Ben Small & Keith Wickham

Ben Small & Keith Wickham

In 2009, Thomas & Friends moved to a whole new CGI makeover, and with it - new voice actors were introduced to play the parts of the characters whilst Michael Angelis and Michael Brandon continued their role as the Storytellers... here, Callum Walker and TheTopHatts interview two members of the UK cast: Ben Small (Voice of Thomas) and Keith Wickham (Various)

The TopHatts speaks with
Keith Wickham
 
Keith is one of the more versatile members of the UK cast of Thomas & Friends, providing voices for most of the Steam Team engines.
 
You have been involved with Thomas & Friends since the feature-length special 'Hero of the Rails', how did you get the job of joining the new voice cast?

I auditioned, along with most of the voice actors in London. It took three re-calls and a lot of waiting. There are only 4 of us doing the UK voices, with one other added recently, so we were very lucky.

Was it you're choice to voice characters such as Gordon and Henry, or was it Hit Entertainment's decision?

No choice. I auditioned for all the characters, they decided who was to play whom.

The end credits don't list what characters you voiced, what characters did you lend your voice to?

Fat Controller, Henry, Gordon, James, Edward, Percy, Ben, Salty, Captain, Harold, Dash and Dowager Hatt.

Did you think of how to interpret the voices to fit in with the characters?

Yes, sort of. I was told what they wanted and sort of worked round it. Gordon was obvious, as was the Fat Controller, but the others needed some work.

What is the routine like when you arrive at the studios and do you view a screen of an episode when voicing your lines?

I do voices in the US and the UK version. The US version is done like all the other cartoons I do, in a studio with the other actors, and with a script. The animation is then done, and a couple of months later, I do the voices for the UK version, which are done to match the finished animation, line by line, with one actor at a time.

How long does it usually take every day to voice your lines from start to finish?

Depends on the episodes. The hour long episodes take several sessions, the short ones take a couple of hours each. The US sessions take longer.

You have worked on other popular kids TV series such as 'The Koala Brothers' and 'The Mr. Men Show', do you feel privileged that you are now part of a phenomenom that is of Thomas?

Yes, I'm very lucky. I was lucky to do all of the series I'm in, but this is the most high profile series I've been in.

You were involved in the Children in Need Peter Kay music video as you reprised your voice of the Koala Brothers, how much did you enjoy to be part of such a good cause that is Children in Need?

That was a fun gig, and well spotted by the way. It was good to do it, of course, but it took about half an hour, so it didn't seem like a major gig until it went out on TV. Being a part of the whole thing was really good.

How did you get into voice acting?

By doing lots of stand up gigs, sketch shows and then sending tapes in to agents. It took a little time to get work, but one meets various people and eventually I ended up doing cartoons quite by chance. I was befriended by a company that specialises in finding voice artists for cartoons. For about ten years I was doing 5 or 6 series a year.

You and Ben Small who voices Thomas and Toby previously worked on 'Watch my Chops', how did you feel to work with each other again?

That's great, but we rarely work together. The UK episodes are done one actor at a time. We did the voices for the stage show together, but otherwise, we work separately.

Do you have a favourite character from Thomas?

Not really. I suppose I would choose the Fat Controller, but then I'm biased.

Who is the character that is your favourite to voice?

Can't choose. They all have their charms. Percy gets the most response from people, he's cute, but they are all fun.

Did you know or watch Thomas & Friends before you joined the series and did you have any knowledge of it?

Have to say no to that I'm afraid. I was aware of it of course, and knew that it was on TV, and the names of some of the engines, but not having children, I never watched it.

Michael Angelis now only provides the narrative rather than voicing characters, have you spoken to him at all?

I met him once as he was leaving the studio and I was going in. He's usually recorded on different days to me, so I haven't spoken to him other than 'Hello'.

How much do you love being part of the series?

Very much. As I've said, I'm lucky to be in it, and I'd be silly not to enjoy it.

You are involved in the next feature-length special 'Misty Island Rescue' which features four new characters, Bash, Dash, Ferdinand and Captain, are you voicing any of these characters?

Yes, I'm Dash and Captain.

Thank you Keith, finally, is there anything that you want to say to us fans?

Keep watching! I hope that the voices and the new animation are popular, it's a huge change for the series, and I'd like to keep doing it for as long as they want me in it. Thanks for asking me to answer these questions, and enjoy the show.

Callum Walker speaks with
Ben Small
 
How did you become involved with the series?
HiT entertainment were casting for the voice of Thomas, and I auditioned for the part, and thankfully got it!  Interestingly enough, a couple of years ago I auditioned for the American version of the show and didn't get the part, which actually worked in my favour, as I couldn't have been the US and the UK Thomas.

How does it feel to be the voice of such an iconic children's character?
It's awesome!  I mean to be the first actor to be the voice of Thomas (in the TV Series) is a great honour and
privilege, and also quite a responsibility as he's such a well loved character.


Were you a fan of the classic series of Thomas before becoming the voice?
I think I was just a little too old to watch the classic series.but was well familiar with the original Railway Series books.


What other productions have you worked on?
Wow!!, good question?, Well I played Jim in cBeebies 'Lunar Jim', T bone on cbeebies 'Clifford the big red dog', as well as George on 'Clifford the puppy years. Bernie Barges on CBBC's 'Watch my chops', Pterence and Sid on Channel 5's Harry and his bucketfull of dinosaurs', Sly the goblin and Mr wobblyman on Channel 5's 'Make way for Noddy', Romeo on Citv's Dork Hunters from outer space', and Zorro, on Kix's Zorro generation Z!  That's a few to be getting on with!

Who are your favourite characters in the series?
Hmmm, that's a tough one... well obviously, Thomas!  I have to say that!  I like The Fat Controller a lot, and feel that Keith Wickham has done such an awesome job with the character. I also like Kevin, as he's funny, and I'm fond of Gordon.


If given a choice, which other characters from the series would you like to voice?
To be honest I love just providing the voice for Thomas, and Toby every now and then, and as Keith, Matt (Wilkinson) and Theresa (Gallagher) have done such a fantastic job on all the other characters, I'm thrilled.

Were you familiar with Thomas from the Rev. W. Awdry's books and Ringo Starr telling the Stories?
Actually I grew up reading the original Railway Series books written by Rev Awdry.  I loved them and had quite a collection!  Plus a chap called Johnny Morris, who was fantastic,and was an wonderful childrens entertainer, used to read the stories on tv before Ringo Star and Michael Angelis took over with 'Thomas The Tank Engine & Friends'.
 
I was also privilaged to meet Rev Awdry's daughter, at the premiere of 'Hero of the Rails', and have to confess I was a little nervous as I really hoped she
approved of the new voice of Thomas!  Thankfully she liked the film and had a photo taken with me, so phew!!

 
Sodor Island Fansite would like to thank Ben and Keith for their time to share insight on their involvement with Thomas, as well as thank Callum and TopHatts for being kind enough to offer us the chance to publish them on their behalf!