Since childhood, I have always been fascinated by the voice and what this complex mechanism is capable of. I’ve always loved Impressionists because of their incredible vocal dexterity and ability to deconstruct every aspect of a voice.
Peter Sellers was a master of this, and in the 1950s you would find me glued to the radio listening to The Goon Show with Sellers’ wonderful repertoire of characters. Every kid in the ‘50s would imitate Bluebottle or Captain Bloodknock. Listen to Peter Sellers: Guide to accents of the British Isles.
If you can do such a thing, I have collected voices like stamps, going way back to the 1950s: Charles Laughton, Robert Donat, Raymond Massey, Orson Welles, James Mason, Dirk Bogarde, Paul Scofield, Cyril Cusack, Henry Fonda, Laurence Olivier and Gregory Peck, to name just a few, and that’s only the men.
The voice, like any other part of our body, needs exercising. Neglect it and it becomes dull, thin and boring. When I first meet anyone, it’s their voice that I instinctively tune into, and I am often surprised at how few people consider the effectiveness of their voices. But the fact is, with a little understanding and a bit of TLC, they could be greatly improved.
Just like hand writing is mostly for others to read. But in this digital age, it is fast becoming a thing of the past, with few bothering to write beautifully. The voice, on the other hand, is something we use all the time to communicate with others. It is a barometer of our mood. Just saying one word (like ‘Hello’) can reveal a lot about what is going on and whether we are up, down or flat: just in how that one word is spoken.
Even poets, whose words are meant to be delivered aloud, are often the worst people to do it. A classic example is Dylan Thomas reading his ‘Under Milk Wood’. It is diabolical when compared to Richard Burton’s wonderful rendition here.
And our current Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, should be discouraged from reading her own work.
With the exception of very few poets, it is best left to the voices of trained actors who can transform poets’ words into something of great beauty.
But rather than go on about it, here are two examples of what I mean about the beauty of the human voice. The first is the wonderful late Paul Scofield reading Shakespeare’s Hamlet
The second is the last scene from ‘American Beauty’, with Kevin Spacey’s mellifluous voice over:
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