Here’s Richard Franklin talking about his time as Mike Yates. He discusses the planned romance between Mike and Jo Grant, his experiences filming ‘The Claws of Axos’ in freezing conditions, and his mid-1980’s stage play ‘Recall UNIT’.
“I was working as a clerk in an advertising agency, responsible for all the filing. I was supposed to be a ‘trainee executive’, but I hadn’t got very far! One day I decided that I’d like to be an a ctor, but unfortunately I knew that wouldn’t be a popular decision with either my boss or my parents. To get some support, I went to two actors that I knew – Susan Hampshire and John Standing. They both said quite independently and without any prompting at all ‘Of course you must do it’. I learned a piece of Shakespeare for the RADA audition, from Henry V. But some kind of absolute fluke, I got in first time, and having done so I resigned my job.
“One evening, my agent at the time happened to be sitting next to Barry letts at a first night show in the West End. The topic of casting came up and Barry said ‘We’re looking for a young man to play a love interest – something to slightly up-age the boy-girl relationships in the series. I can’t find anyone, though. We’d like someone like Richard Franklin, but I don’t suppose he’d do it’. Straightaway I got a phone call from the theatre and at 9.30 next morning I went up to the BBC. I had three interviews and then I was in.
“The idea was to attract the teenage market (with a relationship between Mike Yates and Jo Grant), but it didn’t really end up as it was supposed to. There was a sort of high-level policy decision that it would conflict too much with the relationship between the Doctor and Jo. While I think there’s something in that, I was rather disappointed. It did linger on in a sort of implied way. When Katy was leaving and we were recording ‘The Green Death’, there was a party sequence where Jo was to announce her engagement to Professor Mushroom or whatever his name was. I noticed in my script for that scene that I didn’t have any lines – all I had was a close-up with a stage direction that simply said ‘Mike Yates looks crestfallen’. That was the sorry end of my three-year love interest – a nice touch, all the same.
“At the end of ‘The Daemons’, neither Nicholas Courtney nor I originally had any lines, so I wrote in a little scene with the Brigadier and Yates going off for a drink, leaving the others dancing round the maypole. I had a jolly good part in ‘The Daemons’. I was able to do very much more than usual – I was instigating action.
“In ‘Terror of the Autons’, at the very end, UNIT turn up, guns blazing, and I had been given this magnificent line on seeing the enemy Autons approaching. They were those nasty faceless things, and I had to say ‘We’ve got ’em now, sir!’ in close-up. Now I’ve always worked very hard as an actor – sometimes a little too hard. I put everything I’ve got into this one shot, and I thought I’d done it rather well. A fortnight later, we came to the studio and they had to put in the telecine stuff. We all stopped for a moment to see this brilliant climax and then suddenly there was this great big face all over the screen yelling out ‘We’ve got ’em now, sir!’. It was so over the top, it wasn’t true. The whole studio absolutely fell about. Barry Letts was awfully nice about it. He came quietly up to me and said ‘It was a little bit OTT, wasn’t it? Would you like to re-record it?’. That was very nice of him, because it was all time and money – we couldn’t re-shoot, so we did the next best thing and I re-dubbed it.
“I didn’t enjoy filming ‘The Claws of Axos’ one little bit (at Dungeness power station). Poor Katy nearly died of cold in her mini-skit. We were all wearing pink long-johns under our uniforms, but we still turned a very funny colour. They had to put on specially dark make-up to cover up! Also, because our muscles got frozen up, we over-ran and several scenes had to be rewritten from being on location to going into the studio.
“Mike wasn’t a traitor in ‘Invasion of the Dinosaurs’. He was just misguided. He’d looked into that silly old Metebelis sapphire, which had made him cross-eyed as well as cross-brained. He really didn’t know what he was up to. The way I rationalised it was that I was helping to establish a new Golden Age on Earth – a sort of dream that everyone looks for but which is usually suppressed. But Yates didn’t realise the people he was working with were such naughty men – he was totally taken in. It was a question of his paramount idealism.
“I was so struck by the enthusiasm of fans at the conventions, I suddenly said during an interview that I’d write a UNIT play so that everyone could see us together again on stage. Of course, a lot of people really like the suggestion, but I don’t think anybody really, seriously, thought we’d do it. That became ‘Recall UNIT’. The writing happened by degrees. I had a lot of help from George Cairns, who acted as a sounding board for my inspirations and, because he knew the show’s continuity, advised on technical details. He brought up things like the Tissue Compression Eliminator and the phrase ‘Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow’. I came up with the idea of starting the play with us as ourselves and gradually merging us into our fictional personae. That holds an essential truth about the crossover that existed in real life between us and our characters. I included the topical elements of the plot, like the Falklands and the satire on Margaret Thatcher, as a backdrop to the Master’s off-stage plans to take over the world. The Brigadier takes part using pre-recorded voice-over (after Nicholas Courtney had to drop out due to a TV role), and luckily I found an actor called Richard Kettles to play the Brigadier’s stand-in, who really adopted most of the lines.”