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BBC Radio Suffolk's Mark Murphy and Lesley Dolphin reflect on combined six decades on county's airwaves

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Ask Mark Murphy and Lesley Dolphin what they remember about their early days together at BBC Radio Suffolk and the chances are they’ll say the arguments.

Funny how life turns out. Professional rivalry turned to romance and 20 years ago they got married in Las Vegas after he proposed on the flight to America.

“Mark and I used to argue no end at first,” says Lesley, while he recalls them fighting like cat and dog over stories. “Maybe there was some sort of spark, but we just didn’t realise it,” he reflects.

Mark Murphy and Lesley Dolphin outside the Nutshell pub in Bury St Edmunds
Mark Murphy and Lesley Dolphin outside the Nutshell pub in Bury St Edmunds

Between them, they have more than six decades on Suffolk’s airwaves, but this month it’s all change for the couple who are two of the county’s best-known voices.

Lesley is retiring and signs off from her afternoon show for the final time on Thursday.

Mark has moved from his current affairs-focused breakfast slot to weekends.

Lesley Dolphin and Mark Murphy
Lesley Dolphin and Mark Murphy

And while the multi award-winning journalist and presenter felt slightly put out to miss covering Boris Johnson’s resignation, he is not sorry to say goodbye to 3.30am alarm calls.

Lesley is looking forward to taking stock, drawing breath, and spending more time with her dad who is almost 95.

“For my last show I’m going to do a tea party live from Wherstead Park in Ipswich,” she says. It will include a recreation of her popular On the Sofa feature ... but with her as the sofa guest.

“I really love my job. I’ve been doing this show since 2008. But I’m of an age ... I need to retire because I’m quite tired. It’s a four hour programme, and before lockdown I was wondering if I should retire.

Lesley Dolphin in the studio
Lesley Dolphin in the studio

“People say ‘what will you do?’ Just to read a book would be pretty good, just have some time for me.

“At the moment I’m not taking anything on for six months, partly because my mum has died."

Lesley’s mother Ann died last month, and retirement will also give her more quality time with her father, John.

“I want to draw a breath and take time ... and I have a lot of cupboards that need tidying,” she adds.

“In my show I talk about places in Suffolk and I want to go and see more of them. And maybe I’ll do some volunteering.

“I love the countryside, getting out and walking - I’m patron of the Suffolk Walking Festival - and I hope to do more of that, and also have time for more cooking and crafts.”

On the Sofa - with Lesley chatting to guests from celebrities to local people with fascinating stories to tell - has been hugely popular.

“I wanted it to be all about Suffolk, not a news agenda as we do that everywhere else.

Lesley Dolphin with Rick Wakeman
Lesley Dolphin with Rick Wakeman

“There are so many interesting people in Suffolk on all levels. I only expected to do it for two years, but never ran out of guests. I talk to all kinds of people from artists to councillors, and people get nominated by listeners.

“It’s really hard to choose ones that stand out - I can think of Rick Wakeman, Gordon Brown when he was prime minister, and Griff Rhys Jones."

But sometimes it is the people who are not well known who stick in her mind. “For instance, people with terminal illness - I so admire their bravery in coming and talking about their condition.”

Another popular feature has been Dolphin’s Dart Quiz where she gives three clues and people have to work out where the dart has landed.

Lesley Dolphin with then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown when he was her On the Sofa guest
Lesley Dolphin with then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown when he was her On the Sofa guest

Her hours on air are the public face of the job but her eyes and ears were always open for a good story. “We work conventional eight hour days. But you’re never off duty really.

“Since lockdown we’ve changed the way we work. I go into the studio to do my programme, but now I do research at home - it means I can put the washing on while I work.”

There are times, of course, when things don’t go quite to plan. “In the studio I can’t think of anything too terrible, but outside broadcasts are a bit more fraught.

“I remember being on Felixstowe seafront and trying to talk into my ice cream cone instead of my microphone.

“And for Children in Need one of my producers fixed for me to abseil off Lowestoft College. There’s a point when you lean back over the drop.

“I was hanging on this rope when suddenly the rope stretched and I just went ‘oh s**t’. When I got back they teased me they’d had hundreds of complaints.”

Lesley grew up in Norfolk. “I went to school in Wymondham then to Bradford University to do Science and Society. The idea was to teach you a little bit about lots of things, which is ideal for journalism.

Lesley Dolphin
Lesley Dolphin

“It was at university I first learned about local radio. Me and another girl blagged a visit to Radio Leeds, and I volunteered, and did my year out at work there.”

She returned to East Anglia in time for the launch of BBC Radio Norfolk in 1980, and was taken on as a junior reporter, technical operator, and broadcast assistant.

“It was just so exciting. There were 2,000 applications for 20 jobs.” She stayed four years, and in 1982 was asked to present the afternoon show.

After having her children - she has sons John, a chartered surveyor, and Tom, a geologist, from her first marriage - she took five years off.

When she moved to Suffolk, where she lived in Long Melford, she began freelancing for Radio Suffolk.

She has worked for the station full time since 1995. “I’ve done most of the shows in that time, except for sport. I’ve really enjoyed what I have done. I’ll miss people when I leave, but I will keep in touch,” she said.

Mark, meanwhile, has already started his new shows which mix music, guests, and competitions. His goal is to put a smile on people’s faces, because as he says, life can feel pretty grim at the moment.

Previous work has brought him numerous awards including Radio Academy News Broadcaster of the year. He won the academy’s Gold Award for telling the story of Suffolk-born Bartholomew Gosnold from the US, where Gosnold was a pioneering explorer in the early 1600s.

Mark Murphy getting his first Radio Academy gold award from Kirsty Young in 2003
Mark Murphy getting his first Radio Academy gold award from Kirsty Young in 2003

The anti-litter campaign Don’t be a Tosser received a Silver Award. And that catchy title drew attention from an surprising source.

When Mark’s radio and community work earned him an MBE in the 2022 New Years Honours, it was presented by Prince William who said:. “I’ve been waiting to see you all morning ... Don’t be a Tosser, what a wonderful name’.”

Other accolades include an award for best interactive programme in BBC local radio, and an honorary doctorate from the University of Suffolk.

Mark Murphy getting his honorary doctorate from the University of Suffolk
Mark Murphy getting his honorary doctorate from the University of Suffolk

He first did the breakfast show from 2000 to 2011, returning to the Monday to Friday slot after five years in the mid-morning spot.

“I had to get up at 3.30am, which is a good time in summer, not so good in the winter. The upside was no traffic driving to work, and plenty of space in the car park.

“Lesley was quite good at sleeping through my alarm which was a miracle because it would go off three times.

“Doing the breakfast show is a special thing. People wake up and want to know what’s going on.

“I really liked holding politicians to account. We can also give people a helping hand either on or off air.

“It’s a real privilege people choose you rather than others, because there is so much choice at breakfast time.

“We can be the glue that holds the community together, as we found in the pandemic. We found we had a huge role to play to keep people in touch with what was happening here.

“The only thing I can compare it to for us was it was like a really bad snow day, but week after week.

“I decided last year to leave the breakfast show. Getting up in the morning was getting tougher and starting to interfere with my social life, and my health a little bit.

“I’m sad as well but at some point you have to hand it on. Also lockdown made people re-evaluate their lives. My balance was skewed.

“I stopped doing the show just as Boris Johnson resigned. I kind of wished I was back after following his premiership for the last few years - I was disappointed to miss out on the end.”

Ipswich-born Mark always loved radio, listening to Tony Blackburn, and Radio Luxembourg under the bedclothes at night.

“I went to grammar school but didn’t make the most of it. I told the careers master I wanted to be a radio presenter and he said ‘I don’t know how you’re going to do that’.

“Mum said I should get a proper job first. So I became a mechanic, and worked on trucks at the Port of Felixstowe.

“I bought lots of disco equipment and set it up in my bedroom at home, then Mum and me put a function on in Ipswich.

“I didn’t say a word all night because I was too embarrassed. But someone came up and asked if I would do their wedding reception."

He later volunteered for hospital radio. “When I read Radio Suffolk was coming I applied for all the jobs, and didn’t get any interviews.”

Mark Murphy volunteering at Hospital Radio Ipswich
Mark Murphy volunteering at Hospital Radio Ipswich

So he went on a course that advised offering to work for free. “Radio Suffolk said you can be a volunteer and make the tea. I’m still there ... and I still make the tea."

In 1990 he got his first pay cheque. “We had a portable transmitter you carry on your back, and I was asked to carry this really heavy pack through the park for two hours.”

But that £15 cheque was never cashed. “I framed it because I thought I’d never get another one.”

When the chance came to become a presenter, Mark was working for a garage in Ipswich. “My bosses said go and pursue your dream but if it doesn’t work out you can come back.

“My whole career has been here. I have loved every minute of it, and done so many different things.

“I’ve been a bit of a campaigning journalist. Things I’ve been most proud of include the ‘bin a blade’ campaign with Suffolk Police.

Mark Murphy
Mark Murphy

“I’m also proud of our role fundraising for the Treehouse Children’s Hospice - £3million was raised in 11 months which was unbelievable. I cried the day we made the announcement.”

He still works five days a week for Radio Suffolk, where he is part of the management team and also keen on coaching new talent

Mark and Lesley live in Felixstowe. “We love it. It’s great for walking our rescue dog, Wolfie, and I can go fishing at the end of the road,” he says.

“We both look forward to having evenings, going to the theatre, or Ipswich Town evening games.” They are both supporters but he describes himself as a 'mad keen fan'.

“I also love rooting round auctions. I’m a collector, although Lesley would say I’m a hoarder. It’s the hunt I really enjoy. But not all his purchases are indulgent. He snapped up a working hedge trimmer for £3.

Lesley’s last show airs at 2pm on Thursday. Mark can now be heard from 10am to 2pm on Saturdays and Sundays.