. However, he returned to the station on 28 August 2005 on a freelance basis. He invariably read the news on Radio 4 over the Christmas period, often in long shifts.
Over the years, he has been involved in many disagreements with management. When the then Director-General Greg Dyke announced a plan to "cut the crap" from the BBC and sent plentiful publicity material to all members of staff, Donaldson famously threw his in the bin, before writing to Dyke informing him that he has "Taken your [Dyke's] advice - and cut the crap". One morning in the 1970s he criticised the then-running Radio 4 programme Up to the Hour on air, naming himself "Donald Peterson" and very nearly being sacked for it. He has stressed in interview the importance, in his view, of "understanding and being interested in the material in front of you in order to involve the listener". He comments that there are some newsreaders (unspecified; but not within Radio 4) who "clearly have no understanding of what they are reading" and the quality of the broadcast suffers. He has a distinctive form of Received Pronunciation "BBC accent" - one of the few left on radio in the 21st century - and his delivery incorporates idiosyncratic pauses in the middle of sentences. In the 1980s, his voice was used on the pre-recorded warning that a nuclear attack had been launched on the British Isles during the Cold War, which would have been transmitted on television and radio from a studio in Broadcasting House in such an eventuality.
More recently, in 2000 he played the resentful and sarcastic butler Theremin, homicidal manservant to the celebrated occult investigator Lord Zimbabwe, in the BBC Radio 4 comedy Ectoplasm, and he also featured in a series of short Radio 4 programmes on the end of World War II, reading news reports of the time. He appears to remain at loggerheads with BBC management, and in 2006 it was reported that he would no longer read the news on the Today programme, in opposition to the changes made by management to start that shift earlier and include an extra News Briefing programme. He retired on 31 December 2012, his last broadcast being the midnight news on New Year's Eve.
Donaldson lives in Pulborough, West Sussex and his interests include gardening, current affairs, drama, walking, swimming and attendance at The Rising Sun in Nutbourne.
- Peter Donaldson interviewed on his warning messages during the cold war. It contains excerpts of the official statement.