Published in The Times October 31st 2006
William Franklyn was a third generation actor whose smooth tones were the delight
of audiences but the envy of colleagues. As a stage and film-player his strongly
masculine range encompassed both spies and villains – he would have made an
interesting if eccentric James Bond. His distinctive voice laid the basis for a 65-year
theatrical career punctuated only by a formidable stint as a World War II paratrooper.
When discussing holiday destinations he once remarked: – “Yes, I’ve dropped in on
those people with a machine gun in my hands”. Known as ‘Pip’ to family and Bill to
everyone else, Franklyn in later years became the ‘doyen of voice-overs’. He
succeeded his great mate Peter Jones as the book-narrator in “The Hitch-Hiker’s
Guide to the Galaxy” besides reading the extracts in Radio 4’s “Quote/Unquote” and
“The News Quiz” as well as appearing in numerous advertising campaigns the most
famous of which was probably for Schweppes (“Sshh…you know who”).
Mythology obscures biography when it comes to his earlier life, partly because
Franklyn loved to re-tell an anecdote. He was in fact born in London on September
22nd 1925 the son of Leo, a grand farceur and musical comedy star. Leo rapidly
packed William off in his trunk to tour Australia only bringing the boy back when he
was 11. From this period much of William’s character was formed – a tough
education at Haileybury in Melbourne and an undying love affair with cricket turned
him into a serious competitor. Franklyn was never known to suffer from a shade of
After evacuation to Luscombe Castle in Devon at the beginning of the war he applied
to the forces as a fifteen year old and simultaneously made his debut at the Savoy
Theatre in “My Sister Eileen”. On his return from Palestine upon demobilisation, he
threw himself into the light relief of “Arsenic and Old Lace” and years of assorted
repertory appearances culminated as straight man to comedian Tommy Trinder.
Early television work took him to Alexandra Palace as the baddy in a John Slater
serial. He also appeared in the first ever ITV drama which was called “Mid-Level” by
Barclay Mather set in Hong Kong – no copy of which now survives. From there he
want to the Theatre Royal Windsor for what he called his version of a theatrical
university pursuing an ambulatory career between television, films and the theatre.
Among his many screen credits are “The Intelligence Men”, “Pit of Darkness”,
“Quatermass II”, “The Satanic Rites of Dracula”, “Robert Ryland’s Last Journey” and
“Diana – Her True Story”. His television successes included the lead in “The Master
Although Franklyn probably loved acting a lot he certainly adored cricket to the point
of obsession. As a youngster, he opened the bowling for the Stage Cricket Club with
a rare and persistent ferocity, sometimes in partnership with his lifelong friend (Lord)
Brian Rix. As the years passed, he transformed himself into a canny exponent of leg
spin, perhaps overfond of the long delivery from 23 yards. On the pitch he could
prove a nightmare to the opposition in many other ways. Not least talking a batsman
out of his wicket by beginning yet another reverberant sentence from his position in
the gulley: “When I was a boy in Australia…”. As an umpire, he was partial, holding
the unique distinction of once making an appeal himself against the batsman. He
later founded his own team, the Sargentmen, to help raise money for cancer
charities and played on into his 80th year.
His character was always a mix of the tough and tender but Franklyn adored and was
adored by his family. He is survived by second wife Susie and his three daughters
Sabina, Francesca and Melissa.