You're welcome thanks
Ted Thomas on his time in the spotlight
Be it radio, TV or film, the bombastic broadcaster - who has given voice to Bruce Lee and Godzilla - has done it all. He talks about his he made a name for himself in his adopted city.
BY MADELEINE FITZPATRICK
28 SEP 2014
COUNTER-ESPIONAGE I got my radio training near Trieste (in Italy) as a broadcaster for the (British) navy: I was a sports reporter. I was OK at sports - soccer, boxing - so I could talk about them intelligently. I was in the Mediterranean for three years or so. Then I was sent to Hong Kong, I was working for naval intelligence. The year was 1955; I was 23. There was a United Nations directive stating that there should be no export to China of goods of strategic value: obviously, ammunition, guns; but it also covered things like oil and paraffin. We set up a coast-watching organisation with five radar stations around Hong Kong; we checked every ship going up to China along the Pearl River. I'd been sent here to catch one or two very famous people who were exporting goods of strategic value. I had to go out to all the islands to set up the radar stations, and I was listening to the radio. I thought, "Geez, it's so f***ing bad; I could get back to what I was doing in the Mediterranean - I could be a sports reporter." So I went to RTHK and introduced myself to a guy called John Wallace - superb broadcaster. He says, "I'm going to a boxing match this evening at the Football Club, doing a commentary. Come along - I'll give you a shot." So we're sitting ringside, and he says, "Now joining me today is a new broadcaster - Ted Thomas, what do you think of the match?" and hands me the microphone, live. The minute I did this boxing commentary, I was in.
GOOD MORNING, HONG KONG! I became famous as a horse-racing commentator - I know absolutely f*** all about horses, but I could do the commentary pretty well. I suppose for at least the first year, probably 18 months, I was best known as a commentator at Happy Valley. The radio stuff started to build up. We started a thing called Operation Santa Claus. To this day, I can't get either the South China Morning Post or RTHK to admit that it was started long before they got involved: it started out with the Rediffusion network. I was on the radio five or six days a week; I did a lot of tourism segments including a morning programme called The Pearl in Your Hand. It went into every hotel room in Hong Kong.
RADIO GAGA RTHK decided I was worth encouraging, so they sent me back to the BBC for about a year. During the time I was with the BBC, they sent me to Canada, to CBC; to America - I worked with the country's most famous broadcaster, at NBC: Walter Winchell. I did a bit of time in Los Angeles - travelling at the Hong Kong government's expense. Civil servants then travelled first class and stayed in first-class hotels. (Having returned to Hong Kong) I was on the radio every day; I was on television three or four days a week. I was, in all modesty, so well known that I couldn't walk through the streets without someone I didn't know saying, "Hi Ted!"
THE VOICE I must be the most prolific voice actor in the history of Hong Kong: I've done over 1,000 movies. I was the (English) voice in four of Bruce Lee's movies; they were halfway through a fifth when he died. Bruce came here from America, where he'd been on a TV series called The Green Hornet. He went to Run Run Shaw and said, "I'm here now; I'm quite famous in America," but Run Run wouldn't give him a job: he wanted too much money. Raymond Chow Man-wai, who'd just left Run Run Shaw, was starting Golden Harvest, and gave Bruce a job. I was doing film dubbing for both - that's how I met Bruce. He'd never had a serious fight in his life, even as a schoolboy; and he admitted it. He was in good shape and as a kung-fu fighter on film he came across very, very well. This is also true of a number of American movie stars - take Mickey Rooney: famous for his hard-hitting movies; never had a fight either. Around that time I was doing more radio and television than any other gweilo in Hong Kong. I've probably been in more movies than any gweilo in Hong Kong. But minor parts - a lot of it was voiceovers, sound effects. I was the (English) voice of Godzilla in the Japanese films. Live-action movie roles were only a dozen or so. I'm more of a ham actor. My biggest part was in The Heir Apparent: Largo Winch (2008), alongside Kristin Scott Thomas, who'd won best actress at the European Film Awards that year. I did Ferry to Hong Kong (1959), starring Orson Welles. When the director fell sick, Orson took over directing the movie.
FLYING HIGH (As a PR executive) I had many airline accounts (in the 1970s): BOAC (British Overseas Airways Corporation, the precursor to British Airways) in the Far East; Pan American, the biggest airline in the world; and (Dutch carrier) KLM. I did a cargo airline from Luxembourg, which I even flew, taking my car as excess baggage. I'd bought an Aston Martin and I was returning to Hong Kong from the UK. I drove my car onto the plane in Luxembourg, went upstairs to the first-class cabin, where I had a bed, and drove my car off at Kai Tak.
THEN AND NOW I get called up now and again to do voices. But now it's so different. When I used to go in the dubbing studio, there'd be 10 actors grouped around a microphone, thick with cigarette smoke: you could hardly see the screen. We would take about three days to dub a movie - that's lip-synching. You've got to watch out for certain things - for example, certain sounds are closed-lip sounds, like "m" and "b". It's now so much simpler. They say, "Sit in front of the mic, Ted - that's the character. Just read it." And they can move it back and forward, and fit it in themselves. So you spend no time. Lip-synching dubbing would mean, in the old days, like four or five hours. Now you're there for 15 minutes.