DAVID GRAHAM - Voice of Parker, Gordon, Brains and Kyrano

 

A David Graham knows only too well, when your achievements include originating the Daleks I Doctor Who, as well as playing Parker, Brains and a host of other Gerry Anderson characters, you have to constantly remind people that you're more than just a voice artist.

Fortunately for David, he also appears in the supernatural comedy series So Haunt Me, His role as pessimistic neighbour Mr Bloom has made him more visible than ever - in direct contrast, of course, with series star Miriam Karlin, who plays an often-invisible ghost

David Graham trained as an actor in New York, returning to his native England in the 1950s. "I started my career here, as most actors did, in repertory, and then tv in the days when it was all live and there was only one channel, the BBC."

The Early Days

It was when commercial television began that David met Gerry Anderson,. "It all started when I did a live-action tv film at Elstree which Gerry directed. Although he happened to be directing this cops and robbers thing, his background was on the technical side of the business, and I think his mind was very set on puppet film making.

"When I heard that I pricked up my ears and said "I`m not bad on accents and voices." When he got underway he was good enough to contact me and it all started. Four Feather Falls was a Granada production.

"They were quarter of an hour programmes, quite charming and naive compared to what came later. I was gramps, who I based on Hollywood actor Walter Brennan. Then there were two Mexican bandits, Fernando and Gonzales. Kenneth Connor played one and I was the other.

Supercar and Fireball

After Four Feather Falls more series followed for Anderson, each more successful than the last. "In Supercar I did Dr Beaker and Mitch the Monkey. In Fireball XL5 I was Matt Matic and The Lazoon, Funnily enough, I was asked to do the Lazoon on a show recently, and I just couldn't remember how I did it. I can remember how I did it. I can remember Mitch the Monkey, because I went to London Zoo to do research, but I just couldn't remember Zoonie the Lazoon.

"The fans, God bless them , remember everything in such detail. I`m often asked if a remember such-and-such an episode... well, as I say, they were lovely to do at the time, but it was a long time ago. Next came Stingray, in which I didn`t do any basic characters, because when they did the pilot I was otherwise engaged, but I did do various villains."

Voice of the Daleks

For the sake of a good story, it would be nice to report that the other engagement was a Doctor Who adventure, but it's difficult to be sure. Certainly the pilot episode of Stingray would have been recorded at more or less the same time as The Dalek Invasion of Earth, the second Doctor Who adventure to feature the mechanical nasties.

"I originated the Dalek voices for Doctor Who with peter Hawkins. We went into the studio and created a style for these voices. Then they fed them through an electronic machine. I did quite a few of the early Dalek adventures."

In fact David worked on the first five Dalek stories, including the one-part adventure Mission to the Unknown. "We used to pre-record the Daleks at Lime Grove and they were fed in to the action later. After a while, though, it started to clash with other things I was doing. I dropped out and Peter continued."

The series owes David a permanent debt of gratitude for the part he played in establishing the fiends from Skaro as among the most famous tv villains ever. Although the 12-part classic The Daleks` Master Plan was the last Dalek adventure he worked on, it was far from his swan-song on Doctor Who. Just a few months later he made his first on-screen appearance.

 

"I played a barman in The Gunfighters, and then years later I played a Russian in City of Death". Was it unusual appearing on camera after working behind the scenes for so long?. "Not at all, its just part of the job. I do voices, but my priority is to appear visually. It was just a logical progression, really, The fact that I`d done the Dalek voices didn't preclude me from appearing live, thankfully. People wouldn't recognise me as a Dalek, because my voice was fed through a synthesizer.

"The danger in this business is that people type you, they think you only do voices. If you play a character for two or three series people think you can't play anything else, which is frustrating for a character actor.

"People that don't know me don't recognise me as Parker, which is fine with me, because I don't want to be too well known because there's the risk of getting typed."

In Thunderbirds, David played not just Parker, but Brains, Gordon Tracy, Kyrano and various other one-off characters. Did he have to audition for each part separately? "When Thunderbirds came up, I`d been with Gerry for so long I think he had me down for Parker and the rest. Then during the recordings Ray Barrett and I would split up most of the villains between us."

The Origins of Parker

For the benefit of the one or two people who've never heard it. David recounts Parker's origins. "I've told this story ad infinitium. Gerry took ,me to a restaurant in Cookham, near the studio in Slough. Gerry had already listened to this waiter and he invited him over. The waiter said "Would you like to see the wine list - we elaborated on the voice, but basically it was parker."

Was there any difficulty recording scenes in which he played more than one character? "One was always talking to oneself, and you got very good at it. If parker had a scene with Brains, you'd just pause and switch voices.

"It was pre-recorded, much like a radio programme, and they had this thing called electronic lip-synch, where the voices were fed into relays in the heads of the puppets. The lips moved when the voices came in, We used to record three in a day on a Sunday down at Slough. We had the scripts beforehand, and if there were any other voices needed we'd parcel them out".

David developed a great double act with Sylvia Anderson as Lady Penelope. Was all their dialogue scripted beforehand? "The scriptwriters were great, and it was almost all written for us. If you had an idea for something that was funnier, or might work better Gerry and Sylvia always gave you the liberty to do that. Of course, we also did records, and I've given speeches for charity as Parker. I've even cobbled together a life for parker as if he's living in retirement., People think of him as an individual, as I'm happy to do appearances as Parker from time to time."

The Thunderbirds Cult

Did david ever imagine the voices of Parker and co would still be in demand so many years later? "At the beginning, one didn't realize that these series were going to be such a cult. By the time we started Thunderbirds we thought it might take off, but if you'd said thirty years I'd still be talking about it and being asked to do the voices, never. Although I'm much older, my voice hasn't changed, so I can still do parker and Brains.

Those two are far and away the most imitated Thunderbirds characters. How does David feel when he hears other people doing `his` voices? "It doesn't annoy me at all. It's flattering when things become so well-known impressionists do them, I was very pleased to have been involved with them, but as far as I'm concerned they're history, and I'm trying to pursue my career today in a very competitive environment. Of course, I'm also happy to get involved in any spin offs from the series. I like to go to the Fanderson conventions whenever I can."

Timeslip

Another series which is finding a new audience, although not quite on the same scale as Thunderbirds, is Timeslip. David appeared in the third story, The Year of The Burn Up first shown in 1970.

"I've been told that they're coming out on video, which is great. I played 2957, an older version of Spencer Bank's character. I met Spencer again recently, he'd been doing drama rep for BBC radio as I did for some time.

"Denis Quilley was in it as The Commander, I'd worked with him at the National Theatre. They were very good scripts, very imaginative."

Back to Doctor Who

At the other end of the '70s, David returned to Doctor Who to appear with Tom Baker in City of Death, "I'd done an episode of When the Boat Comes In for Michael Hayes, which led to City of Death, which he also directed. The series was very different from the William Hartnell days, they had a bigger budget. There was even location work in Paris although I wasn't involved in that. It was about the Mona Lisa, a very clever story written by Douglas Adams."

 

So Haunt Me

Does David still do as much voice work, or does he concentrate on on-screen appearances" "I hope I'm a reasonably versatile character actor but when voice work comes up I do it - we're in a tough business. I do lot of foreign cartoon and film dubbing."

Is So Haunt Me an enjoyable series to work on? "Yes, I`m very pleased that its been so successful, It's now appearing on two stations in America. I think it will go down very well there.

"It's a lovely character to play, he's an anxiety ridden hypochondriac. Mr Bloom has raised worry to an art form."

So, whether it's comedy or drama, on screen or voiceover, we can look forward to David Graham continuing to entertain us for a long time to come.