Here’s a transcript of Jon Pertwee talking to Terry Wogan in 1989. He was promoting ‘The Ultimate Adventure’, the stage play in which he reprised the role of the Doctor, but he doesn’t really talk about that -instead, the dominant theme seems to be ‘wind’, which got him expelled from RADA and blew him off course in a hovercraft while filming ‘The Sea Devils’.
Q: You’re back as Dr. Who on the stage after a fifteen year gap, are you glad to be back?
A: Oh, sure, the money’s good.
Q: Do you miss being Dr. Who?
A: Yes, I do from time to time. But I enjoyed being Worzel Gummidge too.
Q: You followed William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton. What gave you the inspiration for the flamboyance?
A: The clothes? Well that was a bit of luck, really. I wanted to wear something very severe, like a suit, but they said no, that was too severe. So in order to do something for the front cover of the Radio Times I put on an old velvet smoking jacket, and a cape, and a frilly shirt from Mr. Fish, who was very trendy at the time, and stood like that on the front cover, and they said they liked it. I said ‘Well how are we going to explain it?’, so in the first story they had me go into a changing room and nick a lot of clothing from various doctors. Some doctor had a hat, some doctor had a coat, then I put them on, went outside and leapt into an old motor car, an old Vauxhall 1938 and drove off, and that eventually became Bessie.
Q: I think the programme was maybe at its peak when you were in it. Maybe the technology got taken over by things like ‘Star Wars’…
A: Yes, well we kept things pretty simple, and we kept the threats on Earth when I was there, the majority of the time anyway.
Q: Yes, you fought off a number of Cybermen in your time –
A: No I didn’t! Daleks, yes. And a giant spider got me in the end. Well, not in the end, but he got me! (laughs)
Q: Did you do your own stunts?
A: Yes. Yes, I did, much to the infuriation of Terry Walsh, my stuntman. I did everything that I could apart from falling. If it was riding motorbikes or speedboats or climbing down ladders from helicopters, I did that. If it was falling, I didn’t know how to do that, and if I broke something then everybody’d be out of work.
Q: You nearly killed half a crew once, didn’t you?
A: I’m afraid so. Well, Barry Letts, my producer, said ‘You can drive anything, can’t you?’. I said ‘Well no, not without a bit of practice’, he said ‘Well there’s a hovercraft, why don’t you have a go at that, we’ll see if we can get that into the programme’. Well we got it into the programme, but he never gave me any time to practice. I kept saying ‘Can I practice?’, he kept saying ‘Not yet, not yet, I’ll let you know when’, and he never told me until he said ‘Okay, go’, and I had to come up a river bank on the river Severn, go between two cameras and go over a stuntman who was playing an old tramp and as he lay back I went over the top of him with the hovercraft. Well I did this, but unfortunately there was a very strong wind at the time and it pushed me to the port side and I wiped out the entire camera crew. It was very dangerous, because you’ve got propellers roaring around both down there and up there, so it could be very dangerous. Barry said ‘Can you do it again?’, and he said to everyone ‘Go round the other side, go round the other camera’. They all went round the other camera, and they said to me ‘Allow for the wind’, and I said ‘Yes, I’ll allow for the wind’. So I did it again, and I allowed for the wind, but there wasn’t a wind and so I wiped out the other camera.
Q: You were born into a very theatrical family, you had no choice, you had to be an actor. Did you ever play this theatre? (referring to the studio where ‘Wogan’ was taped)
A: I certainly did, when it was the Shepherd’s Bush Empire, I remember very well that I came out of the stage door one night and I’d gone very well, which was difficult in vaudeville, especially in Glasgow where they threw everything at you… but I came out, and there was an enormous Irish gentleman – there were a lot of them about Shepherd’s Bush in those days – he was leaning up against the wall and he went ‘Oi!’, I said ‘Me?’, he said ‘Come over here’, he said ‘Here you are, sign that’. I said ‘Of course, how could I resist such a charming invitation’, I signed it and gave it to him, and he threw it away! To this day I don’t know who he thought I was!
Q: Did you ever recover from this?
Q: You were continuously expelled from school, weren’t you?
A: Yes, I was. That’s a family trait, well not my brother Michael, he was very well behaved, but –
Q: You got expelled from RADA?
A: Yes, I got thrown out of RADA, I’m afraid. I’d refused to be a wind. There was a lady who taught Greek dancing and Greek tragedy, and I just had to go ‘Wooooo’ and I thought it was terribly expensive for my poor father to pay for me to be a wind. So I rebelled, I refused to be a wind.
Q: Didn’t Noel Coward speak highly of you once?
A: Well yes, Kenneth Barnes told me I had absolutely no talent whatsoever of any kind in the theatre, so I was in a play at the end of my season and, just before I was about to be expelled, I played two parts, I played the man who was murdered in the first act and the man who found out who murdered me in the last act, with full make-up and moustaches and so on. And at the end of the show, Kenneth Barnes said to Noel Coward, who was the guest of honour, ‘Was there anyone you thought had particular talent in the company?’, and Noel Coward said ‘Yes, very good performance from the man who was murdered in the first act, and I particularly liked the man who played the detective in the last’. (laughs) So I promptly gave him a kiss, which was a very dangerous thing to do, and I never looked back!
Q: How did you get involved with ‘Worzel Gummidge’?
A: Well when Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall asked me to do a movie that they’d written of Worzel Gummidge, of course I jumped at it, but unfortunately the movie hit the wall, they didn’t get the distribution that they wanted, or the money, so I said ‘Could you give me a pilot, cheap?’, and they gave me a pilot, bless them, and we sold it to television. The BBC turned it down flat, incidentally, they said it had no future at all (laughs), so I then took it to Thames because I knew they’d jump at it, having just done ‘Whodunnit?’ for them, and they turned it down flat too. Then there was a man called Lewis Rudd at Southern Television, a man of great perspicacity, and he said ‘I think it’s wonderful’ and we made it, and within five or six weeks we were something of a cult.