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Tim Bentinck

Q&A with Tim Bentinck

3 January 2017

Tim Bentinck is best known as the voice of David Archer in Radio 4’s The Archers, a role he has played since 1982.

He is also an actor, a narrator, a voiceover artist and the Earl of Portland. His book Being David Archer will be out in audio and large print next year.

What is it like to play the same character for 35 years?
It's unlike any other acting job you could have. Normally there's a beginning, middle and end to any part you create, and once you're finished you leave it behind. My book is called 'Being David Archer - and Other Unusual Ways of Earning a Living'. I pondered hard about whether it should be 'Being' or 'Playing' and in settling for 'Being' acknowledged that people tend to think of me as him - people so often accidentally call me David, and although of course I'm just acting the part, there is a fair amount of me in him. I love it when he gets angry, it allows me to let off steam!

How much of yourself is in David Archer, and has the character of David Archer infiltrated your character?
Ah. See above! But no, I've infiltrated him, but he hasn't changed me in any way.

Given how long you’ve played a farmer, do you think you could have a fair crack at farming yourself?
I already have. There's a fair amount in the book about working on farms as a child, then helping my father set up an organic smallholding in Devon in the seventies. When I'm doing work on the farm in The Archers, I have usually done most of the jobs for real so I can really imagine it. As for the business of being a farmer, no thanks, not now, I'm too set in my ways!

Which of Jill’s cakes is your favourite?
Fruit cake, of course!

As well as your radio and recording work, you’ve done dozens of announcements and adverts. Can you tell us about the most memorable of these?
Well I think 'Mind The Gap' is the most iconic, although yes I've done hundreds of TV and radio voice-overs, computer games, animations, narrations, dubbing, lip-sync and the rest. There's a world of hidden voice work that can keep you gainfully employed, without anyone ever recognising the voice. For instance, no-one ever asked me, in the fifteen years of being the station announcements on the Piccadilly Line, if 'Mind The Gap' was me - it's just so out of context!

You have a fascinating family history and can trace your ancestry back to 1233. Can you tell us about your role in the House of Lords as the Earl of Portland?
It's a title my father inherited from a distant cousin in 1990, without estate or riches. When he died, I inherited the title and with it a seat in the House of Lords. I knew that most of the hereditary peers would soon lose their seats, so beyond a fascinated curiosity and occasional attendance, I never made a speech in the three years I had there. I wasn't brought up to be a lord, and the title doesn't define me. I'm proud to have made my living in 'Unusual Ways', and I'm an actor, writer and musician first and foremost. The chapter in the book explains this a lot more.

Before your autobiography, you wrote a children’s book, Colin the Campervan. Did you always want to be a writer?
Not really, 'Colin' was a short story I wrote for my young children and it sat on my computer for years before it was published. However I've written the sequel and I absolutely adore writing for children. There's much more to come about Colin - he's such a cool campervan! I'm also half way through a novel called 'Not Normal for Norfolk', but I've got writer's block at the moment. I need a moment of genius to work out how it ends!

You’ve had a very varied career. Which jobs have you most enjoyed and what would you like to be doing in 10 years’ time?
I recently had a lead part playing an eccentric gay Duke in a short film called The Dead Dog, which looks like it will do well. If it does, there's talk of a feature, so I'm excited about that. I'm really at my happiest on a film set, and best of all when I've got a meaty part that makes me part of the creative team together with the writer and director. Working with Armando Iannucci on 'The Thick of It' and with John Morton and Hugh Bonneville on 'Twenty Twelve' have also been recent highlights. My early days playing the swashbuckling Tom Lacey in 'By The Sword Divided' were adventures never to be forgotten, and my book starts with the terror of going on as second understudy to Tim Curry as The Pirate King in 'The Pirates of Penzance' at Drury Lane in 1982. Playing the lead in a west end musical, having never had a single rehearsal!

Interview by Nicky Solloway at Magna.