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Entertainment world pays tribute to the man who was probably the best Dr Who of all

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JON PERTWEE, the veteran actor famed for his performances as Dr Who and Worzel Gummidge, died in his sleep of a suspected heart attack while on holiday in America yesterday. He was 76.

In a distinguished career spanning six decades, he was renowned as one of the friendliest and funniest people in show business. A natural mimic, a fine character actor, and a man given to amiable eccentricity, he truly did live life to the full.

His death was sudden. He was taking a brief holiday at a friend's home in Connecticut with his second wife, Ingeborg, before resuming his one-man tour of Britain. His actor son, Sean, was flying to the US last night to be with his mother. The couple have a daughter, Dariel, also an actress.

Pertwee's death casts a shadow over the BBC's plan to premiere a feature-length Doctor Who television film, starring Paul McGann, next Monday.

To devotees and occasional viewers alike, Jon Pertwee was probably the best Doctor Who of them all. It was he who turned the Time Lord into a dandy in the early 1970s. He played the role for more than four years, a period that saw the series soar to its highest audience ratings.

He went on to star for 10 years as the ITV children's character Worzel Gummidge, the turnip-headed scarecrow, capturing the hearts of an even younger generation.

Pertwee was philosophical about being typecast by his two most famous roles. He admitted: "I'm very much afraid to say it but I'm rather a cult figure." He was happy to attend Doctor Who conventions and speak with loyal fans of the series. Curiously, the one thing he didn't take to were the Daleks. They were ridiculous, he once remarked, "and put together with a sink plunger, an egg whisk, and 24 tennis balls".

He always said he would work to the very end. "Actors don't retire, they fade away like old generals. I just want to peter out, not rust out. I get desperately bored when I'm not working," he said.

His agent, Ms Susan Shaper, said the actor had been working on a new TV programme and a commercial as well his one-man show. She stressed that the workload had not been strenuous.

"He died suddenly and there was no history of previous illness. We are deeply shocked and saddened. He was a unique performer and much loved by the British public," she added.

Pertwee's remains are expected to be returned to England for burial.

The tributes were many. A BBC statement declared that he would be sadly missed. Una Stubbs, who starred with him in Worzel Gummidge, expressed her shock and said that her thoughts were with his wife and children.

There were also kind words from Pertwee's fellow Doctors. Colin Baker said: "Only this morning, I had left a message on his answering machine. We chat to each other quite a lot. I am devastated. He was a man of such presence and stature. I can't believe he has gone - it is a great shock."

Of Pertwee's Doctor Who, Baker added: "Because of his comic background, he was anxious to play it very much as a straight actor. Of all of the interpretations of the Doctor, his was the most straight in terms of avoiding comedy. He felt his Doctor should be an action man. He loved gadgets and cars.

"He was proud to play Dr Who and was always very happy to go along to the Dr Who conventions wearing his costume with the ruffles and jacket."

Sylvester McCoy, the seventh and final doctor in the television series which ended in 1989, was "very upset" at the news. "I will miss him dearly," he said.

"When I was a child, Jon Pertwee on radio entertained and delighted me and made me laugh. As a young man, he amazed and excited me with his performance as Doctor Who. Then he astonished me with his transformation into the glorious Worzel Gummidge.

"When I became Doctor Who, I met him for the first time and he became my great mate. Even in his 70s, he was a man of 30 when he was surrounded by young people," he added.

Doctor Who number four, Tom Baker, said: "I am very sorry to hear the news." Although he had never actually worked with Pertwee, he was "a great admirer of such a stylish actor".

Actor and writer Bill Pertwee, Jon Pertwee's second cousin, said: "It's a sad loss to his family and to the business. He was an actor's actor. He was brilliant on radio - a great voices man. He was also marvellous on stage and television."

Comedian Ronnie Barker, who worked with Pertwee in the radio series The Navy Lark for nine years, said: "I thoroughly enjoyed working with him. It was always great fun and we had a lot of laughs. Jon was always very nattily dressed. He was certainly the smartest-looking Doctor Who."

Jon Pertwee was born in 1919 into a London theatrical family and was earmarked for show business almost from birth. His father Roland was a writer, his elder brother Michael became a screenwriter and playwright - and cousin Bill became the warden in Dad's Army.

He entered Rada in the mid-1930s and the principal, Kenneth Barnes, commented that he appeared to have no talent of any discernible kind. In the end-of-term thriller, he was asked to play not just the murder victim but the police inspector as well ... Noel Coward saw the production and remarked that they were the only two decent actors in it.

He was eventually asked to leave for allegedly writing rude words on the lavatory wall and was told he had no future in the theatre. Charles Laughton heartened him by saying that dismissal from Rada and some early repertory jobs were the best ways of becoming an actor.

His big break came during the war when, as a seaman, he met future radio comedian Eric Barker at the Admiralty, where they were reporting on the standards of naval broadcasting. He had just come off HMS Hood, which was sunk soon after, and decided working with Barker was better. Their partnership lasted five years.

His comic role in radio's The Navy Lark aboard the lunatic HMS Troutbridge lasted more than 20 years and established him as a household favourite. Later came many films, such as Carry On Cleo and Carry On Screaming, Murder At The Windmill and One Of Our Dinosaurs Is Missing, and tours of variety theatres.

He was a master of dialect and such a good mimic he could be cast in almost any comic role.

He was married twice, the first time in 1955 to Upstairs Downstairs actress Jean Marsh. The marriage did not last and he later married Inge, the daughter of a German Government Minister he met on holiday. They lived in Barnes, west London.

GRAPHIC: Pertwee as himself, a man who lived life to the full.; As Worzel Gummidge, the scarecrow that came to life.; As Doctor Who: "I'm very much afraid I'm rather a cult figure."

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  • APA 6th ed.: Laing, Allan (1996-05-21). Entertainment world pays tribute to the man who was probably the best Dr Who of all. The Herald p. 7.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Laing, Allan. "Entertainment world pays tribute to the man who was probably the best Dr Who of all." The Herald [add city] 1996-05-21, 7. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Laing, Allan. "Entertainment world pays tribute to the man who was probably the best Dr Who of all." The Herald, edition, sec., 1996-05-21
  • Turabian: Laing, Allan. "Entertainment world pays tribute to the man who was probably the best Dr Who of all." The Herald, 1996-05-21, section, 7 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Entertainment world pays tribute to the man who was probably the best Dr Who of all | url= | work=The Herald | pages=7 | date=1996-05-21 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=16 April 2024 }}</ref>
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