When independent television arrived in Britain in 1955, Brian Cobby quickly established himself as a leading voice-over artist in commercials.
He was heard extolling Surf washing powder and, for an advertisement for Stork margarine, he was paid a four-figure sum for merely saying the word “Stork”. But he was more widely heard when he became the voice of British Telecom’s speaking clock, which is said to be accurate to within five thousandths of a second.
Previously, Cobby had been an actor, working in rep and open-air productions in Regent’s Park. But the work dried up. So, in the 1970s, he moved to Brighton where he became a supervisor at a telephone exchange.
In 1985, he was one of 5,000 people from across Britain who wanted to succeed Pat Simmons, who had been the voice of the speaking clock for more than 20 years. Simmons joined Robert Morley and Susan Hampshire to choose both the winner and the runner-up, whose prize was to record the announcement that “the number you have dialled has not been recognised”. Cobby attributed his success to sounding “well-educated without being prissy”.
His dignified baritone voice was heard for the next 21 years and, during his tenure, more than two billion calls were made by people wanting to check the time. He admitted he never made a call himself except at the New Year “when I put it on a speakerphone and have a glass of champagne”.
Brian Cobby, who was born on October 12, 1929, died on October 31 at the age of 83.