Archive for the ‘UNIT’ Category

Richard Franklin (1985)

October 12, 2009

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.”

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John Levene (1985)

October 8, 2009

Here’s John Levene, aka Sgt. Benton, talking to DWM about his time on ‘Doctor Who’, from his first appearance as a Yeti in ‘The Web of Fear’ to his decision not to come back for ‘The Five Doctors’.

On The Web of Fear

My agent said ‘It’s £20 a day. Yeti. Four days, two days studio’. Boy, was I thrilled. There I was with Patrick Troughton and Frazer Hines. My heroes. I watched them at home. One day, we were down in the Underground at Covent Garden. Frazer and I got on like a house on fire, and one of the first things that happened was that Frazer pinned a number on my back and then we did a ballroom dance around Covent Garden, with me dressed up as a Yeti.

On Inferno

When I first met Jon Pertwee, he came straight over and was so nice. Jon was the most giving Doctor of them all, always ready to give advice that I was ready to take. We were in a rehearsal hall in Old Oak Road, Acton, and I remember meeting famous Jon Pertwee, this amazing man from ITMA who had all the voices and played the postman. I was like a little puppy dog then. If there were lines to cut, they would be mine, and if there was time to be made up, then they would add it on to my script.

On The Mind of Evil

I remember I really hurt myself falling out of that lorry, because if the kids were gonig to see Benton shot there was no point in me just going ‘Ah, ooh, it hurts’, I had to do the whole number. I fell out of that truck and my leg caught on the handrail, and I grazed and cut myself. That look of agony is pretty genuine. One of the more memorable shots was a chase scene that took place in and around a garden in Kensington. As we were about to shoot the last scene, someone became ill, which was kept in as part of the plot.

On Day of the Daleks

Jon Pertwee is always the first to say, a Dalek, unless he is on a marble floor with three acres of flat ground, is helpless. The audience knows they run on wheels. And yet, they’re incredibly popular… The monsters I find awesome, if I’m honest, were the Ogrons. They wore half-masks with long hair and the leather chests. They were real gutsy monsters, the like of which we need in today’s ‘Doctor Who’.

On The Three Doctors

The scenes with Pat Troughton were wonderful. Pat gave me all his talent, because I remember saying to him ‘I’m a bit nervous, Pat, because I’ve got such a lot with you’, and he said ‘Look, you’re a fine actor and we have got some good scenes here. You just carry on playing the innocent Benton the way you do it’. And I did, and of course it came out well. Pat was wonderful and like me he tended to ad-lib if it felt right. He has a great sense of humour, and that scene where we came face to face with the anti-matter blob, my line was ‘What’s happening?’, and Pat’s line was ‘Trying to confuse it’. Then he turned to me and added, ‘I wonder if there’s a television set anywhere?’. Great stuff!

On The Daemons

I had a fight with Peter Diamond. The props guy had forgotten to remove the glass ashtray from the table I was to fall back on. So the cry of pain you saw in the show was genuine, and because of that, the bit where I threw Peter over me didn’t quite come off as planned, but there was no way I was going to do it again and it remained in.

I was in plain clothes and I loved that, because it gave me credibility and I was actually given a handgun. I remember watching Clint Eastwood and practising my stand and action. I couldn’t have just pointed the gun and, bang, you’re dead. I remember having a fight with John Joyce, who played the shot-fun toting Verger, and I had to kick the gun out of his hands. Anyway, there’s no point in being a sissy about these shots and I did something I shouldn’t have by allowing John Joyce to kick Benton over on his back. You know, feet in the chest and up and over. Well, it looked terrific but it broke this £80 shot-gun. There was no way we could repeat the throw, and as we struggled I whispered to John, ‘Hold the two pieces together’. He did, and the marvellous scene was kept and if you watch it again, you’ll see that after the fight when John Joyce picks up the shot-gun and says ‘Okay, Benton, I’ve got you covered’, he’s holding the barrel somewhat strangely. And now you know why.

On Invasion of the Dinosaurs

The best gag that I have ever come out with, and one that I did with real panache, was when UNIT had captured a dinosaur in an aircraft hangar and, of course, the creature had subsequently escaped. The Doctor and the Brigadier were discussing the escape, while I waited for my cue from behind the door. I had to come in and say something like ‘Excuse me, Sir, but…’. My cue was when the Brig said ‘Well, goodness knows how it broke a chain like this’. And then as I walk up, the Doctor’s line is ‘Well, Brigadier, the one thing we know for sure is that it’s large, dumb and stupid’, and of course Jon is looking at me as he says it. On the actual take, with a full gallery, I said ‘Excuse me a minute, could someone please ask Mr. Pertwee not to look at me when delivering the line about it being very large, dumb and stupid?’. Jon creased up, and Nick Courtney was in tears.

I had a scene where Jon Pertwee had knocked me out. And Nick had to come in and say ‘Benton, you traitor, you’ve let the Doctor go’. The Brigadier and I exchanged the most marvellous look, because he looked at me as much to say ‘The next time you break the rules, Benton, you’re for a court marshall’. And I gave him a look, as if to say, ‘Well, it was the Doctor, sir!’. It was a real magic moment that was cut and ended up on the floor.

On Robot

There was a bit where the special effects were quite good and the bangs were going off nicely, where we had to rush up this grass bank. Well, we all had these boots on and we were slipping on the grass verge. So for every three steps we took up, we were slipping back four. I remember Tom Baker laughing it up, because when we were in close-up, we were on this grassy bank and what we had to do was dig our heels in to stop us sliding out of shot.

On The Android Invasion

I didn’t enjoy that one, because Nick Courtney wasn’t there and although I had a double part, I knew it was my last. You got a feeling and when we heard UNIT was going, we felt left out. It’s got nothing to do with them sacking us, it was just, oh, is it over? I’m not very good on my own, but as a team we were inseparable.

On The Five Doctors

I was asked to go back for ‘The Five Doctors’ but it would have meant a quite large upheavel in my life and sadly I didn’t think the tiny part I was asked to do would have made it worthwhile. Jon, Lis, Richard and Nick were all there and although I don’t regret not doing it, I do feel that I missed out on something special and unique.

Nicholas Courtney (1999)

September 1, 2009

This is a transcript of parts of an interview you can find here, in which he discusses how he’d like to be buried, his experiences working with Jon Pertwee and Harry Hill, and the many times he’s worn dresses and fish-net stockings.

Q: I never realised that your mentor was Sir John Gielgud. How big an influence has he been for you?

A: Well when I was a very young actor I found him rather magical to look at and to listen to. I mean his voice is not to everyone’s choice but it was when I was young, because of course Shakespeare is my, as it were, my governor. I wish I could do some more Shakespeare and I hope I do. He was a hero of mine, he spanned such a long period from the 1920’s, 1930’s right up, and he’s still living now, albeit he doesn’t often take much work. He (Gielgud) wrote several books that influenced me enormously, on his attitude to his work and how he thought actors should comport themselves and behave, and he just became a major hero of mine.

Q: In your opinion, what’s better to do – live theatre or recording in a studio?

A: Well I think at the end of the day, probably live theatre. I started in live theatre before I went into television and films, and I think live theatre is most satisfying because you get that tremendous feedback from the audience, you get that rapport between audience and actor. One of the things that is very pleasurable for an actor, performing in comedy or tragedy of whatever, and you can feel an audience’s attention, if they’ve very gripped by what you’re trying to do. Of course in comedy, to get a laugh is lovely… and sometimes it’s wonderful, if you want to, to kill a laugh, and if you can manage to stop the audience laughing when you want to, I think it gives you qutie a sense of power. So I think having starte in the theatre, that’s my first love, but I love all branches of the profession, really. There’s something to be said for each one of them. Television is fascinating, one learns a lot. Of course my first television I ever did, I was appalling, because I was pulling too many faces. I hadn’t realised I wasn’t in the theatre.

Q: Of course it’s different when you’re doing ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’…

A: Yes, I did that one stage and I learnt a lot doing that. (laughs) That was 1980. I think, as a joke, on the last night of our tour the narrator, which is the part that I played, had a smoking  jacket but below that I had fishnet stockings. Just as a bit of a joke.

Q: You had the pleasure of working with Jon Pertwee for so many years. What is the one thing about him that people don’t know about?

A: Well I think one of the things that people don’t know about him is… Actually, we were talking about it this past weekend, because we’ve just had a big ‘Doctor Who’ convention in Coventry, which is quite near Birmingham, and we had a very successful weekend… But one of the things that I think maybe many people don’t know about Jon Pertwee is, in my view he was a very good leading man to have at the head of a company, because when we started a story – apart from the regular people who we got to know – we had our first read-through of the script, we’d then go upstairs and have some coffee, and he would make it a point with all the guest people who were with us, to find out about them, to find out what made them tick. He took an interest, and he made everyone feel very much at home. And that’s why he was a particularly good leading man. He wanted to find out about other people, and I suppose by doing that he found out more about himself. He was a very hard worker, he drove himself very hard.

Q: And you were in ‘The Mousetrap’?

A: Yes. Doing a play like that night after night for a year, you’re bound to get to a point, maybe six months in or whatever, where it becomes very repetitive and you’ve got to make sure that it isn’t repetitive because the audience has paid good money to see it, and you’ve got to bring freshness to it. You’ve got to bring fresh energy to it every night, and not amble or walk through it, because it’s very unprofessional to do that, and very rude to the audience. That’s quite a discipline. It was hard work, that, very very hard work. It was very nice for the security, to have a year’s work, but it was very hard work to try to keep fresh all the time.

Q: In the 1980’s, when you were an established film, stage and television actor, did you ever think that appreciation for the Brigadier would come back like this? Beginning with ‘Mawdryn Undead’, then ‘Battlefield’, did you think all this would happen, when you did your first ‘Doctor Who’ back in the 1960’s?

A: No, no I didn’t. When I did my first ‘Doctor Who’, as Brety Vyon in ‘The Dalek Masterplan’, to me it was another job, an engagement for four episodes, and I thought ‘Well that was fun’ and got on with it. I think the director, Douglas Camfield, more than anyone else has been responsible for my longevity in that part, because he directed me as a colonel in ‘The Web of Fear’ and then he directed me in the first Brigadier story with Patrick Troughton, and of course later with Jon Pertwee, and of course he directed me with Tom Baker as well, in ‘Terror of the Zygons’. Of course he was an army man himself, he was a 2nd Lieutenant, I was only a private, I didn’t have any ambition to be a serious soldier… and he (Douglas Camfield) saw in my performance in ‘The Web of Fear’ that I was a natural for officer material, and I told him that I’d only been a private, but he said I came over naturally as an officer type. My father was a real army officer in the first world war, before becoming a diplomat, and it must have rubbed off on me, observations of my father, and indeed observations of officers under whom I served during my national service period.

Q: So Graham Chapman’s take on the Brigadier in ‘Monty Python’s Flying Circus’, was that flattering?

A: I’m trying to remember that.

Q: One thing that sticks out is the blacmange episode, Monty Python’s take on ‘Doctor Who’, and Graham Chapman’s imitation of you doing the Brigadier was spot on.

A: Oh, yes, I find that very flattering.

Q: And speaking of comedy takes of the Brigadier, you’ve been on TV tap-dancing with Cybermen?

A: Well not quite tap-dancing. This is a show I recorded about four weeks ago, a comedy by Harry Hill who’s got a very special type of comedy show, satirical, whacky, I don’t know very esoteric, a very particular type of comedy – incidentally, a very nice man, very charming – and the reason I got that part, and I did another part last year with another actor – and these are the leading men now who grew up with the Brigadier, so that’s great that I’m being booked by these younger people. Harry Hill called my agent and asked me to do a guest spot, and I said ‘Sure’, and I got on very well with the whole company, I had a very enjoyable three days.

I don’t exactly tap-dance with the Cybermen, it’s a very satirical programme and what happens is that Harry Hill announces that the new Dr. Who is going to be Clare Short. She’s the minister for development in the present government, and she’s a very full, large lady indeed, well fairly large anyway… and then the Brigader says ‘Well we at UNIT are thrilled that Clare Short is going to be the new Doctor’, and I have to say this with a very straight face, ‘We’re delighted that she’s going to join us and we’ve got a present for her’, and it’s a cut-glass vase, and then a Cyberman appears and breaks the glass, and the Brigadier turns to him and says ‘You always have to break things, don’t you? You can’t keep anything nice around here’, and he almost breaks into tears. It’s all comedy, it’s lovely stuff. Then later on in that show, I appear again in a sort of space send-up, space spoof. The Brigadier suddenly breaks in, fires a few shots into the air, and a puppet’s head flies off, and Harry Hill says ‘UNIT got a tip-off that someone was here’, and then later the Brigader… there’s a song, there’s a group called The Communards, pop music, well the Brigadier sings three lines of ‘Don’t Leave Me This Way’. So it’s a whacky show.

Q: I want to talk to you about dresses.

A: Dresses? Yes, well I did a show, a comedy show, and again this was written by a fan of the show, and it’s set in Wales, and I’m playing a sort of public schoolboy who went to the bad and his life fell apart, he was left without a penny, and the Welsh family out of the kindness of their hearts put him up, but he’s so ashamed of himself he hangs himself. So one scene I had, this guy is dead and in heaven, he likes to wear dresses, this guy, he’s a transvestite. So there’s the Brigadier in a long white gown and sipping a glass of wine and he’s happy now, because he can wear what he likes in heaven. That was a thing called ‘Satellite City’.

Q: If the royal armed forces said to you that, in the event that you pass away, we’d like to give you a full military burial, what would you say?

A: Well that would be very nice, very interesting indeed. Not that I’d be around to enjoy it! I’ve made my will, and when I go I want to be cremated and I want my ashes to be scattered, ideally in the Mediterranean sea, or any sea would do, but ideally the Mediterranean because I was born and grew up in Egypt and France and all that and I love the sea. I feel very close to water, and I feel very comfortable with water.