The voice of Dick Barton, Special Agent, who was also a highly respected polar explorer
James Bond was perhaps little more than a spark in the imagination of Ian Fleming when Dick Barton, Special Agent, held 15 million listeners pinned to their postwar radio sets. The Devils Gallop signature tune and the sonorous, commanding voice of Duncan Carse as the special agent himself were a nightly signal of impending danger and excitement. But it was real-life adventure, clean-cut and far removed the 007 genre, that personified Carse the expert on polar exploration, a passion he combined with his work as a professional radio broadcaster and actor.
Verner Duncan Carse was educated at Sherborne and in Lausanne before joining the Merchant Navy as an apprentice on square-riggers. His first contact with the Antarctic came after joining the royal research ship Discovery II bound in 1933 for the southern ocean. They reached Port Stanley and encountered the schooner Penola, outward bound from England carrying the British Graham Land Expedition. When Carse heard that the expedition was likely to be shorthanded, he volunteered and was released to join the Penola, spending the winter locked in ice off the west coast of Graham Land.
Carse was the youngest member and acted as wireless operator and helped to establish depots for the mainland exploration. After sailing to South Georgia for a refit and then returning to retrieve the shore party from its second winter base on Marguerite Bay, it was not until August 1937 that the Penola arrived back in England and Carse turned to acting and the BBC.
He was already established as a presenter and announcer when war broke out and in 1942 he joined the Royal Navy as an ordinary seaman, a modest position for someone who wore the white ribbon of the Polar Medal, awarded for his services on the British Graham Land Expedition. In 1943 he was commissioned in the RNVR and spent the rest of the war on a trawler in the Western Approaches, an appointment that he felt did not make best use of either his background or his experience. He later had a similar disappointment when his proposal for an expedition across the Antarctic continent lost to Sir Vivian Fuch’s Trans-Antarctic Expedition in 1955-58.
Immediately after the war Carse succeeded to the role of Dick Barton in the BBC’s first daily radio series, replaced in 1951 by The Archers. He then spent the first of four southern summers leading and organising the South Georgia Survey. Their work exploring and surveying the hazardous glacier and mountain terrain led to the first detailed map of the South Atlantic island that remains the standard reference and proved of immense value during the Falklands conflict in 1982.
He twice returned to South Georgia, spending the entire southern winter of 1961 alone in a hut on the desolate west coast, surviving when the hut along with much of his stores were destroyed by a storm. In 1973 he attempted to retrace Sir Ernest Shackleton’s route across the island but was defeated by severe conditions on the high glacier.
Carse continued with the BBC as a producer and presenter until the mid-1980s, the Antarctic featuring strongly in his work. His significant contribution to the region was acknowledged by the naming of Carse Point on the east coast of George VI Sound and of Mount Carse (2,300m) in the southern part of South Georgia.
Carse had misgivings about the increasing intrusion into the polar regions by heavily supported expeditions. A journalist who once suggested that the worst danger confronting such undertakings was the risk of being hit by sledges and crates of supplies dropped from aircraft received a “Bravo” of approval from him.
Carse is survived by his third wife, Venetia, and by two daughters from his first marriage.
Duncan Carse radio actor and explorer, was born on July 28 1913. He died on May 2, 2004, aged 90.
© The Times, London (25th May 2004)