Here’s Anthony Ainley talking at a Doctor Who convention in 1991. Among other things, he talks about Richard Hurndall, Ian Marter and the time he whacked Sylvester McCoy with a bone. He also sings a song called ‘A Plea to the BBC’, which you can listen to on YouTube.
P.S. Since Ainley talks about what he’d like written in his obituary, here’s a link to the obituary that was run in The Guardian when he died in 2004.
On Roger Delgado
I can only tell you that I felt very privileged to be given the part and follow such a wonderful performer as Roger. I didn’t know it was going to be as important as it turned out to be, I didn’t know about the fans, I didn’t know that the shows would be scrutinised and analysed fifteen, twenty years later. I was asked by John Nathan-Turner if I’d watch the videos of Roger, I hadn’t watched Doctor Who when Roger was in it, I watched Tom because he’s a friend of the family. John Nathan-Turner offered me the videos of Roger, I said yes, but he never gave them to me! The thing to do is not to try to copy people, no matter what you thought of the way I did it, I think it might have been not very successful if I’d tried to be a pale imitation of Roger. I think you’ve got to come at acting from your own centre, your mind is the character’s mind, your arms, your body, everything, and then it is at least original and at least your own. I feel that it would have been wrong to have sat there, studying the videos.
I’m told that I look a little like Roger Delgado, and I think that may have been one of the reasons Barry Letts wanted me to do it. I was lucky enough to play for Barry Letts in ‘Nicholas Nickleby’ with the young Nigel Havers, who was very young and very good. And Barry Letts saw something in me, I think, that not only reminded him of Roger but also embodied evil. I don’t know what it was. I once sat next to a girl in a play and had to say ‘Would you like some tea?’, and I said it and she broke rehearsal and said ‘My God you’re evil!’. I guess it’s something I have.
On The Land That Time Forgot
I played a bit of a Nazi swine, who took away a submarine and left some people on a volcanic island. And then I got shot. Yes, I wasn’t very nice in that. But what may surprise you is that I won a comedy prize when I was at RADA. Yes, that’s true, I won the comedy prize. It was a very small amount of money. I was amazed, I think it was for playing Jack Worthing in The Importance of Being Earnest.
That scene, hurling Tom from a great height, was a favourite. It was wonderful, I’m very glad to have been in Logopolis, it does quite well in the charts.
On Time Flight
If I mention the moment with the green slime pouring from my throat, do you remember what I’m talking about? Time Flight. I’m glad it wasn’t me. For some reason, a lot of green muck was to come from my mouth as I became the Master again, and they got this guy, and apparently he nearly died, he nearly choked. That was the only time they used a stand-in.
On The Five Doctors
I was absolutely thrilled, and I was aware that it was a great honour and a historical event, and I was very very pleased to have such a large slice of the action in a good story. I’m very pleased to have been in that. It was exciting working with all the Doctors, including the lookalike Doctor.
I’d like to put in a good word for Richard Hurndall, who was very brave. He was dying, I think he died within six weeks of doing that show. I think it was a very difficult job, playing a lookalike, and I think he did it very well. I don’t think enough is said of Richard Hurndall, I try to mention him wherever I can.
I could go on for some time about Pat Troughton. When you think of the chats in green rooms, talking with actors, he was not only an actor’s actor, he was probably the actor’s Doctor, and a very wonderful person. I was with him when he died in Georgia, I was privileged to dine with him on the night before.
On The King’s Demons
I had a bit thing about The King’s Demons, I wanted very much to have a mortician’s wax nose, a long nose, to change the shape of my profile. But television has such strict discipline about filming things, so usually you’re not usually seen in profile, so consequently hardly anything was seen of my false big nose. I think it would have been much more effective, the disguise, if they’d changed the system and had one camera shooting profile to see the nose. No-one would have ever guessed it was me.
You get extra money for make-up time. You get over-time, a beautiful girl fussing around you. You get paid extra, so the BBC don’t like doing that.
On The Trial of a Timelord
I liked working with Colin, I’m sure you’ve all met him, he’s a beautiful, well-mannered man, very easy to work with, a proper gent as they say down south. It was a lot of fun, couldn’t have been nice, really. I’m sure you all like Colin.
I loved coming up on the big screen. I’d never made an entrance like that before. Although my part in Trial of a Timelord was rather miniscule, it was nice to be there. Michael Jayston was a very nice person.
I was put in this chair, I felt captive there, and this man had this thing in his hand and I couldn’t believe it was going into my eye. He said ‘Lie back, relax’ and he did some black magic, and it was in my eye. He said ‘Here’s a mirror’ and I looked and it was wonderful, it looked like a cat’s eye with that perpendicular slit that they have, beautiful eyes, and I thought ‘This is going to be magic’. What happened? After a few weeks, they decided that this man wouldn’t be with us on filming, we’d have to do it ourselves, so they gave us these little cheap rubber, no slit, contact lenses, and we could put them in ourselves. It took a bit of practice. Quite nasty. I was disappointed, because they just looked like yellow eyes, they didn’t look like cats’ eyes.
In the fight with Sylvester, I accidentally hit him quite hard with a large bone. I didn’t mean to hit him. These things are done by numbers, and you work it all out, and somehow I managed to hit his wrist very hard with a femur, that’s a large bone. Sylvester, having had to wear those wretched contact lenses that day, didn’t like it, because he hadn’t had the training (with the lenses) that Sophie and I had, and he was finding it very painful to put them in. He didn’t have much help. He wasn’t enjoying it at all, he was in pain, and when I hit him on the wrist with the bone, I said ‘I’m terribly sorry’, he said ‘It’s okay Ant, I’m now in so much pain in my wrist, I can’t feel the pain in my eyes’.
Similar things happened with the cheetah heads. I was told that when they put out the tenders, they were brought in, one businessman said ‘What do you think of this?’, it was wonderful but it was expensive. Another businessman came in with a different cheetah head, said ‘What do you think of this?’. It wasn’t so good, but it was cheap. Of course the BBC took the cheap one. My own feelings on them… this sort of thing shows, and I think it was a little sad. But I hope you liked the cheetah heads you got. At times, they looked quite frightening, but at times they looked like teddy bears, which wasn’t the idea.
The teeth, I had to put fangs in. I didn’t want to, but I was told to. I went to an orthodontist, and they put in these fangs, with a bit of plasticine, but I found it very hard to speak, very hard to speak clearly, so I took the bottom ones out after a while. Bad continuity, that, you might notice that, but they got in my way.
On Doctor Who comic strips
I don’t read them, but I gaze at them. I’ve always been a man for looking at pictures, when I read the newspapers I look at the pictures. A bit like Ronnie Reagan in that respect. It’s very difficult to get faces, lookalikes, but they’re very clever. I have a great respect for artists, it’s a difficult task, drawing, but they do it very well. I wish I could draw.
On Ian Marter
It was so sad about Ian Marter. I was with him just before he died, and I’ve never seen a man look so well. He wrote well, didn’t he, Ian Marter? He’d been doing this muscle course. He had muscles in places I don’t have muscles. And he dropped dead! What’s happening to us all?
On the 1989 cancellation
I wouldn’t be pleased (if Survival was the end for his Master). A guy’s got to eat. I wouldn’t be pleased at all, but I have a feeling that it is the end. I have a gut feeling. I wish I could have brought you exclusive news that we go again in Autumn, 28 episodes of the Master battling the Doctor! But alas, I can’t bring you that news. I hope I’m wrong, but I think the party may well be over. But I want to thank you for keeping it going, to revivify the legend, and I have no doubt in my own mind that were it not for fans, it wouldn’t have lasted 28 years.
I think the ratings drooped a little. In the last ten years, didn’t they? Tom was getting big figures. Ratings fell, and when ratings fall in television, in spite of your (the fans’) love and enthusiasm, the executives get scared. Why did the ratings fall? It might have been because we went up against ‘Coronation Street’, the most popular soap in the world? It was a big drop, wasn’t it? A 50% drop. It was considerable. And TV executives panic, when the ratings do well, the BBC executives get excited, but it’s all about sales. I think they get excited about the video sales, and if they ignore that, they’re crazy. I’m so proud that the videos sell so well.
If only the BBC had taken a bit more care, spent a bit more money, and treated you people better, given you better quality, not rushed them, things might have been different. In my experience, they were too rushed. It’s all to do with money. They took you for granted. They tended to use ‘Doctor Who’ as a kind of training ship for novices to get their experience on. That’s bad.
What he’d like written in his obituary
This bloke is past his recommended selling date. I don’t know, I think I might like it said that ‘I hope they weren’t kidding about heaven’, ’cause I want to go to heaven!
A Plea to the BBC
(sung by Ainley)
Don’t give up on us B-Beeb
Not now we’ve come this far
That Sophie, she’s a great big star
She’s also very lovely
and awfully nice to know
Don’t give up on us B-Beeb
Give us back our show!