Peter Hawkins’ face may not have been well known, but to several generations of television watchers, young and old, his voice was as familiar as that of one of our own family.
Hawkins’ long association with British children's television began in 1952 when he voiced both Bill and Ben, the Flowerpot Men. It was he who came up with the almost indecipherable "Flobbadob" (it actually meant "Flowerpot") and it was he who created the voices to many more of our childhood heroes such as Captain Pugwash and Bleep and Booster, the latter of which was a regular feature of the long-running children's magazine series Blue Peter in the 1960s and early 70s.
When the BBC purchased Hergé's Adventures of Tintin from Tele-Hachette in France it was Hawkins edge-of-your-seat voice that introduced the show and he who provided the distinctive voice of Captain Haddock. Captain Pugwash's "Plundering porpoises!" and "Jumping jellyfish!" also came courtesy of Hawkins and as if that wasn't enough he cemented his place into British Television greatness by creating the voices of the most menacing creatures ever to invade our galaxy; the Daleks!
With David Graham, Hawkins shared the original voices of the Daleks (1963-67) on television, and also voiced the 1965 film spin-off 'Doctor Who and the Daleks'. Hawkins then became the first voice of the Cybermen the half human, half robot creatures that almost became as popular as the Daleks. He was also heard as Zippy in the first series of Rainbow (1972) and, among dozens of productions, later narrated SuperTed and the Spot the Dog sequel It's Fun to Learn with Spot (1990).
Born in Brixton, London, on 3 April 1924, son of a police inspector, Hawkins enjoyed acting in school productions, then in troop shows during the Second World War. During his time in the Royal Navy he survived a piece of shrapnel that had pierced his clothing when the destroyer Limbourne sank after being torpedoed off the coast of northern France. During a period of recuperation, he took part in plays and pantomimes and was soon signed up for Combined Operations Entertainments touring the Continent and Vancouver with the topical revue ‘Pacific Showboat.’
On being demobbed Hawkins worked at the East Riding Theatre before going to the Central School of Speech and Drama. He made his West End stage début as Joe Gorme in 'Sit Down a Minute', and was first seen on television as Albert Tuggeridge in a BBC adaptation of J.B. Priestley's The Good Companions (1949).
Spotted by the presenter and puppeteer Humphrey Lestocq, Hawkins joined the children's variety show Whirligig (1950-56), appearing in front of the camera and providing voices for two puppets, Mr Turnip and the parrot Porterhouse. This led to more than 40 years as a much in-demand voice-over artist.
Hawkins' inventiveness made The Flowerpot Men so distinctive. With Julia Williams narrating and Gladys Whitred singing the songs and providing the voice of Little Weed, Hawkins improvised Bill and Ben's scripted lines in a gibberish fashion. He called their language "Oddle-poddle" and, although concerns were voiced about it holding back children's development, The Flowerpot Men became one of the best-loved programmes on television and continued to be repeated for two decades.
Hawkins followed The Flowerpot Men by becoming one of the voices in The Woodentops in the Watch with Mother slot. Although seen in front of the camera less frequently over the years, Hawkins appeared in three series of Dave Allen at Large (1972-75), playing characters such as Friar Tuck and the captain of a Mexican firing squad.
Looking back on his career, Peter Hawkins said that he had had two ambitions: to become a famous actor and a successful one. "I've realised the second," he said, "and I'm grateful." He married Rosemary Miller in 1956 and they had one son, Silas Hawkins who carried on his father's tradition by providing the voice-over to the animated children's series Summerton Mill. Peter retired from acting in 1992 due to ill health and died in London on 8 July 2006, aged 82 years, his place in television heaven assured.
Published on March 6th, 2020. Written by Laurence Marcus for Television Heaven.