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Who and I

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1972-04-14 Reading Evening Post.jpg


Linton Mitchell profiles sci-fi actor 'Doctor' Jon Pertwee

"Dr WHO," observed Jon Pertwee, "is a science-fiction James Bond, and the only way to play him is with absolute, burning sincerity."

Pertwee, 52, has been in the entertainment business a long time. His first film part in 1938 was as an undergraduate in A Yank At Oxford, which featured the late Robert Taylor stroking his crew to victory in the Boat Race ("that must have been about the last time Oxford won") and he had his own television series, The Adventures of Captain High Price, as far back as 1946.

Since 1970, Pertwee has been BBC television's time-travelling champion of the earth (and sometimes the universe) against assorted unfriendly invaders. Dr Who ... the terror of the Daleks, the scourge of the Cybernauts. and one of television's most popular characters.

Pertwee is the third person to play Dr Who. His predecessors were William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton.

When I met him during a break in filming on location at Beech Hill, near Reading recently Pertwee and his co-star (or "leading lady" as he described her), Katy Manning (she plays his assistant Jo Grant), were sitting in a car. The weather wasn't too good but Pertwee and Miss Manning, who do all but the most dangerous of the stunts themselves. were used to it.

Pertwee is an intellectual. And he has put his own stamp on Dr Who. The cloak, the frilled shirts, the flamboyant air and the tendency of the present Dr Who to leap into physical action when the occasion demands rather than rely solely on superior brain power, are all Pertwee's innovations.

He is well aware of the burst of fame which his current role has brought him I though his name has been well-established with the public for many years) but has no intention of letting the good doctor take over his personality for eternity.

The way he has gone about this show something of his shrewdness, experience and intellect. As long as he plays the part (which will almost certainly be for only another two series) Pertwee IS Dr Who. He throws his own personality and mannerisms into the character. But once the cloak comes off. Dr Who ceases to exist.

"When children come up to me for my autograph." he said. "I tell them. 'certainly you may have it but tell me my name first. And I don't mean Dr Who. I mean my real name.' Then they think for a while and say 'Jon Pertwit,' or something like that. but they are thinking. Let's try an experiment. (Two youngsters were hovering nearby).

"Children." asked Pertwee. "can you tell me my name ?" "Jon Pertwee." they said one after another....

I had mentioned to Pertwee that It seemed that he played the role absolutely deadpan as distinct from other series, such as the old Avengers in which the characters seemed to have made up the lines as they went along.

"You're wrong about The Avengers." he said. "They kept very closely indeed to the script. But you are right about my attitude to Dr Who. And the same goes for Katy. If we did try to send it up the whole thing would collapse. The character is so utterly unbelievable that he has to be played absolutely straight.

"If I tried to play him as a clown then the result would be disastrous. We have to play everything absolutely straight.

"That is why Katy and I do so many of our own stunts. She is a marvelous girl sometimes I think that she takes too many risks. But it is absolutely tremendous for me to have a leading lady who will follow me in this way.

"We drive every kind of vehicle. Neither of us has doubles unless it is absolutely necessary. For some stunts it is necessary though.

"For instance, in one scene a gladiator had to pick me up and throw me into a net. I used a double for that. He, a trained stunt man, was injured.

"If I had tried it then I would have probably been in hospital and the series would have been held up.

"On another occasion I had to crash through a window . . one of those sugar-glass windows. My double did that and they had to put 15 pieces of Elastoplast on him where he had been cut. Obviously I would have needed more than Elastoplast if I had tried it. Stunt men take risks which they are paid to take.

"But close-ups of us riding motorcycles over rough ground. trying to climb on to a ship from a small boat in a very rough sea it is essential that we do those otherwise it looks ridiculous.

"Continual long-shots of people who are obviously 'doubles' take away any kind of authenticity. Some crashes we can do others we can't. It is idiotic to injure yourself just to do a stunt. But we have done crashes.

"We did a motor-bike crash recently both of us. I told Katy that she was mad to do it, but she insisted that if I was going to do the crash then she was too.

"We treat it completely seriously. Take the cloak for example. That is symbolic of a sort of shelter ... children sheltering under the wing of Dr Who. He is a protector figure."

One thing which does irritate Pertwee is the occasional spasms of criticism which come from people who believe that it is too horrific for a children's programme.

"My answer to that is quite simple." he said. "It is not a programme strictly for children. It does not come on during the children's viewing time which runs to about five o'clock. It comes on during what is called 'Family time,' 5.50 pm. Children are watching television but so are their parents.

"If the parents think that it is too horrific for their children then all they have to do is to reach over and turn a knob. But few people seem to think of that.

"I usually watch the programme with my two children a boy of seven-and-a-half and a girl of ten-and-a-half. They quite enjoy it. but they're not madly hysterical about the programme.

"The boy likes it better than the girl. but he used to worry a bit if I wasn't with him when he was watching."

Pertwee is an old radio star. The characters of Captain High Price one of the first television series to be made in this country originated from one that he played on the radio with Eric Barker.

The old series was called Hush, Keep It Dark." he 'aid. "the character was completely idiotic.

"When I moved over to television conditions were pretty gruelling. There seemed to be thousands of very hot lights all over the place."

He is due to start his 14th year of another radio programme, The Navy Lark. "I have been in it from the beginning." he said. "I am a to believer in keeping the same team together. With The Navy Lark we have been fortunate in having other to comedy performers Leslie Phillips, Dennis Price for a while. and Steph Murray. Really, though. I think I prefer working live.

"I have done an awful lot of cabaret and I like a very good part in a West End play. I had one in A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum. I was in the film as well but unfortunate not in the same part that I had done the stage."

Pertwee's brother Michael is also the entertainment business He is a screenwriter.

"After this series is finished I will is one more and probably that will be that." he said. "I could go on playing Dr Who until I get too old to work but everybody needs a change Most of the time it is very jolly but one cannot play the same part for ever.

"Katie will almost certainly leave as well. She of course. is at the start of her career. I have been around for time. It is important that she should not become too associated with a particular character. whereas I can overcome any problem of type-casting.

"Dr Who does take up quite a lot of time - nine months of a year usually, ten this time. I was offered a film part but I had to turn it down. What will I do after I have finished playing Dr Who? Well, I will have been in it for about years then will probably go for a part in a West End play. That is what I would like."

Dr Who, of course, will carry on running. But this Dr Who will be hard to follow.

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  • APA 6th ed.: Mitchell, Linton (1972-04-14). Who and I. Reading Evening Post p. 14.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Mitchell, Linton. "Who and I." Reading Evening Post [add city] 1972-04-14, 14. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Mitchell, Linton. "Who and I." Reading Evening Post, edition, sec., 1972-04-14
  • Turabian: Mitchell, Linton. "Who and I." Reading Evening Post, 1972-04-14, section, 14 edition.
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