Mar 24, 2015

My Hampstead: David Graham

From his humble beginnings in repertory to the bright lights of London’s National Theatre, David Graham has had a glittering career as a character actor, working alongside the likes of Lawrence Olivier and Leonard Rossiter. Today he welcomes us into his home of many years in Hampstead.

Tell us a little about your early years

I was born in Stoke Newington before moving to Highbury. When my sister emigrated to New York, I was given the chance to attend The Neighbourhood Playhouse School of the Theatre in New York. I must admit, I did find the American training style rather technical. I enjoyed my time there and it gave me a chance to refine my transatlantic accent.

Every actor of my era started off in repertory theatre (actors spend three years playing a variety of parts and often learning a play a week.) It’s a shame there aren’t many of these theatres left; it’s a wonderful opportunity to hone the craft.

You’ve had such an impressive career; can you tell us more about the roles you’ve played?

I have been incredibly blessed to have worked fairly continually and with so many talented actors and directors. I had the opportunity to work with the inimitable Leonard Rossiter on a production of The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui by Bertolt Brecht, at the Nottingham Playhouse. It’s very rare to meet an actor of such quality; I miss him dearly.

It’s fair to say you make people laugh when you open your mouth; how did you make your debut in voice acting?

I had the good fortune to meet Gerry Anderson who produced Four Feather Falls, a children’s puppetry show for Granada TV. This production launched me into the voice world as the voice of Grandpa Twink, whom I based on the Hollywood actor Walter Brennan. From there, I went on to develop the original voices of: the Daleks with Peter Hawkins for Dr Who, Parker (whom I based on a wine waiter I met in a restaurant in Cookham), Brains, Gordon Tracy, and Kyrano for Thunderbirds, Grandpa Pig for the Peppa Pig series, and the Wise Old Elf for Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom. I’m very happy to have been able to voice such a variety of well-known and much- loved characters.

I’m looking forward to reprising my role as Parker in the new Thunderbirds series, due to be released Easter 2015.  I’m the only surviving member of the original cast and thrilled they asked me to be a part of it. They’ve already started writing the next series, so I’ll need to stick around for a bit longer!

How long have you lived Hampstead?

Since the 1960s. Actually I was the first resident in our building! It’s a very nice house, the neighbours are wonderful and Hampstead has a very nice community feel about it.

What’s your favourite spot?

I love to sit on the benches in Golders Hill Park and work on scripts or read. The park is such a tranquil place, it’s a joy to have it so close by.

What’s your favourite restaurant?

My local is Villa Bianca, a good selection of Italian dishes in a sophisticated but unfussy setting.

Your favourite memory of the area?

I used to walk up Heath Street to visit the gentleman’s outfitters, which sadly is no longer there. I think the area could do with one again. I do like nice clothes.

What’s your favourite room in the house?

My lounge; I’ve just bought two splendid new chairs and I love to sit and listen to classical music and read.

Could you describe for us a perfect Sunday in Hampstead?

A glass of Waitrose orange juice (with bits!) with a four-minute egg in the morning would be imperative to a perfect Sunday. If the weather was particularly clement, I’d go for a walk on the Heath. I like to think I’m not too extravagant – the simple pleasures in life are the best ones, I feel.

What’s your favourite building in Hampstead?

I very much enjoy wandering around the wonderful art collection and admiring the Rembrandt and Vermeer at Kenwood House. It’s a fantastic place; you must go if you get the chance.

Who would be your ideal dinner party guest?

George Eliot. I’m re-reading Middlemarch at the moment and I’m always blown away by its scope, history and the quality of her writing.

What’s the secret to a long and happy life?

For me, it’s fundamental to take care of oneself. Walk and swim often, eat well and read plenty of books to keep your mind active.

David Graham will feature as ‘Parker’ in ITV’s Thunderbirds, due to be released at Easter.

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