No, I didn’t wake up one day and decide to become an audiobook narrator.
There were few recordings of books around when I was a child – the technology just wasn’t available. What was around was on vinyl and amounted to small amounts of text. At school I remember listening to Richard Burton read Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood in an English class… and I had an LP of JRR Tolkien in my collection reading some small passages from his works (including some delightful Elvish verse) but that was all I knew.
So how did I become a narrator…?
I often think of it as the perfect storm of life influences and experiences coming together at the right time and finding the perfect outlet.
I was born and grew up in the southern English coastal town of Brighton (it was in the Domesday Book as a small fishing village, called then – Brighthelmstone). It was the mid ’50s and my father was a doctor and my mother had been a nurse. I remember our ‘sitting room’ (as we called the ‘family’ room) had rows of bookshelves around it, and I would often lift volumes out and spend time reading quietly – escaping into the worlds created by the words. I was a very good sight reader as a child (definitely a useful talent for audiobook narration) and later on I loved reading aloud at school.
My parents wanted some weekend time to themselves when I was in my early teens so my brother and I were sent off to the Brighton School of Music and Drama where we spent Saturday mornings taking acting and ‘elocution’ classes (this might prove useful later…hmmm?). I don’t think it was their intention that I should actually seriously consider acting as a future career – but maybe they weren’t thinking clearly about how those classes might influence me.
Truth is, I didn’t think of acting as a wise career move for many years – but there was something about it.
I left school to go to university fully expecting to get a degree in Civil Engineering, a path that might lead to a proper job… But that lasted a year at which point I realized I wasn’t exactly suited to be an engineer (I failed some important exams which helped change my mind). So, I enrolled in the Economics department and that’s the degree I ended up with a few years later. However…
In those university years I had found the drama society, and done a couple of plays and found that I still rather enjoyed ‘performing’ (oh-oh). And during the vacations I had hung out with an old school friend of mine who worked at the local radio station back home: BBC Radio Brighton (and this sounds like it might be leading somewhere). Over the course of a few summers I ended up doing some part-time work at the station and even presented several programmes on air.
Yes. Immediately after graduating from Leeds University, with my degree, I raced to get a job… as a bus driver!
Seriously – I didn’t really know what I wanted to do and so, I chose to do something that allowed me ‘space to think’…
But my father died and I decided to go back home to be with my family at that difficult time. Back in Brighton…what would I do? I knew BBC Radio Brighton and I knew the work… and I loved the work. I went there and within a year was on the BBC staff. Three years later I tried out for a job as a BBC Radio 4 presenter/newsreader – this was the BBC’s national speech based network and quite a major step upward. I landed the job, moved to London and worked there until 1992 when I left England completely and settled in California.
But it was while I was at Radio 4 that I started donating one afternoon a week to what was then called the Royal National Institute for the Blind’s Talking Book Service. Yup – this was the true beginning of my narrating career, and for most of the next decade I served what I consider now to be my unpaid apprenticeship as an audiobook narrator.
But I also performed in several plays in London – the bug hadn’t gone away, and was actually digging its teeth in deeper. By this time, the end of the 80’s, I knew I wanted to at least try to be a ‘real’ actor.
…TO BE CONTINUED…