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William Franklyn

Voice of 'Schhh! You know who'

William Leo Franklyn, actor: born London 22 September 1925; married first Margo Johns (one daughter; marriage dissolved), second 1969 Susanna Carroll (two daughters); died London 31 October 2006.

In an acting career spanning more than half a century, William Franklyn performed drama and comedy on stage and screen, but he will for ever be remembered for his distinctive tones advertising Schweppes tonic water, with the whispered words: "Schhh! You know who." The "schhh" sounded like one of the bottle being opened and his voice was just as distinctive as the tonic's yellow labels.

Franklyn was seen on screen promoting the drink in 50 television commercials over nine years, starting in 1963. In an early one, he slipped out of a dinner-jacket, James Bond-style, clearly giving the message that the drink was the ultimate in sophistication and very English, and the actor was credited with helping to boost sales by almost £1m.

Such was the impact of the commercials that they also appeared in Channel 4's The 100 Greatest TV Ads six years ago. When they were originally aired, they confirmed the Franklyn stereotype as debonair and suave, following his starring role in the television series Top Secret (1961-62) as Peter Dallas, a British agent who returns to the Buenos Aires of his childhood, where he is hired to fight crime wherever it occurs in Argentina by a wealthy businessman, Miguel Garetta - played by Patrick Cargill, an actor with an equally distinctive voice.

Franklyn had a slightly adventurous childhood himself. The grandson of Arthur Rigby Snr and the nephew of Arthur Rigby Jnr, both actors, he was born in Kensington, London, in 1925, the son of another actor, Leo Franklyn, who went on to become a celebrated member of Brian Rix's Whitehall Theatre company in farces of the 1950s and 1960s. When William Franklyn was a baby, his family moved to Australia, where his father drove around in an old Pullman car while acting in musical comedies in theatres across the country. During 10 years there, the young Franklyn was educated privately in Melbourne, at Wesley College and Haileybury College.

Despite his acting lineage, he had little desire to perform himself as a child, put off by the experience of being dragged, blushing, through dressing-rooms of half-naked women. "It sounds very good," he said, "but, actually, it made me terrified." However, the family returned to London when he was 11, he was evacuated to Luscombe Castle, in Devon, when war broke out and, at the age of 18, he was thrown into acting at the deep end, taking a role in the West End comedy My Sister Eileen (alongside Coral Browne, Savoy Theatre, 1943).

After serving in the paratroops, he returned to the stage in Arsenic and Old Lace, on Southsea Pier (1946), and followed it with six years at repertory theatres in Ryde and Margate, eventually becoming straight man to the comedy legend Tommy Trinder. He also acted in Peter Ustinov's West End play The Love of Four Colonels (Wyndham's, 1951).

At times, acting work was scarce, so Franklyn set himself up as an up-market rag-and-bone man, taking junk from houses in Chelsea and selling it in his own ramshackle shop. His philosophy about acting was simple: "I think actors really ought to be buccaneering characters. I act for money, not for an ego trip."

He made his film début, as a surgeon, in the Ealing Studios political melodrama The Secret People (1951), in a cast that included Audrey Hepburn. For Ealing, he also appeared in the airport-terminal drama Out of the Clouds (1954), before taking roles in a string of pictures, such as The Love Match (starring Arthur Askey, 1955), Above Us the Waves (with John Mills, 1955), Quatermass 2 (1957), The Girl at the Next Table (featuring Ian Carmichael and Janette Scott, 1957) and the prisoner-of-war drama The Danger Within (1958). He also had a starring role as a safe designer who busts a crime ring in Pit of Darkness (1961).

By then, Franklyn had also established himself as a television character actor. Following his small-screen début in the BBC children's serial Seven Little Australians (1953), he acted in Mid Level ("Television Playhouse", 1955), the first play screened by ITV, two days after its inauguration, he had a regular role as Jacques Fleury in The Adventures of the Scarlet Pimpernel (1955-56) and one-off parts in popular series such as The Count of Monte Cristo (1956), The Adventures of Sir Lancelot (1957) and International Detective (1960).

After starring in Top Secret, he contributed some sketches to the BBC satirical show That Was the Week That Was (1962-63) and soon became known for just being himself. He provided the voiceover in the game-show Whodunnit? (1972-78), then hosted the espionage quiz series The Masterspy (1979).

His style was also perfect for the role of the straight man linking comedy sketches in What's On Next? (1976-78), written mostly by Barry Cryer, who was seen alongside personalities such as Sandra Dickinson, Hinge and Bracket, Anna Dawson, Bob Todd and the rising stars Jim Davidson and Pam Ayres.

During the same period, Franklyn starred in the sitcom Paradise Island (1977) as the lovelorn hedonist Cuthbert Fullworthy, an entertainments officer who finds himself and the Rev Alexander Goodwin (Bill Maynard) marooned on a Pacific desert island, the only survivors of a shipwreck. He was back alongside Cryer, Dawson and Todd, as well as Madeline Smith and the newcomer Jimmy Mulville, in The Steam Video Company (1984), a series of six different comedy tales, such as "Creature from the Black Forest Gateau" and "I Was Hitler's Bookie". His last television acting role was as a judge in The Courtroom (2004).

Franklyn's other films included the Morecambe and Wise comedy The Intelligence Men (1965), Ooh . . . You Are Awful (starring Dick Emery, 1972) and Splitting Heirs (written by Eric Idle, 1993). Intriguingly, he also played Earl Mountbatten of Burma in the television film Diana: Her True Story (1993).

Two years ago, he replaced the voice of the Book, Peter Jones, for two new series of The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy on BBC radio (2004-05), otherwise featuring the original cast from quarter of a century earlier. During his career, Franklyn did voice-overs for hundreds of commercials and documentaries, and for 11 years read on the BBC series Quote . . . Unquote.

His two marriages were both to actresses, Margo Johns, from whom he was divorced, and Susanna Carroll. His eldest daughter is the actress Sabina Franklyn.

Anthony Hayward