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Lives Lived: Jon Pertwee

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Star of "Doctor Who." Born July 7, 1919, in London; died May 20 in Connecticut, aged 76.

WHEN Jon Pertwee died last Monday, the news made headlines in every British paper, accompanied by testimonials and obituaries far longer than this.

Though Mr. Pertwee spent six decades in radio, stage and television, he will be best remembered as the third actor to take up the title role of the British cult science-fiction series Doctor Who, a part he played for five years beginning in 1970. The program is still shown worldwide and has millions of fans.

Jon Pertwee was born into a theatrical family; his father Roland was a celebrated actor and playwright, and good friends with A. A. Milne, author of the Winnie-the-Pooh books. Jon Pertwee was childhood friends with Christopher Robin Milne, who also died recently. Laurence Olivier was Jon Pertwee's uncle by marriage, and he visited often when Mr. Pertwee was in

his teens. All this influence took root: Despite being told he had no future as an actor because of a malformed mouth, Jon Pertwee decided that that was exactly what he was going to be.

Although born into a very favourable situation, Mr. Pertwee somehow made his entrance into acting as difficult as possible. As a teen-ager, he was expelled from private school for threatening a prefect. In 1936, he was accepted by the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, but was promptly thrown out for refusing to play a Greek Wind in the chorus of Euripides's Iphigenia. A year later, he was fired from Baxter-Somerville's Repertory Players when he walked on stage on opening night with a raw egg concealed in his palm and shook the lead actor's hand. The audience loved it, the lead actor did not.

Mr. Pertwee spoke his first line on film in 1939's The Four Just Men, but his career was interrupted by the Second World War. Mr. Pertwee joined the Navy as a sub-lieutenant, serving aboard various ships. He was wounded during an incendiary bomb attack, which left his eyesight slightly damaged.

He continued doing stage work after the war and had bit parts in radio and TV. In 1953, he starred in the film Will Any Gentlemen ...? There he met his future wife, Jean Marsh, who later gained fame playing Rose in Upstairs, Downstairs. The 1955 marriage lasted less than five years.

Mr. Pertwee met his second wife, Ingeborg Rhosea, on a skiing holiday in 1958. They married two years later, had two children and remained together until his death.

In 1959, the BBC asked Mr. Pertwee to devise a radio series. Called The Navy Lark, it was a comedy based on his life in the army, with Mr. Pertwee providing the voice for the appropriately named lead character, Jon

Pertwee. The program premiered in 1959 and ran until 1977, and was what made him a star throughout Britain.

During the sixties, Mr. Pertwee concentrated on films, notably three Carry On ... movies, although he continued to perform on stage. On Jan. 3, 1970, he made his debut as the lead in Doctor Who, the wildly popular sci-fi series hat started in 1963 and ran until 1989, changing lead actors six times.

Mr. Pertwee left the program in 1974, having put his own unique stamp on it by bringing more action to the role - natural for a 6-foot-2-inch man in good physical shape. He performed most of the stunts himself, which aggravated a back injury sustained in the war. In an unsuccessful effort to relieve the pain, he had some nerves in his spinal cord cut.

He briefly hosted a television game show, before redefining himself for the children's show Worzel Gummidge, in which he played the title character, a very odd scarecrow. He worked his way into the hearts of young children whose older siblings had loved him as the Doctor. Gummidge ran from 1978 until 1982, but continued as a series of irregular specials for years afterward.

Instead of slowing down in old age, Mr. Pertwee increased his pace. He toured Britain starring in plays while still finding time to write an autobiography, Moon Boots and Dinner Suits. He recorded songs from Worzel Gummidge and did a number of albums of children's stories.

By the early eighties, Doctor Who had become a global phenomenon like no other television show. It was exported to almost 60 countries, translated into several languages, and Mr. Pertwee was in demand more than ever. He did his best to meet that demand; he travelled regularly to the United States to appear at Doctor Who conventions, charming the audience with his wit and friendliness.

For the last two years he toured Britain doing daily performances of a one-man autobiographical play called Who is Jon Pertwee? and drawing rave reviews. Early this year, he was doing his one-man show while also performing an evening of music and comedy on a different tour.

His last performance in Doctor Who was for a radio serial that was broadcast in Britain in March. Just two weeks before his death, he appeared in his Doctor Who costume presenting a gift to a child on a BBC program.

During a 1988 interview, he said that he had no plans to retire and would carry on until he dropped. He died suddenly in his sleep while visiting friends in Connecticut.

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  • APA 6th ed.: Carriere, Ken (1996-05-24). Lives Lived: Jon Pertwee. The Globe and Mail p. A16.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Carriere, Ken. "Lives Lived: Jon Pertwee." The Globe and Mail [add city] 1996-05-24, A16. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Carriere, Ken. "Lives Lived: Jon Pertwee." The Globe and Mail, edition, sec., 1996-05-24
  • Turabian: Carriere, Ken. "Lives Lived: Jon Pertwee." The Globe and Mail, 1996-05-24, section, A16 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Lives Lived: Jon Pertwee | url= | work=The Globe and Mail | pages=A16 | date=1996-05-24 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=16 April 2024 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=Lives Lived: Jon Pertwee | url= | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=16 April 2024}}</ref>