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Obituary: Stephen Thorne – actor with a prolific radio career whose ‘lithe voice commanded the ear’

A consummate radio actor with a lithe and cultured voice that commanded the ear, Stephen Thorne was a prolific contributor to the medium.

By his own estimate he appeared in more than 2,000 broadcasts (his Spotlight page claims more than 2,500) from his early days as a member of the BBC’s Radio Drama Repertory company to his popular peak as Peter Tinniswood’s Eeyore-like Uncle Mort in several series over the decade from 1987.

Born in London and raised by adoptive parents in Hesketh Bank, Lancashire, after National Service in the Royal Navy, he trained at RADA and on graduating joined the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford in 1957.

He spent three seasons there as it transitioned into the Royal Shakespeare Company, appearing in minor roles alongside legendary performances by Michael Redgrave (Hamlet, 1958), Paul Robeson (Othello, 1959), Laurence Olivier (Coriolanus, 1959), Dorothy Tutin (Twelfth Night, 1960) and Peter O’Toole and Peggy Ashcroft (The Taming of the Shrew, 1960).

Seasons at the Mermaid Theatre and with the Old Vic and Bristol Old Vic followed before radio and television began to monopolise his time.

He also recorded more than 350 audiobooks, winning awards for several of them. His last stage appearances included Anne Rutter’s Dylan’s Daughter at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2015 and the Dylan Thomas Boathouse, Laugharne in 2018.

Showcasing an enviable versatility, his other radio highlights included Newland Archer in Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence (1969), Treebeard in Brian Sibley’s acclaimed adaptation of The Lord of the Rings (1981), Aslan in Sibley’s version of The Chronicles of Narnia (1988-97), Inspector Lestrade opposite Clive Merrison’s Sherlock Holmes (1994-2009), Death in Terry Pratchett’s Guards! Guards! (1992) and Tinniswood’s Chekhovian Anton in Eastbourne with Paul Scofield (2003).

Radio and audiobooks also saw him make repeat visits to the Doctor Who franchise, having earlier appeared alongside four incarnations of the titular Time Lord – Jon Pertwee, Patrick Troughton, William Hartnell and Tom Baker – in three television stories in the 1970s.

On television, he was seen in Z-Cars (1971), Crossroads (1978-79), PD James’ Death of an Expert Witness (1983), as Daniel Peggotty in David Copperfield (1986) and in Last of the Summer Wine (2006).

Stephen John Thorne was born on March 2, 1935 and died on May 26, aged 84.

He is survived by his wife Barbara Sykes (whom he met at RADA) and two sons.

Obituary: Andrew Hall – Butterflies actor who enjoyed an extensive stage career [1]