Saturday, May 16, 2015

Voice Overs




The art of performing in a drama broadcast on the wireless, or steam radio as it was affectionately called in the sixties, is unfortunately gone.

The skills displayed by Sir John Gielgud, Sir Larry, Sir Ralph and many other of my fellow knighted Thespians are possibly lost forever. Our American cousins also contributed to this now dying art.

 The great Orson Welles’ radio production of The War of the worlds in 1938 had thousands of the listening public rushing to their local shops to stock up on baked beans as they believed the Martians were landing.

More recently Robert de Niro, Sam Shepard and Al Pacino have displayed their talent in radio dramas.

But unfortunately today most radio stations across the globe broadcast either music, news or phone-in chat shows around the clock.

The latter – the Talk stations – now bombard our ears with a style similar to the recently created Reality TV channel and the bizarrely popular Jerry Springer show. The highly talented presenters invite the listening public to air their clean and dirty linen on the airwaves twenty four hours a day.

The use of the thespian skills of the jobbing actor in the field of radio have slowly diminished since the mid-seventies. Acting on the radio required the fine tuning of the actor’s most valued asset – his voice. The art of moving on and off the microphone to convey a sense of distance; the half covering of the mouth to create a whispered aside; the close-on-mike purred delivery for the intimate bedroom scene. All these practiced tricks of the trade have been lost.

Or have they?

Nowadays instead of gently delivering the classic romantic line, “But soft what light through yonder window breaks?” many highly trained and versatile actors are asked to croon softly into the mike and utter such wonderful lines of dialogue like, “Zinophay Shampoo gently caresses your hair from root to tip.”

This bastardisation of the art of radio acting is called “Doing a voice over”. Many jobbing actors across the globe have been enticed by the lure of the green backs to hire their voices to advertising agencies. I too fell to the smell of money but being a crafty old sod I endeavored to kill two birds with one stone. I was determined to fill my wallet and my “Toddie” at the same time.

For thirteen years of my life I extolled the almost non-existent virtues of a larger which stood the test of time. It was during this time that I became au fait with the jargon of the advertising agencies.

It was a gradual learning curve as I began to understand the difference between a copywriter and an artistic director, between an executive director and an account executive, between the client and the client’s marketing manager, between a client executive consultant advisor and Tom, Dick, Harry and all.


It was during this period that I managed to keep Toddie full as I requested part payment in Long Tom cans of Castle larger for my mate Coxy. ( Read "Long Days Journey into Friendship")

Unlike working either on film or on the stage, where the actor has to follow the careful guidance of his one and only boss, the director, - in the loneliness of his sound proofed booth the voice artist has to deal with sometimes seven or eight directors. And this number can double if members of the product’s creative brand imaging team are also present in the studio.

Nobody in the world of advertising or product marketing seems to appreciate that in the creative world of theatre or film there is no place for democracy. The director is a dictator. I don’t think that Mr. Speilberg held a four hour meeting with his writer, his cameraman, his actor, his creative technical supervisor and his underarm deodorant supplier before he shouted, “Print that one!” as ET said, “Go-home.”

The legendary Orson Welles had such a confrontational meeting with a team of semi creative minds when he was asked to do a voice over for some frozen peas in 1978.

Orson at this stage of his life was not a small man in mass or temperament and for an over sixteen stone man to be confined in one and a half square metres of space can only be described as uncomfortable.

The line he was asked to deliver was “The New Fresh Frozen Garden Pea.”


He delivered four “takes”, sat back, lit up a cigar and waited.

Through the glass he watched the menagerie of Ad agency and product marketers discuss his readings. “Mr. Welles, could you possibly try a heavier stress on the word new.” Piped up creative brain number one.

“Sure thing”, and he obliged.

 “I’m sorry Mr. Welles, go for the fresh.” Said the marketing manager.

He obliged. 


“I’m really sorry Mr. Welles, could you try the stress on Garden.”, asked the customer services manager.

He obliged. 


“Would you mind if we tried it on Frozen and Fresh.”, asked the bespectacled managing director of the frozen pea company.

He obliged.


“I’m sorry too,” he quickly injected, “but I need to take a pee!”

He walked out of the studio and was never seen again.

1 comment:

Maggie Storey said...

Brilliant. We are at the mercy of fools.