Ray Barrett (1927-2009)

Ray Barrett, one of the most recognisable and charismatic Australian actors of his generation and supplier of some of Supermarionation’s best voices, died on 8th September 2009, aged 82. His voices for Stingray included Commander Sam Shore and the undersea dictator Titan, while for Thunderbirds he was both John Tracy and The Hood and for both series he provided a host of individual character voices, perhaps most memorably The Duchess of Royston in Thunderbirds The Duchess Assignment.

Raymond Charles Barrett was born in Brisbane on 2nd May, 1927. His English mother persuaded him to take elocution lessons and enter radio talent contests and he discovered a talent for acting, finding success despite facial scarring caused by severe acne in his teenage years. Upon leaving school Barrett went into radio as a presenter, singer and actor and at age 17 he became the first actor to be put under exclusive contract by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Moving to Britain in 1958, he found work quickly on film and TV (in the latter medium as a stooge to the puppet Archie Andrews) and starring in review on stage alongside Patrick Wymark. In 1960 he joined fellow Australian and future Thunderbirds voice artist Charles Tingwell in the cast of the popular hospital drama Emergency – Ward 10. On leaving that series Barrett did the rounds of television series, including Out Of This World, The Avengers and Z Cars before being drawn back into regular television work with GS5 in 1964. This was a retitling of Ghost Squad for that series’ final season, reflecting the fact that the last remaining original cast member, Michael Quinn, had left, to be replaced by Ray Barrett and Neil Hallett.

While utilising his vocal dexterity in the anonymous confines of a recording studio for Stingray and Thunderbirds, Ray Barrett became a household name and face on television as oil company field agent Peter Thompson in the BBC’s 1965 series Mogul which, later retitled The Troubleshooters, ran successfully until 1972. Barrett was now established as the craggy international face of the Australian tough guy and success had given him a degree of financial independence.

In 1976 he returned to Australia to film a cigarette commercial and was approached by director Bruce Beresford to appear in his film of Don’s Party, the stage version of which he had appeared in on the West End stage. Australian cinema was entering its golden age and Barrett decided to stay, starring in some of the key films of the era, perhaps most notably The Chant Of Jimmy Blacksmith in 1978. While he became renowned for his acting skills in his homeland his personal life was going less well: Barrett’s second marriage collapsed and he began drinking heavily. He was sobered up by Gaye O’Brien, who became both his agent, manager and later his third wife.

Ill health curtailed his career from 2004, though Barrett returned one more time for his last screen role after four years away from the screen, a cameo in Baz Luhrmann’s 2008 epic Australia.

Originally published in FAB 64.