Fry lends voice to Wellington vids

KATIE CHAPMAN
WELLINGTON REPORTER
Last updated 14:16 08/08/2012

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They wrote them with Stephen Fry in mind, but two Wellington filmmakers never dreamed the British actor would actually narrate their cycling safety videos.

But thanks to a "cheeky" request through a friend working for Wingnut films, two days later Mike and Hilleke Townsend, who operate Little Fighter Films, found themselves in a sound studio with the acclaimed thespian.

"We still kind of pinch ourselves," Townsend said yesterday, ahead of last night's premiere of The Friendly Cyclist film series.

Funded through a $3500 Wellington City Council grant - one video includes a cameo by cycle-friendly Mayor Celia Wade-Brown - the tongue-in-cheek clips follow the adventures of Mrs Penny Farthing as she learns how to cycle safely around Wellington.

Told through silent films with a voice-over, the six short videos, with titles such as Assume the Position and Communication (Saves a Nation), cover situations often encountered by Wellington cyclists.

The communication video sees Mrs Farthing learn the value of signalling to others before turning and making eye contact with other road users.

After she forgets and crashes into a pedestrian, Fry is heard tutting over her choice of hand gesture, which is censored.

"Now now Mrs Farthing, no need for that sort of signal ... give a friendly wave when someone has waited for you, and keep your rude gestures to yourself."

Local comedienne Sarah Harpur plays the main character.

Keen cyclists, Mr Townsend said he his wife were inspired by the public service announcement style videos, such as the 1952 cycle safety video Monkey Tale that promoted road rules through the story of Charlie Chimp after noticing there were "a few people around that probably could use some tips".

They were picturing a proper English voice like Fry's narrating the films as they were writing the scripts, and thought they'd take a punt and ask if he'd like to be involved.

"Inexplicably, he did."

After hastily finishing the scripts to fit in with the actor's Hobbit schedule, they found themselves in a sound booth with the actor, who managed to breeze through the script in about 20 minutes.

"He could see we were quite nervous so was putting us at ease ... I barely needed to direct him, I sat there just with a big silly grin."

The clips form the centrepiece of a new safety campaign being run by the Cycling Advocates Network. Spokesman Patrick Morgan said it was amazing to have someone like Fry involved.

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"That was a kind of 'oh my god' moment."

The videos helped get serious safety tips across in an entertaining way, rather than the dry approach usually taken in such videos, he said.

"We hope that people will learn a few simple tips to make their journey more enjoyable." 

See the rest of the videos here.

- The Dominion Post

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