Why I Love Audio: Guest Post by Narrator and Love Audio Ambassador Gordon Griffin, MBE

To round off Love Audio Week we have a guest post by veteran audiobook narrator and Love Audio ambassador Gordon Griffin, MBE. Read on to find out about Gordon's 50 years of experience as an actor as he reflects on how the audiobook world has changed.

 

When I left drama school in the summer of 1963, I couldn’t have predicted that I would become the person who had recorded more audiobooks than anyone else in Europe (I can’t speak for the US!). That couldn’t have been my plan anyway because there was no such industry. It wasn’t until the introduction of cassettes (remember Sony Walkmans?) that ‘listening’ to stories became viable.
 
When I first started recording (in those very early years) recording ’talking books’ was rather looked down on by fellow actors who would say in a disparaging way: ”You records books for the blind don’t you?” I know actors didn’t regard it as a proper job. How different today where actors are ‘fighting to get in’ (to quote Ira Gershwin).

 

 
It was from WF Howes (not long after I started recording for them (you?) that I first heard the phrase ’audiobooks are for everyone’. WF Howes recognised that although people who were visibly impaired found audios invaluable, there was a massive audience out there of sighted people who loved to be ‘read to’. Now of course we all know people (of all ages) who couldn’t do without their audiobook fix.
 
It’s a rapidly expanding market and I know why. It’s a misconception that people who listen to audiobooks don’t read the printed versions. My experience is the opposite. But I think that there’s something very special about ‘being read to' that goes back to when we were children. It’s a point I made to the Queen (how is that for a massive name drop!!). Amazingly, I was given an MBE by the Queen (in the 2017 Birthday Honours) for my huge catalogue of audiobooks (then I’d recorded about 780). And yes we did talk about audiobooks. We both agreed that it was lifeline for people who couldn’t see well and then I made the point about ‘being read to’. She thought about it and agreed - “I am sure you’re right” she said.
 
For an actor, it’s a wonderful job of course. But it’s a subtle skill. Some actors want to ‘perform’. That’s not it at all. The most important person in the process is the writer. People ask me what happens if I don’t like a book and I say, “it’s totally irrelevant what I think about a book. My duty is to the writer. I will be just as committed to Mill on the Floss as a Mills and Boon." If someone says of one of my recording “I like the way he does that voice,” then I have failed. You should be listening to the story not how I am telling it! My favourite review said “Gordon Griffin is anonymous….he disappears”. That’s what I am aiming for.
 
The studio experience can be a magical one. Just me and a microphone. No distractions. Telling the story. And if all is going well, the characters come alive and the story leaps of the page.
 
Favourite books? I love the variety. I love not knowing what I am going to record next. A classic? A thriller? A non-fiction? But if I had to mention a few books that I have particularly enjoyed then I’d have to include Oxygen by Andrew Miller, a beautifully written book that I identified with and that got me some wonderful reviews ands a couple of awards. One reviewer said she’d seldom heard the perfect combination of narrator and writer. Another compared by reading to listening to Chopin!!!  I am from Newcastle, my grandad was a miner so Billy Elliot is a book that resonated with me. I was able to read the Dad with a strong Geordie accent and of course the story is mine. Growing up on Tyneside with a Newcastle accent and wanting to be an actor was never going to happen. But it did! Just like Billy in the story who wanted to be a ballet dancer - despite the odds, he did it too! I enjoy books where I learn something. Not long ago I recorded the memoir of heart surgeon Stephen Westaby - (The Knife’s Edge) brilliantly written and so moving . By contrast another autobiography I recorded was by Keith Floyd - Stirred but not Shaken. Very funny but poignant too. Series of novels by John Harvey, Frank Tallis and William Brodrick come to mind too. All very different in style but when you’re recording such fine writers who create real people, then that makes my job so much easier.
 
As I approach my 900th audiobook, I reflect on how the audio world has changed. Obviously it has changed technically with sophisticated recorded equipment and books are no longer on tape but downloadable. Unimgainable in those early days. But for the narrators, the job-description is the same. We tell stories and while there are stories to tell and people to listen to them, then we narrators will be kept busy. Lucky us!
 
And what happens next for me? Well, that’s another story! Literally!
 
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