Patrick Troughton (1973)

This Pebble Mill interview was recorded in 1973 and is perhaps most notable for Patrick Troughton running rings around the interviewer, who at times says things with which Troughton doesn’t entirely agree. This is transcribed from the original video, which you can see here.

Q: What was it like playing Dr. Who for three years. Was it like a sort of second childhood for you?

A: It was very good fun. We had a wonderful time, with some wonderful people, and it was a very jokey part so, um…

Q: In fact you made it a jokey part, didn’t you, because Dr. Who mark 1 was a little bit more serious, he was older and cantankerous whereas you introduced an element of comedy into it.

A: Well, I thought we had to do something a bit different. My original idea was to black up and wear a big turban and brass earrings and a big grey beard and do it like the Arabian Knights. I thought that would be a wonderful idea, but when I’d finished, I could shave off, take the black off, take the turban off and nobody would know who I was and I wouldn’t be typecast. But they didn’t think that was a very good idea.

Q: You haven’t played very many comedies. Why is that?

A: I play comedy all the time.

Q: No, you see I was just wondering, you see you introduced this element of comedy into ‘Doctor Who’ and yet you were known as a serious actor. Does this mean that really underneath this serious face of yours you would like to play more comedy parts?

A: (aghast, with a smile) But ‘Doctor Who’ was a serious part! It wasn’t an unserious part at all, gracious me, Billy had made him this crotchety old gentleman, he was very serious and I had to be very serious too. But the way I made him serious was to make him a bit of a clown to start with, a sort of offbeat thing, but that… we started rather wild, and we mellowed as the time went on.

Q: Was it difficult making the change from Dr. Who back into a normal acting role, because you went into a historical role after that, didn’t you?

A: Yes, it was a bit difficult. When you’re in a part for three years you, well let’s say you get rather in the habit of playing it and into that way of thinking, and I suddenly had to play a very serious Duke of Norfolk and instead of reading up on Norfolk, although I did that, I found myself thinking of all the ways I could be different from Dr. Who, because I only had a week between finishing one and rehearsing the other, so I had to watch that very carefully and it was just a bit difficult.

Q: You played lots of villains’ parts, you played lots of heroes too, in fact am I right in thinking you were the first Robin Hood on television?

A: Yes, yes, that’s right, about the time that Stalin pegged out. It was me and Stalin on the front page.

Q: What was it like, because you had to do it live in those days, didn’t you? You didn’t have such things as recorded plays.

A: Yes, we did that live. In one scene we had back projection which – of course everyone knows what that is – which is a sort of slide that comes in and it was a picture of the forest, you see. And on this occasion we’d got a film crew to do the back projection and I don’t think they quite realised that we were live on television. Anyway we started the scene… Leonard Sachs, I think it was, and myself… and there was a great crashing and banging behind us and we thought what’s going on here…

Q: Rather a strange noise in Sherwood Forest.

A: And there was a sort of shout of ‘Right, it’s your end’, ‘No, it’s your end’, and we turned around and the forest had come in sideways, and all the trees were that way round instead of that way round. And then there was more crashing and banging and the screen went blank, and then all the trees came up right and we had to go on playing.

Q: That was a sort of early science fiction in the middle of Robin Hood, almost.

A: Yes, yes, one could say that.

Q: As I said earlier on, you’ve also played a lot of villainous roles as well. What attracts you to that?

A: Nothing attracts me, I just get cast as them occasionally.

Q: You must enjoy playing them.

A: Oh I’ve always enjoyed playing things, but I just take what part comes along, it’s like a great big lucky dip, it’s lovely. And you know, different people see me as different things and… um…

Q: Do you enjoy playing the real character parts? Perhaps you can get more into a villain?

A: Yeah, as long as they’re well written, super. Marvellous.

Q: You tend to be someone who’s avoided interviews and talking to the press a lot over the years –

A: Who said that?

Q: You did, you told me that earlier on!

A: (smiling) What a lie! I never said anything of the sort. What I said was I always enjoy having interviews with the BBC, which is quite a different thing.

Q: Yes, but you did say that you like to keep the illusion of the character, didn’t you?

A: Did I? Oh yes, keep the illusion of the character, what do you mean?

Q: Well you’re interviewing me now, you explain to me what you meant by that.

A: Well I don’t know whether I said that. Well I think what we mean here is that it’s important to take the part seriously, really, that’s all it boils down to, which means doing your homework on it. The Americans… (pauses, laughs) better not say that really. Ten years or fifteen years ago they called it the Method, what it really means is thinking about what you’re doing at home before you come and do it, really.

Q: And what it means is Patrick Troughton the actor enjoys keeping himself apart from the character that he plays, he’s two separate people. Anyway –

A: I didn’t say that either!

Q: You did!

A: It’s lies, all lies!

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