Date of Birth: 18 March 1947, Surbition, Surrey, UK
Birth Name: Susan Haydn Thomas
Nicknames: Susan Sheridan
Susan Sheridan, who has died aged 68, was an actress and voice artist who provided the voices of Trillian in the original radio production of Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1978), and a range of children’s television characters, most notably Noddy in the BBC’s Noddy’s Toyland Adventures (1992-94 and 1999-2001).
The mischievous doll in the red and yellow taxi first appeared in Enid Blyton’s book Noddy Goes To Toyland in 1949 and on television in the 1950s. Known as Oui-Oui in France, Doddi in Iceland and Purzelknirps in Germany, he was an immediate hit with children, though he tended to be sniffed at by the literati for shallow characterisation, and even found himself accused of racism and sexism.
By the 1990s, when Susan Sheridan was picked to voice the character, Noddy had been forced to clean up his act. The original stories had featured “golliwogs” who lived in Golly Town, including Mr Golly, the proprietor of Toyland’s garage. These characters had been dropped from the BBC’s television adaptation of the books in the 1980s and replaced by other soft toys. Also gone was Miss Rap, the schoolmistress who dished out spankings with a slipper.
Noddy’s Toyland Adventures featured a new character not present in the original books, Dinah Doll, a china doll described as a “black, assertive, ethnic minority female”, for whom, among several other minor characters, Susan Sheridan also provided the voice.
The animation studio Cosgrove Hall made the series and it did a superb job bringing the Noddy stories to life. Much of the success of the series was due to Susan Sheridan, whose voice had been selected out of some 200 audition tapes. Explaining how she came up with Noddy’s sing-song cadences, she explained that she had studied the illustrations in the original Noddy books: “He’s got eyebrows that look surprised or cross, so that’s how I found the voice. He talks up and down like that most of the time.”
She was born Susan Haydn Thomas in Surbiton, Surrey, and educated at the Brigidine Convent, Windsor, and at Ashford Grammar School.
After training at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, she cut her teeth in regional rep before making her West End debut in 1975 at the Phoenix Theatre as Christopher Robin in a production of the musical Winnie-the-Pooh.
Her voice skills led to auditions with BBC radio, on which she made her name as the astrophysicist Trillian in the radio adaptation of Douglas Adams’s cult sci-fi comedy. Other characters she voiced included Angus and Elspeth, the children who befriend a family of Loch Ness Monsters in the BBC cartoon series The Family-Ness (1984), Jimbo the talking aeroplane in Jimbo and the Jet-Set (BBC1, 1986), and Princess Sylvia in the BBC animated English language teaching series Muzzy in Gondoland (1987) and Muzzy Comes Back (1989).
She dubbed voices in several films, including Princess Eilonwy in the Disney cartoon The Black Cauldron (1985), the young Puyi in Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor (1987) and one of the chickens in Chicken Run (2002). She also “voiced” video games, read audio books and in later years worked as a voice coach. She remained active on the stage with roles in touring productions and a one-woman show The Merry Wife of Wilton (2004).
In 2011 she made a rare appearance in front of the cameras as Mother Thomas Aquinas, a nun found strangled in a chicken coop, in Midsomer Murders.
Date of Birth: 31 October 1919, Barnet, London, England, UK
Birth Name: Daphne Margaret du Grivel Oxenford
Nicknames: Daphne Oxenford
Daphne Oxenford, was for 20 years one of the best known voices of Listen With Mother on BBC Radio, captivating children with the words: “Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.”
The phrase has now been enshrined in the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations. “The time is a quarter to two,” the announcer would intone. “This is the BBC Light Programme for mothers and children at home. Are you ready for the music? When it stops, Daphne Oxenford will be here to speak to you.”
“The music” the Berceuse from Faure’s Dolly Suite was the signal for an audience of pre-school children across the country to settle down. Then, as a regular storyteller on the show from 1950 until 1971 (others were Julia Lang and Dorothy Smith), Daphne Oxenford would read the story of the day. “Few radio memories come as misty-eyed as this,” noted the radio historian Paul Donovan.
But Daphne Oxenford also appeared on television notably in early episodes of Coronation Street. Between 1960 and 1963 she played Esther Hayes, making her debut in episode two. Although the character was a spinster with a criminal brother, she thought the role dull and left after a couple of years, finally returning for guest appearances in 1971 and 1972, when she was last seen at the wedding of Ernest Bishop to Emily Nugent.
For 26 years Daphne Oxenford was also a regular voice on What the Papers Say, Granada Television’s irreverent weekly survey of the British Press, in which she was required to articulate excerpts from publications ranging from the tabloids to The Daily Telegraph, often in assumed voices.
The daughter of an accountant, Daphne Margaret du Grivel Oxenford was born on October 31 1919 at Barnet, north London. From school she trained at the Embassy School of Acting in Swiss Cottage, later the Central School of Speech and Drama, under Sybil Thorndike’s sister Eileen.
During the war she worked briefly in a bank and later as a censor, but hated having to read people’s private correspondence and was relieved to join ENSA entertaining troops and, after VE-Day, spending time in Germany broadcasting for radio. Later in 1945 she appeared with Sonnie Hale and Nellie Wallace in the revue That’ll Be The Day.
Her first radio engagement was in Let’s Join In! For schools radio in 1947, followed in 1949 by her television debut in Oranges and Lemons, a show in which she had worked at the Lyric (Hammersmith) and Globe Theatres. She also appeared in a television adaptation of Tuppence Coloured, the stage revue in which she had worked with Joyce Grenfell and Max Adrian at the Lyric and Globe in 1947.
Although her regular radio work with Listen With Mother occupied her from 1950, Daphne Oxenford continued to develop her stage career. She had roles in productions at the Library Theatre, Manchester, of The Happiest Days Of Your Life, in which she was Miss Gossage, the games mistress played in the later film version by Joyce Grenfell, and Candida (both 1955). In 1969 she appeared in Spring And Port Wine and Relatively Speaking at the same venue.
In 1979 she played Violet in a revival of TS Eliot’s The Family Reunion, starring Edward Fox, at the Royal Exchange, Manchester, and at the Vaudeville when it transferred to the West End the following year.
She appeared as Miss Prism in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest at the Nottingham Playhouse in October 1990, and returned to Manchester to play Emmy in The Doctors’ Dilemma at the Royal Exchange in 1991. The following year, at the Library Theatre, she was Ethel Thayler in a stage version of the film On Golden Pond.
From 1956 Daphne Oxenford made regular television appearances with her friend Joyce Grenfell in the comedienne’s sketch show Joyce Grenfell Requests The Pleasure. She was the mother in John Mortimer’s autobiographical A Voyage Round My Father (1969), and throughout the 1970s and 1980s appeared in numerous comedy series with Jimmy Tarbuck, Les Dawson and Dick Emery, dramas in the Play For Today slot and popular sitcoms including Some Mothers Do Have 'Em, Rising Damp and Man About The House. She played Mrs Patterson, the village grocer, in To The Manor Born (1979-81).
She continued to make cameo appearances throughout the 1980s and 1990s in television series such as The Bill, Brookside and Casualty. In 2002 she played the Queen Mother in an American television biopic about the life of Prince William. Although she looked the part, she was dismayed by some of the lines, protesting that the Queen Mother would never have said “when the chips are down”. However she was told that American audiences needed to comprehend the dialogue.
Daphne Oxenford’s feature film credits included parts in Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969), That’ll Be The Day (1973), and as Mrs Pumphrey in All Creatures Great And Small (1974).
She married, in 1951, David Marshall. They lived in Altrincham, Cheshire, until 2001 when they moved to Essex. After her husband’s death in 2003 she moved to the actors’ retirement home at Denville Hall, Northwood, from where she continued to do occasional television jobs, taking roles in The Royal (2003), Midsomer Murders (2004), Heartbeat (2004-05), and Doctor Who (2008).
Date of Birth: 10 July 1934, Tulsa, Oklahoma, US
Birth Name: Jerry Nelson
Jerry Nelson was one of the principal puppeteers for Sesame Street and The Muppet Show, and created the number-crunching vampire and Dracula lookalike, Count von Count.
Nelson’s hands manipulated many of the best-loved characters in the Muppet pantheon. For Sesame Street he animated Mr Snuffleupagus, Big Bird’s best friend, until he strained his back under the weight of the mammoth-like creature and was obliged to pass the task on to someone else.
Although the Muppets were created by the Americans Jim Henson and Frank Oz, The Muppet Show was made in England, its potential having been spotted by Lew Grade, whose ATV company financed it.
Nelson had a hand in Rowlf, the shaggy, piano-playing dog in the Muppet orchestra. The character was one of several traditional puppets which were fitted were glove-like hands into which the operator could insert his own to facilitate detailed movement. When Nelson first worked with Henson in 1965, he was made Rowlf’s right hand man.
From 1971 Nelson worked on Sesame Street, conceived as a project that used television to educate underprivileged American preschool children. It was shown in Britain on ITV. From 1976 he was based at the Elstree studios outside London, working on The Muppet Show, which by 1981 had become one of the most popular on British television. As well animation, Nelson voiced Robin the Frog, nephew of the show’s compère Kermit, whose song Halfway Down The Stairs reached No 7 in the British pop charts.
Another of his recurring characters was the grumpy old man Statler who, with his companion Waldorf, heaped opprobrium on the Muppet performances from their permanent box at the Muppet theatre. (“Why do we always come here/I guess we’ll never know/It’s like a kind of torture/To have to watch this show” sing the two men in the opening credits).
Jerry Nelson was born on 10th July 1934 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and brought up in Washington, DC. He had perfected a repertoire of silly voices for his mother’s benefit by the age of 10. Having originally trained as an actor, supporting himself by taking jobs as a salesman and a waiter, he worked at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York with Bil Baird, the puppeteer behind the “Lonely Goatherd” sequence in the 1965 film The Sound Of Music.
When Jim Henson offered him occasional work with his Muppets, Nelson anticipated being used as a singer and voice artist. But in 1970 he joined Henson’s puppet company as a full-time Muppeteer and began working regularly on Sesame Street at the start of the show’s second season.
As well as Count von Count, other characters in Nelson’s Sesame Street repertoire included Mr Johnson, Frazzle, Sam the Robot, and Fred the Wonder Horse. On The Muppet Show, Nelson’s recurring characters included Camilla the Chicken, Pops, Louis Kazagger, and the ageing hippy bassist Sgt Floyd Pepper.
“Each one of them is an aspect of my own personality,” he wrote in 1978. “The Muppets are roles I assume, rather than puppets I manipulate. Robin, for instance, is an undersized metaphor for my own insecurities. He has a childlike curiosity about how things work. Uncle Deadly is the greatest ham actor of all time; Floyd is my laid-back, mellow cool side.”
In 2004 Nelson’s chronic health problems forced him to withdraw from manipulating the puppets, although he continued to voice characters on Sesame Street. He was the operator for Tiny Tim (played by Robin the Frog), Jacob Marley and the Ghost of Christmas Present in the 1992 film The Muppet Christmas Carol.