Peter Hawkins

Inventive TV voice-over artist


Peter John Hawkins, actor: born London 3 April 1924; married 1956 Rosemary Miller (one son); died London 8 July 2006.

What do the following have in common? Bill and Ben's frequently uttered, indecipherable comment "Flobbadob" in The Flowerpot Men. The blustering Captain Pugwash's "Plundering porpoises! Jumping jellyfish! Harrowing hurricanes!" The urgent, on-the-edge-of-your-seat voice announcing Hergé's Adventures of Tintin. And the Daleks' menacing, robotic exhortation of:"Ex-ter-min-ate! Ex-ter-min-ate!" The voice behind all these television favourites was the actor Peter Hawkins.

It was Hawkins' inventive voice-play that made The Flowerpot Men (1952-54) so distinctive. Only the second programme to feature in BBC television's daytime Watch With Mother slot, aimed at pre-school viewers following the success of Andy Pandy, it featured two gangly, identical marionette puppets, Bill and Ben, with legs made out of inverted clay pots and wearing outsize hobnail boots and gardening gloves. They lived in large flowerpots outside a potting-shed at the bottom of the garden, either side of Little Weed - actually, more of a sunflower - who told them when it was safe to come out and play, and kept an eye out for the dreaded gardener.

With Julia Williams narrating and Gladys Whitred singing the songs and providing the voice of Little Weed ("Weeeeee-d!"), Hawkins improvised Bill and Ben's scripted lines in a gibberish fashion that has been likened to the technique employed by the nonsense-spouting comedian Stanley Unwin - an icicle was an "ickle-kickle", for instance - while giving Bill a high-pitched squeak and Ben lower tones to differentiate them. "Flobbadob" was the pair's word for "flowerpot".

Hawkins called their language "Oddle-poddle" and, although concerns were voiced about it holding back children's development, The Flowerpot Men became one of the best-loved programmes from the so-called Golden Age of television and continued to be repeated for two decades.

When Captain Pugwash (1957-66), which began as a comic strip in The Eagle, came to television, Hawkins was responsible for all the voices, from the blustering pirate and his work-shy crew on the Black Pig to the various rogues and vagabonds they encountered on the high seas, such as Cut-Throat Jake. Pugwash's creator, John Ryan, devised a form of animation using cut-out puppets with cardboard levers to move their eyes, mouths and limbs, as well as to rock the boats."Almost as important as the pictures is the sound," explained Ryan.

At the recording studio we meet Peter Hawkins, the actor whose ability to speak with any number of different voices is truly amazing. Peter tells the story and speaks the parts of all the characters into the microphone, and it's very hard to keep a straight face as he does it because he has a way of miming the action as well!

Hawkins was also in demand to dub voices in English-language versions of foreign animation, most notably Hergé's Adventures of Tintin (1962-63), 50 fast-moving, five-minute episodes based on the newspaper comic strip created by the Belgian writer-artist Georges Remi, featuring the boy reporter and his faithful dog Snowy, along with their seafaring friend Captain Haddock.

Then came two of Hawkins's most enduring creations, both in the early years of Doctor Who and spanning the first two incarnations of television's Timelord, the actors William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton.

With David Graham, Hawkins shared the original voices of the Daleks (1963-67), who made their dramatic entrance in the science-fiction serial's second, seven-episode story, written by Terry Nation and set on the planet Skaro. The pair's voices were processed electronically at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop to give a distinctive sound and the Daleks quickly became the Doctor's No 1 adversaries, helping to make the programme popular with viewers. Indeed, many children could be seen going round with saucepans on their heads at the time. Hawkins and Graham also voiced the 1965 film spin-off Doctor Who and the Daleks.

Hawkins then became the first voice of the Cybermen (1966-68), the shiny, cybernetically augmented humanoids, with their distinctive sound created by fitting him with a dental plate containing a microphone, originally designed for people who had undergone laryngotomies.

Born in London in 1924, Peter Hawkins was the son of a police inspector and enjoyed acting in school productions, then in troop shows, while serving with the Royal Navy during the Second World War. He trained at the Central School of Speech and Drama, made his West End stage début as Joe Gorme in Sit Down a Minute, Adrian (Comedy Theatre, 1948) and was first seen on television as Albert Tuggeridge in a BBC adaptation of J.B. Priestley's The Good Companions (1949).

Spotted by the presenter and puppeteer Humphrey Lestocq, Hawkins joined the children's variety show Whirligig (1950-56), appearing in front of the camera and providing voices for two puppets, the obnoxious Mr Turnip and the mischievous parrot Porterhouse.

This led to more than 40 years as a much in-demand voice-over artist. Hawkins followed The Flowerpot Men by becoming one of the voices in The Woodentops (1955-58), the adventures of a family of wooden dolls living on a farm, also in the Watch With Mother slot.

When John Ryan, the Captain Pugwash creator, launched The Adventures of Sir Prancelot (1972), about a heroic knight and his household setting off to the Holy Land for the Crusades, Hawkins provided all the voices. He was also heard as Zippy in the first series of Rainbow (1972) and, among dozens of productions, later narrated SuperTed (1982-86, commissioned by the Welsh channel S4C) and the Spot the Dog sequel It's Fun to Learn with Spot (1990).

Although seen in front of the camera less frequently over the years, Hawkins appeared in three series of the sketch show Dave Allen at Large (1972-75), playing characters such as a cone-headed bishop, Friar Tuck and the captain of a Mexican firing squad.

Anthony Hayward

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