I was standing in the recreation room of the nursing home in which I was working at the time, on the 20th May 1996. The television was on, and the afternoon news has just started. As I passed the tea and coffee around to the residents, news broke that Jon Pertwee had, sadly, passed away at the age of 76.
(This post has since been updated, to include the thoughts of Katy Manning, who was generous enough to write a short comment for inclusion. If you’ve already read this piece, you can skip directly to Katy’s comments HERE).
Some three years earlier, I was privileged enough to see him perform his autobiographical stage show, in which he recounted tales of his life, from his time at school, including Sherborne School, which is not too far from my home town, to his time in the Royal Navy. He talked extensively about his acting career, from his much acclaimed radio show “The Navy Lark” to television appearances, most notably Worzel Gummidge (complete with voices!) and of course his time as Doctor Who’s eponymous Time Lord, The Doctor, a role he played from 1970 to 1974.
Jon Pertwee was born on July 7th 1919 in Chelsea, London, England, the son of the famous playwright and actor Roland Pertwee, and stage Actress Avice Scholtz. His parents separated when he was young and he was raised by his paternal grandmother. Jon’s elder brother Michael Pertwee became a film and stage writer,
Jon Pertwee was the first cousin of Bill Pertwee (who also became an actor); the actor Henry Ainley was a close friend of Jon’s father Roland and was also Jon Pertwee's godfather and Ainley's son Anthony appeared alongside Pertwee in the 1983 Doctor Who anniversary story The Five Doctors playing the role of the Master.
Jon Pertwee was married twice, he married his first wife actress Jean Marsh in 1955 (Marsh would later go on to make two guest appearances in Doctor Who), they divorced in 1960. He married his second wife Ingeborg Rhoesa, to whom he remained married until his death in 1996. The marriage produced two children together, Sean and Dariel (both of whom followed their father in to the acting profession). Aside from his most notable performances in Doctor Who and Worzel Gummidge, Pertwee also appeared in many other TV programmes including Ivanhoe, The Jon Pertwee Show, The Avengers, Beggar My Neighbour, Blue Peter, Whose Baby?, 3-2-1 and Noel's House Party, Jon Pertwee was also a storyteller on 10 episodes of Jackanory (1966-67) and presented the murder mystery game show Whodunnit? from 1974-1978.
Jon Pertwee also appeared in numerous films including Murder At The Windmill (1949), Nearly A Nasty Accident (1961), Carry On Cleo (1964), Runaway Railway (1965), Carry On Cowboy (1965), Carry On Screaming (1966), Up In The Air (1969), The House That Dripped Blood (1971), One Of Our Dinosaurs Is Missing (1975), The Boys In Blue (1983) and Carry On Columbus (1992).
Jon Pertwee auditioned for and was accepted by the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) in 1936, although he was later expelled after refusing to play a Greek wind during one of the lessons, believing it to be a waste of both his time and his father's hard earned money.
Jon Pertwee was an officer in the Royal Navy during the Second World War as a crew member of HMS Hood and was transferred off the ship shortly before it was sunk by the Bismarck, among various postings Pertwee worked briefly in Naval Intelligence at Westminster alongside future Prime Minister Jim Callaghan, it was during his time in the Navy that Jon woke up one morning after a drunken night out while in port to find a tattoo on his right arm, which was occasionally seen during his time in Doctor Who.
Jon Pertwee acted on Radio for many years, from 1959 to 1977. He had a long running role as the conniving Chief Petty Officer Pertwee in The Navy Lark, with his wartime experiences serving him well when he joined BBC armed forces Radio Comedy Mediterranean Merry-Go-Round in December 1945, Navy spin-off Waterlogged Spa followed in 1948 - among the many characters Pertwee played was the Postman, who earned his own Radio series Puffney Post Office in 1950, The Navy Lark was arguably Pertwee's greatest Radio success,
In the 1990's Pertwee reprised the role of the Doctor with two Doctor Who audio productions for BBC Radio; The Paradise of Death (1993) and The Ghosts of N-Space (1996).
Jon Pertwee was also a successful stage performer and appeared in many productions including A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and There's a Girl in My Soup, Jon Pertwee also played Worzel Gummidge and Doctor Who (in Doctor Who - The Ultimate Adventure in 1989) on stage.
Jon Pertwee made several singles and LP's, in 1972. Whilst in the role of the Doctor, he released a vocal version of the Doctor Who theme music entitled Who is the Doctor. In 1976 he recorded a promotional flexi-disc for Heinz called The Noodle Doodle Man, and in 1980 he released the single Worzel's Song which reached No 33 in the UK charts, Jon Pertwee also made other Worzel Gummidge singles and an album entitled Worzel Gummidge Sings. A further album was also released in 1981 featuring 14 tracks which appeared in the musical stage production of Worzel Gummidge, with the songs performed in character by original cast members - Jon Pertwee, Una Stubbs and Geoffrey Bayldon, Jon Pertwee also contributed to and appeared on several other LP's.
Whilst I grew up with Tom Baker as “my Doctor”, my earliest memory of Doctor Who was Pertwee, and I distinctly recall the much loved Sarah Jane Smith with a giant spider on her back! It is, therefore, perhaps understandable, that his era is my personal favourite. Much as I adore Tom Baker, there is something about the Pertwee era. Confining the Doctor to earth for a significant portion of his tenure was always going to be a risk, however a stellar cast made it succeed, and excel. It gave us, all too briefly, the wonderful Liz Shaw, played by Caroline John, saw the return of UNIT, and especially the irrepressible Nicholas Courtney.
His era gave us the wonderful, slightly ditzy, and incredibly likeable companion, Jo Grant, and introduced one of the greatest arch nemesis’ the Doctor would ever face, played to absolute perfection by Roger Delgado. The combination of Pertwee, UNIT, The Master and Jo proved to be hugely popular, and has become the most viewed of my Doctor Who DVD collection.
Whilst most commonly associated with the Fourth Doctor, it is also worth remembering that The Third Doctor introduced us to the irreplaceable Sarah Jane Smith. Her pairing with Pertwee while short, was nothing short of superb.
The Pertwee era produced some exceptional stories; Ambassadors of Death is a personal favourite, closely followed by Invasion of the Dinosaurs. After all, who couldn’t love a story with Sarah, dinosaurs, a corrupt UNIT officer and a fake spaceship. Not to mention the Doctor attacking a Pterodactyl with a broom! The Green Death saw the Doctor donning numerous disguises, and afforded Pertwee the opportunity to use that wonderful, distinctive voice to great effect, both as a milkman and a maid.
As mentioned before, I saw Mr Pertwee perform his wonderful stage show, however, the highlight was the “meet and greet” afterward, at which I was fortunate, and privileged enough to have met him and to get an autographed photograph. It hangs on my wall to this day, and is one of my most treasured possessions.
I asked his companion and friend, Katy Manning, if she would do me the honour of sharing her thoughts on Jon. She very graciously did so, and I'm thrilled and humbled to add her thoughts to this post, with my deepest thanks to Katy, who has doubtless been overwhelmed with messages, tweets and requests. That she took the time to send her thoughts to me personally is something I shall forever treasure.
“Jon Pertwee was not only my leading man he was also my friend & mentor . He taught me so much about our shared passion of acting past & present . I shall keep those memories of our laughter friendship & adventure together forever with a big smile in my heart xxx”
Katy Manning (24-05-2016)
Jon was unique. A wonderful character actor, a superb Doctor, and an intensely likeable man. He will be remembered with fondness and affection, not only by me, but by the countless lives he touched. On this, the 20th anniversary of his death, I dedicate this post to him. For the smiles, the laughs, the adventures; I thank you. We all thank you. And above all, we love and miss you. Our Doctor. Our scarecrow. Our Jon…
John Devon Roland "Jon" Pertwee (7 July 1919 – 20 May 1996)