Died 14 April 2016
From very humble beginnings, Phil became a legend in his lifetime through his work in media and voiceover projects. Born in a bedsit in Norwich to a mother who’d already given away her first baby, his wonderful mind earned him a scholarship to board at Merchant Taylors’, where he was quickly marked for Oxford or Cambridge. Friends remember his quick wit and repartee, his popularity among the young ladies at the Girls’ School, his ability even then to mimic the stars of the day, and his success within the debating society. He and Chris James became lifelong friends when Phil waited behind on a cold rugby field so that Chris didn’t have to wait there alone after school. That kindness and generosity lasted a lifetime, and in 50 years they never fell out… except about Chris’ taste in haircuts and trousers.
But Merseybeat and driving tractors on local farms were far more interesting than the intricacies of Latin verbs, and Phil left school with no ‘A’ levels, and a despairing father telling him he’d never make a living from knowing all the names of the Swinging Blue Jeans.
After a string of jobs with few prospects, he joined Chris down in Watford. There he met his first wife, Mary, and the sights and sounds of Bailey’s Nightclub. That’s where his talent for filling silences with gentle patter or making the audience roar with laughter became evident, as he introduced the big stars of the day such as Tommy Cooper or Bob Monkhouse. Later he would head to Israel to present his first radio shows on The Voice of Peace – a pirate station anchored off Tel Aviv, promoting peace between Israel and Palestine. After three months he returned to the UK to present music on UBN, an industrial radio station, and then moved to Piccadilly Radio where he is still remembered as a hard working team member and a brilliant presenter – slick, and technically excellent.
By then he had changed his radio name from Clift to Sayer – his stepfather’s name – because Clift sounded unclear on AM frequency radio.
Phil and Mary settled in Bolton, and their children, Richard and Joanna, were born in the early 80s. On the work front, he had experience at continuity announcing with Granada TV, did shifts on Red Rose Radio in Preston and landed a job as a BBC regional newsreader when breakfast television began in 1983. He loved his time at the Beeb. Phil and Mary divorced but he stayed living locally and enjoyed his role as a weekend Dad.
For ten years he read the news, presented his own daily radio show, and was respected and admired. During this time he would experience the breakdown of a second marriage and, when his contract with the BBC was not renewed, he found himself without a job, without a wife and struggling to cope. He sought help, had a year of therapy in which he came to terms with his unhappy childhood, began building up a solid contacts book for voiceover work, studied for a psychology degree, and even found himself unexpectedly a single Dad to his two teenage children.
Business ebbed and flowed – sometimes he was in full employment, sometimes he was penniless, but as a different person post-therapy, he didn’t mind others knowing of his struggles. He met me during a period of hardship – in fact, on the fire escape during a cigarette break when we were both picking up a bit of extra freelance work at Tower FM in Bolton – and that hour of exchanging life stories quite quickly became fourteen years of sharing memories together, as well as joining forces in business and becoming two of the most famous anonymous voices all over the UK and beyond, on the London Underground. We both shared the same values, the same sense of humour, and despite the 25-year age gap, we were of like minds. We married in 2002 and our twin sons, Alex and Ben, came along three years later.
In work, Phil is remembered as a true professional – someone with no big ego, but helpful, friendly, always willing to share advice, and with an ability to verbally transform the ‘ordinary’ into the ‘extraordinary’. In private, his life was often chaotic, but he was a loving parent, insistent on grammatical excellence, and an avid collector of records, pinball machines, bits of wire and ancient computer components that may yet come in handy. His music trivia knowledge was second to none, and hours were spent in the car listening to Dad FM. Bowie’s song ‘Kooks’ became the parenting manual for our twins.
Phil found his faith in his early forties and enjoyed being a keen member of the church where he married me (and where his funeral was held,) and was an enthusiastic parent governor at our school. In later life, his adopted sister would also seek him out and, in the last few years, they found great comfort in one another.
Phil shared an obituary on Radio 4’s Last Word with Victoria Wood and Prince, which would have astounded him. One of his friends who was hoping to attend the funeral had to miss it due to a cancelled train: the voice that told her this was Phil’s.
The love he shared in life was reflected in the beautiful send-off he had. No matter where Phil’s children, grandchildren, friends and numerous acquaintances go in life, they will be reminded of him and his unique qualities in those three important little words:
Mind The Gap