Dick Tufeld: Actor who voiced Robbie the Robot in 'Lost in Space'

 

With a voice that defined a generation of science-fiction television, including Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and The Time Tunnel, Dick Tufeld will be best remembered for his electronic intonations of the robot in Lost in Space warning: "Danger, Will Robinson, danger!"

The producer Irwin Allen created Lost in Space (1965-68) as a variation on Swiss Family Robinson, and claimed to be unaware of the similar Space Family Robinson comic strip, which was first published in 1962. Lost in Space merged the elements of fantasy, espionage and gadgetry that dominated 1960s screen dramas, from James Bond to television programmes such as The Avengers and The Prisoner on television.

The series followed the astrophysicist John Robinson (Guy Williams) and his family – including his precocious, electronics wizard son Will (Billy Mumy) – as they left an Earth that had used up all its natural resources to colonise the planet Alpha Centauri. A foreign spy, Dr Zachary Smith (Jonathan Harris), became trapped on board their spaceship, Jupiter 2, while trying to sabotage it and his extra weight threw it off course. The family ended up hopping from planet to planet, doing combat with extraterrestrials, plants, carrot monsters and space dogs.

But it was the robot, added after the pilot episode, that stole the show. It was a machine with super-human strength, a threat-detecting scanner and the ability to carry out air and soil tests, but also with human characteristics – laughing, mocking, writing poetry, playing the guitar and styling Mrs Robinson's hair. The actor Bob May was inside the unsophisticated technology, operating the lights while being pulled along by wires, but Tufeld's voice provided most of the programme's memorable catchphrases, such as "That does not compute" and "Warning! Warning!" He was called on to voice the robot again in a 1998 film version of the television programme, as well as for episodes of The Simpsons (1998, 2004).

Tufeld was born in Los Angeles and brought up in Pasadena. The voice that would be his fortune was noticed early when a school teacher stuck tape over his mouth to keep him quiet. In 1945, after studying at Northwestern University's school of speech, in Illinois, Tufeld took a job with the Los Angeles radio station KLAC, engineering a show hosted by Irwin Allen, then a literary agent.

Four years later, he moved to ABC radio, where he narrated programmes such as the sci-fi serial Space Patrol (1952-55). Switching to television in1955, he became the voice of ABCdaytime programming, as well as many Grammy awards shows and Emmyceremonies.

Tufeld was also heard contributing narrations and introductions – usually in a newsreel style, with a sense of urgency – to programmes such as Zorro (1957-59), Peyton Place (1964-69) and Bewitched (1964-72).

He was hired by Allen, who was a pioneer of sci-fi television – known as the Master of Disaster – to provide introductions and narrations for Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1964-68) and The Time Tunnel (1966-67).

Tufeld was later heard narrating mostly animated series such as The Fantastic Four (1978), Thundarr the Barbarian (1980-84), Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends (1981-83) and Histeria! (1998-2000).

Richard Norton Tufeld, voice artist: born Los Angeles 11 December 1926; married 1948 Adrienne Blumberg (died 2004; two sons, two daughters); died Los Angeles 22 January 2012.

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