An Interview with Peter Dickson
By @Roger Crow
Peter Dickson is one of the most in-demand voiceover artists in the world. He talks about working with Bruce Forsyth and Terry Wogan; his autobiography Voiceover Man; juggling projects such as The X Factor, the London Olympics, and his assorted businesses…
One of my favourite chapters of your book is working with Bruce Forsyth on The Price is Right in Leeds. What are your memories of that era?
I’ve never met anybody quite like him. He could gauge an audience within the first few seconds of hearing them. I used to watch him in the wings of The Price is Right when I was about to go out onto the studio floor, and he would stand in the gloom listening to the audience like they were his rightful prey. He didn’t want anybody to talk to him; this was his moment to gauge this audience and work out where the sweet spot was. As soon as he was announced, he would give this little skip and jump onto the set with his eyes open, these lovely twinkly eyes that he had, and the audience were eating out of his hand within seconds. So to work with him was great.
The chapter when Bruce invited you to his hotel room to watch TV is comedy gold. Did you have to pinch yourself?￼
Well it’s one of the most bizarre instances in my professional life. I never for one moment thought as a child growing up watching him on TV that I would one day be sitting in a hotel bedroom in Leeds and have him crawling onto the bed beside me and spooning cheese onto my lap (laughs).
“I always have been terrified of being unemployed”
My first memory of you is hosting light entertainment show ‘Peter Dickson’s Nightcap’ on Radio Two in the late 1980s.
That was quite a niche show. Not everybody’s heard of it, but I’m so pleased you listened to it.￼
It was nice to see your career develop from those days to working with Steve Wright, Harry Enfield, The X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent. Have you always been quite driven as a businessman as well as a performer?
Well I’ve learnt through trial and error. I’ve made many errors and mistakes as all businesses do, but I think I’m quite a good learner. I learn from my mistakes and I’m actually quite cautious in that respect, but I do like business. I’m driven by fear mainly (laughs). I am actually totally unemployable in any capacity whatsoever other than what I currently do. So I’m terrified. I always have been terrified of being unemployed and not having anything to do. Touch wood I’ve never been unemployed in my entire career, which to me is remarkable.
Your company ’Gravy for the Brain’ is handy for anyone who wants to get into the voice-over business.
Well it is, and that’s why we started it. People are always coming up to me and saying “How do I get into voiceover work?” There are so many parameters you have to consider. Are you a natural born risk-taker? Would the idea of doing nothing for a week disturb you? Have you got a day job you can fall back on? And what sort of voice-over work do you want to do? So Gravy for the Brain was born out of people constantly asking me (how to get into the business). We’ve trained about 45,000 people around the world in voice acting, and we’re continuing.
Your tribute to Terry Wogan in the book is incredibly touching. What was he like to work with?
He was a very integral part in my life. I felt a great affinity for him. I happened to be working on the same (radio) network as him and eventually reading the news on his show, so we got to talk and we shared a similar mischievous sense of humour. We used to muck about on the air in the mornings, and I got to know him quite well. He mentored me quite a lot; he introduced me to his agent and got me in front of people on TV. And he got me the job as announcer on the ballroom championships at the Royal Albert Hall. Now I know nothing about dancing, but I’ve since learned you don’t need to know anything about anything in this business. Just say ’Yes’, and work out what you‘re going to do afterwards. He gave me a lot advice, and I never thanked him for it properly until that fateful lunch when we got together on that snowy late November afternoon in that tapas restaurant. We sat down together and drank far too much wine. I managed to tell him how much he meant to me, and there was a tear in his eye. But it was lovely for me to do that, and I was so pleased to do it because within a few weeks he’d gone.
I love your memories of working with the likes of Steve Wright and Simon Bates during the golden age of Radio One.
It didn’t feel glamorous, but it was a golden period of radio. Before the focus groups all came in and destroyed it. What I loved about radio back then was the immediacy of it and the tolerance of people for eccentricity, and there was eccentricity on both sides – in front of and behind the microphone. A lot of lunatics, which I loved.
Working on The X Factor, was it a case of pushing the ’voice of God’ to the edge of parody?
Oh yeah! And well beyond parody (laughs). I soon realised after about series two that people were waiting every year for the names. I knew it had to be big, so I had to make it into a big thing. It’s a big, bombastic show with a lot of production values attached to it, and a lot of money spent on it, so my voice has got to become the signature voice of the show to match the brashness of it all. I decided to push the boat out a little bit each year, thinking ‘Would anybody notice?’, and the producers never said anything. I used to get a little bit bigger every year. It became more and more ridiculous, even to the end where I was bleeding like a Bond villain through my eyeballs screaming my head off￼ in those sessions.
Tell us about Reattendance.com.
That is a virtual/hybrid events platform. It’s been two years in development, then Covid came along, so the platform’s come into its own. We can run any conference, from a small meeting to a huge multinational conference, and we can do it all virtually. Whatever you can do in the real world we can do virtually.
I wish I’d heard your volleyball narration at the London Olympics because some of the events in that chapter are hilarious.
It was extraordinary. I just turned round one evening and there was Prince Albert of Monaco standing behind me wearing wooden shoes! It was weird. To be able to walk down Whitehall on the reserve VIP pavement was just glorious. I didn’t know what I was doing, but that was one of those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities that’s never going to happen to me again in my lifetime. I thought ‘I’ve got to do this’, but I knew nothing about volleyball.
What’s been one of the oddest moments about your time as a voice-over artist?
Many years ago I rang up Cineworld to book cinema tickets, and I forgot that I was the voice of the online system. I ended up speaking to myself. I was telling myself that I couldn’t understand myself (laughs). I thought ‘This is the beginning of madness’.
(In X Factor ’voice of God’ mode) ‘PETER… DICKSON!’ Thanks for your time.
ROGER… CROW!. Thank you.
‘Voiceover Man: The Extraordinary Story Of A Professional Voice Actor’ is out now in paperback.