Peter Fleming on Jon Pertwee

Hi everyone. Today marks the centenary of Doctor Who, Worzel Gummidge, The Navy Lark actor and all round eccentric legend Jon Pertwee. For the occasion, children’s TV pioneer Peter Fleming has kindly written to me about his own experiences with Jon (he stresses not in the capacity of stalker).

Hello there, my friends!

My first experience with the legendary Jon Pertwee was when I timidly approached the famous ‘man of a thousand voices’ in late 1968 to give life to the characters of an animated series I’d been commissioned to make. The money we had to offer was pitiful, so it wasn’t much surprise that Jon had to turn us down. As it was, The Many-Headed Millicent never came to fruition, and Jon was to become unavailable within months, when he was cast as none other than TV’s Dr Who!

That might have been the end of our association, were it not for a chance encounter in January 1970, when, in quite a distracted state of mind and something of a rush, I mistook Jon’s car for my own sprightly yellow roadster and drove it off a pier, not realising my error till quite some time after I’d fled the scene. Jon understandably wasn’t best pleased, and thought I must be pursuing some vendetta following Millicent’s premature decapitation. Naturally, I was determined to set the record straight, but he was now making every possible effort to avoid me. It seemed to me the only sensible thing to do was put just as much effort into following him around in order to apologise.

So began the saga of my chasing Jon as he went about his business while he sped away with increasing terror in his eyes over several years. He tried hiding and disguising himself, allowing his hair to become more and more bouffant as his time on Doctor Who progressed, but I could always spot him! Similarly, I would always learn his filming schedule and get to places ahead of him, often in disguise myself, so I could leap out and beg for his forgiveness, but I never could get a word in before he used his famous martial arts on me.

One notable incident, when I charged towards him dressed first as a milkman then a cleaning lady over the course of an afternoon, actually ended up cathartically channelled into 1973’s The Green Death, and provided a welcome bit of comic relief to the episode. (Incidentally, the filming of that particular Doctor Who story in south Wales was disrupted when he discovered I’d concealed myself in his convertible caravan a few weeks before he drove it out to the location!)

As this pattern of events continued, it would often give Jon ideas for chase sequences that he fed back to his own production office – for instance an occasion where I pursued him through the countryside by car, helicopter, motor boat and finally hovercraft, which was later copied note for note in 1974’s Planet of the Spiders. I was delighted to have inadvertently inspired so many gripping TV moments for Jon’s fans – and I enjoyed watching them myself, as I considered myself a true fan of the programme when he was at the helm. There were times in the early seventies when I was a little the worse for wear, but I always found comfort watching his heroism as our friend the Doctor, in that cosy era of the series.

In fact, my determination to tune in every single week during this time, coupled with the above encounters, led some to suppose I had developed some form of obsession with Jon – but that really wasn’t the case! Did worry me that such talk might get back to him, which made me even keener to set the record straight, but once he’d left Doctor Who I wasn’t able to find him anywhere. Found out recently that he actually spent the next few years hiding out as a scarecrow just to get rid of me, although he was eventually able to monetise this – happy to help, Jon!

Nonetheless, I still miss his presence on the screen, and in the wider world with his many generous public appearances – as I’m sure many of us do. Like lots of our shared child viewers at the time, I always felt somehow more… secure watching his Doctor Who. While he was there, with Katy Manning, Nicholas Courtney, Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks to help him, the programme blossomed beautifully into real appointment viewing for me. One of television’s great families, with one of its greatest ever showmen at its heart.

Best wishes,

Peter

The Jon Pertwee Files, presented by Sean Pertwee, is available to listen to now on BBC Sounds.

Peter Fleming: Have You Seen? is being performed around the country at the following times and places:

  • Fri 12th July: 2Northdown, King’s Cross (tickets available here)
  • Fri 19th July: The Southern Belle, Brighton (tickets not available yet)
  • Weds 24th July: Comedy Balloon, Manchester (tickets don’t exist)
  • Tues 30th July: XS Malarkey, Manchester (tickets available here)
  • 1st – 25th August (not 12th): Heroes @ Dragonfly, Edinburgh Fringe (tickets available here)

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