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I Used To Sneak In And Burn My Son's Clothes

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JON PERTWEE, 75, has spent more than 50 years working in radio, theatre and television, although he is best known for his roles as Dr Who and Worzel Gummidge. He is presently touring in a one-man show. He has two children, a daughter, Dariel, and Sean, 29, who stars alongside Derek Jacobi in the medieval whodunnit Cadfael, currently on ITV. His film Shopping is released next week. Here, father and son talk to FIONA LAFFERTY about the difficulties of having a famous father and the problems of bringing up an adolescent son. THE FATHER'S STORY

BECAUSE it upsets me dreadfully to see my wife, Ingeborg, in pain, I wasn't present at Sean's birth. I was probably having a beer when I should have been pacing the floor.

But the moment he was born I was round in a flash. He was a lovely, jolly baby who laughed all the time. As a little boy he had a tremendous personality, but he wasn't precocious in any way: he simply endeared himself to everyone because he was so enchanting.

He and his sister Dariel had a wonderful childhood. He spent a lot of time in Ibiza at our holiday home. He and the neighbours' children never wore any clothes to speak of and they'd go off into the mountains for hours, until I rang a big bell to call them back home.

Sean was a great swimmer, but he'd frighten the life out of us because he would never swim on the surface. We'd see him disappear under the waves and my wife would say: 'Oh God, where the hell is he?'

He once played a joke on us by pretending to drown. He lay on the beach and let the waves roll over him and we really thought he had gone. Ingeborg was hysterical, but Sean thought it was uproariously funny.

I don't think I was the best father, because I was too tired to do things with Sean. It wasn't a question of selfishness, it was just that I was a hard-working actor who wanted to go home and spend time with the children without any mental effort.

Like every small boy, I think he metaphorically wanted to go fishing with Dad - but Dad didn't have the time. He used to come down in his dressing gown with his chess men and his draughts set and he'd say: 'Would you like a game, Papa?' I think I disappointed him once too often and he stopped asking, which I regret very much.

My wife is a wonderful cook, but the children hated her food when they were little. Our kids were dying to have beans on toast, while Ingeborg was giving them exotic fish dishes, which they couldn't understand at all.

Sean didn't take readily to this lovely food and he used to hide it, just like he would hide his vitamin pills. When we took the carpet up from the staircase, we found hundreds of vitamins which he had pushed underneath on his way up to bed.

When he went to prep school, everyone liked him because of his personality, but he was a nuisance and not a good influence on the other children. He was rebellious - rather like me - and he would cause ructions in class. We sent him to a comprehensive after that, because there was little point spending money on a private education for a lad who wasn't interested. When he changed schools I think he began to suffer a little because I was Dr Who. He used to come home with black eyes because some of the kids had been taunting him. He fought his way out of a lot of problems.

We fell out when he became a teenager because, like all children, they go through a bad time during puberty. You couldn't tell Sean anything because he knew it all and thought he was very streetwise.

I didn't like punks and Sean became a punk. I hate aggression in any form and I was frightfully against the whole punk period. Whenever I could I used to burn his clothes or throw them in the dustbin.

He got quite clever though. We'd watch him leave the house, reasonably dressed, then see him go round the corner to a bush and take out these ghastly clothes which he had been hiding. He'd wear horrible, skin-tight black jeans with chains and safety pins.

I once saw an old couple get off the pavement and walk in the road to avoid him and a gang of his friends.

Eventually, Ingeborg and I decided we had to get him to realise what life was all about, so we sent him off travelling in Africa. He was 17 years old at the time, and within a week of setting off in a lorry across the Sahara desert, he was a different fellow. It taught him to look after himself too. We became much closer after that, because I was inclined to be intolerant of him during his punk period. Both my children still say that I was a stupidly strict father.

Sean and Dariel are tremendously close, even though they used to fight like mad. Sean once hit her over the head with a china mug and we banned him from going to the circus.

I have a lot of talks with Sean, but I listen to him more than he listens to me. I don't agree with a lot of things he says, but I can't be bothered to enter into arguments.

A lot of people say we are alike. I'm very tactile and I'm surprised that a son of six foot can be as affectionate and tactile as he is. If he hasn't seen me for a couple of days, I get a big hug and a kiss - and he doesn't give a damn who is about.

He never discussed becoming an actor with me because it was a fait accompli. All he thought about at school was what was going to happen when he became an actor.

I think we have great respect for each other now. I think he respects me as an actor and I certainly respect him. It's a great feeling to have so much love for your son. I feel that a tremendous warmth exists between us. Even if it's just a two-minute conversation, there is always something happening in the atmosphere between the two of us and I'm very happy about that.' THE SON'S STORY

THE earliest memory I have of my Dad is when he would come back from the show he was doing on Broadway and wake me up. I was about three years old and he would sit me on top of the fridge while he cooked himself dinner, then we'd watch Batman together until about 3am.

We lived in the States for a while and every Saturday we would go and buy loads of ice creams from these amazing supermarkets with huge freezers. It wasn't weird to see Dad on television because I came from a long line of Pertwees who were in the business. It was only when I got to school that I realised everyone watched Dr Who.

I didn't feel different, or privileged until then and I used to get battered and punched by the other kids.

When Dad was working, me and Mum would go to the house in Ibiza and Dad would try and come every weekend.

I remember my father most then, because we were together. We had a boat and used to dive together. I would hold his neck as he swam out and for years I couldn't swim except under water.

The only time we played together was in Ibiza because the rest of the time he was too tired. I found it frustrating and I remember being quite hurt, but I think it hurt my mother more. In many ways I've regretted and missed those times more as I've got older. I know he would have liked to have spent more time with me and done more things, because he likes my company. He is the most extraordinary man I've ever known and all my friends love him. He's a great raconteur and tells great stories which I've heard a few times but l don't mind. I admire him enormously as an actor. His Worsel Gummidge was a brilliant performance.

It was so empathising, it could make you cry over a muddy old scarecrow. I've been terrified all my life of being accused of nepotism, as I've always wanted to achieve everything by myself.

My Dad has said it hurt him very much that I didn't ask him for any advice at all. But I didn't want his help, I wanted his respect. He was away on a cruise when I got into the Bristol Old Vic and I sent them a telegram saying, 'I'm in. Love Seany.' For three months they thought I meant I was in love.' I used to hate my father being recognized. We would be sitting eating somewhere on holiday and you would get these people shouting, 'Oi Jon' and they'd start videoing us eating. He was once under a roll of carpet in a store when a women asked him for an autograph for her son. He asked her to wait a minute and she took great offence and wrote to a newspaper to say how rude he was to his fans.

He's a very funny person and we have a joke in the family that he is never, ever wrong. His friend, Carl Hawkings, is a brilliant artist who drew a sketch of me and Dad. I'm saying 'Pappa, pappa you have some Ketchup on your chin,' and he's saying, 'who put that there?' If he knocks an ashtray over, he will blame you, even though he knows it is his fault.

He's argumentative and opinionated, but if you are having a discussion with him and he feels that you are being opinionated, he does listen to your point of view.

I worry about him because he's getting old, yet he's got the most ridiculous energy for a man of his age. He gets annoyed when he forgets things, or can't do something, but I tell him to look at other people his age and he could be 20 years younger.

He doesn't ride his motorbike any more. He used to have a huge BMW and he would say: 'Don't tell your Mum' and we'd go out on it and he'd open it up. I used to love it.

I don't think he could ever retire. It would kill him, because he likes to be doing things. I talk to him nearly every day, and I've always been open with him. We are similar in many ways.

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  • APA 6th ed.: (1994-06-14). I Used To Sneak In And Burn My Son's Clothes. Daily Mail p. 44.
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  • Chicago 15th ed.: "I Used To Sneak In And Burn My Son's Clothes." Daily Mail, edition, sec., 1994-06-14
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