CHRISTMAS OFFER Subscribe to Devon Life today CLICK HERE

Devon Radio Presenter Judi Spiers Interviews Donald Sinden, Actor with the Voice You Can't Forget

PUBLISHED: 21:44 14 January 2010 | UPDATED: 14:35 20 February 2013

Donald Sinden

Donald Sinden

Boom and GRAVITAS<br/><br/><br/><br/>Judi meets the gentleman with the voice you can't forget<br/><br/><br/><br/>"I know, let's get him to read the telephone directory," some bright young BBC television researcher suggested.<br/><br/><br/><br/>"Great," we all thought, "that'll...

Boom and GRAVITAS



Judi meets the gentleman with the voice you can't forget



"I know, let's get him to read the telephone directory," some bright young BBC television researcher suggested.



"Great," we all thought, "that'll keep 'em hooked for at least 10 seconds."



"Aardvark Taxis, A1 Plumbing..." Fascinating. Perhaps that's why the aforementioned 'bright young thing' is now a top light entertainment director and I'm, well, I'm where I am!



He was, after all, referring to Donald Sinden, who at the time was having the mick taken out of him mercilessly every week by Spitting Image for his fruity vocal gymnastics. One particular scene I remember was his puppet, sitting in a restaurant calling for the waiter and asking: 'Do you serve a ham salad?' and the waiter replying: 'Yes, we serve salad to anyone!'



He was also shown fawning to the Queen and requesting a knighthood from her. Her Majesty, however, needed no prompting by a latex puppet, and Donald Sinden became Sir Donald in 1997.



And may I say what a gentleman he is. He has a lovely, self-deprecating sense of humour, and did indeed read the telephone directory live on television, and it was gripping! I am very pleased to report that, now in his 84th year, that sense of humour is still evident.



When I reminded him of that particular performance, he replied: "What have you got for me now? Could I read the news or something?" and wondered if appearing at both Exeter and North Devon Festivals with 'An Evening with Donald Sinden' was "going too far, Judi?"



Sir Donald Sinden's career is now in its sixth decade, and he is many things to many people. Those old enough will remember him in the films The Cruel Sea and Doctor in the House. On stage his King Lear won him two awards and was considered to be the finest of his generation. Such is his versatility that in the same year he had them rolling in the aisles in the farce Not Now, Darling.



On commenting on this he merely replied: "I need to do a farce every few years to keep my hand in. It's the most difficult thing to do. I mean, King Lear is a piece of cake compared with Not Now Darling."



Then of course there were the television series Our Man at St Marks, Two's Company with the sublime Elaine Stritch, and Never the Twain with Windsor Davies, which ran for almost 11 years.



But how many people know he was, in fact, born in Plymouth?



"St Budeaux to be precise. My father was in the navy during the First World War, stationed in Devonport. My mother moved down to Plymouth to be around when the ship docked. They loved it down there and decided after the war to stay on. In due time my sister was born, and then myself."



Father had trained to become a chemist before he went into the navy and returned to it after the war, opening a shop in Plymouth. What a coincidence that his first film, The Cruel Sea, in which he played Lockhart, considered by many to be his finest role, should have taken him back to Plymouth. When I mentioned this, the old self-deprecation reared its head.



"Bit of bad luck for me to have this as my first film. Nothing was ever as good as that afterwards."



He then went on to tell me how another of our acting greats crashed a warship whilst filming.



"We had a scene to film of the ship The Compass Rose returning home after a North Sea battle. We were to come up the Tamar and turn into a closed dock, a stone-built dock, which was big enough to hold about ten destroyers. Jack Hawkins was supposed to be the captain, so he was standing on the bridge. The real captain was a chap called Captain Jack Boom.



"They made two holes in the front of the bridge. Captain Jack was on his knees peering through these holes actually giving the instructions, whereas it looked as if Hawkins was. We came up the Tamar, turned into the dock harbour and Captain Jack brought the boat to a standstill. It was the best bit of parking I'd seen. We all crowded round Captain Jack congratulating him, when the message came over that we had eight camera angles and three of them weren't working, so would we do the scene again?



"So back down the Tamar we went, and my job? I was in charge of the focs'le party and I had to give orders such as 'Stand by your wires and fenders'. I've no idea what they were. Other people did and they started rushing to the side.



Captain Jack was so pleased with himself this time that he came up the Tamar doing nine knots.



I was rather surprised and remember thinking that the sea was going past rather quickly. Then we turned into the dock and I gave my orders, 'Stand by your wires and fenders'.



The fenders had already been put over the side of the ship and regretfully we rammed one of Her Majesty's destroyers. Our anchor tore a hole nine feet long in the side of the destroyer. Rather embarrassing. The thing was that Jack Boom who had actually done it was on his knees, whereas it looked as if Hawkins had done it. My favourite moment was when an officer came out onto the bridge of the destroyer and shouted at us: 'Who the hell was driving your boat?' and we had to say 'Jack Hawkins'!"



Amazingly, that wonderfully distinctive voice for which Sir Donald is so well known had originally been considered too deep for the part, and had had to be raised for the film. "So I was landed with this hybrid voice."


Hybrid or no hybrid, it's lent gravitas to many of the roles he's played over the years, from Rank films to Judge John Deed, even the telephone directory... I just wish I'd heard him do X... Xavier B, Solihull, and Z... Zawalsnyski P, Balsall Heath.

0 comments

More from People

Friday, November 16, 2018

Actor Tom Burke talks to JUDI SPIERS about his production of Don Carlos staged by his own theatre company Ara, in association with Exeter’s Northcott Theatre

Read more
Wednesday, November 14, 2018

In the latest in her series throughout 2018 profiling inspirational women, KATE HASKELL talks to England Women’s Cricket Captain, Heather Knight

Read more
Friday, October 26, 2018

There is more to Georgia Toffolo than an award-winning TV show, as HOLLY EELLS discovers

Read more
Friday, October 26, 2018

Striving to be the best in the world, homegrown Devon professional squash player Lyell Fuller is seeking sponsorship to help reach his goal. KATE WILLAMS finds out more

Read more
Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Tavistock Rugby Club in Devon is celebrating after being awarded a grant of £2,500 to fund private showers for referees at their Sandy Park ground, as part of rural energy provider Calor’s annual funding scheme

Read more
Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Devon’s Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones, also known as The Black Farmer, tells KATE WILLIAMS about his new book, Jeopardy, encouraging the embracing of risk to enrich life

Read more
Tuesday, October 2, 2018

As five members of Dartmoor Search and Rescue Ashburton celebrate 125 years of collective volunteering, we look back on their time with the organisation

Read more
Tuesday, September 25, 2018

CAROLYN SEAGER reveals how long after her mother’s death she discovered her amazing career in the service of her country

Read more
Tuesday, September 18, 2018

An author known for her novels depicting life on the Channel Islands is nonetheless happiest writing from home here in Devon

Read more
Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Fig Tree Court is a development of 14 apartments in Tiverton for retired and semi- retired over-55s with gorgeous views over the Grand Western Canal

Read more
Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Alex Green goes behind the scenes on the Dartington Hall Estate to find a community of artists, makers, farmers, and social entrepreneurs living out the legacy of its founders

Read more
Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Many people know of award-winning Roly’s Fudge, but do they know how much hard work and business insight goes into making it?

Read more
Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Topsham businessmen Steve Williams and Pete Woodham-Kay take an ethical stance on eating meat | Photos: Nick Hook

Read more
Tuesday, August 28, 2018

As llama love grips the nation, we meet a Dartmoor couple who have spent the last 11 years making them their livelihood | Words: Lydia Tewkesbury

Read more

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy



Topics of Interest

Food and Drink Directory

Subscribe or buy a mag today


subscription ad

Local Business Directory

Property Search