Today we mark 100 years since the birth of Jon Pertwee.
One of the greatest stars of Doctor Who and one of programmes greatest ambassadors, Jon Pertwee is remembered with as much affection today as he was when he hung up his velvet jacket and shrugged off the character of the Third Doctor at the end of his tenure in 1974. The fact that over forty-five years later the character lives on, remembered in Comic strips and Audio Books, on Blu-ray releases and in fan fiction, is a great tribute to the man who brought the incarnation to life.
Jon Pertwee was born in Chelsea in London on the 7th July 1919, less than a year after the end of the first world war. His destiny was probably fixed from birth, being born into a family immersed in show business. His father was the screenwriter and actor Roland Pertwee. His mother Avice Scholt, left when Pertwee was very young.
A natural rebel, the young Pertwee railed against what he saw as pointless rules and was expelled from several well-known schools. Perhaps the most notorious expulsion was from RADA, the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. His crime, refusing to play a Greek "wind" during one of the lessons, feeling it was a waste of both his time and his father's money.
Pertwee was the age to fall right into the middle of the Second World War, serving for six years in the Royal Navy. He had a narrow escape when transferred off the HMS Hood shortly before it was sunk by the German Navy in 1941. A spell in naval intelligence saw him working with future James Bond creator Ian Fleming.
Pertwee was a great mimic and used his experiences in the war to create numerous characters when he drifted into Radio after the war. By 1948 he was appearing at theatres billed as the Most Versatile Voice in Radio. He even developed his own catchphrases. He played the old Postman from Puffney Post Office declaring "It doesn't matter what you do, as long as you tears them up". Perhaps his most memorable character was the conniving Chief Petty Officer Pertwee in The Navy Lark.
Primarily known as a vocal artist, Pertwee had small roles in a number of films, including a couple of Carry Ons. In 1953, he played Charlie Sterling in Will Any Gentleman...? alongside future Doctor Who actor William Hartnell. A main role in television eluded him until he was offered the lead role of George Mannering in the new comedy Dad's Army. It was a role he turned down. Just as well as his biggest success was just around the corner.
In 1969 it was announced that Patrick Troughton was leaving Doctor Who and Pertwee asked his agent to apply for the role. To the agent's surprise, it was revealed that Pertwee was already on the shortlist and the producer, Derrick Sherwin's second choice for the role. The first choice was Ron Moody, who turned it down. The role belonged to Pertwee.
Having won the role that would define him Pertwee now had to decide how to play The Doctor. BBC Head of Drama Shaun Sutton advised him to play the role as himself. Trouble was he spent his life hiding behind invented characters and had no idea who the real Jon Pertwee was.
The character Pertwee eventually found gripped the imagination of the nation. When Troughton left the show it was was in danger of cancellation. Pertwee and team had one season to prove their worth and prove it they did.
A new Producer Barry Letts took over and with Terrance Dicks looking after the storylines one of the greatest creative teams on the series took form. 1971 saw Katy Manning taking on the role of the assistant Jo Grant and when Roger Delgado appeared as the Master, the team was complete. Three seasons of UNIT adventures unfolded. As success grew Pertwee became a great ambassador for the series, travelling the country making personal appearances and appearing on programmes such as Disney Time.
The death of Delgado in a road accident in Turkey slammed reality into the fictional world and when several members of the team decided their time on the series was up, Pertwee concurred. He did one more season, this time teamed up with new companion Elisabeth Sladen and in June 1974 his Doctor breathed his last. The era of Pertwee was over, the era of Baker had begun.
Jon Pertwee had completed five seasons as The Doctor, more than the two previous inhabitants of the role. He recorded 129 episodes of the series, which, if watched back to back, would take 53 hours 26 minutes to complete. It was a role he would always be linked to and a role he returned to when he appeared as the Third Doctor in the 20th Anniversary story as well as the later stage show.
Pertwee would go on to great success in another Children's role, that of the scarecrow Worzel Gummidge, based on the books written by Barbara Euphan Todd. He hosted the murder-mystery game show Whodunnit? and became a regular on such celebrity hangouts as Blankety Blank and Celebrity Squares.
Jon Pertwee was a great convention goer, revelling in the adulation he engendered. He became the first honorary president of the Doctor Who Appreciation Society. Perhaps it was fitting that he was attending a convention when he suffered a heart attack, dying in his sleep at the age of 76. His death came a week before the UK broadcast of the 1996 Doctor Who television film, which fittingly featured a dedication to the actor at its end. He was survived by his wife Ingeborg Rhoesa, and two children Sean and Dariel.
Jon Pertwee's death was a shock for fans around the world. The great man had gone, but his legacy lived on.