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Stephen Thorne

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2019-07-03 Times.jpg


Tall, melodious-voiced actor who played a trio of Doctor Who villains but was best known for his hundreds of audiobooks

From the voice of Aslan in radio and television adaptations of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to a trio of villains in Doctor Who, Stephen Thorne was the ideal choice of actor when a deep, melodious tone was needed, making almost any story seem bigger and better than it had appeared on paper.

Thorne was known to listeners of BBC Radio 4 from programmes such as Book at Bedtime and Poetry Please, while aficionados of talking books could enjoy his well-rounded vowels in works by Hardy, Dickens and Churchill. His 1986 audiobook recording of The Sheep-Pig by Dick King-Smith was a classic of the genre, with Gramophone magazine declaring him to be "one of the best readers in the profession"

His first appearance in Doctor Who came in 1971 as Azal, the last living daemon on Earth, in The Daemons (season eight) with Jon Pertwee. He returned as Omega, the renegade time lord in The Three Doctors (season ten; 1972-73) and in 1976 he was Eldrad, last of the Kastrians, in The Hand of Fear (season 14). Thorne's height, 6ft 5in, undoubtedly came in useful. In all three roles he was hidden either by make-up or under a mask. He recalled taking care not to overplay his part "You tend when playing a monster to shriek and shout," he explained, gesticulating wildly. "But the mask does half the work for you."

In contrast, Thorne himself was a kind and gentle giant. He enjoyed the Doctor Who legacy and would take part in conventions around the world. He often recalled how Omega's mask meant that he could barely see the lead actors, notably Pertwee, who would regularly move him out of the shot. On the third occasion Patrick Troughton intervened to tell Pertwee: "It's not you they want to see, it's the monster."

Stephen John Thorne was born in London in 1935 and adopted at an early age by the Rev Alan Thorne, a clergyman, and his wife Betty (née Boulton), who raised him in Hesketh Bank, Lancashire, where young Stephen showed his aptitude for acting by climbing into the church pulpit to imitate his father's sermons. He was educated at Liverpool College and did his National Service with the Royal Navy on HMS Ocean, where his acting skills so impressed the chief petty officer that he was advised to try for a career on the stage.

On demobilisation he auditioned successfully for the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (Rada). There he met Barbara Sykes, who became a director and stage manager, and they were married in 1958. Barbara, who left the theatre and worked as a teacher, survives him with their sons Simon, who works in mental health, and Crispian, who is a verger at a church in New York state. He also had six grandchildren.

He went from Rada to Stratford, where he recalled a heavy drinking and smoking culture. He would tell how Peter O'Toole would arrive in the wings with a cigarette in one hand and half a bottle of whisky in the other. On one occasion Thorne was holding a noisy party at his rented cottage, which was interrupted by two policemen who had been summoned by an irate neighbour. O'Toole was sent to speak to the officers and ten minutes later "Peter had a bottle of Scotch and three glasses and the policemen were sitting down drinking and laughing with him".

Thorne joined the Mermaid Theatre in London in 1961, working for the autocratic Bernard Miles, notably in The Andersonville Trial, based on an incident in the American civil war, and 71s Pity She's a Whore. His next stop was the Bristol Old Vic, but soon he had joined the BBC's drama repertory company.

Doctor Who was not Thorne's only venture on to the small screen: he was also seen in Z Cars (1971), Crossroads (1978-79) and David Copperfield (1986). His last appearance was in an episode of Last of the Summer Wine (2006). However, he would point out that radio required different skills from film or television work. "Radio acting needs a lot more energy in the voice," he said. "If you just do it naturalistically it sounds dreadful and fiat"

He was a member of the Garrick Club, a staunch Labour supporter and a firm member of the Church of England. On one occasion he acquired a labra-doodle rescue dog called Chelsea, but insisted on changing her name to Jenna "because I'm not walking round north London calling out the name of a football team I do not support".

Stephen Thorne, actor, was born on March 2,1935. He died from cancer on May 26, 2019, aged 84

Caption: Making stories bigger: Thorne in 1983

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  • APA 6th ed.: (2019-07-03). Stephen Thorne. The Times p. 54.
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  • Chicago 15th ed.: "Stephen Thorne." The Times, edition, sec., 2019-07-03
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  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Stephen Thorne | url= | work=The Times | pages=54 | date=2019-07-03 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=19 October 2021 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=Stephen Thorne | url= | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=19 October 2021}}</ref>