Culture

Meet the voice of 'Thunderbirds', 'Doctor Who' and Apple's 1984 ad

You might not know David Graham's name, but you'll certainly recognise his voice.

5...4...3...2...1... Thunderbirds are back in action!

Amazon Prime Video

You may not know the name David Graham. You almost certainly don't know his face. But you definitely know his voice -- thanks to the fact he's provided the tones of not one, not two, but three iconic characters.

Graham is the man behind the voice of Aloysius Parker, the loveable rogue from the classic 1960s kids' programme "Thunderbirds". Fifty years after the show first aired, Graham reprises the role in the updated series "Thunderbirds Are Go", the second season of which is now available on Amazon Prime Video.

As well as voicing Parker, Graham helped invent the unmistakable sound of the Daleks in "Doctor Who". And in another epochal role, you actually get a glimpse of his face -- he was the Big Brother figure in Apple's famous "1984" advert.

Graham jumped at the chance to return to "Thunderbirds" when it was revived by ITV in 2015. "I was contacted by ITV and the executives came up to see me, to see if I was still in one piece," he laughs. "It's great, and rather unexpected after 50 years."

Even after all this time, Graham slipped right back into the distinctive tones of safecracker-turned-chauffeur "Nosy" Parker. "I had no difficulty re-creating the voice, with all his eccentricities. It's in my vocal DNA," Graham says. "I accentuate almost instinctively as Parker's strange, eccentric voice... In the last recording session [the production team] had me say 'exploded'. And I said, 'hexploooded!' which seemed to get a nice laugh."

Parker (left) and Lady Penelope with their iconic pink Rolls-Royce from "Thunderbirds".

ITV

The new show, "Thunderbirds Are Go", mixes models with modern CGI inspired by the original show's "Supermarionation" puppets. The technology may have moved on, but Graham says some things haven't changed. "Now it's all digitalised and the decks where the technicians modulate the voices are incredibly advanced," he explained, "but the vital process of producing the voices and playing, enacting -- it really remains the same. You're forever after truth. With all the fantasy involved in the series, you have to make the situations and the characters real."

The essence of "Thunderbirds", in which a family use high-tech vehicles to save lives, also remains. "Although there's a lot of big bangs, there's no gratuitous violence," says Graham. "It's a suspenseful show, but it's a family show. That's why I think it's endured. And of course there's the island of marvelous advanced technology!"

Graham played a crucial role in another long-running and much-loved British science fiction show. Back in 1963 he and fellow actor Peter Hawkins, who Graham describes as "a dear friend and a brilliant voice actor," were given the task of coming up with a voice for some villainous aliens in the BBC's new programme "Doctor Who".

"We set down a style of voice which had a menacing staccato delivery," he remembers. "We went down to the BBC Studios in West London, and they fed the voices through some sort of synthesiser." The result was the unmistakable, chilling mechanical delivery of the Daleks, still scaring children today.

Parker isn't the only character Graham created for "Thunderbirds". He also played International Rescue's resident tech expert, Brains, as well as the occasional guest character. "One of my favourite episodes," Graham remembers, "was when Parker had to apply his safe-breaking skills on an adventure. He had a friend called Light-Fingered Fred and I played both characters -- so I was often in scripts talking to myself, leaving a pause and changing character."

Following "Thunderbirds" and "Doctor Who", Graham took another role that's still talked about today. In 1983, he was cast in an advert for Apple Computer directed by Ridley Scott, based on George Orwell's novel "Nineteen Eighty-Four" and intended to air during the Super Bowl.

"I don't do many visual commercials," remembers Graham, "but I was suddenly called up to meet someone -- the famous Ridley Scott. I went down to Pinewood Studios, or Shepperton -- one of the big film studios. I had this costume and two pairs of glasses. They handed me a page of script, and I said, 'Why didn't you send it to me, because I can't learn this off the bat.' So they wrote it up on a board! I've got a strong voice, after all my years in the theatre. I've got a lot of vocal energy, and it seemed to become very famous."

Despite only airing twice, the "1984" commercial is still considered one of the best adverts ever made. Not a bad day's work for Graham: "I was out of the studio in an hour!" he laughs.