One of the many unusual things about Pip Freedman was that he was the first black newsreader on radio - and he wasn't even black.

He died at the Kingsbury hospital in Claremont in the early hours of Monday morning at the age of 77.

The comic icon was a household name in the 60s, 70s and 80s when he presented his comedy shows on the old Springbok Radio on Saturdays. Freedman, born Philip Maurice Freedman, donned the masks of Dennis, Happy Harry Singh, newsreader Philemon, and other colourful characters on his radio show.

The Swellendam-born Freedman, who started his career at the Starlight Theatre in Sea Point, was brought into the SABC by Cecile Whiteman in the 1950s.

The first character he played was Cape coloured. He built a solid fan base throughout South Africa.

Freedman had a healthy respect for his characters and always stressed his humour was situational and empathetic, rather than coarse and disrespectful.

Active till the very end, Freedman had a stand-up comedy gig on SABC3's Comedy Showcase just last year and also performed in Durban.

A few weeks ago Freedman called the Cape Argus and spoke excitedly about the first stage play he was writing, scheduled for the Olympia Bakery towards the end of this year.

His wife, Pat Freedman, a nuclear medicine radiographer, said: "He was joking till the end. He joked with the ambulance men and with the nurses. He just loved to make people laugh."

Pat, a fan of his for years, was a dancer and met him at the Six Day War in Israel fundraiser in Wilderness in 1967.

Three years later they started dating and were married for 30 years.

"I was a great fan of his long before I met him. I always thought he was such a talented performer.

"His timing as a dancer was impeccable, as was his tango. I always thought to myself 'God, I wish I could do that'," said Mrs Freedman, 18 years his junior.

Mrs Freedman said her husband had performed in the United States and the United Kingdom during his long career, and was actively involved in charity work locally.

She said he had been overjoyed to see his son Jonathon, now living in the United Kingdom and daughter Samantha Sacks, based in Philadelphia, last week.

He also had two children from a previous marriage, Capetonian Jeremy, and Gayle, who is in England.

Mrs Freedman said his last major performance had been in November. In December he had a pacemaker fitted and in January he was the master of ceremonies at Samantha's Kirstenbosch wedding.

A memorial service for Freedman was due to be held at the Temple Israel in Green Point at 3pm on Tuesday.