April 20, 2023

25. Confessions of a Voice Actor

25. Confessions of a Voice Actor

Today’s guest spends a lot of time in his garden. But he cultivates voices rather than plants. Tim is a voice actor and his garden is where the real magic happens - in his voice booth. It’s his own personal oasis, except instead of palm trees and coconuts, he has microphones and soundproofing foam.  Find out about the life of a voice actor as well as meeting a few of Tim’s friends; Liam Neeson, King Charles III, David Attenborough, Sean Connery and Nelson Mandela. His impersonations will make you green with envy.

Tim is extraordinarily talented.  As well as his voice acting par excellence, he is a singer, songwriter, actor, father and an all-round decent chap.  I was particularly hooked on his music from his original blues band from South Africa (produced by Nux Schwartz) which features throughout the episode.  Tim is currently the lead singer in the band Three Bites Of The Cherry, you can check them out below.

There's so much to look out for with Tim. Here's some suggestions for learning more:

Facebook Artist Page
Three Bites of the Cherry - blues band
Fiverr.com - the voice of Winston Churchill and many others

Last week's episode
[Episode 24] - Vietnam War: The Trail - The story of the Vietnam War has been told many times in many different ways. But how often have you heard what it was like on the ground for infantry soldiers walking The Trail - that daily grind of cutting through the jungle in pursuit of the enemy?  The unbearable heat, leeches, C-rations, booby traps, ambushes and counter-ambushes. It’s a gripping and terrifying story which my guest Robin, a Vietnam Veteran, tells with passion and surprising humour. It’s a story that must be told over and over again so that we never forget. Welcome Home, Robin.

Next week's episode
[Episode 26] - Symphony of a Mind - "If you've met one person with autism, you've met one person with autism." Today I had the privilege to meet one person with autism. Stuart Ross Carlson is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder but he is defined by his extraordinary musical ability.  He is a concert violinist and composer. I tried to understand the contradiction between the very earthly challenges that Stuart and his family face every day and the apparent ethereal effortlessness with which he communicates through his violin - I couldn’t.  

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Thanks for listening!



[00:00:00] Tim: I don't know who you are. I don't know what you want. I can tell you I don't have any money. But what I do have are a very particular set of podcasts; podcasts I've acquired over a very long career, podcasts that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you subscribe [00:00:20] to Batting the Breeze now, that'll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don't, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will subscribe you.

Early days

[00:00:32] Tim: [00:00:40] [00:01:00] I ended up being born in South Africa, quite some years back now, [00:01:20] on the eastern coast of South Africa, in a seaside city called Durban. It's South Africa's second largest city with around 3 million inhabitants, and it's a popular holiday destination. The weather there is exceptional and, you know, it's a very user-friendly climate except for the extreme heat. It doesn't get extremely cold even in the winter, [00:01:40] unless you go inland to the mountains. So February, you sweat a lot and I certainly couldn't sleep without air conditioning. But there's a relaxed and a friendly vibe and there's a multicultural vibe there.

[00:01:51] Steve: This is Tim Wells. He's a voice actor. well, I saw Robin Williams voice acting once in Mrs. [00:02:00] Doubtfire. actually quite a few times, so I got curious.

[00:02:04] Tim: I was inspired by my late brother Chris, he was seven years older than me. I followed in his footsteps. We went to the same drama school. He came to develop a promising career in London with parts in television series such as The Bill, Spooks, Monarch of The [00:02:20] Glen, Doctors. I was in a type of rep company, where we were a resident acting company in the main Playhouse Theater Complex in Durban, the city where I lived, and it was called The Loft Company. And We did drama and musical pieces back to back.

[00:02:34] Steve:  [00:02:40] The early nineties in South Africa were tumultuous. President de Klerk had started the process of ending apartheid, the white minority policy of [00:03:00] racial segregation. On the 11th of February 1990, Nelson Mandela was released from prison after serving 27 years.


Nelson Mandela

[00:03:26] Tim: Well, I was just looking back to the memories of that time, the early 1990s when there was huge optimism as we watched the Great Man walk free. There was... there was so much hope.

[00:03:36] Tim:  Now is the time [00:03:40] to be sure that we come together in peace as one people. To look back, to remember the past as something which we never ever want to repeat, and to build a future for all South Africans to work together as one rainbow nation.[00:04:00]  

[00:04:00] Tim: He was much loved. He was widely loved by so many people. But... I feel it was too late, sadly, because I think he never had sufficient time to make the repairs desperately needed in the sociopolitical fabric of the country. The corruption and cronyism set in almost immediately he stepped down. and Durban, where we lived, was no exception. [00:04:20] It came to be given the nickname of "Dirt bin".

[00:04:22] Steve: And that was the moment that triggered the process for Tim and his family to [00:04:40] up-sticks and move to the UK.

Move to the UK

[00:04:42] Tim: We needed to leave for our safety. Yeah, it made sense at a stage where we felt it was no longer livable for us. We had the option to come here, bring our children here to do the last stretch of schooling, and haven't looked back, yeah. We found a great school in Bath for our son, Michael, [00:05:00] who has quite severe autism and learning disabilities. He had eight wonderful years at Three Ways School in Bath.

[00:05:06] Steve: And with the move to a new country came a shift in the way Tim worked. Voice acting started to take greater prominence.

Voice acting

[00:05:16] Tim: Well, I had gravitated towards it early on in my career because [00:05:20] I knew it was universally an actor's bread and butter. So I began promoting myself as a voice artist in my twenties, and it paid off. I'm not in favour of touring actor's life. It's not for me. I'm a homebody.

[00:05:30] Tim:  I'm an actor. It's not brain surgery. If I do my job right, people won't ask for their money back.

[00:05:38] Tim: So I'm still using my acting [00:05:40] tool set, but it's without the unsettling discomfort of living away from home for large chunks of the year. I just couldn't do that. Yeah, the same thing day in and day out. You get to your Sunday performance, you can't wait for the night off, you know? So. Yeah.

[00:05:55] Steve: And sometimes you had to do two shows in one day.

[00:05:57] Tim: Oh yeah. That always finished me. Oh, [00:06:00] so awful. It's like deja vu. I've done this before. I... have I said this before, it was the afternoon show. It was the matinee. Oh God.

[00:06:06] Steve: To be a voice actor, you need a voice booth.

The voice booth

[00:06:11] Tim: My acting life has now become mainly in the little box in my garden. So I am still an actor, but just mainly behind the mic. [00:06:20] It's a small garden office with double glazing and insulation, and it's got a green roof with sedum growing on it, so I'm extra insulated with that. And it has a heater, there's snow outside at the moment, so I'm glad of the heat.

 (David Attenborough)

[00:06:35] Tim: Having migrated from the open African Savannah and its abundance [00:06:40] to the leafy suburban garden studio, just outside Bath in Northeast Somerset, the voice artist can be found in his Northern Hemisphere habitat - the voice booth. Here he utters countless vocalizations and strange sounds, which are disseminated [00:07:00] to all corners of the globe.

[00:07:02] Tim: It's also strewn with all sorts of things to break down the room bounce so I don't get too much sort of echoey sound. There's a guitar, there's the easel, there are various paintings strewn all over the place, propped up, hanging on the walls. It's chaos but [00:07:20] it's my little... area of... productivity. My little booth, yeah.

[00:07:25] Steve: Well, voiceover work sounded like fun, but what are some of the realities of voice acting for a living?

Voice over work

[00:07:33] Tim: Well, like any kind of freelance existence, there are moments when it's really pumping, you know, [00:07:40] never rains but it pours type thing. But actually, I'm grateful that I have quite a steady flow. Most days something comes in, even if it's a smaller budget thing. You know, there are quiet patches you can have a couple of days go, "Oh, what's happening? Nobody likes me anymore". It's just the nature of freelance living. You know... you have to bear those patches in mind.

[00:07:59] Steve: And [00:08:00] what about the content of the work itself?

[00:08:02] Tim: Some of the work is great fun and really rewarding, some of it's dead boring, you know, I could be talking about plumbing fittings and, you know, tailings dams and mining, you know... It's not always riveting stuff. You know, some, some of it's just boring is just telling people what cars are for [00:08:20] sale... on whole telephone messages, you know, "Our working hours are 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM".

[00:08:27] Steve: And impersonations are part of the voice actor's repertoire, I guess?


[00:08:32] Tim: Well, impersonations have been a part of what I do since I was a teenager, impersonating my teachers for the entertainment [00:08:40] of classmates, and it's just, I think it's just part of the actor self. It's just part of what hones you and grows you as an actor is being able to reflect characters and caricatures that imprint on you, you know? And not everyone can do it and certainly I can't do anyone. There are certain characters that, that suit my voice [00:09:00] range and that I find easier to find the musicality of and the rhythm of. And some people say, "Oh, well you do that so well, can you do this?" I go, "I'm afraid. No, I just can't do that". But... my range is okay. it allows me to... offer quite a wide net.

Creating a new impersonation

[00:09:13] Steve: So how do you go about creating a new voice?

[00:09:17] Tim: I guess to begin with, it's [00:09:20] about allowing yourself to inhabit the character and finding the details of tone and timbre that best fit. And you'll know it's ready when you can hear it as someone else might hear it when it's recorded. So I record it and listen back, and then if I'm happy with it then I go, "Well, yeah, I... can recognize it so other people should be able to recognize it". [00:09:40] And It's just kind of a muscle memory thing. It's just going back to the same place in the memory and the muscles of the... vocal chords and so on, and just inhabiting that same space again.

[00:09:51] Steve: And what about switching from one voice to another? How hard is that?

[00:09:55] Tim:  I rarely have to switch seamlessly from one to another because, [00:10:00] on a session by session basis, I can focus on specific characters. If there are two characters I know well enough, I can say, "Oh, good morning, David". "Oh, hello Sean, nice to see you". Yes, so I could do it if I had to.

[00:10:13] Steve: Presumably, there's a lot more pressure doing impersonations because everyone's judging you.

[00:10:19] Tim: [00:10:20] Yeah, yeah. People want it to be accurate enough to be instantly recognizable, so that's why I stick to the ones that I feel I've tried and tested.

[00:10:28] Steve: Now I actually met Tim when he did a Winston Churchill voiceover for me in a previous episode. I originally found him on the Fiverr.com platform where he [00:10:40] is the voice of Churchill. So I asked him how that came about.

Blenheim Palace & Winston Churchill

[00:10:45] Tim: I was invited to a corporate lunch by a friend who asked if I would read a Churchill speech, just as... an example of communication and clarity of message and things like that. So... I went along to this corporate lunch and[00:11:00]  read the speech out and ... adopted the character as best I could, and people really enjoyed it. it. So I thought well, it's obvious I've go to make it an official offering. So I went and got hold of the... "We shall fight them on the beaches", that speech, you know, the famous, the most famous and... did my own version[00:11:20]  and put it up there. And... Blenheim Palace was looking for a Churchill voice to narrate the audio visual materials for their latest Churchill exhibition. Well, I was really chuffed to get the gig. So, that kind of created a kudos which has led much more work, yeah.

[00:11:38] Steve:  Blenheim [00:11:40] Palace near Woodstock. In Oxfordshire, the heart of the English countryside. It was completed in 1722 as a gift from the nation to John Churchill, the first Duke of Marlborough who'd led the defeat of the French and Bavarians in 1704. It stayed in the Churchill [00:12:00] family ever since. Sir Winston Churchill, Britain's great wartime Prime Minister was the grandson of John Spencer Churchill, the seventh Duke of Marlborough. And if you take a trip to this magnificent palace today, you may well recognize this voice.

[00:12:19] Tim:  [00:12:20] We shall fight on the beaches. We shall fight on the landing grounds. We shall fight in the fields and in the streets. We shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender. And even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this island, or a large part of it, was subjugated and [00:12:40] starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British fleet, would carry on the struggle until in God's good time, the new world with all its power and might steps forth to the rescue and liberation of the old.

[00:12:59] Steve: [00:13:00] Talking about Winston Churchill got us onto the subject of oil painting. It turns out that as well as acting, singing, voice acting and general fatherly duties, Tim paints.


[00:13:13] Tim: Yeah, it's mainly oil and acrylics. Both my parents were professional artists they [00:13:20] studied art together, so they met at art college and Dad went into advertising and Mum spent her life just freelancing as an illustrator. So, it's in my genes and I really revisited it during the lockdown for obvious reasons, something to do. And then it's become... I've become addicted to it now because I just, I do something and stick it up on my artist [00:13:40] page on Facebook and I've sold a few like that. People, you know, have ordered, commissioned and bought things that I've done, and have them in their homes. It's quite rewarding and I've had to go a bit smaller now because my wife's going, "Where are we going to put all these things?" We're running out of wall space and storage space. But yeah, I'm loving it. It's a great [00:14:00] therapy.

[00:14:00] Steve: And occasionally Tim is allowed out of that little box in his garden.

Other skills

[00:14:16] Tim: I focus on the studio work, but also on blues and roots-orientated [00:14:20] music material. I'm a lead singer and co-song writer for a Bristol based band called Three Bites of the Cherry. I began getting offers to do some local theatre productions... one of which led to a professional theatre production that toured the Southwest, plus film roles, I've had one or two fun film experiences based in Bristol, so [00:14:40] it's great having Bristol on the doorstep. Yeah.

[00:14:42] Steve: Oh and by the way, Tim's grandmother was practically royalty.

[00:14:56] Tim: My grandmother, yes, was the official partner to the... [00:15:00] the other Prince of Wales, Uncle David. You know... King Edward, the abdicated king. My grandmother was his official dance partner. Yes.


[00:15:11] Steve: In case you hadn't worked it out, all the voices and all the music in this episode were done for us by Tim. [00:15:20] Check out the show notes for more information. Just before we turned off the recording, I asked Tim for a final [00:15:40] reflection on a life of acting.

[00:15:42] Tim: It can sharpen the senses as to what is real and what isn't. It can give you quite a good bullshit detector, I think. You know, if you tell stories, if you are part of telling a story, you are more likely be receptive to other people's stories. I do think we all need to learn to share stories more [00:16:00] because by doing so, we share ideas and learn from each other. So the more you learn about others, the more you learn about yourself.

[00:16:08] Steve: And we talked about our favorite this, that and the other, and I mentioned a poem, one of my favorite, and that was The Last Laugh by Sir John Betjeman, which he [00:16:20] wrote a few years before his death in 1984, determined to keep a light touch on life right to the end. So we both agreed there was only one way to bring the podcast to a close.

[00:16:36] Tim: I made hay while the sun shone. [00:16:40] My work sold. Now if the harvest is over and the world cold, give me the bonus of laughter as I lose hold.

 [00:17:00] [00:17:20]