BBC retracts report of Sounds of the 60s host Brian Matthew's death

Matthew Weaver
Brian Matthew, who joined the BBC in 1954. Photograph: Mark Harrison/BBC/PA

The BBC has retracted a statement that the DJ Brian Matthew, who hosted its long-running Sounds of the 60s programme, had died after being told by his family that he was critically ill.

In an embarrassing clarification issued less than three hours after announcing his death on air, the BBC said in a statement: “We were informed by close family and friends that Brian had passed away in the night. They have since been in contact to say that he remains critically ill.”

Matthew is understood to be in hospital with his family. Notably the statement did not include an apology for the earlier error.

A spokeswoman for Radio 2 said: “The family have their privacy and we respect that, and we support them at this time, but there isn’t anything to add to the statement.”

Asked if the BBC planned to apologise, she said: “We have put out the statement that the family read and were happy with. That is the statement as it stands.”

Earlier, BBC Radio 2 played Sounds of the 60s’ signature tune, Foot Tapper by the Shadows, as a tribute to Matthew. It quoted a statement from his family that said: “Our beloved Brian Matthew passed away last night.”

Speaking on his Radio 2 show after Matthew’s death was incorrectly announced, Jeremy Vine told his audience that his colleague was a “much loved and much respected Radio 2 presenter”.

The BBC was criticised this year by Matthew’s fans after it decided to replace him citing concerns about his health after a fall. Matthew had dismissed the suggestion that he was too ill to present the programme as “absolute balderdash”.

He last presented the show on 25 February and was due to record a farewell edition to be broadcast over Easter. Instead Radio 2 had scheduled a tribute programme to Matthew to be broadcast on Friday, and presented by the station’s former controller Jim Moir.

The correction came after the director-general, Tony Hall, had led tributes to the veteran DJ.

Earlier on Wednesday the BBC had issued a statement on behalf of Matthew’s family saying: “Our beloved Brian Matthew passed away last night. We ask that our privacy is respected at this time.”

The BBC was criticised for wrongly announcing Matthew’s death. The Nottingham-based author David Belbin tweeted:

Many linked the mistake with what was seen as premature decision to replace Matthew as a presenter.

Vine accepted that he might have to “get on his bike” after the mistake.

Matthew’s career at the BBC started in 1954 on the Light Programme, at a time when the broadcaster rarely played pop music. He was one of the first DJs on Radio 2, and hosted including shows including Saturday Club, Thank Your Lucky Stars and Late Night Extra.

Before Sounds of the 60s, he was best known for the long-running Round Midnight programme, which won the 1987 Pulitzer Publishing award.

• This article replaces an earlier one that was published before the BBC had clarified that Brian Matthew was critically ill but alive.