David Holt is an immensely talented voice actor, whose versatility has led him to work on a huge variety of audio drama and animation favourites. David has voiced family favourites Alphablocks, Numberblocks and The Rubbish World of Dave Spud, and turned in stellar performances in Audible Originals Treasure Island and The Sandman. Last year, we were fortunate enough to enjoy David’s work in Wireless Original Open Air. We grabbed a chance to get to know the man behind the voices.
“I used to impersonate relatives, friends, neighbours, teachers and anyone from TV, radio, or film.”David Holt
How did you first get involved in audio drama?
The very beginnings of my voice acting career began as a child, although I didn’t know it at the time. I used to impersonate relatives, friends, neighbours, teachers and anyone from TV, radio, or film. It was just a ruse to make people laugh, and I seemed to have a knack for it. Many years later my good friend, the broadcaster Ian Skelly, was at the beginnings of his career at a hospital radio station in Lancashire and he invited me along. We started writing and recording comedy sketches for the station and playing all the parts. This gave me a taste for what could be done with voices. Ian then helped produce my first ever professional voice demo tape (all on cassettes in those days) and I began sending them around to producers at local radio stations who in turn started to book me for commercial voice overs. I was never very good at the hard-sell straight read stuff but was quite adept at characters. At the same time, I decided I needed formal training as an actor, so I studied theatre arts at the Birmingham Royal Conservatoire for three years. It was here that I got my first taste of radio drama by applying to the BBC’s Pebble Mill Studios, and occasionally I was cast in small parts. It went from there.
What was the first Wireless Theatre production you were involved with?
That’s a tough question and I honestly have no idea of the answer. I expect it will be on record somewhere in the archives. However, I was very grateful for it because I have since had a long and fruitful working relationship with David, Mariele, and the team. They always cast me in the right roles and seem to trust me to come up with the goods. Plus, they are the loveliest people to work with and we always have a great time in the studio.
You have been described as the ‘King of Accents’. How do you go about learning a new accent?
Oh, my goodness – I would never refer to myself that way! I do love working with accents though and they can often help define a character, especially if I’m playing several in the same production. My native accent is West Lancashire, so I’m quite good at the northern British accents – except Geordie, which is a tough one to get right. However, it’s a sensitive subject these days and there are certain accents I would never attempt now, especially foreign ones, because I could be putting an actor from that country out of a job. I think accents find me, to be honest. I seem to absorb them whenever I’m travelling around the country.
Do you have any tips for aspiring voice actors?
Yes: get some formal training. This is not a voice-over job that anyone can walk into – this is acting. You need to know what you are doing to create characters, and you need to know how to work with text, other actors, and directors in the very artificial environment of a recording studio.
Also: you must learn to sight read – that is the absolute backbone of our job. What I mean by sight reading is being fully confident with the material on the page and then make it sound like speech and not text, or “lifting it off the page.” Every job is different, and you need to be adaptable. Our job is communication, and it takes a lot of practice.
You have worked on so many projects, from Open Air to Alphablocks. Which have you enjoyed most, and why?
Where to begin! My year spent as a full-time radio actor on the BBC Radio Drama Company in the early 1990’s was a golden time for me. Being based in the iconic Broadcasting House in London and working every day on something new, often with very famous actors, was such a formative experience and it’s one I have built upon ever since.
I have worked on some amazing animated series and films too – most recently in the second Shaun the Sheep feature film, Farmageddon. I provided the voice of a robot who was the baddie’s sidekick. I spent about ten years on and off working with a small group of animation voice specialists: Teresa Gallagher, Jimmy Hibbert, Emma Tate and voice director Dave Peacock, on several series and films, and we really gelled together as a team and between us created some terrific work.
On stage, I was cast as the writer Alan Bennett in a touring production of his play, The Lady in the Van, with Susan Hampshire in the lead. That was certainly a highlight of my career.
How do you feel the audio drama and voice acting world has changed, since the start of your career?
There are many more people out there chasing work, which in turn has become much more “celebrity” orientated. It’s now deemed almost essential to have star names attached to a project to give it kudos or prominence: whether it’s any good or not is another question – a big name in a cast isn’t necessarily the seal of quality. Established actors such as myself now have to audition for almost every role along with many others, so experience doesn’t always count and sometimes it can work against you. The proliferation of home recording studios, especially since the pandemic, has meant that theoretically it’s easier to find work, and in my case it has proved an essential tool. I probably do fifty percent of my work from home now, whereas in the old days I used to be darting all around London from one studio to another.
What has been your biggest challenge so far, and how did you overcome it?
Moving from analogue to digital. Especially in terms of promotional material, showreels, castings, auditions, social media, and even the switch from phone calls to email. Yes, I’m that old! My first showreels were on cassette and I sent them out by post. Also, as I mentioned, working from my home studio – a huge change in my life. These have been big challenges, and for the most part I seem to have coped – so far. Who knows what’s next.
The advance of AI voices and performances is very scary – they could put the likes of me completely out of work and my union Equity is fighting it all the way. Resist, at all cost!
Have you heard any great audio dramas, podcasts or audiobooks recently that you would like to recommend?
I don’t have a lot of time to listen to be honest, but because I’m BBC born and bred, I’m always tuned in to BBC Sounds and Radio 4 Extra. There is always something of interest to listen to and I particularly enjoyed Louis Theroux’s series of interviews during the pandemic. But don’t dismiss the linear radio channels either – BBC Radio 3, and Radio 4 – there’s usually something fascinating. I’m currently looking forward to hearing a Radio 3 drama about Imogen Holst trying to persuade Benjamin Britten to compose an opera to celebrate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. And I would heartily recommend the audiobook Next to Nature written by my dear friend, the late author Ronald Blythe, not least because it’s narrated by a certain D Holt….! Haha!
What are you working on at present?
Ooh, I couldn’t possibly spill those beans! Seriously, it’s a big scale, big budget supernatural audio drama podcast with elements of The Omen and The Exorcist. It’s a shocker and will be released around Halloween 2023. Otherwise, I have more episodes of the animated series The Rubbish World of Dave Spud coming up; some top-secret computer game work; and a little bit of teaching at the National Film & Television School – introducing animation students to the whole concept of voice recording for animation. I’m also looking forward to recording more new episodes of the brilliant animated series, Numberblocks, for CBeebies.
How can listeners enjoy your work?
I try to update my social media with my latest projects whenever possible…
Or take a look at my agent’s website – https://justvoicesagency.com/voice/david-holt/
And if you’re a fellow professional you can find me here – https://www.linkedin.com/in/david-holt-05345553/
Photos of David copyright David Holt 2023. Stop AI Stealing the Show image copyright Equity 2022.