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Jon Pertwee and the Time Machine

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1976-06-12 Times.jpg


Jon Pertwee's career in show business has been not so much eclectic as purely eccentric, and irritating though it must be for an actor and comedian of his experience to be chiefly known as the hero of the children's television serial Dr Who (a part he played for four years and gave up two years ago) there is a kind of rough justice in that Pertwee, like the celebrated Doctor, is apparently incapable of remaining in any one place for more than a moment or two.

Next Tuesday he opens at the Adelphi in a revival of the 1920s Broadway musical Irene, a show renowned not for the depth or subtlety of its theme but for haying introduced to a grateful world such numbers as "I'm Always Chasing Rainbows ", " Alice Blue Gown " and "You Made Me Love You ". At the head of a large and expensive cast, many of whom have recently been touring Irene in Australia, and at the centre of a plot which is, he admits, more than a little fragile, Jon Pertwee remains commendably unperturbed: "It's the kind of show people need at the moment and, critics willing, we're happy to get at least a year out of it."

If they do, it'll be the longest Pertwee has stayed in any one place for several years—it's been twelve, in fact, since his last London musical, 'A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum in which he costarred with Frankie Howerd at the Strand :

"That was a lovely show—when it closed they even gave me an ashtray. But I nearly didn't get into it at all : when they announced the auditions I was touring in a revue called See You Inside, a wonderfully non-prophetic title as inside L.: theatres were nearly all empty. So one afternoon I made an excuse about having to see my dentist in London and fled straight to the auditions for Forum. Half the cast of See You Inside were already there when I arrived ".

Jon Pertwee was born 56 years ago into a family which was so theatrical it left him little other choice of career his father was Roland Pertwee, author of several successful comedies of the 1930s and a great friend of Gerald du Maurier for whom he also wrote ; his brother is the playwright Michael Pertwee, and his great-aunt was the opera singer Eva Moore whose daughter Jill Esmond would bring her then husband Laurence Olivier to tea with the Pertwees when Jon was in his teens : " I suppose anyone named Pertwee has to be an actor or a corn merchant, which is more or less the same thing, though I do have an uncle who's head of the Poetry Society so that adds a touch of class. I started in the usual war—family concerts at Christmas—but in a house in Drayton Gardens which is now a dancing school where I watch my daughter taking lessons, so you never really get away from anywhere for long. I was the youngest of my lot and a hopeless child : the theatre seemed such an obvious thing to do that I started rebelling before I'd even joined it.

Because it was the family business I never had to struggle to join it—I took it for granted, which is maybe why I've never taken it seriously enough. You might say that's what's been wrong with my whole career, though I'd rather you didn't." After a brief and unhappy marriage to the actress Jean Marsh, he married a novelist (Ingeborg Pertwee) and they have two teenage children, a house in Burnes and one on Ibiza together with an assortment of motorbikes of which Mr Pertwee, like Sir Ralph Richardson, is hugely fond. To support all of that he's inclined to do not only stage Plows like Irene, but regular cabaret seasons and a Thames Television series called Whodunnit—all of which adds up to a comfortable and profitable if faintly dishevelled career.

" Of course I long to do better and more classical things, like maybe a restoration comedy at Chichester, but nobody is much inclined to think of me as that kind of actor, and why should they ? Most of my life I've either been on the Halls or else in half-hour radio comedy." Yet Pertwee did start out towards the straight theatre in the mid-30s he went to RADA where the principal Kenneth Barnes said he showed no talent of any discernible kind. In an end-of-term thriller he did, however play the murder victim in the first act and the police inspector in the last ; Noel Coward asked to view the production, said he'd only seen two actors in it who were remotely possible as professionals, the one played the murder victim and the' one who played the police inspector.

Armed with Coward's approval if not that of Sir Kenneth, Pertwee went off into weekly reps around the country, front one of which he was sacked for writing rude comments about his fellow actors on a backstage wall.

" Actually I didn't do it, and my father, who believed in nothing but the best, was all set to have Sir Patrick Hastings .d a graphologist appear for my defence, though it never came to that, alas."

In his rep days, Pertwee also came across Charles Laughton, who told him that dismissal from RADA and, one or two early jobs was the only proper way for any good actor to start his career. Until the war came, Pertwee carried on in rep and in a fit-up company run by Donald Wolfit for which the east (including Wolfit himself and the Baddeley sisters) rehearsed a 180 separate scenes and sketches and then performed whichever dozen or so the audience requested. He eventually left Wolfit fora rep in Jersey from which he was again sacked, this time after the leading man (a young Peter Glenville) had complained about the quality of his performances—not, thinks Pertwee on reflection, altogether unjustly.

From Jersey he went to Brighton where they were doing' twice-nightly, twice-weekly rep which meant 15 shows a week with two separate productions one matinee, predictably, he went on stage complete with rustic leather apron for the gardener in Love From A Stranger only to find the rest of the cast in the middle of Act Two of Candida.

Then the war came and Per-twee spent five years in the Navy, getting off HMS Hood just before she went down and finishing up on an Admiralty mission to report on 'the standards of naval broadcasting. Doing cleat, he met up with Eric Barker, decided he would rattler work with him than report on him, and that was the beginning of a five-year radio partnership in shows like Waterlogged Spa which in turn led to The Navy Lark, where Mr Pertwee has been gainfully employed for the best part of twenty years.

As a radio star he took to the music halls in their declining years, doing the first-half-closing spot before David Whitfield opened up his larynx in the second. There have of course been other stage shows (notably There's A Girl In My Soup) but Pertwee has been careful never to set himself up in the West End in solo stardom

"I like working in a group—that's what's kept The Navy Lark going all these years on radio ; once you start trying to do The Jon Pertwee Show.' that's when it all falls apart. I like the feeling that there's always someone else on stage to blame apart from me if things go wrong."

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  • APA 6th ed.: Morley, Sheridan (1976-06-12). Jon Pertwee and the Time Machine. The Times p. 11.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Morley, Sheridan. "Jon Pertwee and the Time Machine." The Times [add city] 1976-06-12, 11. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Morley, Sheridan. "Jon Pertwee and the Time Machine." The Times, edition, sec., 1976-06-12
  • Turabian: Morley, Sheridan. "Jon Pertwee and the Time Machine." The Times, 1976-06-12, section, 11 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Jon Pertwee and the Time Machine | url= | work=The Times | pages=11 | date=1976-06-12 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=14 November 2019 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=Jon Pertwee and the Time Machine | url= | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=14 November 2019}}</ref>