I’ve been so busy I’ve neglected this blog, so at least I can start doing monthly updates with general info. I hope some of what is below is useful:
LATEST UPDATES (November 2017)
I’m delighted to announce that I have been commissioned to dramatise Nigel Kneale’s famous lost television play, The Road, for Radio 4. Transmission is not until late next year but there will be plenty of exciting updates between now and then.
I have been part of the team behind a new initiative to help psoriasis patients. The See Psoriasis, Look Deeper campaign has launched the Small Steps programme: more detailshere.
I pop up in the first episode of Dave Gorman’s new series of Modern Life is Good(ish) which can be seenhereif you missed it.
On November 11th I will be giving a comedy writing workshop for Script Yorkshire. It has sold out. There is still space in the evening, however, for an event at the Carriageworks Theatre called Page to Stage in which new scripts are performed to professional feedback from panelists including myself and Eastenders writer Christopher Reason. Tickets arehere.
My obituaries for Trevor Martin (Herald) and Suzan Farmer (The Guardian) have recently gone online and in print. Sad losses both.
Headliners at my comedy club XS Malarkey this month are:
After a few months off during which I have slept and stuff, Who’s Round is back… and it’s about time (etc etc).
It’s certainly about time we had a Doctor.Most Doctors have been interviewed loads, so of course I have gone for one with a unique claim to the Gallifreyan throne. He’s actually been involved in the programme in practically every medium possible, this fellow, and has worked with more than one of the “other” Doctors. Oh, and Laurence Olivier, Ian McKellan and the bloke who played Varan in The Mutants. They’re all here, in the 200th edition (blimey) of this ridiculously time consuming podcast. These will be back to their weekly release schedule and there’s a fantastic mix of familiar faces and hitherto un-interviewed folk from the history of Doctor Who, all of whom have fascinating stories about their times with and without our favourite programme.
It’s tricky being an amateur researcher.I don’t kick doors in, nor do I follow up if someone forgets to email me back. So I do leave stones unturned, largely because I don’t want to annoy anyone. The ridiculous thing, of course, is that without exception all of the actors and production personnel I have spoken to have been very happy to have been remembered. But that doesn’t stop me being shy.
So this month, when I discovered that Victor Platt, a very recognisable actor with a Toby Jug countenance that made him born to play coppers and barkeeps,passed away in January aged 96 I rued that I had not found him (hiding in plain sight as he was). He could have told me about Quatermass and the Pit (he has a great cameo as a spooked PC who takes Andre Morell around a deserted, possibly haunted house) and Doomwatch and The Road. Of course, his loss is properly felt by his family and loved ones and he may not have remembered much about the acting career he retired from 40 years ago in order to turn his hand to sculpting – but he might have enjoyed a lunch and a reminisce and I’d have been flattered and excited to have met him. Getting in touch with such people (which I attempted to do with Mr Platt several times) is more difficult now – my union, Equity, used to forward mail to members but since belligerent autograph seekers began to overuse the free forwarding system to send gazillions of unwanted items through the post to unsuspecting pensioners (and then kicked off when some weren’t returned) they no longer do – which means genuine researchers lose out too.
Carl Conway also passed away recently – and his death highlights another aspect of how tricky amateur research can be.My friend Ben Jolly let me know that IMDB was suggesting that Mr Conway had just passed away aged 95 (IMDB previously had him listed as deceased in 1992 by the way). So I did some digging. I found a Texan Carl Conway had died on February 17th aged 95 and I immediately put this down to IMDB being useless and people not fact checking properly (a real internet malaise, especially with IMDB and Wikipedia). Digging deeper however, I discovered that our Carl Conway – from Doctor Who‘s The War Machines and The Ambassadors of Death – had passed away exactly a week before the American one. Also aged 95!
Mr Conway had been suggested to me as a potential interviewee.He had been a DJ on Radio Caroline and had contacted the Pirate Radio Hall of Fame in 2008 to tell them what he was up to (which is what had made me certain that IMDB’s 1992 death date was wrong). His two roles in Doctor Who plus his career as the voice of the famous pirate station and his subsequent life organising film shows for old people’s homes would have made him a fascinating subject, but alas I never tracked him down (remember, I do all this stuff in my spare time).
So, Mr Platt and Mr Conway – sorry I never got to meet you, and believe me I would have loved every minute of doing so. Sorry not to have had the chance to thank you for all the entertainment. In the great scheme of things the fact that I never managed to track you down will have meant very little to you – but it would have meant a lot to me, and I think the small band of people who read and listen to my stuff would have been chuffed too.
Peter Thomas – actor from missing William Hartnell story The Savages – dies.
Peter Thomas, who played Captain Edal in The Savages, has died at the age of 80.He had worked with Christopher Barry prior to the making of the story and so was in the director’s mind when it came to casting the chief of the security forces on the unnamed planet where all is not what it seems. With Frederick Jaegar, ostensibly the story’s lead villain, spending much of the action impersonating William Hartnell’s Doctor it is Thomas who provides most of the thuggishness. He’s the enforcer and easily the story’s most unpleasant character – and unusually, he survives at the end, in a story which has no fatalities. Thomas had to undergo golden facial make-up but that wasn’t his biggest problem on the show: “Bill Hartnell and I did not get on that well in The Army Game – I fell out with him during rehearsals. He used to shout, and if you forgot a line or miscued him he would tell you! Literally in our last episode of Doctor Who I think he forgave me: in the final scene, owing to the pressure of work instead of “Grab him and strap him to the trolley” I said “Strab him and grap him to the trolley” – but it did get a laugh even from Bill Hartnell.” The finished result wss good though – the audience research report for The Savages finds the viewers singling out the performances of Hartnell and Thomas for the most praise.
Thomas trained at LAMDA from 1952 and upon graduation did a short stint in rep at Lancaster before National Service (the RAF) intervened. Having done his duty (and performed onstage in RAF variety shows and stage productions while he was doing so) he returned to the theatre and then broke into television where he made something of a career of playing bad guys. His TV roles included Probation Officer (1959), Walk A Crooked Mile (1961), Z-Cars (1962), No Hiding Place (4 different characters 1962/65), The Plane Makers (1963), No Cloak, No Dagger (1963), The Avengers (three times – 1966/67/68) and Big Breadwinner Hog (1969) with Peter Egan, whom he had encouraged to become an actor when Egan was a young lad. In this excellent but very violent series Thomas is unmissable as a leather clad thug with a teddy boy quiff and a flick knife.
After the film Tales From The Crypt (1972) and an episode of Crown Court (1976) he disappeared from the acting profession for about thirty years due to the unfortunate illness of his wife. Having established himself as an onstage comedy stooge (he worked with Hancock, Benny Hill, Graham Stark and Jimmy Jewel) he had to turn down 35 weeks touring alongside Bob Monkhouse – such a commitment was impractical with two young children and a terminally ill partner and so he made the difficult decision to sever ties with his agent and accept no more offers.
In the early 80s he started a production company, and he kept his hand in the performance side of things when he provided the voice overs and the occasional presentation spot for the corporate videos that they made. Approaching the age at which most people retire, and with his children now grown up, he began to work professionally as an actor again and was very proactive in getting his own work – doing short films and modelling shoots whenever he could, and creating a character called Mr Grumpy.
In 2013 his face adorned the London underground as part of the Turn2US charity campaign, one of many posters he featured on in recent years (he also showed up for the NHS carers recruitment campaign and the Oxford Hearing Centre). He also contributed to advertising campaigns for Heineken (a James Bond/Skyfall tie in) and French Netflix. This sort of work was a callback to the 60s when he had a high old time appearing in adverts for all sorts including Don Carlos Cigars, Remington Razors, Rich Tea Biscuits, Black & Greens Tea, Guinness and Bilslands Bread. He was also an able guitarist and folk singer.
He was happy to be associated with Doctor Who, and kept up with it over the years:“It was caught the atmosphere of the 60s – and when they brought it back years later it was an instant success. One of my favourite Doctor Whos was Jon Pertwee and in the newer versions it has to be David Tennant. It was a good show”. Peter recently joined me and Kay Patrick to discuss The Savages for one of Fantom Films’ forthcoming Who Talk releases: he was sprightly and full of memories so the news of his passing was as surprising as it was saddening..
With thanks to Paul Dunn.
Peter Thomas took part in a Who’s Round which you can listen to here.
You can see my video of the Doctor Who names we lost in 2016 here.
The actor Philip Bond has died suddenly whilst on holiday on the island of Madeira. He was 82.
He will be known to Doctor Who fans for his important guest role in the second ever story, The Daleks (1963/4). He played Ganatus, who accompanies Ian and Barbara on their deadly mission through the perilous environs of Skaro in order to defeat the Daleks. During the mission he witnesses the death of his brother Antodus (Marcus Hammond) and develops a soft spot for Barbara. Bond, who was cast late in the day after original choice Dinsdale Landen became unavailable, gives a great performance. Whilst some of the members of his tribe have an element of mannered, misty eyed 60s-ness about them, Bond capers about gamely and is clearly the “one to watch”. He has an energy and vitality which make his very naturalistic performance work 50 years later and his character is certainly the perkiest and most likeable of those encountered by the TARDIS crew during this groundbreaking 7 part story. More recently he lent his vocal talents to the Torchwood audio adventure Forgotten Lives (2015) meaning that he hold the record for the longest amount of time between performances in the series and/or its spin offs.
He told me in 2012 that he had accepted the part (whilst appearing at the Glasgow Citizen’s Theatre) without looking at the script and that he “enjoyed many a pint with William Hartnell during lock-ins at The Black Prince after recording”. As for Jacqueline Hill – “loved her” which might explain their chemistry on screen and they, along with William Russell (whom he had known since 1955) and Verity Lambert socialised together a lot. “We knew we were at the start of something after the Daleks first appeared,” he remembered. We discussed his doing a Who’s Round recently but geography – he spent his latter years based in a remote village in Wales – was making it tricky. He had, however, agreed to come and do a Who Talk commentary over some of his episodes when he returned from holiday later this month and indeed only recently did a signing for Fantom Films (who produce them).
Born in Burton-on-Trent to Welsh parents, he attended Burton Boys’ grammar school which he where he got his first taste of the stage. He studied at the Central School of Speech and Drama and one of his early theatre roles was playing Jean to the Miss Julie of Sonia Dresdel in Edinburgh in 1956.
He never returned to Doctor Who on but carved himself an impressive television career including regular roles in199 Park Lane (1965), The Onedin Line ((1972, as Albert Frazer), The Main Chance (1970 as Peter Findon). He also cropped up in everything from Peter Cushing’s TV Hound of the Baskervilles (1968, as Stapleton) to Midsomer Murders (2007), taking in such varied fare as The Avengers (1969), Doomwatch (as Inspector Drew in The Human Time Bomb, 1971), The Children of the New Forest (1977), Diana Rigg’s Hedda Gabler (as Lovborg, 1981), Only Fools and Horses (1985), Shakespeare : The Animated Tales (1994), Fever Pitch (1997) and The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby (2001) along the way.
The BBC cameraman Roger Bunce worked with Bond often and remembers him as “a really nice, humorous guy – and a classic actor. A likeable hero in the The Onedin Line, a dastardly villain in The Hound of the Baskervilles. I think I first worked with him on a TV play called The Pistol Shot in which he played a callous cad – so different from the real person. A great character range.”
Philip Bond died surrounded by his children Matthew, Samantha (known in the Doctor Who universe as Miss Wormwood in The Sarah Jane Adventures) and Abigail and his long standing partner Elizabeth. They survive him, as do his grandchildren Molly, Tom, Nancy, Bill and Ivan.
Philip George William Bond, born 1st November 1934 – died 17th January 2017
There’s a more detailed article about Mr Bond on the superb Avengers Forever website here. Thanks to Gavin Gaughan.
Thanks To Roger Bunce.
You can see my tribute video to those from Doctor Who who died in 2016 here.
RODNEY BENNETT, classic Doctor Who director, has died.
The director Rodney Bennett, who was behind three memorable early Tom Baker storiesand whose work outside of the show included many classic dramas has died peacefully aged 81.
Bennett was brought on board at a time during which the show underwent a great stylistic change.Tom Baker’s debut, Robot (1975) was very much a continuation of Jon Pertwee’s era in terms of look and personnel but the very next story The Ark in Space (1975) found the show embracing a gutsier approach, one not afraid of the horrific and psychologically terrifying. Shot on stark, white, clinical sets it concerns the survivors of a futuristic society – who have abandoned the Earth due to the threat of solar flares – under threat from the Wirrn. These deadly wasp-like creatures bury their eggs in cryogenically suspended humans and infect the space ark’s commander Noah. One scene, in which Noah – mid-transformation into a Wirrn – begs his lover Vira to kill him, was cut by producer Philip Hinchcliffe prior to transmission as he deemed it too unsettling. The Ark in Space is generally acknowledged as one of the show’s true classics (both Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat have sung its praises) and, in one scene – shot from above – in which the Doctor celebrates mankind‘s indomitability, provides the fourth Doctor with one of his defining moments. “I wish we could have got a camera even higher because then it would have been like killing two birds with the same stone – Tom taking on the human race and conveying the size [of the Ark]. But because of the lighting rig higher than that we couldn’t go,” Rodney lamented when I visited him and his lovely wife Jill at their home in Bath in 2013. Despite the restrictions of the studio the scene is still one of the series’ finest.
The Sontaran Experiment (1975), Baker’s third story, was actually shot before The Ark in Space, entirely in location and – unusually for exterior work – on videotape. Disaster struck when the leading man broke his collarbone but the show went on. The bleak locale makes from a suitably post apocalyptic setting and the decision to give the surviving humans South African accents is a smart one which provides plausibility and verisimilitude. Even though Baker was in pain because of his injury the director was a great fan of his leading man describing him as “A wonderful mixture of Burt Lancaster and Harpo Marx – the physical size and strength of Burt Lancaster and then that wonderful smile and childlike aspect of Harpo Marx – which seemed to me a wonderful polarity, or duality, of Tom’s Doctor Who.”
Rodney’s final story The Masque of Mandragora (1976) also features Tom Baker and his sidekick Elisabeth Sladen. “Elisabeth Sladen was amongst the gamest actors I ever worked with. I think she was absolutely lovely and a perfect foil for the Doctor”. The Masque of Mandragora is a gorgeous period drama with a fine cast (the young Tim Pigott- Smith makes a good account of himself and Jon Laurimore has a fine times as the villainous Count Federico) with the Welsh village of Portmerion standing in for Renaissance Italy. “There was so much experience and talent [at the BBC at the time]: the costumes that Jim Acheson put together would grace any feature film. And the wigs were very good too.”
Having done student theatre whilst studying at Cambridge, Rodney Bennett started at the BBC in radio– producing material for the World Service and the Third Programme. When BBC 2 he applied for an attachment to the schools’ department and began to learn the craft of directing with a camera. Some years later he moved to the plays department he got a break directing Z-Cars when the scheduled director fell ill and Rodney happened to be around. He acquitted himself well and stayed with the Serials Department for another 6 months, doing more Z-Cars and some plays for Innes Lloyd’s 30 Minute Theatre. After that Bennett decided to take the plunge and go freelance – a risk which paid off as he enjoyed success on both major channels.
When the BBC embarked upon their major series of every Shakespeare play, it was Bennett to whom they entrusted the key production of Hamlet(1980) in which he cast Derek Jacobi, Patrick Stewart and Lalla Ward (fresh from playing Romana). “I interviewed lots of young actresses for that role. I was very keen at one stage on Zoe Wanamaker. But Lalla was charming.”
His eye for casting would have an even more enduring impact when he met “lots of very nice actresses” for a vital role in his production of The Darling Buds of May (1993). “I decided I would look through the whole of Spotlight from beginning to end including the quarter pages [the cheaper end pages at the back with smaller pictures]. I began at the As at about 9 o’clock and at about 6.30/7, there among the Zs I saw what looked like a holiday snap of a very pretty girl. It too a bit of convincing the producers that she was the one for the part because I don’t think she’d done much television”. But convinced they are and the young woman languishing in the Zs – who was called Catherine Zeta Jones – became a star over night in the ratings hit which also starred David Jason and Pam Ferris.
The production he enjoyed making the most was Monsignor Quixote (1987), filming in Spain with a fine cast headed by Alec Guinness and Leo McKern. The Lost Boys, about JM Barrie, was a less comfortable production to make but one in which Ian Holm gave “an extraordinary performance”. It was a complicated production but he was very happy with the end result (which won awards internationally).
His other productions includedNorth and South (BBC 1975), Madame Bovary (BBC 1976), The Legend of King Arthur (Maureen O’Brien was Morgan Le Fay, 1979), Sense and Sensibility (a981), Dombey and Son (with Julian Glover 1983), and episodes of such favourites as Rumple of the Bailey (1987), The House of Elliott (1991), Soldier Soldier (1993, 93) and Dr Finlay (1996).
When I visited him he faced his mobility difficulties with a quiet stoicism, and he and Jill were extremely hospitable. He was gentle and charming and blessed with that perfect diction of the old school. He was still friends with Maureen O’Brien whom I contacted when I learned of his death: “Darling Rodney. Such a lovely man and such a sensitive and responsive and kind director,” she told me. “He went on writing his kids’ adventure stories right to the end, you know? Such courage and determination in a man who seemed too gentle for such persistence. Quiet, very English people like Rodney of such special talent can get easily overlooked.”
Two BAFTA nominations (for Monsignor Quixote and The Legend of King Arthur) and three top tier Doctor Who stories will hopefully mean that Rodney and his work will be remembered for a long time to come. And so will the fact that he was a very nice fellow indeed.
He is survived by Jill, their children Adam and Kate, and four grandchildren, Ben, Hannah, Max and Aurelia.
Rodney Bennett, Television director, born March 1935, died January 2017.
Thanks to Richard Bignell, Kate Pinsent and Maureen O’Brien