Jon Pertwee is my Doctor. He was the first I saw and I was hooked from that moment on. That has never changed, not once in the 30+ years since that fateful Saturday evening when I saw episode 6 of Frontier in Space, in March 1973.
Other Doctors have come and gone. The series itself disappeared more than once but my enthusiasm, reaching back to that first viewing, never did and I doubt it ever will. Some Doctors I liked more than others but for me Jon Pertwee's portrayal was the best by a mile. I devoured the books, novelisations of stories I had never seen, imagining what they must have been like. Over time I got to see them all and my admiration for the character and the actor behind it just grew.
As the years have gone by I acquired and read his biography and autobiography,as well as releases of his most famous radio comedy, The Navy Lark. There is one thing however, that I will always regret - I never got to meet him and was greatly saddened on the day in May 1996 when he passed away.
John Devon Roland Pertwee was born in Chelsea, on 7th July 1919 into a family with a strong theatrical background. He was the second son of the famous playwright and actor Roland Pertwee. The Pertwee's had a long association with show business and it was at Wellington House preparatory school in Westgate-On-Sea in Kent that Jon was encouraged in his direction. The headmaster was one Reverend Percy Underhill and, although a very strict disciplinarian who often found the need to dispense corporal punishment, he came to be well liked and respected by Jon. Another teacher there, the French master Hubert Riley, became what Jon termed his "first theatre critic" when he observed that Jon wasn't actually frightened of him, but was merely acting frightened. He then told him that he was doing a credible job and should take it up as a profession when he was older.
After a short and unhappy spell at Sherborne, a public school in Dorset, Jon moved to Frensham Heights near Farnham in Surrey and here found happiness, this was 1935. Frensham Heights was a co-educational school, Jon had his first taste of 'real' theatre with real live females in the school stage productions of "Twelfth Night" and "Lady Precious Stream", staged in an open-air theatre that he took the lead in creating. In 1936, Jon Pertwee auditioned for, and was accepted by, the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA). He was later kicked out for refusing to play the part of a wind in a play, a story he took great pleasure in recounting for the rest of his life.
Shortly after this episode Jon Pertwee joined the Senior Service, becoming an officer in the Royal Navy, with some time spent working for Naval Intelligence during World War 2. He was a crewman on HMS Hood but was transferred off shortly before it was sunk, losing all but three men. Jon was married twice, first to Jean Marsh (1955–1960), from whom he was divorced, and then on 13th August 1960, to Ingeborg Rhoesa, by whom he had two children, Sean and Dariel.
Jon Pertwee was a great comic actor, with roles such as the conniving Chief Petty Officer Pertwee in the already mentioned Navy Lark, in Waterlogged Spa, Mediterranean Merry-Go-Round and also in Puffney Post Office. He played the part of Lycus in the 1963 London stage production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum with Frankie Howerd and appeared in the smaller role of Crassus in the 1966 film version. He also appeared in four Carry On films, those being Carry On Cleo, Carry On Screaming, Carry On Cowboy and Carry On Columbus.
Jon Pertwee was chosen to become the 3rd incarnation of TV's Doctor Who in 1969 when Patrick Troughton, William Hartnell's successor decided to leave the role. Filming started late in 1969 during a BBC strike and thus benefitted from being made entirely on location and on film - a stylish opening for a stylish Doctor. Jon quickly made the role his own, confounding everyone when, as one of the country's leading comedians, he played it straight! The future of the programme, which had been in doubt running up to Troughton's departure, was assured and Jon continued in the role for 5 years, appearing with Caroline John, Katy Manning and Elisabeth Sladen as his assistants Liz Shaw, Jo Grant and Sarah Jane Smith respectively. His final regular appearance on TV as the Doctor being in June 1974 in Planet of the Spiders. During his stint as The Doctor he was the subject of Thames Television's This Is Your Life [Listen to intro - 1Mb] and in 1972 he released a vocal version of the Doctor Who theme music entitled "Who is the Doctor". [Listen here - 1Mb]. Jon returned to the role of the Doctor in the 1983 20th-Anniversary television special The Five Doctors and also in the 1993 charity special Dimensions in Time.
Ever a supporter of Doctor Who however, he was instrumental in bringing the third Doctor back, this time on radio in two audio productions for BBC Radio, The Paradise of Death and The Ghosts of N-Space. Ever popular at conventions (he famously opened the 1983 BBC-sponsored 20th Anniversary "celebration" with his oft-used phrase, "I AM the Doctor") he made appearances up until the time of his his death, aged 76, from a heart attack whilst on holiday in Connecticut on 20 May 1996. He died close to the transmission of the Paul McGann Doctor Who TV Movie which was, at the time, hoped to be a forerunner to a new realisation of the show which had been scrapped from BBC television in 1989. News of his death made all the major bulletins and saw large features in most newspapers the following day. Fittingly the BBC broadcast of the McGann TV Film featured a dedication to Pertwee at its conclusion.
Jon Pertwee wrote two autobiographies, "Moon Boots and Dinner Suits" (published by Elm Tree Books in 1984), covering his early life and career prior to Doctor Who and "I Am The Doctor" (published Virgin Publishing in 1996) which concentrated on each of his stories in Doctor Who and was written in conjunction with Doctor Who historian David J. Howe. A biography was also published, the thoughtfully title "Jon pertwee The Biography" by Bernard Bale (published by Andre Deutsch in 2000). This however lacked the personal nature or charm of the other two and revealed little if anything that was new.
Jon Pertwee was one of Britain's best loved comedian's and actors - a personal opinion but one with some justification. His career was long and distinguished and although he didn't always get the recognition that some of his peers got, his catalogue of work was always of an exceptional quality often putting others in the shade. His career was a long one but his memory will will be longer still.
DOCTOR WHO - Click here to play theme.
"I was just playing me for the first time really, and I made him a dashing bloke dressed in pretty clothes. This was the seventies, when people were very clothes conscious and wore frilly shirts and colours. All that hooked at the right time . I put in the martial arts and my love of gadgetry, motorcycles, cars, Bessie, helicopters - these were the things I liked anyway, so I just adapted them into Doctor Who. Apart from being hard at work, it was a piece of cake!"
Extract from "The Third Doctor Handbook", by David J. Howe and Mark Stammers
Itself quoting from an interview conducted by Andrew Knight & Martin Guarneri, 1985.
Without a doubt the role for which he was most famous, Jon Pertwee could have been born to play the Doctor. Rescuing the show from the 1969 doldrums and potential cancellation and bursting onto our TV screens for the first time in colour, he made an immediate impression, guaranteeing the future of the show for years to come.
His first series in Doctor Who saw the show undergoing great transition, Earth-based and closely affiliated to UNIT, the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce headed by the reliable Brigadier Alastair Gordon Lethbridge Stewart (Nicholas Courtney), the Doctor began his exile, punishment from his people the Time Lords for stealing a Tardis and interfering in the affairs of other worlds. The first series saw just 4 stories, the first, Spearhead from Space being 4 episodes (and introducing the Doctor's assistant Liz Shaw, played by Caroline John). The remaining three (Doctor Who and the Silurians, The Ambassadors of Death and Inferno) being 7 episodes apiece. The plastic Autons, creatures controlled by the Nestene Consciousness, were an immediate hit and scenes from that story are still remembered today. So much so that the Autons (with similar scenes) featured in the first story of the revitalised Doctor Who starring Christopher Eccleston in 2005, "Rose". The first series with a Pertwee Doctor saw episodes hold an average audience of 7.3 million, with a high of 9.3 million (Ambassadors #4) and a low of 4.8 million (Infeno #3).
Although the 7-part stories were well received, there was a noticeable drop in ratings by the time Inferno came around, with Spearhead having an average of 8.7 million, Silurians having 7.9 million, Ambassadors having 7 million and Inferno seeing an average of 5.5 million. The 7-part stories were dropped, never to return although in there place as well as more 4-parters were a large number of 6 part stories.
"Roger was one of the gentlest people I ever met"
Jon Pertwee speaking about Roger Delgado, who played "The Master"
Jon Pertwee's second season as the Doctor began in early 1971 and featured the return of the Autons, seen as the big monster hit of the previous year. He had a new assistant, Jo Grant played by Katy Manning who replaced Liz Shaw who had "returned to Cambridge". Accompanying them for his first appearance was the Master, fellow renegade Time Lord and hell-bent on destroying the Doctor, Universal domination and anything else he fancied having a go at. Played by the superb Roger Delgado, the Master was an instant hit and featured in every story of the season. However, by just about everyone's opinion, this was a touch overkill!
Terror of the Autons, the 4-part opener was followed by the 6-part Mind of Evil. Breaking up any run of longer stories was the 4-part Claws of Axos which then led into the 3rd Doctor's first trip away from Earth in the Tardis - Colony in Space. This story saw the Doctor acting as an agent of the Time Lords, seeking to prevent The Master gaining control of the feared Doomsday Weapon a thousand years into Earth's future. Rounding off the season was a 5-part story called The Daemons, widely regarded as one of the best stories of the era and Pertwee's personal all-time favourite.
Jon Pertwee's second season as The Doctor saw average ratings of 7.9 million. Terror of the Autons saw an average audience of 7.7 million, Mind of Evil 7.5 million, Claws of Axos 7.4 million, Colony in Space 8.5 million and The Daemons 8.3 million. So Colony inSpac saw the highest average rating that season, and also the higest rated episode, with Episode 3 gaining a 9.5 million audience. However, a repeat of the Daemons shown as a compilation that Christmas saw an audience of 10.5 million. It's fair to say the BBC were somewhat pleased!
"I never liked the Daleks, I thought they were tatty but the punters loved 'em!"
Jon Pertwee giving his view on his character's greatest foe.
Doctor Who's ninth season and Jon Pertwee's third at the helm started with the return of the Daleks after a break of 5 years. the result of Terry Nation (their human creator) and his failed attempts to launch them in a series of their own in America. The four part story Day of the Daleks saw the metal-clad natives of the planet Skaro attempting to rewrite Earth history and invade all over again, overwriting their failed attempt documented in the William Hartnell, first Doctor story The Dalek Invasion of Earth. Once again used by the Time Lords, the following story saw the Doctor and Jo arrive on theplanet Peladon for The Curse of Peladon, the first of two visits this Doctor would make in his lifetime. Featuring in this story and, like the Daleks, for the first time in colour were the Ice Warriors who, unusually, were not appearing as the villains!
One of Doctor Who's most famous stories followed with the 6 part story The Sea Devils, featuring the marine cousins of the Silurians, which had appeared in the second story of Jon pertwee's first season. Scenes from this story are remembered today in the same way that the Autons in Spearhead are remembered - this time with visions of repltilian sea monsters clad in netting similar to string vests, rising from the sea to attack the humans. This story saw the first of two appearances of the Master - incarcerated in an island prison after his defeat and capture by UNIT at the end of the previous season's finale, The Daemons. Needless to say, he escapes!
The Doctor's resentment at being the time Lord's unofficial agent increased with another trip away from Earth, this time to the planet Solos in the far future, for the 6 part story the Mutants, set in the dying days of Earth's galactic empire. Rounding off the season was another 6 parter and another Master story, The Time Monster. not one of the most popular stories of Jon Pertwee's tenure this story is famous for what looked like a man-sized budgie on wires called Chronos the Chronovore, eater of time! You work it out!
Jon Pertwee's third season in charge maintained healthy ratings, with an average score of 8.5 million viewers, a continuing increase on season averages, after 7.3 million for Season 1 and 7.9 million for Season 2. Day of the Daleks was a strong opener with 9.6 million. From their the ratings followed their transmission order with a gentle decline to the season end, seeing 9.4 million, 8.2 million, 7.8 million and The Time Monster with 7.4 million. The Sea devils matched the season average with its Christmas repeat that year.
"I thought the story was very clever, bringing the Doctors together in the way that it did"
Jon Pertwee on "The Three Doctors"
Jon Pertwee's fourth season as the famous Time Lord was also the programme's tenth year on television, a remarkable feat for a show that was originally seen as having a life of about 13 weeks way back in 1963! Starting off in true festive style came a concept much parodied in later years with less imaginative production staff. The Doctor met his previous selves, with all 3 Doctors being needed to prevent the destruction of the cosmos by the renegade Time Lord Omega, the stellar engineer who millions of years previously had provided the Time Lords with their power source for time travel. Abandoned in a universe of anti-matter, believed by the Time Lords to be dead, Omega had slowly gone mad. A popular start to a popular season which saw the average ratings continue to climb.
The 4 part stort the Three Doctors was followed by the only other 4 parter that season, Carnival of monsters. the Time Lords had restored the Doctor's ability to travel through space & time in the Tardis as a "thank you" for his defeating of Omega and effectively saving them all. This first "proving flight" saw the Tardis land on a boat, on the Indian Ocean - allegedly. It was in fact one of many micro-environments contained within a mini-scope, a kind of (in the Doctor's own words) a "galactic peepshow", owned by the showman Vorg. The location of the landing was actually the planet Inter Minor and saw a desperate struggle against the voracious omnivores, the Drashigs.
Three 6 part stories followed, starting with Roger Delgado's final appearance as The Master in the story Frontier in Space. This was in fact the start of a 12 episode story arc, running directly into the next story, Planet of the Daleks. Delgado was due to make a final appearance but this was never to be as he was tragically killed in a car accident in Turkey shortly after filming on Frontier wrapped. Planet of the Daleks was followed by The Green Death, possibly Pertwee's other most remembered story, almost universally remembered as "the one with the maggots". Once seen never forgotten, this story also saw the tearful departure of Jo Grant. Featuring themes like coal mining (topical as the country was experiencing bitter industrial disputes in that very area) and ecological damage through industrial pollution. The Green Death was decades ahead of it's time and, visual effect aside, still stands up today.
Ratings were phenomenal, more so considering how close the series had been to the axe prior to Jon Pertwee's arrival. The season average was the highest yet, at 9 million, seeing The Three Doctors come top with 10.3 million. Carnival finished with an average of 9.2 million, Frontier 8 million, Planet of the Daleks got 9.7 million and The Green Death 7.7 million. Like The Daemons and the Sea devils before it, The Green Death was selected for a repeat at Christmas that year and gained an audience of 10.5 million viewers. Merry Christmas indeed!
"It felt very much as though the team was breaking up"
Jon Pertwee on his reasons for stepping down.
Season 5 for Jon Pertwee was to be his last, having stated his intention to stand down at the end of the season. Jon Pertwee had enjoyed a strong sense of "family" often commented on by all who worked with him as well as by the man himself.
But times were changing - UNIT was featuring less and less, meaning Nicholas Courtney and his army colleagues were less regular than previous years. Katy Manning had left her role as Jo Grant and Roger Delgado, a great friend of Jon Pertwee's, had died. Behind the scenes, Producer Barry Letts and Script Editor Terrance Dicks, ever present through Pertwee's tenure, were also planning to leave.
There was a new assistant, sarah jane Smith, played by Elisabeth Sladen. Pertwee got on well with Sladen but with a new Producer and Script Editor on the way in the shape of Philip Hinchcliffe and Robert Holmes the old "family" would be all but gone. It was time to move on.
Doctor Who on Wikipedia
THE NAVY LARK
"The Navy Lark was a team show. It was our show, and we were immensely proud of it. As I have said, it was the longest, and in all probability will remain the longest running situation comedy on radio for all time."
Jon Pertwee: Moon Boots & Dinner Suits, 1984.
The Navy Lark was based either on an island off the coast of Portsmouth or aboard the fictional Royal Navy frigate HMS Troutbridge.
The Navy Lark was one of the longest running radio comedy shows in the UK and caught listener's imaginations for the best part of 20 years, running from 1959 to 1976, with a one-off Jubilee Special in 1977.
Written by Laurie Wyman (and later co-written with George Evans) as a vehicle for the ever-popular Pertwee, The Navy Lark attracted some well established names to appear alongside him. "Number One" was played by Dennis Price in Season 1 and later by Stephen Murray. "Sub-Lieutenant Phillips" was played by Leslie Phillips, "Able Seaman Goldstein" was played by Tenniel Evans and Able Seaman Johnson was played by Ronnie Barker. Added to this was "Wren Chasen" played by Heather Chasen, "Commander (later Captain) Povey" played by Richard Caldicot and "Lieutenant Bates" played by Michael Bates.
The Navy Lark proved immensely popular and Pertwee continued in his role as the scheming CPO Pertwee during his complete run as the 3rd Doctor in Doctor Who. Fondly remembered today and receiving airtime again via BBC Radio 7 (as well as in CD boxed-set form) the memory of The Navy Lark, HMS Troubridge and all those who sailed on (or near) her will live on for many years to come.
Sample sounds from The Navy Lark:
The Navy Lark on Wikipedia
It was Jon Pertwee's own idea to bring Barbara Euphan Todd's popular talking scarecrow known as "Worzel Gummidge" to television. He went on to star as the scarecrow from 10 Acre Field who had a turnip for a head from 1979 to 1981. After that he took the show to Australia and filmed Worzel Gummidge Down Under (actually filmed in New Zealand).
Worzel, the scarecrow with the straw hat and talking "yokelese", befriended John and Sue who had recently moved to the countryside with their dad after the death of their mother. Worzel had a huge impact on their young lives, with his clumsyness and mild innocent humour.
Worzel's maker was The Crowman, played by Geoffrey Bayldon and Una Stubbs played Aunt Sally, the object of Worzel's affections. She was awful to Worzel who loved her dearly but her nose was out of joint if he ever looked elsewhere, with alternative targets of affection coming in the shape of Saucy Nancy (a ship's figurehead) and tailor's dummy called Dolly Clothes-Peg.
The introduction titles to Worzel Gummide can be seen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LiP0j-LHv88
Jon also released a single called Worzel's Song.
Worzel Gummidge Unofficial Website
Many newspapers and television news services reported Jon's death on that sad day in 1996. Copied below are some of the cuttings reporting the news at the time. Also, for a really excellent website dedicated to Jon Pertwee, please visit Jon Pertwee dot com.