Very briefly, here’s a transcript of Tom Baker’s recent appearance on Radio 4, discussing Barry Letts, who died just over a week ago.
Q: Barry Letts was an actor before he was a producer, wasn’t he?
A: The whole of television seemed to be staffed entirely by… the producers, directors, script editors were all actors, because where did the original people come from? At that time, when television got going, the only people who knew anything about theatricality were actors, so lots of the producers had been actors in their day. I remember seeing Barry, I think, in ‘The Cruel Sea’. He was the big link in changing my entire life, really, because he it was who decided to cast me in ‘Doctor Who’. It was left down to Barry Letts deciding to employ me or not. He was very anxious, because replacing Jon Pertwee was considered perdour. Then it just so happened that there was a film I was in, a big special effects film called ‘The Golden Voyages of Sinbad’, next door to the BBC, and Barry went next door to see it and saw me playing some old wizard, and I was on. He filled me with great confidence. He was a good man, you know? A really good man.
Q: Did he bring any of his philosophical or spiritual beliefs to the programme? Some people think that in the mid-70’s, ‘Doctor Who’ pioneered issues of ecological disaster.
A: Well, I mean he was too sensitive to have said any of that explicitly, but there were several stories, weren’t there, where people were, you know, groups of people, monastaries or nuns, sisterhoods, you know, strange orders where they believed in strange things, and believed in the power of light or eternal flames and that sort of thing, quasi-religious things, and he did all of that with great style.
Q: Did he encourage you to make your Doctor very different to Jon Pertwee’s?
A: He was very subtle, really. He tried to induce from people their way of doing it, without actually saying ‘You’ve got to be different’. I was naturally very different, even though, of course, the problem was that the writers were still writing in the style of Jon Pertwee’s character. The point is, Dr. Who’s not really an acting part, any more than Sherlock Holmes.
Q: Barry Letts employed you as Sherlock Holmes, didn’t he?
A: He did, he did. I wasn’t very good at playing Sherlock Holmes, the BBC apologised for my performance in it, so Barry actually was mistaken there. His intuition betrayed him. He was a gentleman. So kind. There’s no substitute for kindness, is there?