Saturday, February 18, 2006

Worth a Baker’s Dozen (Several thousand times over)

If you live in the UK and you watch television, you may have noticed that many of the voiceovers for commercials are delivered in the rich mellow tones of ex-Doctor Who and more recently voice of Little Britain, Tom Baker. His deep booming voice, which has been much in demand over the years has presumably earned him considerably more than a baker's dozen of late. No mean feat for an eccentric septugenarian who escaped a life of poverty in Liverpool to become a teenage monk, but then discovered that the celibate life just wasn't for him.

Advertising the new Wallace & Gromit dvd is fine, but I’m disappointed that he’s sold out to the big corporations by doing McDonalds ads. He's got his 30 pieces of silver, but has lost some credibility for it. This is the same man who agonised over the moral dilemma of whether to eradicate the daleks for good back in 1975 with his classic Shakespearean speech - "do I have the right..?". He simply had to join two pieces of wire together to detonate the primed explosives on Skaro and wipe the evil pepperpots into oblivion, but his conscience couldn’t allow it - i.e. the very fact of doing so would have made him just as bad as the daleks themselves. Now he gets paid by a multinational junk food chain to say "I'm lovin' it" in an ironic tone of voice.

However, when British Telecom decided to upgrade their voice text messaging system by replacing the monotonous robotic voice with a much more distinct sound, they made an inspired choice of speaker. Since then, I've spent hours of pleasure (ok, minutes - I’m not that sad) texting classic lines like “I’m a time lord…I walk in eternity”, “It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for” and "by daybreak the krynoid will be large enough to break this entire cottage to rubble" to my landline. The first and third phrases come out particularly well, but certain others don't quite make it, such as the famous line from Little Britain quoted below:

"Those in attendance [at the slimmers' club] have managed to steal themselves away from eating for just an hour to talk about food. The greedy fuckers!"

This statement in itself is not particularly funny, but when delivered in the deep booming tones of Thomas the Baker, it becomes hilarious.

I’ve actually had the pleasure of meeting the great man. It was at Waterstones bookshop, Belfast on a dreary autumn evening in 1997 at a signing session of his autobiography Who on earth is Tom Baker? - quite a fascinating read by all accounts. I was somewhat in awe of him and at a loss for words, so just got him to sign a convenient slip of paper, which I still have lying around somewhere, I think. I wonder how much I could get for it on e-Bay. He had quite a firm handshake as far as I recall, but with those giant goalkeeper's hands of his you'd expect that.

I'll finish off in the words of the man himself with unforgettable ironically self-referential joke from Little Britain:

"Dennis Waterman was on television 20 years ago, but all he's done since then is get pissed and do voiceovers. What kind of a life is that? I pity the man!"

I might even text it to my landline.


Joe said...

Tom's biography is well worth reading and quite reminiscent in places of Spike Milligan's memoirs (similar Catholic working class upbringing). He talks about his obsession with ironing boards, which I thought was a joke, but when I hosted an event with him in a theatre in Edinburgh he stopped dead in his tracks as we left the dressing room for the stage because he spotted some old 1950s ironing board backstage and I realised he hadn't been joking! Terrific evening though, about 600 folk there and he was patient with all of them. Perhaps he needs the extra advertising revenue to fund his ironing board fixation?

Joe said...
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CW said...

Interesting comment, Joe. I've been meaning to read Spike Milligan's book (My part in Hitler's downfall, as I recall - ingenious title!) for a long time now, but never quite got round to it. Will have to put it on my "to do" list for 2006. There's also some local interest here, as he used to live in Finchley, the area of London where I now reside, and there's a local campaign to raise funds to get a statue of him erected. You've also remimnded that it's Sunday evening and I'll need to get my weeks' ration of shirts ironed for the week soon!