In this interview by Chris Dale Gary Files – Thunderbird 6, Captain Scarlet and The Secret Service voice artist, and actor in UFO gives us a little insight into his time working on Gerry Anderson productions in the 1960s.
Can you tell us a little about your early life and what inspired you to become a performer?
A: My inspiration was actually self defence. At one point in my schooling in Oz, I went to a very rough Technical School. As I’m rather short (168cm) I was a perfect candidate to be picked on by resident bullies. In order to prevent daily harassment, I developed the ability to make them laugh. And I have to say I rather liked the power (and the kudos) it gave me in diverting them. Then I discovered the school drama master – a brave soul. Or rather I was put onto him by one of the toughies who had the nouse to suggest that I could do as well as some of the oiks that had been chosen for the last play the school drama society had done. This master, a certain Mr Whitelock, was a marvel. For one thing, he was shorter than I was (about five feet one inch in the old measure) and in this cultural wilderness at Preston Technical School – devoted to the world of sheetmetal, engineering and woodwork – he was fostering the performing arts. We did everything from a one act play like “The Monkey’s Paw” to his version of Dickens “A Christmas Tale”. Later he was rescued from this purgatory by landing a job with the ABC (our version of the BBC) – doing schools broadcasts on radio. I thank him over and over for introducing me to the wonderful but very eccentric world of the performing arts.
I then went on to the world of Amateur Theatre in and around Melbourne and became rather successful as a “character juvenile” as we were called then. Even at that time I had an ability with accents and as most of the plays we did then were from either the U.K. or America, because sadly our own playwrights weren’t being acknowledged at that point. I got to do things like American young men who were killers or would be toughs, as well as a lot of funny and very different English characters. I just loved doing comedy. Then just as I was discovered by the Australian budding T.V. industry – landing a juvenile lead in an episode of a running T.V. serial – I left for Canada on my way to England.
Canada proved to be more than a whistle stop. I actually found myself back in the Amateur theatre scene in Toronto. The group I was in won a Dominion Drama Festival Award. To do which we had to go to Montreal, where the judge of the festival was none other than Michele St. Denis. He was there keeping an eye on one of the first co-lingual acting schools he had founded (The National Theatre School of Canada) with two of this old students – one from his Bristol Old Vic School and the other from the school he ran at Strasbourg in France. I became so impressed by what I saw – as we were shown around the school – that I decided to try to get in there instead of continuing on to theatre schools in London. I did get in and it changed my life. I graduated and worked in the Canadian theatre and T.V. scene for a year before finally continuing on to England. In doing that I had to fine tune my accents – to sound Canadian when needed – or to do Cockney and whatever else for “Oh What A Lovely War” – which I did just before leaving for the U.K.
On reaching London, I was lucky enough to be included (because of having done it in Toronto) in a touring company for Theatre Workshop London of “Oh What A Lovely War” which included such luminaries as Brian Murphy, Gaye Brown and Nigel Hawthorne. Not too bad for a lad from Melbourne I thought. We even had Joan Littlewood herself direct us at one point. I just seemed to drift on into the theatre scene from then on. I used to bewilder a lot of the British producers by hopping from one pond to another as we did in Australia and Canada, because there was so little work and you had to be versatile to make a living. In the U.K. you had the theatre pond, the radio pond, the television pond, the film pond, etc, etc. which in those days tended to be rather separate from each other. Not today thank God. And that was how I came to work for Century 21.
Had you heard of Century 21 and their work before you joined them?
A: Not at all. I was down at Bristol with the Bristol Old Vic Company and my six month contract there was coming to an end. No work loomed and I was desperate. Someone in the company told me there was this T.V. puppet outfit that used actors with an ability with accents – especially American ones. So I borrowed someone’s clunky tape recorder and worked up a tape with me introducing myself as a Canadian and doing a whole slew of accents – including several bursts of Australian, of course. Gerry told me later that what got me in was his curiosity at just having to see this Canadian who could do such a good Australian accent.
Were you with Captain Scarlet from the beginning, as the first few episodes don’t feature you. Were you engaged on Thunderbird 6 at this time?
A: I was given the parts in “Thunderbird Six” (as I understand) as a try-out. I was just knocked out to be working with people like Geoffrey Kean, and those other marvellous people involved. I had such an extraordinary day recording it at Denham. Then afterwards we had a real ‘film actors’ lunch at this picturesque little pub nearby. It was very English and a bit exotic for this particular lad from the colonies.
Quite frankly I don’t remember not being in the first episodes of “Captain Scarlet” that were recorded. I just remember that we went to the same studio where we recorded the film. It was like working in a small room in an aircraft hanger. That, and being fascinated with what Francis Matthews was doing with Captain Scarlet using his Cary Grant voice. I was also very impressed by Ed Bishop’s work and followed his career from then on as much as I could. We sort of stayed in touch over the years. He used to phone me when he got to Australia – and I tried to do the same when I used to visit England.
What character from Captain Scarlet did you take the most enjoyment out of voicing?
A: That’s extremely hard to say from this distance in time. I do know that we all used to love the challenge of trying to make each character as different as we could. I think that we once worked out that some of us had done a bewildering number of different characters in our time with Gerry and Sylvia at Century 21. I came up with something like 146 different characters I thought that I had done, aside from my basic characters, Captain Magenta and Matthew Harding.
We’ll post part two of Gary’s interview next week.