StudioI recently recorded material for a voice-over assignment using a mix of software and studio equipment.  Most of the equipment I utilised has been standard issue for many a year, the headphones for example will look very familiar to any broadcast engineer.  Traditionally I have always printed my scripts, whether they are my own creations or the work of others and set to work performing them.  However, on this occasion there were so many PDF files and screen shots to work from that I found myself running low on paper and ink.  I took a somewhat radical decision to try and export the PDF files to a tablet e-reader I managed to borrow.  It felt wrong somehow, holding aloft a thin block of plastic, metal and glass rather than the reassuring coarseness of A4 paper.  It did of course save me a vast amount of time, a number of trees, and potentially money.  I am now potentially sold on the idea of buying an e-reader…not a tablet computer you understand, and certainly not something to replace my beloved library of books.  I am going to do some research and try to discover if someone has created an e-reader suited to scripts.  In fact, there may be a gap in the market for something like that, and if I were technically minded I might be inclined to build a prototype and head for the ‘Dragon’s Den’!

As I consider my new found appreciation for the e-reader I can only marvel at the way I’ve managed to surround myself with a mix of outdated and modern technology.  Yes, I am a traditionalist, but I can also see the sense in doing things in a smarter way as the technology evolves.  In one corner of my study I have the PC with the sound editing software and access to the web and DropBox.  There’s so much sense in these time and labour saving creations.  In another corner I have a storage box brimming with cassette tapes I’m attempting to digitise, some still sporting the home-made covers I designed, photocopied and pieced together in the late eighties.  And buried somewhere in a drawer is my beloved mini-disc recorder, a short-lived casualty of the digital age.  Things have evolved incredibly over the years I’ve been dabbling in audio recording.  I began with two tape cassette recorders, one a small and squat Philips machine that used to hook up to the ZX Spectrum computer, the other a tall and majestic Toshiba portable with built in microphone.  My fellow ‘comedy’ performers and I would play sound effects and wibbly-wobbly pre-recorded voices from the Philips, and record everything ‘live’ into the Toshiba.  All the editing was done later using my parent’s tape-to-tape hi-fi.  It was all pretty low-tech, but I tell you what it still makes me laugh and I get a real kick out of listening back to those old hissy tapes.  Oh, yes, an interesting aside…I once tried to compile a “best of” CD from my old comedy tapes and managed to copy a fair amount over to mini-disc format ready to edit.  Unfortunately one of the tapes hadn’t survived too well and a crucial part of the audio was unusable.  Now, here’s the clever bit!  Despite it being a good 15 years since I recorded the original I managed to find the old Toshiba portable and a cassette and mimicked as best I could the original audio (I still had the crumpled old script!) – and it worked a treat!  You should always leave your technological options open.

Technological Musings of a Voice-Over Artist © Richard A. Usher 2013

Media Comeback for Ben Bernard!

Media Comeback for Ben Bernard!

At the beginning of August I began putting the finishing touches to a brand new series of comedy sketches featuring my alter-ego, Ben Bernard.  This deluded and egocentric character had been haunting me for a number of years, pretty much since I decided to bury his remains in a storage box marked “Ben Bernard, RIP”, but the time was right to resurrect the old blighter.

For those of you unfamiliar with the self-styled “Master of Mirth”, Ben Bernard was first created for a University project by a team including myself, fellow writer partner Paul Speed and filmmaker Ian Burnett.  It was ‘no-budget’ production (unless you count the £90 for new tyres on Mr Speed’s Ford Fiesta after we were stopped by the Police at a random check-point), and took us a day to film on location in Cleethorpes.  That short film turned out rather well and never failed to raise a smile – in extreme cases I’ve witnessed viewers falling out of their chairs, or keeling over in an edit suite the laughter was so strong!  I felt I’d found something really special in Mr Bernard and was keen to develop this wonderful character, a struggling seaside entertainer who resolutely refuses to accept that he’s one of life’s failures.  We entered the film and series outline to ‘BBC Talent’, and even received an encouraging telephone call from them – however, they simply wanted to confirm we’d sent a VHS and the scripts as they’d somehow parted company upon arrival at the BBC.  I often wonder what might have been had that VHS not gone missing…  Despite an initial rejection I started work on a sitcom, extending our short film script and developing new scripts around the series outline I’d plotted with co-creator Paul Speed for ‘Stand Up And Be Counted!’.  Writing it solo was tough, but tremendous fun, although I missed my former writing partner and the opportunity to chuck around ideas and have a good laugh at Bernard’s antics.  Buoyed by support and terrific feedback from colleagues in the media I wrote a new pilot film and teamed up once more with Ian Burnett for a second ‘no-budget’ production, again filmed on location around Cleethorpes.  Lightning struck twice and this second film had the desired outcome…a lot of laughter.  Sadly, despite great feedback and support from the likes of presenter and cartoonist Geoff Motley, broadcaster James Alexander Gordon, magician Paul Daniels and the late composer Derek Wadsworth, the BBC rejected my scripts and series outlines – not once, but three times!  Of course the last rejection was the most damning, coming as it did from a Trainee Script Commissioner – they even had someone else “PP” their signature!  Somehow it was the most fitting end to my efforts at getting Ben Bernard to the small screen.

I made a small switch to audio for my next attempt to bring the “Master of Mirth” to the attention of the media.  ‘Blog Off Ben Bernard!’ was a series of ten audio blogs, or podcasts, featuring the luckless comic regaling his listeners with bizarre tales of his everyday life.  Encouraging rumblings followed as feedback suggested I was on to a winner, and so I put together some CD’s and despatched them to broadcasters and production companies across the UK.  The silence was deafening!  And so, I took the decision to put poor old Ben Bernard to sleep, and laid the scripts, props and his wig to rest in that battered old storage box.

Ben Bernard relaxes on the Prom at Cleethorpes ahead of his comeback...

Ben Bernard relaxes on the Prom at Cleethorpes ahead of his comeback…

In the years since the cardboard funeral I have toyed with ideas to further the cause of Ben Bernard, but nothing ever quite worked.  I still believe 110% in the character and the wonderful ideas I’ve had for him – the world needs Ben Bernard.  It wasn’t until a dear friend and Bernardian became unwell that I decided to really go for it and invest more time and effort on this beautifully funny creation.  My prime motivation was to at least make my friend smile, in the spirit of laughter being the best medicine.  However, I believe the resurrection of Ben Bernard some fifteen years after his first “Ooh, ‘ello!” is well timed and worthy of as much effort as I can muster.  And so, the costume was dry cleaned, the make-up went on, and I once again teamed up with Ian Burnett to create more modern day mirth as Ben Bernard.  Low budget instead of no-budget, we filmed five new shorts in a wonderful day of location shooting in Cleethorpes.  We were joined in our efforts by another talented film maker, Craig Briggs, who also played a couple of supporting characters.  I had a ball writing and performing these little gems, and if you wish to take a look you can check them out on my YouTube and Vimeo channels (see the links on my website for more details).


"Ooh, ready for me close-up Mr Burnett!"

“Ooh, ready for me close-up Mr Burnett!”