K9 promises to be in fine voice for Cantley PromsBy Phil Creighton
July 12, 2010
From outer space to Wokingham’s Cantley Proms, actor John Leeson has seen it all. Phil Creighton does the time warp with the voice of K9.
John Leeson. The chances are you’ve not really heard of him, but you’ve definitely heard him in action.
His extensive CV includes a continuity announcer on Channel 4, playing Bungle in Rainbow and Biggun in early 1980s’ children’s programme Jigsaw and he was also one of the actors who made the japes in Beadle’s About so convincing.
And if you still don’t recognise him, then the phrase “Insufficient data, master” should give away his most famous role – metal mutt K9 in time travelling drama Doctor Who.
He first gave the robot dog a voice back in 1977, and now, more than 30 years later, he’s just finished recording the voice for a new spin-off series, the K9 Adventures, which Five screens this autumn.
“It’s all sort of done and dusted,” he says. “Twenty six episodes of the little K9 series. I don’t know how it will go down with the diehard fans.”
With more than three decades’ experience, I wonder how he can perform K9’s metallic voice off the cuff.
Instantly the clipped tones of computerised canine come back down the phone line.
“Which – cuff – do – you – re – quire – the – K-9 – voice – to – be – performed?”
I don’t know how he does it.
“Neither do I,” he chuckles. “It must be something I take in my tea!”
His skilled and instant improvisation is impressive, but even more impressive was his role in Jeremy Beadle’s hidden camera show, Beadle’s About. The practical joker used to set up ingenious stunts involving unsuspecting members of the public: John’s role would be to help make the situation real.
“We didn’t know how the member of the public would react,” he says.
“All my job was to lead them gently down the garden path, once they’d taken one step you could take them right the way down to the end.”
And part of John’s arsenal, as well as that razor sharp mind ready to offer improvised dialogue at the drop of the hat, was a uniform.
“It shocked me how much the British are in awe of people who wear uniforms – security guards, police you name it, they will do what they say to a large extent,” he says.
“[The victim would] say, ‘there’s a hidden camera, I know Beadle’s About you see’ and you’d say ‘What are you are talking about? Are you taking me for a ride? I’m asking you a serious question here.’”
That, John says, was enough to ensure that the joke could be spun out until “Jeremy Beadle comes along and reveals himself, for want of a better expression”.
John is full of praise for the much-missed prankster who died in 2008.
“He was, incidentuially, incredibly clever – one of the cleverist people
I’ve met for a long time.”
On Sunday, June 18, John will introduce the Cantley Proms which returns after a year’s break. He’s looking forward to it as it combines his love for music with his love for live audiences.
“Early on in my life, I was going into classical music or go into the theatre,” he explains. “I played with an amateur orchestra when I first came to London as a timpanist [those large kettle drums that make a big splash on 2001: A Space Odyssey’s opening score, Strauss’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra].
“Obviously the theatre won, I’m not sad that it did. As a timpanist you’re got so many people after your job that you’ve got to read music to such as fantastic extent – which is something that British musicians are very good at, picking up orchestral scores very, very quickly.”
But John’s love for music has never left him and his return to the Cantley House Hotel later this month will be a pleasure for him.
“I did it a couple of years ago it was enormous fun,” he says. “The chance to be an actor – or at least interact with an audience and have an orchestra behind you – it’s the icing on the cake, it’s wonderful.”
One important aspect of the Cantley Proms is being able to enjoy a picnic before the show – spectators are invited to bring their own food and wines with them.
Alongside his acting, John has another string to his bow which means he can offer some advice to those coming along to the Proms.
“I’m a member of the Association of Wine Educators: sounds a bit grand, doesn’t it?” he says. “And I’m also in the Circle of Wine Writers. I’ve been teaching wine to courses in London for about 20 years or more. Twenty five maybe.”
This knowledge means that John is fussy about his wines – “I choose my wine with great care indeed,” he continues. “There’s an enormous amount of rubbish about, there really is.
“Life is too short to drink bad wine is a sort of motto of mine.”
So what should Promenaders bring along with them?
“With blue skies overhead you want something fairly frivolous. White sparkling, like a Prosecco, goes down terribly well. I don’t bother much with Cava it just tastes too bland.
“For red, you’re looking at the Beaujolais end of the spectrum, very light, very fruity, nothing too serious to go along with your pork pies and whatever you’ve got with you.”
- The Cantley Proms takes place in the Cantley House Hotel, Milton Road, Wokingham on Sunday, July 18.
The grounds open at 5.30pm and tickets cost £21 for adults, £18.50 for concessions and £8 children. For more details, call (0118) 978 9912 or log on to www.cantleyproms.co.uk.