Posts Tagged ‘Worzel Gummidge’

Jon Pertwee (1990)

September 18, 2009

This is another transcript, it’s two radio interviews with Jon Pertwee, which I’ve merged. He talks about his family, about being hired to play the guitar and sing ballads in ‘Doctor Who’, and about ‘Worzel Gummidge’.

Q: Do you enjoy travelling?

A: Yes, because I’m a great wriggler. I never stick with one specific thing in show business, I started riding the Wall of Death when I was sixteen, on a motorbike, and I worked in the circus. Then I was in repertory theatre, which took me all over the country. Then I was in the Navy, then I worked in vaudeville. When that died I went into cabaret, and that took me all over the world, I worked in New Zealand, America. I don’t like nightclubs because there are too many people and they’re too ill-mannered.

Q: Is there one thing that really stands out?

A: Well, yes, when you’re getting out there in front of a cabaret audience, you know within half an hour if you’ve got them or not, and if you’ve got them then to hold them for an hour and a half is a great challenge and enormously rewarding. There are no venues left in England for cabaret.

Q: Did you come from a show business family?

A: Yes, indeed, my father was in Hollywood, as a scenarist, my brother Michael Pertwee is a playwright and scenarist, and my cousin Bill – do you have ‘Dad’s Army’ in America? No, I suppose not, it’s too English. It wouldn’t travel very well, I don’t think.

Q: You’ve mentioned that your father was great friend of Leslie Howard?

A: Yes, my father wrote many of Leslie Howard’s early films, and I remember as a small boy living in our home in Devonshire, Leslie Howard came down to spend a holiday with a rather charming lady, staying in a hotel not far away, Merle Oberon. A very beautiful lady, much appreciated by Leslie Howard. My cousin married Laurence Olivier, so I lived with him when I was training as a student, in his house in London. My grandmother was an opera singer, my aunts were with Gilbert and Sullivan. Dame Edith Worth was my aunt.

Q: How did ‘Doctor Who’ come about?

A: My specific role? Well I was involved in a radio show called ‘The Navy Lark’, which was the longest-running radio show in the history of broadcasting, and it went all over the world, including the United States. I’d be interested if you could find a longer-running show, we ran for eighteen and a half years. I know ‘The Easy Aces’ ran a long time, but not that long. We ran eighteen and a half years, Leslie Phillips and myself and an English comic actor called Ronnie Barker who’s now a very big star, and one of the cast said ‘Why don’t you put yourself up for Doctor Who?’. I said ‘Why would they want an eccentric, long-nosed comic to play Dr. Who?’

I called my agent and mentioned it, and there was a very long pause on the other end of the phone. I said ‘I’m sorry, forget it’, and he said ‘No, no, I don’t think it’s a very good idea but I’ll try it’ so he rang up and spoke to the BBC and the producer of ‘Doctor Who’ said ‘Well who are you suggesting?’ and he told them, and there was a long pause, and equally long pause, and my agent said ‘I had exactly the same reaction’, and he said ‘No, the reason I’m so staggered is that his name’s the second on our short-list’, and I had been for two years. They’d been considering me for two years and I didn’t even know it.

I think Dr. Who was more or less me. The first one I did, I played for laughs. I had a dreadfully funny scene where I put on various hats. My original producers gave me the job because they wanted me to play the guitar and sing ballads.

Q: In the programme?

A: In the programme, yes. Pat Troughton played his penny whistle, so they thought I could play ballads, but no, we got rid of all that?

Q: Looking at the enormous popularity of ‘Doctor Who’, is it down to the individuals who played him, or is there a magic we don’t see?

A: No, there’s a magic that you do see, pure escapism. People are sick of the kitchen sink and they want to escape.

Q: And typecasting doesn’t bother you?

A: Yes it does, it bothers me very much indeed. I no longer wish to carry everything on my shoulders, I don’t necessarily want to be a leading man any more. I want to do what my friend Leslie Phillips has done so brilliantly now, he’s stopped being the sort of silly-ass light comedian.

Q: Taking on very challenging and serious roles.

A: Absolutely, and brilliantly too. That’s what I’d like to do, and I’m having a devil’s own job to persuade young director that that’s what I can do. And they say ‘Oh, Doctor Who’ and I say ‘Hang on, what’s the connection between the elegant dandified folk hero science fiction figure and the filthy old scarecrow with a carrot for a nose?’, and you remind them and they say ‘Oh yes, but it’s a cult thing’. Everything I’ve done has been culty. ‘The Navy Lark’ was culty.

When I was making ‘Doctor Who’, if anybody thinks I was making a lot of money, they’re crazy. I think I got £350 for an episode. That’s for a week’s work, and I couldn’t do anything else. When I was doing ‘Worzel Gummidge’ I could do some personal appearances at the weekend.

Q: There’s a wonderful Blue Peter clip from 1973 where you introduce the Whomobile, and it looks so tacky.

A: Oh, but I assure you it wasn’t tacky at all, it was superbly put together. Absolutely magnificent, it was the best-looking thing you’ve ever seen in your life. Everything worked, apart from the ejector seat, the computer worked, enough for photographically, when you pressed the button, all the lights flashed. It did nearly ninety miles an hour, it was very very fast. It was designed by a man named Peter Farris in Nottingham, and he did it in two mouldings, and it stopped the traffic wherever it went. We had to put it on a low-loader because people ran into it while they were looking at it.

Q: Patrick Troughton was obviously a friend.

A: Yes, we did ‘The Three Doctors’ and ‘The Five Doctors’. He was a magical man, he was a kook, he was strange, he wasn’t like other fellows. He was an ad-libber actor. I remember when he came in on my show, and he was a guest, and he was underneath the TARDIS and he was doing something, the cue was ‘I can’t find the circuit’, and he said ‘Oh where is the wretched thing?’, and I said ‘What?’, he said ‘Come on, I’ve given you the line’, I said ‘No you haven’t, he said ‘Well it’s near enough’ (laughs), I said ‘No it’s not, I’m Dr. Who now, I know you did that when you were in it’. He was wonderful, very free, I loved to watch him.

Q: Actors of your generation seemed to be very much larger than life figures.

A: Yes, I suppose they were, well certain types of actors. Roger Delgado was a brilliant actor, very hypnotic eyes. ‘Doctor Who’ is OTT, you can’t be serious, Daleks with sink plunger and egg whisks. It’s very hard work. I didn’t play Dr. Who right over the top, I played him straight.

Q: One of the newest stars of British television is ‘Worzel Gummidge’, isn’t he?

A: About eight or nine years ago I was doing a crime quiz show called ‘Whodunnit?’, which started in America, but you made a terrible mistake in America, you see our programmes, you say ‘That’s good’, you buy the programme, and instead of showing it to your audiences, you put your own people in them and you alter all the dialogue. We won’t let that happen with ‘Worzel Gummidge’. Worzel’s a mangled word, it’s a kind of turnip.

Q: What is the difference between British and American comedy?

A: I think it has heart. It’s not cold. We’re not one-liners, we’re situation comedy people. I can’t tell a one-liner, but I can tell a joke that lasts four and a half minutes.


Jon Pertwee (1989)

August 29, 2009

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?

A: Never!

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.

Jon Pertwee (1996)

July 30, 2009

This seems to be the last interview Jon Pertwee gave before his death in 1996.

You became well known for comedy. Was this a direction you had always wanted to go in?
No, not at all. I started off at the Royal Academy for Dramatic Arts and I was thrown out after being told I had absolutely no future in the theatre at all. Charles Lawton, the famous actor, said “I understand you were thrown out of RADA.” I said ‘yes’ and he said “you’re bound to do well, so was I”. When war broke out, I was in the Navy for six years and I finished up running the naval broadcasting section. Through that I met up with Eric Barker who was a top class, top rated comedian. He was in the Navy and he had a radio show called Medeterrainian Merry-Go-Round. I went along to check on the work he was doing because he was being a bit rude about my Lords of the Admiralty. I was sitting there and he wanted someone to shout something out from the audience – which I did. And he said “that was very good. I enjoyed that. Can you come back next week.” And I was with him then for five years.

You were well known for comedy before Doctor Who, why did you decide to play him so straight?
Well, the reason for that is that I had just come from comedy and I wanted to prove to myself and others that I could do things other than comedy. I had done eccentric comics in theatres and pictures, I did the hideous Carry On series. I did quite a few of those. I wanted to prove that I could be a successful actor by playing straight. I played it straight. Right down the middle for five years.

There seemed to be hints of a relationship between the Doctor and Jo. Was that something intentional or something that other people, namely me, have read into it?
That’s something your reading into it. Oh no, no, not Doctor Who. He fond in a grandfatherly way and you couldn’t help being fond of the companions, they were such pretty little people. There was no sign of romance. The only romance ever really shown is, I gather, in the new film with the new Doctor, Paul McGann. There was no sexual interest. It would be a rather unfortunate match if consider the fact that he’s over two hundred years old and she was a twenty three year-old girl.

As the series developped there was a shift away from Earth based stories towards more fantastical stories. Were you pleased by that change?
Yes, I wanted… but remember though that no matter what one says one’s input into Doctor Who was virtually nil. You didn’t have time for any input because I’d be working on a show that had been worked on by producers, set desginers, etc. for maybe five months before and so one couldn’t have any input into each show. The only chance you got of having any input into Doctor Who was for about ten minutes on the first day of rehearsals.

While you were playing The Doctor the relationships between the central characters became a lot less antagonistic? Was that something you brought to it or was that something the producers wanted to develop?
That was because I am a tremendous believer in teams. Anything that I have ever done successfully as always been as part of a team. From the director downwards we were a very tight team. The Navy Lark was rioteously successful because we were a very tight nit team. I, when I did Doctor Who, wanted to make him into a kind of science fiction James Bond because I’m an adventuresome twit. I like motorbikes and I used to race cars and I race speed boats – I liked incorporating this into the show and my producer Barry Letts mercifully let me. It was a good idea. It was a different approach to it.

While you were working on Doctor Who there were a couple of projects that you were involved in which never came to fruitition. There was a script that you wrote called The Spare Part People. Could you tell us something about that?
All I can tell you is keep your eyes open because it’s coming up again, I think, in book form. I’m not going to go into it too deeply because it’s always bad luck. It’s not dead by means. It was something that I wrote with another actor. I showed it to Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks and they said “oh, yeah, wow, great, terrific” and I said ‘are you pleased with it?’ And they said “yeah, but we’re not going to do it. It would be far too expensive.” I don’t think it would actually. I think they went off on the wrong tack with it. I think it will work as a book. I hope so. It’s being written by Jonathan Ray and I.

Apparently you decided against appearing as the Doctor in a film version while you were playing the Doctor on TV, why?
Never heard of it. God knows where you got that story. They write extroardinary things in these magazines. If you read about all the things that were said when Doctor Who was going to be made into a film in Britain from about ten years ago and all the people that were supposed to be playing it. I have been playing it four times – Doctor Who in this new film. A woman from The Evening News rang me up and said “congratulations.” I said ‘on what?’ “You’re playing Doctor Who in the new film” she said. And I said ‘am I? Thanks so much for telling me.’ And she said “don’t you know anything about it?” And I said ‘I’ve never heard of it. Actually the fellow from Monty Python, Eric Idle, is playing it’. She said “oh, no he’s not”. And I said ‘yes, he is. It was in the papers yesterday.’ And she said “I’ve rung him up today and he says he’s never heard of it.” You don’t want to believe what you read in the fanzines.

What did you enjoy most about Doctor Who?
I enjoyed the filming because it’s active and I like being out in the fresh air, but it’s very, very hard work. It’s an immensely difficult series to do. You have to spout pages of scientific claptrap which one didn’t understand at all. It was only the writers that knew what the hell the thing was all about. You couldn’t understand it unless you were a sci-fi buff and I wasnít – I was a working actor. I had a lot of fun in it. I liked the teams.

Why did you decide to leave?
I decided to leave because Roger had died, Barry Letts was leaving, Terrance Dicks was leaving. I thought it looked like the end of an era and I thought, well, I may as well go. Sean Sutton, the head of programmes, said “would you like to stay on and do another season?” And I said ‘yeah, yeah, I’ll do one more if you pay me a bit of extra money.’ He said “like what?” I told him and they said “we’re sorry to see you go.”

What attracted you to Worzel Gummidge?
Any actor would just jump at it. It was the most magical part. It ran the gamut of emotions from A to Z in twenty four minutes. I managed to add one little quality to it which made it take off better than it would of done. Doctor Who always travelled in his Tardis and never stayed in one place for too long and I tried to think how we could get around that with Worzel Gummidge and we decided on the changing heads. All he had to do if he wanted to be a singer was put on a singing head and if he wanted to be intelligent he would put on a thinking head and a handsome head for his love life. That worked like a dream.

The first episode of Worzel Gummidge seemed a lot more sinister than the later episodes…
You’re absolutely right. The first one is always the hardest for the writers and the actors and everybody. You don’t know, really, which way to go. We over did it to begin with – it was too scarey. Lots of children were screaming at that scene were the water melts the mud of his face and he comes off the post and comes lumbering down the field. That frightened the shit out hundreds of children, which was rather a mistake. From that moment on we softened up. When he came into contact with the two kids he sort of softened up and the whole thing became more gentle.

Do you think Worzel was a more interesting character than Doctor Who?
Vastly, vastly, because, as I say, he ran so many emotions. He was a very irascible chap and at the same time he was endearing. There’s nothing better than having somebody who’s villainous and wicked and evil and yet being loved. It was like Aunt Sally. There was Una Stubbs playing the worst bitch who’s ever been on television. She was horrid, she was rude, she was beastly to Worzel who loved her dearly. Yet the public adored Aunt Sally. This is the great secret – if you can do that you’ve cracked it. You could let Worzel do what he bloody well liked. When I went to big functions where there would be Hells Angels, because I was often went to motorcycle rallies, and I thought ‘oh my God. I’m going to have a lot of trouble here with a load of hairy, leather coated Hells Angels.’ I couldn’t have been more wrong. They where endearing in the extreme and they where saying “Hello, Worzel. How you doing, mate? How’s Aunt Sally, then? Give her one for me.” I realised, with amazement, they where watching the programme and they knew all the characters and so on.

Like Doctor Who, Worzel had an adult following. Do you think that was part of the reason it lasted so long?
Of course. It was a childrens’ story to begin with, as Doctor Who was. It was supposed to be for children, but they quickly realised that it was for the whole family. Sci-fi audiences are vast all over the world – that’s why it’s so popular in America, everywhere, Australia and so on. Worzel was originally purely a childrens’ show and we where on at a childrens’ time on a Saturday. Literally within a week or two we where a cult and we had enormous viewing figures and we realisied about sixty five percent of our viewers where adults. There they stayed and we got more and more and more. When I did personal appearances as Worzel we got an enormous turn out of people and it wasn’t just children.

Are there still plans to produce an animated version of Worzel Gummidge?
Yes, we have a TV company who are prepared to play it. All we are doing now is negociating to try and get the money to make it. It’s immensely expensive. Animation is very expensive and so we are now touting for the money to get the programme properly made. We’re about halfway through it and I think it will come up alright.

You where in Doctor Who – The Ghosts Of N Space on Radio 2 recently. Where you disappointed by the huge delay in transmitting it?
Of course, one is disappointed by the delay in transmitting anything at the BBC. That’s the extraordinary thing. If that was in America and they realised the success of it and the enormous number of listeners that they had for the first one… and the sales were enormous. The first one we did, The Paradise Of Death, that was in the top ten. They told me that when I flew back from Spain. There where all these reporters and they said “do you know your in the top ten?” I said ‘what with, I haven’t made a pop record.’ They said “this isn’t with a pop record. This is with your Doctor Who tape. It’s been so enormously successful, they’ve sold so many that it has had to go into the charts.” So you would think the BBC would grab that and say ‘right, we’re going to make three more this year.’ I mean it’s just sitting up and begging to be a series, but no, no, no. It took months to get The Paradise Of Death on the air. Then they cocked up the repeat and played episode four twice. Then it was very successful and they said “yes we’re going to do another one.” But it took them nine months before they even agreed to make it.

You’ve got the second part of your autobiography coming out in November…
Well, it’s not really. It was supposed to be. I wanted to do it that way, but it’s worked out as being a Doctor Who book interspersed with things about me and my life. This is because the man who is writing it with me is very orientated towards Doctor Who – he has written lots of other Doctor Who books – his name is David Howe. I’m correcting it at the moment. It is not written in the style that you would say was my style, it’s more a collaboration between an expert biographer and me.

Are you happy to still be remembered for Doctor Who and Worzel Gummidge?
Well, I can hardly be otherwise because I have never stopped working. I was doing things on television last month, I was doing things on radio last month, all of which are connected in a way because itís BBC science week. They think of science and they think of me.