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Jon Pertwee - A Tribute

By Andrew Poulsen

My personal memories of Jon Pertwee stem from my experiences of WhoCon 1990, of which I was on the organising committee. In fact, the presence of Jon was the primary reason WhoCon 1990 even occurred. We had been planning to run a convention in 1991, and then heard that the Christchurch City Council had secured Jon to judge the scarecrow contest of the World Youth Festival. Seeing this as an opportunity far too good to pass up, we contacted the Council and Jon's agent expressing a desire to hold a Doctor Who convention during his time in Christchurch. Amazingly enough, everyone agreed, and several months later the convention committee found itself enjoying a three hour breakfast at the Park Royal with Jon a couple of days before the con. Jon is the perfect gentleman. Incredibly polite, charming and debonair, he charmed the lot of us (even the ones that weren't terribly into Doctor Who!) with stories of his time on the series, his fellow cast and crew, his wife and family and his love for New Zealand. Unfortunately now those memories have dulled (six years flies by so quickly!), and now he's left us for good.

I can think of several people who will forever have a part of Jon Pertwee etched in their hearts (or on their legs!)... the Dalek owner who got a special couple of minutes with Jon talking about the problems of stairs... Allan Fagan, the tattooed fan that had Jon autograph his leg! ... Josh Preston who sold Jon's merchandise, and got to keep some special bits as a reward... the couple of people that were told off by Jon during his speech at WhoCon ('You at the back! Make up your mind... in or out!')... plus the hoards that queued for autographs and a quick word with one of science fiction's favourite Doctors. He was a person that you felt good to be around... entertainer extraordinaire... gentleman supreme... I wish him well, long may he Rest In Peace.

By Peter Adamson

[Third Doctor]

Jon Pertwee wasn't and still isn't my favourite Doctor, but it is with him that the real story of my infatuation with Doctor Who began. I must have been fifteen or so; it was the mid-eighties and the nation was in the early stages of what must surely now be regarded as 'The Golden Age of Doctor Who' on TVNZ. I'd seen a bit of the previous Doctor - mainly snatches of The Mind Robber and perhaps The Krotons, but they were in black and white, and fickle as I was, it was enough to suggest to me that what I was watching was inferior product. By the time Spearhead from Space rolled around, this time in colour, things were better, but still I wasn't a Pertwee watcher for very long. I held associations of him with Worzel Gummidge - to me he was as likely a Time Lord as Bruce Forsyth (shudder) or Roger Moore. An old man trying to be young, and failing. I actually didn't begin to watch again 'til Planet of the Daleks. Silly special effects again (I can still recall my churlish reaction to the headlight 'eyes' of the native creatures of Spiridon), but I sat through them, giant maggots, jerky dinosaurs and finally the multi-vehicular chase of Planet of the Spiders, waiting out Pertwee to see in the new Doctor I knew would be the most worth seeing aside from Peter Davison's: Tom Baker. To be honest, I was disappointed there too, but the more I'd watched the more forgiving I became, and so it's fair to say that Pertwee, though not the most fondly remembered, is the first Doctor I followed, and stuck with, as a fan. I suppose this means that Pertwee was my 'first' in more than one instance. Not my first regeneration scene - that was Baker into Davison a few years earlier, but certainly my first Ice Warriors (The Monster of Peladon) and Sontarans (The Time Warrior). Of course their significance was almost lost on me, but I remember Linx having impressed me, and I'd watched that episode just to see Sarah Jane in! Of all the Doctors, I think that Pertwee was the most alike both in and out of character - I can't envisage Whodunnit without picturing him in his smoking jacket, though I don't remember if he actually wore it or not. Every convention shot, every guest appearance, from Noel's House Party to... well, whoever else would have him it seemed, would feature Pertwee and The Cape; as inseparable from the man as the well-worn anecdotes. As much as I was unwilling to admit it, the old bugger had in his own way ingrained his Doctor, his personality, as one. So much so that by the time he made his return in The Five Doctors I considered it a welcome return to a beloved memory. Fickle, callow youth that I was...

I remember Pertwee's Doctor as being the hero of action, the establishment man (though in his day he was anything but - temporal impotence being his reason to stay with UNIT), the know-it-all, the arrogant Renaissance man (it's somehow fitting in my mind that he should have yet another 'cameo' in Timelash, a story that belongs to perhaps his next closest incarnation resembling his personality), and the father figure - especially to Jo. To me the most significant image from The Green Death is of Bessie and the Doctor speeding sadly away over the Welsh hills at the story's end, leaving another well loved and endured companion to memory alone. Now it's our turn. I find it hard to accept that there are fans out there who can as readily rave over their favourite version of the Doctor as force themselves to deny their least liked. Not me. Not our Jon. He wasn't my favourite, but he was as good as the rest. Just Dandy.

By Graham Howard

I was saddened, and because of its suddenness, a little surprised, to hear of Jon Pertwee's death on 21 May. Although I have dim memories of a few Troughton stories, Jon Pertwee is the first Doctor for whom I have clear childhood memories, and I guess that is a contributing factor to the nostalgic affection I have for this particular era. It was also during the Third Doctor's reign (which, in typical fashion for us in New Zealand occurred years later than in the UK) that my interest in the programme really took off. Considering the small proportion of Jon's stories that actually screened here in the 1970s, perhaps this is a little surprising. However, the Target novelisations helped to bridge the gap, and I still remember the strong sense of 'magic' when reading any of the novelisations from Jon's era, and eagerly seeking out each new offering. In many ways it is a great pity that we had to wait until 1985 before we had a chance to finally see Jon in action in a great many of his stories, and I can't help thinking we were rather hard done by! Whatever one thinks of the man himself or his stories today, one thing is certain: during his time with the programme it was inconceivable to consider anyone else in the role. In addition, his charismatic portrayal was in no small way responsible boosting the programme's popularity from the lull experienced during the Sixth Season.

WhoCon 1990 in Christchurch was my first and only opportunity to meet Jon Pertwee in the flesh. (I had actually arranged to be present at some location filming for his Worzel Gummidge DownUnder series, but due to a last minute change to the filming schedule I missed out). Jon was in Christchurch for a scarecrow judging contest, as I recall, and the organisers timed the convention deliberately to coincide with the visit. Because of the small size of the fee the organisers were able to offer, compared to his usual asking price, Jon was only going to be present for a brief time after his address, but in the end he stayed a few hours, and was happy to sign autographs and pose for photographs (without a fee!). I suspect he was moved by the level of affection of the attendees, but I would also like to think he possibly realised that most Doctor Who fans in this country would never get another chance to meet him. Jon was a consummate raconteur with a great talent for vocal mimicry, and not having heard any of his stories before, myself and the other attendees were transfixed during his address. I know that in recent years it became somewhat fashionable - perhaps justifiably - to view his relationship with fan activities with some cynicism, but during WhoCon all that mattered was that here in New Zealand we were listening to one of Doctor Who's most fondly remembered actors - and a Doctor no less!

Unlike Patrick Troughton's death, it is pleasing that both the BBC and ITV news marked his passing with items in their bulletins, and in a nice touch, that the new movie was screened in Britain in memory of Jon. He was one of the truly great British performers.

By Nigel Windsor

Jon Pertwee is the man that will be remembered for being a true 'cult hero'. In Doctor Who he was the incarnation that helped the series transform from a black and white serial into a modern, colour, action packed series of the seventies. He gave much of his time to attending conventions when he left the series and I personally remember a time when I lived in England when he agreed to take part in an interview for hospital radio which my friend was involved in.

However, I personally felt Jon was more of a comedy actor rather than a dramatic one and I found his performance in Worzel Gummidge much more enjoyable, and more suited to his quirky, eccentric and unique acting talents.

By Jon Preddle

I heard of Jon's death at work I was speaking with a customer on the telephone and they suddenly changed the conversation and said, 'Oh, did you know that Doctor Who is dead?' I was more surprised by the fact that this perfect stranger knew I was a Doctor Who fan than that Pertwee had died, and so it took a while for what they had said to fully sink in.

The Third Doctor's stories came and went on New Zealand television in the space of a few years in the mid-1970s without making much of an impression on me. It was only later through the Target novelisations that I became familiar with this period of Doctor Who, and it wasn't until much later again through video and the 1985 repeats on TV that I became familiar with the actual characterisation of the Third Doctor. But I have to confess that I never particularly liked this persona. I always thought he was rude and arrogant and lacked a sense of humour.

The same, however, cannot be said about Jon Pertwee. A few years ago I read Jon's 1984 autobiography, Moon Boots and Dinner Suits, a very humorous account of his childhood, his experiences during World War II and his early days as an actor and comedian. The book ended at this point in his life, with Jon promising to continue the Doctor Who story later. Through this single book, one got to know more about Jon than any interview in a Doctor Who fanzine ever could. It is rather sad that he died whilst he was in the midst of completing his promised follow-up. I suppose in a way we can be thankful that he didn't pass on before he had the chance to put pen to paper. I look forward to reading the book, which is due for publication later this year.

Pertwee was sometimes openly resentful that, despite a long career in the entertainment industry, people were only ever interested in the five year period he worked on Doctor Who. Nevertheless Jon was always a keen supporter of Doctor Who fandom (he was honorary president of the Doctor Who Appreciation Society), and he readily attended many conventions, and usually always in his Doctor's costume. It was at such a fan event that I met Jon for the first and only time, at the 30th Anniversary celebration PanoptiCon in London in 1993. I was helping the organisers out with the press call being set up on the Friday afternoon, and took on the role of a Cyberman for the official photo sessions. Jon and Katy Manning posed with a Dalek while we Cybermen wandered around in the background. It was later in our dressing room that I got to speak with Jon but he seemed more interested in relating several of his stock and well-worn stories from his time on the series. Despite my knowing a particular anecdote well (the one about the drowning Sea Devils), Jon still made me laugh when he illustrated the fate of the struggling stuntmen using comedic voices and pulled faces.

This was a moment I will never forget.

By Felicity Scoones

I last saw Jon Pertwee when he appeared at Nexus'95, a Star Trek convention held in Bristol, one weekend in August last year. He gave us his two hour anecdotal life history, with particular emphasis on Doctor Who ('I am Doctor Who', no one corrected him on the appellation) and the performance was very polished. Much of what he said I had heard him say at WhoCon in Christchurch five years earlier, but it was his delivery as much as the content of his stories that made him so entertaining.

Although no explanation was offered as to why Pertwee was a guest at a Star Trek convention, the convention attendees adored him; they also seemed to feel a sense of ownership over him, which contrasted with their slightly more distant attitude to the other guest, John de Lancie, who played Q on Star Trek: The Next Generation. This might have been because Doctor Who is quintessentially English, and so were the majority of the attendees or it might have been because Jon Pertwee always showed that he valued his fans. This was evident at WhoCon when he made sure that the convention attendees had obtained all the autographs and photographs they wanted before he gave any of his attention to the press.

However incongruous with the theme of the convention Jon Pertwee was a wonderful addition to the weekend and I am glad I was there to see him.

[Jon Pertwee]
Jon Pertwee, the well-known Star Trek actor, enthralls Trekkies in Bristol (photograph: Simon Trick)

This item appeared in TSV 48 (August 1996).