CAMPAIGN CRAFT: PROFILE - The toilet duck who became the voiceover king. Pigs, ducks, Alan Whicker. Enn Reitel’s voice turns to anything

When the ad industry needs the voice of Mikhail Gorbachev by 3 o’clock, say, and then expects Mikhail to voiceover a couple of other takes in the style of Alan Whicker and Donald Sinden, it doesn’t panic, it calls Enn Reitel.

When the ad industry needs the voice of Mikhail Gorbachev by 3

o’clock, say, and then expects Mikhail to voiceover a couple of other

takes in the style of Alan Whicker and Donald Sinden, it doesn’t panic,

it calls Enn Reitel.



Reitel self-deprecatingly describes himself as a workhorse, but no doubt

he could play work-donkey or even work-giraffe with equal aplomb. This

is a man in command of more than 150 different accents, who has played

everything from a Toilet Duck to the lilting Scottish voice gracing the

Guinness ’statistics’ spot, who walked into Piccadilly Radio in

Manchester straight out of drama school to do his first voiceover work -

a bumblebee - and was promptly dismissed. ’I was pretty crap,’ he

remembers. ’After that I really didn’t do any voiceover work until after

I’d started doing Week Ending and Spitting Image in around 1984.’



Ah yes, Spitting Image. Geoff Perkins, now the head of comedy at the

BBC, was then the producer in charge of the radio review show, Week

Ending, and moved with many of that cast to Spitting Image. He helped

assemble an array of comic talent for the satirical TV show. There was

Harry Enfield, ’a quiet shy type’, according to Reitel, Rory Bremner,

Chris Barrie, Steve Coogan - ’the best impressionist of all of us’ - and

Reitel.



He mimicked celebrities ranging from Lester Piggott and Donald Sinden to

Geoffrey Howe, and from there it was but a short step back to the

voiceover booth. This time he had progressed from playing bumblebees. ’I

did an ad for Campari as Alan Whicker. The great man was too busy but

sanctioned me to imitate him, which was great fun,’ he says.



’I was nervous about getting into the voiceover business simply because

everyone told me it was a closed shop. But actually as soon as I turned

up it just took off and I ended up doing all sorts of ads. It helped

that I had acted in a Cosmos ad and just started messing around at the

end and doing funny voices. Carol Humphries, who now runs the facilities

house, Grand Central, had heard me and started spreading the word.’



Reitel’s strength is his versatility. ’I did, and do, anything they

ask.



I was the Toilet Duck, for example, a dour northern Penguin for the

chocolate bar, a bear for Renault, a pig and chicken for Tesco, and

often played the celebrity in tests for the finished commercial.



’At drama school people used to think that the way to make it in ads was

to have a voice like Richard Burton. Actually it’s all about speed and

accuracy. You’ve got to be able to do five different voices, come in

within a split second of the desired time and be available.’



Reitel trained as an actor. He graduated from the Central School of

Drama and enjoyed much subsequent success. He replaced Robert Lindsay in

the lead of the West End musical, Me And My Girl, in 1987, but now

carves out a more than decent career in voiceovers, trailers and

corporate videos.



Rumours of pounds 3 million a year may be exaggerated, but he is at the

top of his field in a controversially lucrative line of work.



’I like doing ads, especially when you get the chance to extemporise

dialogue and so on, but they have also provided me with some of my less

fond memories,’ Reitel explains. ’I remember doing an ad for

Hershey’s.



The client had distinctly specified no limeys - this is, after all,

supposed to be the all-American chocolate bar.



’But they tested about 30 people and eventually the American boss

himself chose me to do the ad. I put on a sort of New Jersey accent and

we made the ad with no problems.



’Unfortunately, when we came to redo the spot the next year the whole

management team was over from the States to see me in person and they

had found out I was British. We did more than 100 takes in the end

because they were convinced they could pick up some sort of British

intonation.’



Reitel takes all this in his stride. He turns up, does the job and moves

on to his next engagement. Even in the midst of the Equity dispute, he

has hardly had time to draw breath - if television commercials are

off-limits, his talents can be put to use in radio.



And far from getting tired of it, Reitel still enjoys the buzz of

hearing himself on air. ’I went to the cinema recently and the Guinness

ad came on; I couldn’t resist nudging my girlfriend and telling her that

I was the voice of the Scotsman. Even better, she still doesn’t believe

me, and I suppose that makes me very happy indeed.’