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Jon Pertwee

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Jon Pertwee

Jon Pertwee
Jon Pertwee at a Doctor Who Convention in Glasgow, in March 1996
Born John Devon Roland Pertwee
(1919-07-07)7 July 1919
Chelsea, London
Died 20 May 1996(1996-05-20) (aged 76)
Sherman, Connecticut
Cause of death
Heart attack
Years active 1938–1996
Notable work(s) Doctor Who (1970–1974)
Worzel Gummidge (1979–1981, 1987–1989)
Spouse(s) Jean Marsh (1955–1960) (divorced)
Ingeborg Rhoesa (b.1935) (1960–1996; his death)
Children Dariel Pertwee (born 1961)
Sean Pertwee (born 1964)

John Devon Roland "Jon" Pertwee (7 July 1919[1] – 20 May 1996) was an English actor, entertainer and cabaret performer.

Pertwee spent 18 years (1959–1977) playing Chief Petty Officer Pertwee in The Navy Lark on BBC Radio, and also starred as the Third Doctor in the science-fiction series Doctor Who from 1970 to 1974, and as the title character in the series Worzel Gummidge from 1979 to 1981.

As an actor, Pertwee appeared in many comedy roles and was noted for his "rubbery features and ability to affect silly voices".[2] Earlier in his career, Pertwee had worked as a vaudeville comedian, performed at the Glasgow Empire Theatre and shared a bill with Max Wall and Jimmy James.[3] Towards the end of his life, he entertained audiences with a one-man show called Who Is Jon Pertwee?.[4]


Early life

Born in Dad's Army. The actor Henry Ainley, a close friend of his father, was his godfather, and Ainley's son Anthony appeared as "The Master," a renegade Time Lord who was "The Doctor's" greatest enemy, versus Pertwee in the 1983 Doctor Who anniversary story The Five Doctors.


Pertwee was educated at Frensham Heights School, an independent school in Rowledge, near Farnham in Surrey, at Sherborne School in Sherborne in Dorset, and at some other schools from which he was expelled. After school, he went to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), from which he was also expelled after he refused to play a Greek "wind" during one of the lessons, feeling it was a waste of both his time and his father's money. He was also accused of writing graffiti about the tutors on the lavatory walls.[8]

Early career

Pertwee was an officer in the Royal Navy, spending some time attached to the highly-secretive Naval Intelligence Division during the Second World War, working alongside future James Bond author Ian Fleming, and reporting directly to Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, and Deputy Prime Minister, Clement Attlee. In an interview conducted in 1994 (but not published until 2013), he said, "I did all sorts. Teaching commandos how to use escapology equipment, compasses in brass buttons, secret maps in white cotton handkerchiefs, pipes you could smoke that also fired a .22 bullet. All sorts of incredible things."[9] He was a crew member of HMS Hood and was transferred off the ship for officer training shortly before she was sunk by the German battleship Bismarck, losing all but three men. During his time in the Navy, Pertwee woke up one morning after a drunken night out while in port to find a tattoo of a cobra on his right arm.

After the war, he made a name for himself as a comedy actor on radio in Waterlogged Spa, alongside Eric Barker and Puffney Post Office in which he played a hapless old postman with the catch-phrase "It doesn't matter what you do, as long as you tears them up." From 1959 to 1977, he had a long-running role as the conniving Chief Petty Officer Pertwee in The Navy Lark on BBC Radio. He was known as a Danny Kaye look-alike, and his impersonation of Kaye can be seen in the film Murder at the Windmill (1949).[10]

In 1953, he played Charlie Sterling in Will Any Gentleman...?. Future Doctor Who actor William Hartnell was also in the film; he played Inspector Martin.

On stage, he played the part of Lycus in the 1963 London production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum with Frankie Howerd and appeared in the smaller role of Crassus in the 1966 film version. He appeared as Sidney Tait in the comedy film Ladies Who Do (1963). In 1966, Pertwee starred alongside Donald Sinden in the original West End production of the long-running comedy There's a Girl in My Soup and also appeared in four Carry On films: Carry On Cleo (1964, as the soothsayer), Carry On Screaming (1966, as Dr. Fettle), Carry On Cowboy (1965, as Sheriff Earp) and Carry On Columbus (1992, as the Duke of Costa Brava). On television, he started off with small parts in children's shows featuring Richard Hearne's Mr Pastry character. Later he made an appearance in The Avengers episode "From Venus with Love" as Brigadier Whitehead, and in the 1970s, he guest-starred as a vicar in The Goodies' episode "Wacky Wales".

He had one of his most memorable film roles in the Amicus horror compendium The House That Dripped Blood (1971). Filming in the summer of 1970, between his first and second Doctor Who seasons, Pertwee played the lead in the last segment of the film as Paul Henderson, a deliciously arrogant horror film star who meets his quasi-comedic doom thanks to a genuine vampire cloak.

He was married twice. His first marriage was in 1955, to [12] Together they had two children, both of whom were to become actors: a daughter, Dariel, in 1961, and a son, Sean, in 1964.

Doctor Who (1970–1974)

In 1969, Pertwee was selected by producers Peter Bryant and Derrick Sherwin to take over as the Doctor from Patrick Troughton in the television series Doctor Who. Pertwee had asked his agent to apply for the role for him and was surprised to find he was already on the shortlist. He was the second choice of the producer; Ron Moody was the first but was unavailable.[13] In a departure from the Doctor's first two incarnations, Pertwee played the character as an active crusader with a penchant for action and fancy clothes, even while the character was exiled on Earth and serving with UNIT. He played the Doctor for five seasons from early 1970 to mid-1974, a longer stint than either of his predecessors in the role, William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton, although he appeared in fewer episodes than Hartnell, as the BBC relaxed its shooting schedule from 40+ episodes a season to 25-26.

In early 1974, Pertwee announced he would step down as the Doctor in order to resume his stage career in The Bedwinner, also citing typecasting in the role as the reason for leaving, though later he would say that the catalyst for his departure was the death of his good friend and co-star Roger Delgado (The Master) and the departures of co-star Katy Manning and producer Barry Letts. His last full-time appearance in the series was in the story Planet of the Spiders in June 1974, and Tom Baker replaced him in the role. Pertwee's tenure in Doctor Who has been praised by The Daily Telegraph critic Dr. Tim Stanley as "the high point of the programme as a serious piece of science-fiction".[2]

Pertwee later reprised the role in the 20th anniversary story The Five Doctors and the Children in Need story Dimensions In Time, in two radio adventures and on stage in Doctor Who – The Ultimate Adventure. On 14 April 1971, Pertwee was the subject of Thames Television's This Is Your Life.

Worzel Gummidge

After a stint between 1974 and 1978 as the host of the Thames Television murder-mystery game show Whodunnit?, Pertwee took the starring role in Worzel Gummidge, based on the books written by Barbara Euphan Todd. First aired in 1979 on ITV, the series saw Pertwee as a scarecrow, as well as utilising several comedic voices. The show was an immediate hit and ran on the channel until 1981. Keen to continue beyond this, Pertwee campaigned for the series and it was picked up by a New Zealand TV network in 1987. Worzel Gummidge Down Under aired for the next two years and was screened in the UK on Channel 4. In 1995, Pertwee played the role one last time in a one-off special for ITV, which celebrated 40 years of the channel. Pertwee played the title character in Worzel Gummidge, the musical, book and lyrics by Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall, music by Denis King, which opened at London’s Cambridge Theatre in December 1982, co-starring Una Stubbs and Geoffrey Bayldon. Pertwee also recorded an album, Worzel Gummidge Sings, as well as a Christmas single.

Other roles

In 1976, Pertwee voiced and appeared in the television advertisement which promoted the Green Cross Code by use of the mnemonic "SPLINK". Also in 1976, Pertwee starred with Australian actress Julie Anthony in a West End production of the musical IRENE (originally 1919, revived Broadway 1973), playing the camp fashion-designer "Madame Lucy" (originally Liam O'Dougherty). The production opened at the Adelphi Theatre, London and enjoyed a long run of over 900 performances: Pertwee features on the cast recording album, produced by Norman Newell for EMI Records (EMC3139). He also voiced the character of "Spotty" in the 1980s cartoon series SuperTed and in 1985 he starred in Do You Know The Milkyway?, a television adaptation of Karl Wittlinger's stage play in which he played Dr. Neuross and another nine characters. In 1995 Pertwee also had the key voice of Death and other voice characterisations in the PC and PlayStation renditions of "Discworld". Also in 1995, Jon Pertwee played General Von Kramer in the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles episode "Attack of the Hawkmen". In 1975 he played a memorable role of 'The Colonel' in the children's film One of Our Dinosaurs is Missing .

Later life

He returned to the role of the Doctor in the 1983 20th anniversary television special The Five Doctors and in the 1993 charity special Dimensions in Time for Children in Need. He also portrayed the Doctor in the stage play Doctor Who – The Ultimate Adventure which toured theatres in the United Kingdom from March to June 1989. During the 1990s, he made a guest appearance in the "Lords and Ladies" episode of the BBC Radio 4 comedy series Harry Hill's Fruit Corner, playing a Time Lord and also spoofed the role in the Radio 4 comedy The Skivers. He also presented the Doctor Who video releases The Troughton Years (showcasing selected surviving episodes of otherwise wiped stories) and The Pertwee Years (a look back at his time on the show, with his three selected episodes) in the early 1990s.

In 1993, Pertwee was featured in the unofficial 30th anniversary VHS release of Doctor Who entitled 30 Years of Time Travel and Beyond. When asked in an interview for this documentary if the show should be brought back he simply replied with 'No... no', but believed if it did come back a lot more money would need to be spent on the series along with a new production team. Pertwee would continue to act in films and television as well as make appearances worldwide in support of Doctor Who. Ultimately, Pertwee was successful in seeing the Third Doctor return to the airwaves with two audio productions for BBC Radio, The Paradise of Death and The Ghosts of N-Space.

In April 1995, he appeared in Devious, an amateur video drama set between the second Doctor's trial at the end of The War Games and before the start of Spearhead From Space, which shows an interim (between second and third) Doctor played by Tony Garner being told he was "never meant to be the Doctor" and that the third will complete him. Pertwee's scenes in that role are the only pieces of the video that have been released (on the DVD of The War Games).

Pertwee's final film role was in a short film, Cloud Cuckoo for Scottish Screen, released on 18 June 1994. His last formal television appearance was on Cilla's Surprise, Surprise, broadcast on 21 April 1996. At the date of his death, Pertwee was regularly being seen at the tail end of an enigmatic UK TV commercial for mobile phone operator Vodafone: dressed somewhat in his flamboyant 'Doctor' manner, his character walked wordlessly across an alleyway in sight of a Liverpool landmark, and entered a garage evidently containing some kind of 'time machine'.

Death and legacy

Pertwee continued on the Doctor Who convention circuit, and with his voice and television acting, until his death from a heart attack in Connecticut on 20 May 1996, at the age of 76. Some reports place the location of his death in New York. His immediate successor in the starring role of Doctor Who, Tom Baker, paid tribute, saying: "I am very sorry to hear the news. I was a great admirer of such a stylish actor."[14] Another of his successors in the role, Colin Baker, said: "He was a man of such presence and stature. I can't believe he has gone - it is a great shock. Of all of the interpretations of the Doctors his was the most straight in terms of avoiding comedy."[14] His body was cremated at Putney Vale Crematorium with a toy Worzel Gummidge affixed to the coffin, following the instructions in his will.[15][16]

His death was just 6 days after the 14 May 1996 American broadcast of the Doctor Who television film, which used in its opening credits a logo based on the one from his era of the television series. The BBC broadcast of this television film, on 27 May 1996, featured a dedication to Pertwee at its end.

His last association with the series was posthumous. With the approval of his widow, Ingeborg, his voice was utilised as part of the plot of the Big Finish Productions' 40th Anniversary Doctor Who audio drama, Zagreus, appearing as messages from the Doctor's TARDIS as it attempted to help the currently corrupted Eighth Doctor (voiced by Paul McGann). Pertwee's voice was culled from the fan-produced Doctor Who film Devious, portions of which were recorded just prior to his death.

Pertwee wrote two autobiographies: Moon Boots and Dinner Suits (published in 1984), which primarily covers his life and career prior to Doctor Who, and the posthumously published Doctor Who: I Am the Doctor – Jon Pertwee’s Final Memoir, which was worked on from April 1995 until 8 May 1996 (published in November 1996 by Virgin Publishing Ltd. under the Doctor Who Books imprint and co-written with David J. Howe), which covered his life during and after the series. In 2000, Jon Pertwee: The Biography by Bernard Bale (ISBN 0-233-99831-4) was published by André Deutsch, and included a few chapters by Pertwee's widow Ingeborg.

Archival footage of Pertwee has been utilized several times in the revived Doctor Who. Footage appears in "The Next Doctor" when the Tenth Doctor shows Jackson Lake an infostamp about himself, and in "The Eleventh Hour" when the Eleventh Doctor rhetorically asks the Atraxi how previous alien invasion attempts were stopped. Footage of Pertwee was utilized in "The Name of the Doctor" to depict his Doctor interacting with a version of Clara Oswald, and in "The Day of the Doctor" to depict the Third Doctor assisting his other incarnations in sending Gallifrey to a pocket universe to protect it from the Daleks.


Cover of the 1972 ""Who is the Doctor" single (1983 re-issue by the BBC)
  • In 1966 Pertwee contributed to the children's album Children's Favourites by EMI and Paul Hamlyn. Songs sung by him include "The Runaway Train", "Froggy Went A-Courtin'", "My Grandfather's Clock", "Three Little Fishes" and "I Know An Old Lady". Published by Music for Pleasure in mono (catalogue MDP 1175), the recordings were produced by Norman Newell, with a synopsis written on the back by Roger St. Pierre. On the front cover is the picture of a glove puppet by Carol Patmore & Rima Reed. At least one of the songs, "The Runaway Train" (b/w "The Ugly Duckling"), was released as a single on Music for Pleasure (catalogue FP 10).
  • In 1972 he released, with June Whitfield, "Wonderful Children's Songs" on the Contour label (catalogue 2870191)
  • In 1972, while still in the role of the Doctor, he released a vocal narration over the Doctor Who theme music entitled "Who is the Doctor", on Purple Records.
  • In 1976 he starred in the EMI original cast recording (EMC 3139) of the West End musical Irene, in which he had enjoyed a long run, playing 'Madame Lucy' at the Adelphi Theatre, London.
  • In 1976 he recorded a promotional flexi-disc for Heinz called "The Noodle Doodle Man".[17]
  • In 1980 he released "Worzel's Song", from the album Worzel Gummidge Sings.[18] The single reached No.33 on the UK charts in March.[19] A second single was released in 1987 when the series was revived, but this met with less success. Also released was a single of "Yesterday", semi-spoken word and "When I'm 64", in the guise of Worzel to aid a hospital charity.
  • Other chart action came in 1993 when an audio release of the radio play The Paradise of Death reached No.48 in the album charts.[20]
  • In 1984 he featured in the computer game audio tape of Deus Ex Machina by Automata UK, released for the Sinclair ZX Spectrum in 1984.[21]



  1. ^ GRO Register of Births: SEP 1919 1a 132 KENSINGTON – John D. R. Pertwee, mmn = Scholts
  2. ^ a b Doctor Who 50th anniversary: Jon Pertwee – the funkadelic master of Venusian karate. The Daily Telegraph. 7 November 2013. Retrieved 3 July 2014.
  3. ^ Cult leader's mission to return to future . The Herald. 15 May 1989. Retrieved 3 July 2014.
  4. ^ Cabell, Craig (2013). The Doctors Who's Who: The Story Behind Every Face of the Iconic Time Lord. John Blake Publishing Ltd.  
  5. ^ An Hour with Jon Pertwee, broadcast by BBC7 on 30 March 2009
  6. ^ Interview ‘Mind of Evil’ DVD, released 2013.
  7. ^ Essex 11
  8. ^ Tim Cooper, "Heart attack kills dandy Doctor Who", The Evening Standard, 20 May 1996
  9. ^ Marc Horne "Double-O-Who? Jon Pertwee's secret life as a wartime agent... years before he did battle with the Daleks", maionline, 23 February 2013
  10. ^ Windmill Theatre#Film depictions Windmill Theatre
  11. ^ GRO Register of Marriages: JUN 1955 5f 63 MIDDLESEX S. – Jon D. R. Pertwee = Jeann L. T. Marsh
  12. ^ GRO Register of Marriages: SEP 1960 6a 1385 WYCOMBE – Jon D. R. Pertwee = Ingeborg R. Rhosa
  13. ^ BBC Radio 4 An Hour with Jon Pertwee
  14. ^ a b "Former Dr Who, actor Jon Pertwee dies".  
  15. ^ Hewitt, Nik. "Jon Pertwee: Obituary – ThisIsAnnouncements". Retrieved 22 April 2012. 
  16. ^ "Jon Pertwee – Biography". 
  17. ^ [1]
  18. ^ Worzel Gummidge at Nostalgia Central
  19. ^ Chart Stats – Jon Pertwee – Worzel's Song
  20. ^ Chart Stats – BBC cast – Doctor Who the paradise of death
  21. ^ "Deus Ex Machina". World Of Spectrum. 

External links

  • Jon Pertwee at the Internet Movie Database
  • Jon Pertwee Biography – British Film Institute
  • Interview with Jon Pertwee conducted in March 1996 at the Wayback Machine (archived January 19, 2009)
  • Action Who – Jon Pertwee article at
  • Jon Pertwee's career including The Navy Lark at
  • An Hour with Jon Pertwee Jon Pertwee reminisces, including time serving on the Hood – streaming audio (No longer available)
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