Peter York On Ads

Accept no imitations: in this ad, Loyd is the essential ingredient
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The Independent Online

I'm doing a voiceover next Wednesday. It's for a friend, a writer/televisionist looking to make a series out of one of his books. I'm voicing what's in effect a trailer for this. And the deal is that if we get it commissioned, I'll be the presenter and get to walk around in glorious locations interviewing film stars.

I wouldn't want you to think I hadn't done voice-overs before, hadn't waited in the dark in a soundproof booth, watching the action on screen, watching for the green light. But the hard truth is I've only voice-overed my own TV things. Real voiceovers are chosen for their desirable or distinctive voices to add value whatever the subject.

It's all gorgeous work, obviously. Voiceovers for commercials are either anonymously exactly right (youthful, mumsy, regional, knocked-back, class-correct, whatever) or famously unmistakable (Mariella Frostrup, Brian Sewell, Joanna Lumley). For serious documentaries – wars, establishment history, great sweeping themes – there are practically only two voices you can have: the lovely cellos of Zoë Wanamaker or Juliet Stevenson give your film instant gravitas. For the other stuff – 'Celebrity Yo-Yo Dieters', 'The World's Fattest Toddler', telethons, etc – you need something that bit more demotic. Not exactly Jim Davidson, or, were he still with us, Arthur Mullard (who used to offer his broadcasting and advertising clients the option of vocal delivery with or without teeth). What you need now is a youngish woman who sounds as if she looks like Donna Air/Cat Deeley/A N Other Presenterine. Otherwise there's the regions and nations sector, who do everything. John Hannah (or is some of it John Gordon Sinclair?) never leaves the studio. People trust a nice Scottish voice. And the Irish are getting a slice of the action, as well: Dervla Kirwan does M&S food, and Jimmy Nesbitt's in there too (not much movement on the Welsh front, but we're all betting on Rob Brydon).

Film trailers are something else again. The big American ones are achingly trad' – with voices so testosterone-soaked, so gravy-dark, so oak-barrelled, so obviously from steel-banded 50in chest cavities, that squeaky teenage boys murmur, "Respect!"

One of the great vocal careers happened almost by accident. Loyd Grossman hoped to be a writer and singer (Jet Bronx and the Forbidden, 1977). Like me, he was an Ann Barr protégé on 'Harpers & Queen', where he did restaurant columns featuring girls of very high degree. He graduated to television in the early Eighties with 'Through the Keyhole', then went on to 'Masterchef' and thence to pasta sauces. We'd always thought he had a singular voice, combining smart East Coast American and Brit aesthete. But it became a branded asset when people started spoofing it.

Rather late in the day they've cottoned on in the Loyd Grossman sauce commercials, where a range of people who aren't Loyd get tremendously poncy over hot pans in smart kitchens, delivering Loyd-ish lines in his voice. What this means is vowels as stretched as a bashed-out veal Milanese, a recognisably "connoisseurish" turn of phrase and a sacramental delivery. It's all about the sauce ingredients and how they simmer away together to bring things up a treat. At the end Loyd himself appears and launches into this own version. The director says "Cut!" instantly, of course.

As for my own voiceover, I'm pitching it somewhere on the continuum between Hugh Grant and David Walliams, only that bit more post-modern.

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