Tinseltown Talks: Remembering Shane Rimmer, from ‘Thunderbirds’ and ‘Doctor Who’ to 007 and ‘Star Wars’
Widely recognized as a voice actor from the popular 1960s British children’s show “Thunderbirds,” Shane Rimmer died on March 29 at the age of 89. Rimmer also worked alongside the BBC’s original Doctor Who, helped R2-D2 into an X-wing fighter, delivered an atomic bomb in “Dr. Strangelove” and battled villains with two different James Bond actors.
Originally from Canada, Rimmer made a film career playing technicians, military men and numerous supporting characters. He moved to Great Britain in the 1950s, retaining a distinctive North American accent making him much sought after in the British film industry.
“I hit England at a lucky time when there weren’t many North American actors here,” Rimmer explained by phone from his home in Hertfordshire in a 2013 interview. “I could have moved to Los Angeles instead, but you really had to put your career ahead of everything else, and I just didn’t like the idea of handing over my life to Hollywood.”
In 1966 he appeared in an early episode of the BBC television series “Doctor Who” which, still in production today, is now well known in the U.S.
“William Hartnell played the first ‘Doctor’ back then,” recalled Rimmer. “My first day on the set, he came up and asked if I was from north or south of the Mason-Dixon Line. He could be a rough old bugger, but once you got to know him he was fine.”
But it was in the ‘60s British sci-fi kids show “Thunderbirds” where Rimmer first made an impact, voicing Scott Tracy, pilot of the Thunderbird One aircraft.
The action show, created by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, became extremely popular in Europe, Canada, Japan and Australia and used marionette puppets, detailed miniature models and dramatic special effects to portray the adventures of an international rescue team.
“Gerry Anderson heard me on a BBC serial and thought my voice would be good,” Rimmer explained. “He wanted a mid-Atlantic sound – not totally British, nor American. I still remember the recording sessions because all the actors were crowded around one gigantic microphone. They had some beautiful receiver mics in those days – ours looked like Big Ben in the middle of the studio!”
A 1964 role as co-pilot of a bomber sent to Russia in “Dr. Strangelove” gave his movie career a boost. “A big film like that gets your name out there and entry to other projects you might never have had.”
As a result, Rimmer joined the Bond family in the ‘60s and ‘70s, making spy films with both Sean Connery and Roger Moore.
“Connery had a tremendous presence,” he recalled. “I liked him, but you didn’t fool around and stuck to the script. Moore was charming and took it all more lightly. He reworked the Bond character to fit his personality.”
As for the latest Bond incarnation, Daniel Craig, Rimmer said he approved.
“I quite admire him. He brought back the edginess that Connery had.”
In 1977, Rimmer appeared briefly in the original “Star Wars.”
“I was an engineer and had to help R2-D2 into the spaceship cockpit,” he recalled, explaining how bits of the robot would keep falling off during the attempt. “It took a day and a half to film that sequence.”
With connections to so many iconic films and TV shows of the 20th century, Rimmer was always a popular guest at fan conventions. He also penned TV scripts and a 2012 autobiography, “From Thunderbirds to Pterodactyls.”
“You’ve got to be multi-directional in this business,” he said during the interview. “When one area dries up, you need something else you can turn to.”
Nick Thomas teaches at Auburn University at Montgomery, Alabama, and has written features, columns and interviews for over 700 magazines and newspapers. See http://www.tinseltowntalks.com.