Memories of Thomas and TUGS from the man who led them both. David Mitton's final interview prior to his passing in 2008.
The answers given in the following interview solely reflect the opinions of David Mitton.
He in no way purports to represent HIT Entertainment / Mattel Creations.
Any opinions expressed in this interview are his alone and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of HIT Entertainment / Mattel Creations.
For over eighteen months, SiF pursued David Mitton for an interview about his work and life on the Thomas and Friends set, as well as his memories of TUGS. David sadly passed away in May 2008, and so a lot of this interview will be found to be inconclusive, but will provide a great deal of insight into a man who truly loved his work and had a real commitment and contribution to the childhood of many around the world...
How did you come to be involved in the industry to begin with?
I started my career working on Thunderbirds as a trainee special effects techo (Stage 5) in the sixties. My boss was the brilliant Derek Meddings now sadly departed. His boss was Gerry Anderson. The studios were on the Slough trading estate close to the Mars factory and I served a very happy three and a half years there blowing up all things associated to Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet, Joe 90 and UFO.
What did you do after that?
I, along with many others, were made redundant as Lew Grade was downsizing the special effects/Puppet operations to focus on Space 1999. I went onto Battle of Britain working under Wally Veovers. After that I started working for ABPC studios, my boss being Johnny Goodman. That was my start in live production as a third assistant director on the Saint series, Avengers et al. I learned a great deal and owe my development into this business through those experiences.
You've ranged from shows aimed at pre-schoolers to radio plays aimed at an adult audience. Which do you enjoy most and, if possible to choose, which shows have you considered to be your favourites so far?
The 2 are quite different really. With the radio drama you’re striving for truth and realism in your performance and with animation you’re striving for the same truth but usually the performance is a heightened reality, a lot more outlandish and extreme than you would normally go for in a BBC drama. I have recorded so many different drama productions but I do recall being very excited when the BBC recorded the first proper ‘western’ radio plays ‘Riders of the Purple Sage’ and I played one of the main characters. I had always loved a good western and fancied myself as a cow girl, so this was exciting stuff! Animation wise – I can honestly say it’s too hard to choose a favourite. I’ve been so lucky to be involved in some amazingly good series. Being cast as Noddy was a pretty special day but there have been many highs since then too.
In 2007, your reading of ‘Bleak House’ was named The Times Audio Book of the Year. How did you feel about receiving this accolade?
Delighted! Recording such a technically challenging book almost finished me off, so to have ANYONE take notice of the work Sean Barratt and I put into it, really pleases me.
In addition to playing a range of Thomas’ female friends, you’re also the voice of another British institution – Noddy. Was this a character you were fond of as a child?
No, I’d never read any Noddy books or seen anything of him on TV
How familiar were you with Thomas & Friends before joining the voice cast in 2009? Were you aware of it as a TV Series or did you know of the Rev. Awdry’s books?
I was certainly aware of the series but had never read or seen any of the Thomas stories before I joined the cast
Did you have a rough idea of what voices the producers would be looking for in Thomas & Friends before you auditioned?
No not at all, not until I got into the studio and they explained what voices they had in mind for each character.
When you joined the cast of Thomas & Friends, you were the only female voice actress – therefore playing all the female roles. Given that you’re often in this situation with other shows you work on, I’m guessing you relished the challenge of creating a range of voices to suit?
Yes, I do enjoy the challenge. I shared that challenge with the wonderful Jules de Jongh who did all the female engines for the US versions.
Do you get much input into how a character will sound in terms of dialect, pitch or accent? Or is that decided by the Producer, Ian McCue, or Voice Director, Sharon Miller?
Yes, it’s all discussed between us at the casting session. Obviously Ian and Sharon have a good idea of how they’d like each character to sound – after all, they’ve come to know the world of Thomas extremely well – but we play around with things and between us we arrive at a voice that should work.
Are any of the voices you’ve done on Thomas & Friends, or other shows, based on people you know?
A couple are, yes. But I wouldn’t DREAM of telling you which ones!
With the character of Belle, you play both the American and the British version – how does it feel playing the same character twice over?
It’s fine. I’m used to doing US versions of some shows. I was born in the US and had a full on American accent until I was about 12. I often use a US accent for work in the US market.
I absolutely love your interpretation of Annie & Clarabel in the TV Series and the way your performance defines the characters, and gives them back a lot of personality lost down the years – how much input did you have into their development voice-wise?
Oh thank you! They are a lot of fun to play I must say. As I mentioned before – it develops during the casting session how the characters could sound and it’s up to Ian and his team to decide on which of my voice ideas can work. If they don’t fit, I don’t get the part.
With the new writing team for Thomas in place, there are hints that a lot of the secondary characters will be getting more screen-time. Considering only Emily has had more appearances / speaking roles than most, how do you feel knowing that the other characters you've played so far (Mavis, Belle, Annie and Clarabel, Rosie) will hopefully be more actively involved from Series 17 onwards?
Of course it would be great to hear more from the likes of Mavis and Rosie who we haven’t really heard from in quite awhile. We’ll have to see if the hints are true !
Out of all the roles you play on the series, which character or characters would you cite as being your favourites?
I think Annie and Clarabel might be my favourites at the moment, but my favourites change all the time. I’d like Rosie to have more of a look in as she was fun to do, but she doesn’t seem to be featured much anymore.
Do you have a favourite Episode or Special among the Thomas stories you’ve been part of, or from the books or classic television series?
Not really no – they’re all ‘Special’!
If you could play any other character from the series, past or present, or indeed, one which could appear in future, who would it be and how which accent or voice would you give them? Would you be open to doing one of the male voices?
I often do young male voices in other shows so if one came up in the show that I was right for I’d probably get tested for it and then they’d go from there. I’m really happy with all the engines I’m voicing right now.
From King of the Railway onward, we’ve seen more female voice actresses joining you on Thomas & Friends – are you relieved that the female character workload is being shared out?
It’s great to hear more female roles in the show. It hasn’t made any difference to my workload though.
Over the years, a lot of people often ask for more lead female characters as a change to an "all male cast" in animation - such examples being 'Wonder Woman', 'Kim Possible', 'The Powerpuff Girls'. While this may have some links to showing that girls are as good as the boys, what are your opinions on the matter?
It has been very male orientated in the past but the big’ girl show’s have certainly made their mark more recently. My favourite is a combination of boys and girls sharing story lines together. Boys and girls ARE different from one another in several ways and a well written script can highlight those differences really well within an episode.
In 2011, you had a voice role with arguably the definitive animation studio of modern times, Pixar, doing Mater’s Computer in Cars 2. What was it like working on such a big project?
Well you can imagine how exciting it was to work with the incredible John Lasseter and the Pixar team. I had one session face to face with John and then another via Skype to the States. I had only a tiny role as Mater’s onboard computer voice but they treated me as if I was a real team member and the whole thing was a joy.
On top of being a voice-actress, you’re also part of your own band, Arcelia. Can you tell us more about that, and the music you play?
Working as part of Arcelia brings me huge joy. We write all our own songs with guitar, cajon, cello and piano and perform them in Kent and London, although one day we hope tol go on a UK tour. We formed in 2012 and it’s been a real adventure so far. I’ll be really cheeky here and ask a huge favour from everyone reading this – we need to get as many facebook ‘likes’ as possible in order to get gigs at good venues, so I’d be everso grateful if you could follow these links!
Have you ever been approached by the Producers to collaborate with Robert Hartshorne on a Thomas song for the series or a special?
No, the producers aren’t really aware of my music and it isn’t really suitable for any Thomas eps. Nice idea though!
Do you have a favourite character role from your career, be it TV, radio or stage?
That really is a hard one as I’ve been lucky enough to play a huge range of parts in theatre, radio & animation. Ones that still stick out for me though are – Audrey in ‘Little Shop of Horrors’, Nora in ‘A Dolls House’ , Anna in’ Anna Karenina’
Would you say that your involvement with Thomas and Friends has had a positive impact upon your career as an actor?
Without doubt. Being in such a hugely popular show brings interest from other producers and it feels great to list it as a show I’m currently working on.
It was recently announced that you were cast in the new CGI reboot of Gerry Anderson classic, Thunderbirds – can you tell us more about the role you’re going to be playing?
Yes, so exciting! I’m voicing many different roles throughout the series. Some just incidental, others are the main guest characters within an episode. It’s looking absolutely amazing but we’ve all got a long wait until 2015 when it comes out!
Are you working on any other projects at the moment, or in the future?
I’m very lucky to be able to tell you that I’m very busy in animation right now, with several new projects that I’m not allowed to talk about yet, as well as follow on series of established shows such as The Octonauts and Poppy Cat. A new project I CAN tell you about is Pip Ahoy! with Sir David Jason. I play a sweet young dog called Pip and it’s being made by the wonderful Cosgrove Films company who I last worked with on Engie Benjy and it’s a lot of fun to record.
Can you give any advice to anyone who may be interested in following in your footsteps as a voice actor?
I think it’s better to come from it from an acting background but it’s not compulsory. Try and get in to an accredited drama school if you can. Otherwise, experiment with different voices, listen to/watch all kinds of different shows, listen to actors showreels online and hear the versatility necessary. Get a proper showreel done and find out where to send it to try and get a test for a job.
Finally, do you have anything you’d like to say to the fans of the series who enjoy your work?
I’d like to send huge thanks for all the support you show all of us who are lucky enough to work on the show. It really does mean a lot when you get feedback from people who watch and enjoy a show that you’re involved in and the Thomas fans are among the best!
Featuring clips from Bleak House, The Amazing World of Gumball and various other shows that Teresa has worked on!