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...


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.

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