Roy Skelton: Actor best known as the voice of the Daleks and as Zippy and George in 'Rainbow'
Friday 08 July 2011
Roy Skelton's verbal dexterity ensured that he achieved television immortality in two programmes, delighting and terrifying audiences in equal measure. As Zippy and George in Rainbow (1972-1992) he flitted seamlessly between the characterisation of a mischievous brown puppet of indeterminate species and his gentle, pink hippopotamus cohort. From an altogether different dimension and moral compass came Doctor Who's Daleks, voiced by Skelton between 1967 and 1988 (plus a 1999 Comic Relief swansong).
He was the eldest of two boys; when his parents' sweet shop business folded his mother became a housekeeper and his father a toolmaker for Raleigh in Nottingham. The acting bug bit early and he honed his stage skills during at his boys' club and during national service. He got a scholarship to the Bristol Old Vic and, upon graduating, appeared at the Theatre Royal there in the early 1950s in Macbeth, Christmas In King Street, Crime And Punishment and The Merry Gentlemen.
He fell into voice work accidentally, but quickly secured work in fare such as Picture Book (as Sossidge the dog, 1955), Rubovian Legends (1955), The Winkleburg Armourer (1956) and Toytown, as grumpy Mr Growser (1956). These led to the ITV daytime children's show Rainbow, which is still fondly remembered for the antics of its host Geoffrey Hayes and his housemates Bungle The Bear, Zippy (so named because his mouth could be zipped shut), George and the singing trio Rod, Jane and Freddy. Zippy sounded like a jollier Dalek, while George, who came later, was a softer, fuzzy vocal. Skelton also wrote 150 episodes of the show and after it was cancelled voiced the characters for a dance version of "It's A Rainbow" (reaching No 15 in the charts), and a cover of "It's Raining Men".
For Doctor Who he originated the singsong computer lilt of the Cybermen in 1966 and the following year took over "exterminate" duties in the staccato tones of those firm family favourites the Daleks. These voices were performed live in the studio, as were other horrors like the crystalline slave masters The Krotons (1968), to whom he gave South African accents as a sly political aside.
Versatile and very much part of the Doctor Who family, he also appeared on-screen as everything from a duplicitous miner in "Colony In Space" (1971) to a doomed alien king in "The Hand Of Fear" (1976). Other TV roles included Z-Cars (1968), Last Of The Mohicans (1971), the sitcom Take A Chance (1980, for which he also wrote), The Mock Turtle in Alice In Wonderland (1986) and The Bill (1989).
His first love was the stage and he preferred character parts, notably Bob Cratchit in A Christmas Carol and Gregory Solomon in The Price (which involved a two-hour, self-administered make-up job), after many juvenile leads. After playing Baron Hardup in Cinderella at the Ashcroft Theatre in Croydon (1967), he often returned to direct. His musical skills – he was a fine singer, accomplished pianist and self-taught saxophonist and clarinet player – helped him to West End in roles in Wild Thyme (1955), Oh! My Papa! (1957), Chrysanthemum (1959), and Trelawny (1972).
He viewed his profession very much as his day job, eschewing showbiz hobnobbing to spend time with his wife, daughters and five grandchildren. He first met Hilary Tooze when she was on a date with someone else at a nightclub in Notting Hill in 1957. It was announced that a patron who was a TV personality would be performing on stage and as a reluctant Skelton made his way to the microphone, he heard her comment, "that's no TV personality". Having wowed the crowd he whisked her up to dance and they married two years later.
He was a lifelong NottinghamForest fan; an unfulfilled ambitionwas to commentate on a game using Zippy's voice. He was also happyto adopt his famous alter-egos on demand and was quietly proud of his achievements.
Having semi-retired to Brighton he continued working in between much- loved trips abroad, latterly resurrecting Zippy on The Weakest Link (2007) and Life On Mars (2008). Having suffered a stroke, he succumbed to pneumonia, taking with him two significant chunks of the childhoods of several generations of viewers.
Roy William Skelton, actor: born Oldham, Lancashire 20 July 1931; married 1959 Hilary Tooze ( two daughters); died Brighton 8 June 2011.
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