Writer, singer, songwriter, actor, comedian, and voice artist Jim Dale (b. Rothwell, Northamptonshire, England, August 15, 1935), MBE, has deftly juggled his medley of careers for four decades. He is best recognized in the United Kingdom as several hapless protagonists in the long-lived “Carry On” series of films (Carry On Jack 1964, Carry On Cowboy 1965, Carry On Screaming 1966, Carry On Doctor 1967, etc.). In the United States he has won many awards for his Broadway performances – in Scapino (1974 Drama Desk Award, 1975 Tony® nomination), Barnum (1980 Tony Award®, 1980 Drama Desk Award), Joe Egg (1985 Tony® nomination), Candide (1997 Tony® nomination), The Threepenny Opera (2006 Drama Desk Award), and more – but his greater fame rests upon his enormously popular recordings of all the Harry Potter books, winning, among other honors, the 2000 and 2008 Grammy Awards® for Best Spoken Word Album for Children.
As a songwriter Dale is best known as the lyricist for the movie theme “Georgy Girl,” nominated for an Academy Award® in 1966. Several of his songs hit the British singles charts in the ’50s, including “Be My Girl,” “Just Born,” “Crazy Dream,” and “Sugartime.” As a singer he was the first recording artist under the wing of producer George Martin.
Jim Dale was born James Smith in the north of England and studied tap dancing, ballet, judo, and acrobatics while attending Kettering Grammar School. He performed in many amateur shows and turned professional at seventeen, touring Britain’s variety music halls as a comic and singer. At eighteen he joined the Royal Air Force, and spent two years entertaining the military in Germany and England.
At twenty-two he joined forces with (later Sir) George Martin, appearing in, then hosting, the two top pop music shows on British television. On BBC radio he worked as a disc jockey and hosted Saturday Morning Children’s Requests for over a year.
Dale started out his film career with a minuscule part as a trombone player in Raising The Wind (1961). In 1963 he joined the cast of the popular “Carry On” comic films, playing a small part in the seventh of the series, Carry on Cabby, and was such a hit with the audience that he was a regular member ever after. (Dale always insisted on doing his own stunts in the series, which resulted in a broken arm in 1969.) At two Edinburgh Festivals he played the clowns in Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale (1966) and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1967). The 1967 Festival also presented the first performance of Scapino, adapted from Molière by Jim Dale and Frank Dunlop, with incidental music by Jim Dale, and Jim Dale in the title role.
Sir Laurence Olivier invited Dale and Dunlop to join the British National Theatre in 1970, Dunlop to found and direct a new experimental subsidiary, the “Young Vic,” and Dale to star in its first production, Scapino. Over the next two years he appeared in several plays, among them Love’s Labours Lost, The Merchant of Venice, The Taming of the Shrew, The National Health, and a two-man play, The Architect and the Emperor of Assyria, with Anthony Hopkins. (The Young Vic became independent of the National Theatre in 1974.)
Dale made several more films – Adolf Hitler: My Part in his Downfall (1972), Digby, the Biggest Dog in the World (1973), and The National Health (1973) – before taking Scapino to Broadway in 1974. The show was a smash hit, and Dale spent a good deal of time thereafter in the United States, making a number of movies for Disney (Pete’s Dragon 1977, Hot Lead & Cold Feet 1978, The Spaceman and King Arthur 1979). After a divorce in 1977 from his wife of twenty years, in 1980 Dale married New York retailer Julia Schafler, owner of the high-end Julie: Artisans’ Gallery on Madison Avenue, and moved permanently to the US.
That same year The New York Times dubbed Jim Dale “the toast of Broadway” for his performance in the title role of Barnum, which also won him a Tony® and his second Drama Desk Award. Since then, for the past quarter century, Dale has become a familiar on- and off-Broadway figure, while continuing to appear in film (Scandalous 1984) and on television (The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn 1985, The American Clock 1993, The Hunchback 1997). He has also returned to London’s West End from time to time, notably to play Fagin in Cameron Mackintosh’s Oliver! at the London Palladium. His most recent extended stint was as the narrator for the twenty-two episodes of ABC-TV’s much-nominated Pushing Daisies
Jim Dale began his runaway career as the reader of all seven unabridged Harry Potter books on American audio in 2000. (The British audio books are read by Stephen Fry.) Besides the two Grammy Awards® and six nominations, this project has brought him nine Audie Awards, two Benjamin Franklin Awards, and eleven AudioFile Earphone Awards. He has captured two current Guinness World Records: he holds the first six places in the list of Top Ten Audio Books of America and Canada 2005, and he broke his own previous record of 134 different character voices for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix in 2007, with 147 different voices for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Some sources attribute 200 Harry Potter voices in all to Dale.
Dale was awarded the M.B.E. (Member of the Order of the British Empire) in 2003 for his Services to British Children’s Literature in America. He has three surviving children (his daughter Belinda died of leukemia): Murray Dale was the star of a children’s television series in the 1970s; Toby Dale is an actor living in London; and Adam Dale is an aerial camera operator with over a hundred film and television credits (Gorillas in the Mist 1988, Cliffhanger 1993, Bridget Jones’s Diary, 2001, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire 2005).