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Who's coming to Glenbogle

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Chrissy Iley tries to get the truth out of Tom Baker about his latest role as a mischievous prodigal — but who will have the last laugh? Photograph by Mark Harrison

The hills of Glenbogle are alive with the boom of Tom Baker. It seems even the grass vibrates in his presence. I've been in the mansion at the heart of Monarch of the Glen, inspecting the old photographs of the late Hector MacDonald, and you can hear him round the corner. Baker, that is. In Susan Hampshire's trailer, by the lake. If you don't think you hear him, you hear people talking about him. You feel the space where he might just have been. There's even a copy of his autobiography, Who on Earth Is Tom Baker?, in the production office. I suspect he might have left it there himself because everybody else clearly knows who he is.

The deliciously eyed and ruggedly handsome Lloyd Owen (who plays Paul, now in charge at Glenbogle since the departure of Archie) describes Baker as "a joy to work with and in the best tradition of an English eccentric. You can't take him on."

It doesn't appear to be a challenge to the cast of Monarch of the Glen that the wildest and most loveable multicoloured-scarf-wearing Time Lord (voted RT readers' favourite Doctor in a poll last year) has landed to bring a little bit of friction to the gentle Sunday evening series. His witty acting is a joy to them. Typecasting's not a problem. "He's so accomplished as an actor," says Hampshire. "So clever."

Martin Compston (who plays Ewan) wasn't even born when Baker played Doctor Who between 1974 and 1981, yet they have a surprising and very real rapport. On screen, they are the characters who bring each other out, both a little wayward, naughty, out of control. Off screen, too, it's a fascination of the old and the young, although Baker is always saying he's very, very old. He is of course endearingly silly.

He's joined the cast of Monarch of the Glen to play the character of Donald MacDonald, who turns up in Glenbogle next week. Donald is Hector's brother, a racing driver who was banished 40 years ago and now, against his will, has been forced to return. There are lots of skeletons in lots of closets. There's tension, issues and a gradual repair that is sometimes moving and sometimes amusing. The off-screen character is the one that's less easy to pin down, however.

He has said before, "I'm never so real as when I'm entirely fictional and never so insecure as when I have to be real." That seems to be his mantra, and there isn't a single person — from cast to crew — on set who isn't fascinated to actually find out who the real Tom Baker is. Where does it start, where does it stop, and how thin is the line?

He loves a tall tale. He loves to bring you in, lead you on, let you down. He does it almost obsessively. Owen says, "He sells his stories fantastically, but I can spot them now. Usually a slight non-sequitur. He'll see a chink to say something that doesn't quite relate and you know when he starts a sentence with 'I once knew a man who was paralysed from his thorax ...' But I've nearly always fallen for them. He'll take you right to the punchline."

Compston concurs. "I've heard him setting people up. He'll do it to you because it's always when he first meets someone. He'll tell people these crazy stories and they don't know whether to believe him. They don't want to not be polite but they think, is he telling the truth here? He enjoys telling people about how he learnt to swim via a correspondence course. He learnt the high dive on a piano stool. He passed his course but nearly drowned when it came to his practical ... He loves to perform."

Armed with Compston's detailed instructions, I brace myself to meet the booming big man face to face. And what a face it is. Enormous teeth, very beady eyes. He's looking slightly peeved that I've been warned about his storytelling. He doesn't like the idea that his means of communication might have been tampered with. The amazing thing is that he can amuse, offend and terrify with such charm.

Now he's feeling bad that Hampshire fell for the swimming by correspondence yarn. "Susan gives you the benefit of the doubt. I saw her thinking, 'Is that possible?' But then real life is all about tall stories, isn't it? Politics, journalism, everything. I wouldn't dream of telling anyone the truth and I wouldn't dream of telling anyone a malicious lie either. If there's a danger that they might believe it, I just enlarge it so that they know it's not true. Otherwise, there's no point in telling the story, is there? I just find as I get older, my desire to spin a yarn or make people laugh has become more important.

"My real autobiography would be fascinating. I haven't been able to write that yet because it would be unfair and I wanted to spare other people."

The simple facts of his life say it all. Liverpool childhood, poor and dirty. His mother Mary Jane cleaned other people's houses. His father was a sailor. He entered a monastery at 15, left after a few years as he couldn't hack the celibacy, and lost God. National Service (during which he first tasted acting) was followed by a spell in the Merchant Navy and then drama college. Married his first wife, Anna Wheatcroft, who came from a well-to-do family who despised him. Had two boys, "loved them so much my knees shook", got divorced, hardly saw them again. Attempted murder of mother-in-law, attempted suicide, worked on building sites, got Doctor Who, married co-star Lalla Ward (who played Time Lady Romana), divorced after a few months, and much later on married Sue Jerrard, who had been an assistant director on the series.

He has always been an outsider, though, never quite comfortable in his own skin, which is perhaps why he says, "My first ambition was to be an orphan." Although he explains it as orphans in the war got lots of presents from America and he didn't, you get the impression he really believes it. He talks in monologues that are circuitous and random and occasionally pithy and poetic. Whenever you think he might be a little vulnerable, he'll say something like, "I'm just a jolly bloke. I want to make people laugh. I want to please them." He brings Hampshire a paper every morning and makes Compston lots of tea. His energy is so ceaseless that when he went to visit a school where the children sang in Gaelic, he decided to learn the language. He's researched tartan and knows the history of the house, probably more fluently than its owners.

Of his Monarch character, Donald MacDonald, he says, "He's come from the past. When he comes back, he finds everyone is an alien. Some of them are benevolent, but it still feels like he's come from another planet. But although the heroic aspect of Doctor Who is not there, there's a kind of similarity."

He's adored by many as an icon, but you get the impression that he never really understands why. Vic Reeves loved him as Doctor Who (he even bought his old home when Baker and Sue decided to move to the south of France), and he appeared as the ghost Wyvern in the Reeves and Mortimer remake of Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased). He dismisses the influence he may have had on Reeves when it came to his casting. "Well, it wasn't because he wanted my acting. He could have got anybody. It just amused him."

The made-up world is an escapism he's always needed. "That's what Monarch of the Glen is and that's what religion is. Escape. I need to escape the bigotry I was brought up with in Liverpool where Irish Catholics thought they were superior to everyone else. It was terribly common to go into the church and terribly common to fail. Can't stand formal religion, love graveyards," he booms. "I like to be rehearsed. I've got my tombstone already. Just says 'Tom Baker 1933'. It doesn't have a second date yet. There was a gravestone for sale in Exchange di. Mart, said it would suit a family by the name of Baker . .."

Finally, he's tall-taled me. But he does have a gravestone and, he claims, his coffin: "It's a good place to keep cat litter. You can buy it in bulk. We used to have seven cats. We've got four now. Burmese. It's terrible the grief you feel when you lose a beloved one. I suppose it must be like that with people as well when they die.

"Thank God my wife is 15 years younger, so I'll die first. I couldn't exist without my wife. She protects, defends and adores me. I used to only want to be liked. Then I wanted to be loved, and finally, I wanted to be adored and I've reached that and that suits me." But perhaps trying to kill his mother-in-law was not the best way to elicit those feelings from his first wife? "It's true. I followed her around the garden throwing sharpened hoes at her. She was making me very angry and insulting me and I was in a great state of unhappiness. I chased her. I was amazed how agile she was for a woman of her size. My God. She was as agile as a piglet. I tried to pin her to the barn door. I never

wanted to hurt anybody, but she was provocative. "It's very difficult to know what one's emotions were entirely. I was very angry and I'm not very often angry. I'm a good-hearted fellow. But if people wound me, I like them to know. Some people are frightened of me ... especially directors. Some have died after working with me - some in mysterious circumstances with terrible expressions of horror on their face!" His own communication skills were sharpened during his childhood. His parents, he says, "didn't have a conversation for nine years. My father would say to me, 'Ask her what we're having for supper,' and I would say to my mother, who was sat next to him, 'He wants to know what he's having for supper,' and she'd say, 'What does he want?' It was very sad. They were very unhappy. My mother was simply a wonderful woman. I can't say I knew my father, really. He was a merchant sailor and away most of my life.

"My sister, who I talk to occasionally, has become very fond of me - she wasn't always. I adore my brother, but I don't see much of him. I don't come from a close family. Anyway, my sister reminded me of when my mother was dying and my father was dying in another room and I said to my mother, is there anything you want?' and she said, 'I just want to outlive that old goat in the room next door.' But she didn't. She died first. And then my father wept the tears of 30 wasted years."

I bring up the subject of the lost sons. Is it true that in 1997 Baker was in New Zealand and a fan saw him in a restaurant and asked if he could buy his dinner? "Yes. The waiter said, The dinner has been paid for by a fan of yours and he'd like to say hello,' and I saw this towering, handsome man and I said to him, the way actors do because you don't like to be disadvantaged, 'Is your name Morgan?' He said, 'No, my name is Piers Baker. I'm your son.' That was a big surprise. It was an extraordinary coincidence. He'd been working out there as a horticulturalist and he was in a bar having a beer and looked onto the quayside where there was a restaurant. I was sat at the only table he could see properly, and I was sat facing him. He's been very friendly since. I've seen him scores of times and we've emailed."

But how had he failed to recognise his own son? "I'm not too terrific at recognising people. Sometimes I don't recognise a director and I've seen him the day before."

He divorced his first wife in 1965, when his sons were under five, and saw very little of them in their formative years. Would it have made him happier if he'd been closer to them? "My son Piers writes me very wry emails. He's also become very friendly with my sister - isn't that interesting? The other boy, Daniel, is more aloof. Maybe even like I used to be. Piers travels all over the world budding trees and grafting shrubs. He moves wherever the sap is rising. The other son is a builder. I don't come from a family that sees each other except in a crisis. I left Liverpool in 1950 but I don't go back much. So no, we're just not that sort of family."

And is he happy now?

"I'm as happy as I'm capable of being. I'm not in a state of euphoria but I'm very sure of my situation and sure of the affection of my wife. I don't have any severe enemies or health problems.

"I've been stroking a cashmere overcoat in the House of Brewer. I think that might be because I'm missing my cats or my wife. I stroke my wife a lot. She has a lovely cashmere skin. I don't want that kind of contentment to end. Not just yet." Links www.tombaker.tv www.bbc.co.uk/scotland/tv/monarch


So what do the Monarch of the Glen stalwarts think of their new playmate?

Martin Cornpston (plays tearaway housekeeper Ewan)

"Tom's a joy to work with. He loves to perform and his stories of the old days are brilliant. He's the opposite kind of actor from myself. Everything I've done has been very straight, Ken Loach stuff [he starred in Loach's film Sweet Sixteen].

"He's all about the theatre, being loud and projecting. But Tom's such a presence. We've all had to raise our game being around him, otherwise he'd dominate every scene. On screen, both of us are characters that have never really fitted and are at loose ends. Both mischievous. They connect, look out for each other and have fun, and that's me and Tom. Off screen, we've another thing in common: we can't sleep very well, so we go over our scenes because we always think about how we can make them funnier or different. I hate sitting about for work and he's the same. So we'll go off and do things together. He's a blast and I'm so happy he's here.

"I remember the producers saying, 'We've got Tom Baker on board next year,' and I didn't know who he was. I'd never even seen an episode of Doctor Who. Well, I saw a quarter of one this week when it came on UKTV Gold. I thought it was hilarious because it was just Tom being himself."

Susan Hampshire (Molly, Glenbogle's grande dame)

"I think all series need new blood and the character of Donald MacDonald is so rich and so well written. Someone with a wicked side is always more enjoyable. You discover that he and Molly have a certain history so I have to do lots of scenes with Tom where we're at loggerheads. We have to find a way of living under the same roof, but there's so much stuff from the past that has to be resolved.

"I'd never worked with him before, but obviously I knew of him. What people will be fascinated by is to see what the man who played Doctor Who is like now. And they won't react to him at all as Doctor Who because he's so clever as Donald. It was a stroke of genius on the part of the producers to have him.

"He has a wonderful way with words. He'll tell you a story and you're thinking, 'My goodness, did this really happen?' Then you'll discover the whole thing was a fabrication. He does that to everybody. He's charmingly eccentric, but also very kind. He buys me a paper every day. Very thoughtful."

Lloyd Owen (Paul, now the laird at the big house)

"My dad played a sea monster that was forever coming out of a trench on Doctor Who and he and Tom became friends. And my dad told me, 'Tom Baker always said he'd rather go down the building site or paint walls than take a job he didn't believe in' My dad used to quote him as someone to emulate because of the courage of his convictions. He's iconoclastic and non-conformist and those are the things I love him for. It's always electric when Tom comes on set.

"He's very particular about what he brings to Monarch. Donald is supposed to be coming back from 40 years away and he really feels he's been through a lot wherever he's been. I'm supposed to keep him at heel. He's a wild man of old aristocracy and my character is a working-class Yorkshireman, yet we're both outsiders. I'm like a dad trying to control Ewan and Donald. Although in real life, of course, you can't control Tom. Above anything else, he's a really good actor"


JOIN THE CLAN

Baker's arrival as the larger-than-life Donald MacDonald is guaranteed to set the cat among the Glenbogle pigeons

HIGHLAND FLING Tom Baker doesn't need a long scarf to be colourful —the full tartan rig-out will do just as nicely

DOG DAYS

With sidekicks Leela (Louise Jameson) and K-9: Baker admits to having thumped the metal mutt more than once

Disclaimer: These citations are created on-the-fly using primitive parsing techniques. You should double-check all citations. Send feedback to whovian@cuttingsarchive.org

  • APA 6th ed.: Iley, Chrissy (2004-09-18). Who's coming to Glenbogle. Radio Times p. 16.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Iley, Chrissy. "Who's coming to Glenbogle." Radio Times [add city] 2004-09-18, 16. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Iley, Chrissy. "Who's coming to Glenbogle." Radio Times, edition, sec., 2004-09-18
  • Turabian: Iley, Chrissy. "Who's coming to Glenbogle." Radio Times, 2004-09-18, section, 16 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Who's coming to Glenbogle | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/Who%27s_coming_to_Glenbogle | work=Radio Times | pages=16 | date=2004-09-18 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=16 October 2019 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=Who's coming to Glenbogle | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/Who%27s_coming_to_Glenbogle | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=16 October 2019}}</ref>