Duncan Dallas

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A MAN of unassuming charisma, Duncan Dallas wanted the world to share his fascination with science.

As a television producer at Yorkshire Television, he made science-based programmes that won record audiences, but his life took a different direction in 1998 after he read the obituary of Marc Sautet, founder of café philosophique, an informal forum for philosophical discussion held in Paris cafes.

He wondered if a similar approach might work for science, and living in Chapel Allerton, Leeds, he decided to carry out a trial event there, asking the owner of a wine bar across the road to host it. He persuaded a scientist friend to be the speaker, and hoped an audience would turn up.

It did, and so began a movement which became international.

Supported by an award from the Wellcome Trust and with the help of the British Council, Cafés Scientifiques spread across the world.

An only child, Mr Dallas was born in Elgin, Morayshire, to Duncan and Christina.

His father’s job with Pearl Assurance meant the family moved from place to place, but was settled in Newcastle when he was doing his sixth-form studies.

The usual holiday destination was Scarborough, and Mr Dallas carried on taking his family there for the rest of his life. The annual trip became a highlight of the year, especially for his grandchildren.

He went to Balliol College, Oxford, to read Chemistry, but became interested in the philosophy of science and would have switched but for his parents’ opposition. Nevertheless, he retained a life-long interest in the subject.

At Oxford, he met Gloden Horbury who was studying history; they married in 1966 and had two children, Jim and Lucy. They separated in 1977 and Gloden died in 1983. He later met Elizabeth Brice who worked in the same office, and they married in 1984 and had two children, Charlie and George. After contracting multiple sclerosis, she became a successful campaigner for cannabis therapeutics. She died in 2011.

While at Oxford, Mr Dallas won a place on the prestigious BBC’s graduate trainee scheme from which many of broadcasting’s leading figures emerged.

Working on the ground-breaking current affairs series Man Alive, he was noticed by Tony Essex who recruited him in 1968 for his documentary unit at Yorkshire Television in Leeds.

The new company had to establish its credentials from a crudely converted former trouser factory, and Mr Dallas helped with a vivid evocation of holidays in Scarborough in the early 20th century: It Never Seemed To Rain was nominated for a Bafta award.

This was followed by a stint with Alan Whicker in Australia and the South Seas, but when YTV was reminded that its remit included making science programmes for the ITV network, he was put in charge of fulfilling it.

He now demonstrated he could speak to doctors and scientists across a wide range of disciplines, winning their the trust and co-operation.

One result was his award-winning documentary Awakenings about survivors of the strange sleepy sickness epidemic of the years after the First World War.

Manifestly intellectual, Mr Dallas cut an unusual figure in the flashy world of 1970s television, yet he had a popular touch, which he proved with Don’t Ask Me, the science series in which Dr Magnus Pyke, the botanist Dr David Bellamy and Dr Miriam Stoppard answered questions put by viewers.

Enormously popular, it was followed by other high-rating series, Don’t Just Sit There, Where There’s Life and Fun & Games.

Leaving Yorkshire Television, Mr Dallas set up his own independent production company, which he named, XYTV, but it was not enough to excite his intellect, and it was then that he read Marc Sautet’s obituary.

Mr Dallas also played a significant role in his own community, being chairman of a group which drew up a supplementary planning guidance for Chapel Allerton, published in 2011, and he was an enthusiastic supporter of the annual Chapel Allerton Arts Festival.

He was a great party goer, and revelled in the atmosphere of carnivals and funfairs.

His book, published in the 1970s, The Travelling People is a seminal work on the life of travelling showmen.

He enjoyed cricket, as did his father and later his son Charlie, and supporting Scotland, liked to watch football.

Mr Dallas, who has died at the age of 73, is survived by his children Jim, Lucy, Charlie and George, and by four grandchildren.

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