1960s TV classic Thunderbirds reborn on Amazon, with original voice actor
David Graham, who voiced Parker in spy series Thunderbirds for children’s TV, reprises role in reboot. He tells of the joy of revisiting a character for a new generation
There are not many actors who can say that they have had the chance to play the same role they originated more than a half century ago. That’s exactly what David Graham has done with the Amazon original kids’ series Thunderbirds Are Go.
Graham was a voice actor on the original Thunderbirds series that launched in 1965, providing the voices of Brains, Gordon Tracy and Parker. In the new version, Graham voices Parker, the butler to Lady Penelope Creighton-Ward, the head of a network of undercover agents.
Thunderbirds Are Go is a reinvention of the 1960s series that features a family of heroes who operate International Rescue. The action in the series was originally presented through electronic marionette puppetry known as Supermarionation. The new series uses computer generated animation. The second season of the animated series will be available on Amazon starting Friday.
“Thunderbirds remains popular because of the chemistry between the characters and the wonderful special effects. There is that connection between Lady Penelope and Parker and the father with the sons. That’s why when they asked me to do the voice of Parker again, I jumped at the chance,” Graham says. “Lucky for me, my voice is in pretty good shape for my age.”
Recording sessions have not changed in five decades. Graham still goes into a studio with fellow cast members – Rasmus Hardiker, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Kayvan Novak and Rosamund Pike – to record the dialogue.
“There is a lot of comedy in Parker. I am comfortable with that because I’ve done a lot of comedy acting, on theatre and radio. He provides comedy but is also a loyal servant to Lady Penelope and a reformed villain,” the 90-something Graham says.
His inspiration for the voice came from a lunch he had with Gerry Anderson, one of the creators of the original Thunderbirds. They were in a restaurant in Cookham, a small town outside of London. When the wine waiter asked “Would you like to see the wine list?” Graham knew he had found the right sound to voice Parker.
Graham has been working on TV and in films since 1952. When he started acting, there was little TV work as the BBC had only one channel. Graham found success in theatre, including being part of Laurence Olivier’s repertory company.
Graham’s voice work has not been limited to the Thunderbirds. He did Supercar in 1961 and was the voice of the Daleks in the Doctor Who productions of the ’60s and ’70s. His most recent work is the voice of Grandpa Pig in Peppa Pig.
One of the most memorable on-screen jobs came in the 1984 commercial for Apple’s Macintosh that aired only once during the Super Bowl. Director Ridley Scott cast him as the face of Big Brother.
“I went to Pinewood Studios and Ridley handed me a page of script. It was 12 or 15 lines and I told him I could have memorised it if he had sent it earlier,” Graham says. “They wrote the lines on a board for me. I did it in one take. It was one of the lucky breaks in my life. I have had my ups and downs through the years, but in the end you need luck and talent.”
As for his plans to retire, Graham jokes he will consider it only when he’s reached his final days and hears the line “you rang, my Lord”. Until then, he plans to keep going as long as he can.