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>> Notices, obituaries and tributes >> Madeleine Fagandini

Message started by Administrator on Dec 4th, 2012, 12:49pm

Title: Madeleine Fagandini
Post by Administrator on Dec 4th, 2012, 12:49pm

The family of Madeleine, or Maddalena as she was known professionally, has asked us to post the following information:-

"Madeleine Fagandini worked at the BBC throughout her career for over thirty years. She was with the Radiophonic Workshop from 1959 to 1966 and was then a television producer in foreign language education (italian, german, spanish and french) and features.

Having suffered a stroke three years ago, Madeleine passed away peacefully at Speirs House Nursing Home in New Malden last Thursday 29 November. The details of her funeral are being finalised but we do not anticipate any change to the current arrangements which are that it will be held at Putney Vale Crematorium (Stag Lane, London SW15 3DZ) at 1.40pm next Friday 14 December, with a reception to follow at a local hotel (details to follow)".


Title: Re: Madeleine Fagandini
Post by Administrator on Dec 7th, 2012, 12:05pm

Here are the final details of the funeral service for Madeleine Fagandini and reception afterwards plus a note about flowers and donations.

The funeral service and committal will take place on Friday 14 December at 1.40pm at Putney Vale Crematorium, Stag Lane, London SW15 3DZ. Map and directions can be found at There is good parking at Putney Vale Crematorium.

After the funeral service, all are invited to join the family for a reception at Kingston Lodge Hotel, 94 Kingston Hill, Surrey KT2 7NP. Map and directions can be found at The hotel is a drive of about five minutes from Putney Vale Crematorium and there is reasonable parking at the hotel although less than at the crematorium.

The family requests no flowers please but donations to the Stroke Association ( would be welcomed by cheque payable to 'Stroke Association' and sent c/o Ashton Funeral Service, 140 Alexandra Road, London SW19 7JY (020 8946 1051). It would be helpful if you would write Madeleine Fagandini on the back of the cheque.

If you will be coming to the funeral service and/or the reception, it would be very useful in order to provide good information about numbers to the crematorium and the hotel if you could let us know by email copied to both julian(at)fagandini(dot)co(dot)uk and keith(dot)fagandini(at)which(dot)net.

Title: Re: Madeleine Fagandini
Post by Administrator on Dec 23rd, 2012, 4:20pm

Remembering Maddalena Fagandini (1929-2012)
by Giles Oakley
This text is based on the tribute to Maddalena given by Giles at her funeral service on 14th December 2012.
‘No, no, no, Maddalena, you’re completely wrong!’ That’s how I apparently first introduced myself - with some vehemence - to Maddalena over 40 years ago, something she recalled with considerable glee decades later when speaking at my BBC retirement party. It is so typical of her and entirely to her credit that what could have been an inauspicious beginning led to an enduring friendship, including a very happy period working together in the mid-1970s.

Maddalena worked in radio and television for over 30 years, leaving a legacy of work that will live on. She joined the Italian section of BBC World Service radio in Bush House as a studio manager in 1953, which gave her opportunities to deploy all her skills of organisation, hard work, creativity and calm nerves under the pressure of live broadcasting. To say that she loved it would be an understatement; she absolutely thrived on it, blossoming in an environment which encouraged experiment and seriousness of artistic purpose, which was never at odds with her sense of fun. As she later said, ‘The 1950s was a time when radio really flowered like crazy. It was wonderful being in radio at the time’.

In 1959, Maddalena joined the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, a hotbed of experimentation where again she was in her element, remaining there until 1966. As part of a highly creative group, she worked on creating sound effects, theme music, jingles and music concrete, where natural sounds were combined and electronically distorted in all sorts of technically ingenious ways. She said how she particularly loved devising live ‘spot effects’ (as opposed to playing in a disc). Mad was always justly proud of her time at the Radiophonic Workshop, but never boastful. Few people knew that she actually helped create a recording with the legendary producer George Martin, soon after famous for his work with the Beatles. A single was released on the Parlophone label in 1962 under the pseudonym ‘Ray Cathode’. Based on themes created by Maddalena, the 45 disc had Time Beat as the top side, with Waltz in Orbit (clearly inspired by the early space rockets put up by the Soviets and the Americans) on the reverse. 

When synthesisers came in the mid-1960s, Maddalena began to lose interest in the Workshop and she started looking elsewhere. In 1960, she had worked on the BBC’s coverage of the Olympic Games in Rome. In 1963, she got her big breakthrough on the first TV language teaching series Parliamo Italiano, working with Peter Montagnon. This was the launch-pad for what effectively became Maddalena’s life’s work, certainly the most significant phase in her professional career. As Sheila Innes, her boss as head of Continuing Education, says, Maddalena was a ‘natural linguist and scholar’ and ‘an innovator in language teaching programmes’. David Wilson, who worked with her on the Italian documentary series Conversazioni and the beginner’s Spanish series Digame in the late 1970s said she was ‘passionate about the importance of language learning and utterly dedicated to her work’. One of the key principles of her pedagogic approach was making the whole programme in the foreign language, with not a single word of English, written or spoken. Remarkably, after all these years, the Italian (of course) and German series are still on sale, widely regarded as the best in their field. The academic Katrin Kohl is a particular admirer of Deutsch Direkt, saying more generally of Maddalena’s work, ‘I know of no other language courses that are so well-crafted, so varied, so full of human interest and so suitable as language tools’.
Maddalena was a driven perfectionist and the sheer hard work that went into her language series was phenomenal. It was suggested that she might like to have a break and work on something completely different. And that’s how, in 1975, much to my delight, she came to work with me, the ‘No, no, no’ man.

I had proposed a series on the history of the blues which had been duly commissioned. As a mere researcher, I was assigned to work as a trainee assistant producer under Maddalena and we ended up producing two series, both entitled The Devil’s Music, one on BBC1, the other on BBC2. We went on an extensive filming trip in the USA, taking us to the Mississippi Delta, Memphis, Tennessee, Arkansas, St Louis, Chicago and New York, filming such artists as Little Brother Montgomery, Big Joe Williams, Sonny Blake, The Aces, Good Rockin’ Charles, Billy Boy Arnold, Laura ‘Little Bit’ Dukes, ‘Queen’ Victoria Spivey, and Edith Wilson, who, in 1920, was one of the first black singers to make a blues record.

Mad had no previous knowledge of the blues but she plunged into the subject with all her usual energy, reading books and listening to records. In keeping with the spirit of her language programmes all being in the foreign language, we agreed that everyone in our series would be black, with no white experts ‘explaining’ the music, a radical decision for the time. By the time we got onto location in a succession of working-class black communities, she immediately got onto an easy, relaxed wavelength with the musicians, many of whom had experienced the most appalling racism and segregation in the Deep South. For some it may even have been the first time a white woman had treated them with such unforced friendliness and respect. I remember getting a lump in my throat when one famous singer, Booker White, told Mad, ‘You know Maddalena, you’re a real blues lady’. He could have given no higher praise.

I have particular grounds for gratitude to Mad when it came to writing the book to accompany the series. Originally commissioned as simply a small booklet, she backed me on turning it into a full-length book with extensive illustrations. There came a crisis at one point, as I was writing the book in the evenings and weekends.  Her calm under pressure was extraordinary and it was a lesson in man management that I never forgot, and for which I’ll always be grateful.

Here is not the place to name all of Maddalena’s programmes. There was Your Own Business, a 1979 series for small businesses, made with David Scott Cowan, and Mediterranean Cookery, which Clare Brigstocke worked on in 1986-87, Maddalena’s final BBC project prior to retirement.

It’s interesting to see how full of praise, affection and gratitude so many of these younger programme makers are, like me. They all say what an inspirational figure Mad was and how important she was in their lives, even stretching to their children, often the recipients of marvellous books. For some people, Mad became almost a surrogate mother or grandmother.Over and over, people say how incredibly hard she worked, how well-organised, how supportive as a mentor, and what fun she was to work with, especially when it came to finishing a long hard day’s work with an Italian meal, with the inevitable bottle or two of wine.

She was always the most measured and decent of people, treating others as she would like to be treated. That was not true of all in her generation, and I thank her for that and honour her memory. It was pleasure to have known and worked with Maddalena.

Title: Re: Madeleine Fagandini
Post by Administrator on Jan 23rd, 2013, 9:51pm

The Guardian's obituary for Madeleine may be found here.

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