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.
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.
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
The actress Frances Pidgeon who appeared twice in Doctor Who has died at the age of 84. Her first role was an uncredited one, as the non speaking handmaiden of Queen Thalira in The Monster Of Peladon (1974). Her second role was more substantial, as Miss Jackson, the assistant to Professor Watkins in The Hand Of Fear (1976). The uniting factor of these two stories was director Lennie Mayne, to whom Pigeon was married until he was lost at sea in an accident in 1977.
Born in Epsom in May 1931, the tall, athletic and beautiful Pidgeon was a ballerina and dancer in musicals : an early appearance was in 1947-48 in Alice In Wonderland at the Shakespeare Memorial theatre (later the Royal Shakespeare Company) at Stratford-Upon-Avon. Mayne was an Australian who also began his career as a dancer and the pair worked together on stage, notably in 364 performances of Cole Porter’s musical Can-Can at the Coliseum in the West End in 1954/55. They married in 1956 and had twin girls in 1964.
In 1956 she was picked by Ken Russell to be the subject of various photographs he took which showcased her beauty and married it with surrealistic props – in one her bare legs emerge from beneath a tin hip bath, in another she wears a lampshade as a skirt. She and Russell had danced together at the London Theatre Ballet and hung out together at the Troubadour coffee bar.
On screen she danced inLove From Judy (1953), many episodes of On The Bright Side (1959) with Stanley Baxter and Betty Marsden, This Is Bobby Darin (1959), Die Kleinste Show Der Welt (1960), Up Jumped A Swagman (1963) Were Those Days (1969) and and episode of Omnibus about the waltz (1969). She also choreographed a sequence for an episode of Are You Being Served? (1976) and an Alan Plater penned Play Of The Week in 1978 called Night People (1978).
She was one of the supporting ensemble in the Mike Yarwood and Lulu vehicle, the series Three Of A Kind (1967) and gradually began to take small roles on television, often in productions directed by her husband such as Doomwatch (1971/72) and The Brothers (1975).
There is no particular of nepotism here because Mayne – a universally adored figure – surrounded himself by people he knew when he was working, whether he was married to them or not. The number of productions in which Pidgeon and Mayne’s names also intersect with those of Denys Palmer, Rex and Pat Robinson (Patricia Prior) or Laurie Webb (all of whom appeared in Mayne’s The Three Doctors) are numerous and comprised a mutually supportive and respectful unit of artists and friends. The Robinsons and the Webbs lived very close to Mayne family as well and helped to provide a support network for Pidgeon after Mayne’s tragic death.
She had been in ill health for some time and passed away earlier this month. The twins survive her.
It’s actually passed the landmark as I type this but I couldn’t not have a mention on my blog that we’ve arrived at edition 150 of my podcast of interviews with Doctor Who luminaries .It’s the last of my chats with the marvel that is Russell T Davies and, in a nice piece of tidiness the final bit of footage that I recorded in 2013 to be released. I am so pleased that people have enjoyed listening to these chats with Mr Davies as much as I did meeting the great man. We had some fabulous old gossip off mic that will stay with me till the day I die but I still think we get some pretty candid chat and all of the trademark RTD bonhomie and insight. I gave Big Finish a load of bumph so that they could do a nice feature on their website so forgive me if I steal it back and post it here because – having missed acknowledging this landmark when it happened because I’m crazy busy – I obviously need to be getting on with things. Not least plugging number 151 , but that’s for another post …
The Big Finish Website reports:“In 2013 Toby began a celebration of fifty years of Doctor Who, with the momentous task of interviewing someone from every single Doctor Who story.
Feeling Doctors or companions are a bit too easy, he travels the country meeting legends of the show’s history both in front of and behind the camera, and chats to them about both Doctor Who itself and the lives his interview subjects have led since (and, indeed, before).
These interviews are shared as podcasts from the Big Finish website, which you can download or stream here, or subscribe to on iTunes. All episodes are free, so if you’ve enjoyed Toby’s chat, all he asks is that you give a donation to a charity nominated by the interview subject.
Now, 150 podcasts later, Toby is pleased to be releasing his final interview from his initial 2013 marathon– the seventh and final part of his in-depth interview with former Executive Producer Russell T Davies. And while there are still many more interviews recorded (and more to be recorded!), we thought it was right to take this chance to commemorate Toby’s journey so far. Here are a few words from the man himself:
‘It’s quite funny that the last one is number 150. It’s almost as if I had a plan.I never have a plan. And if I do it never works out how I’d imagined. When John Keeffe (whom I had never met at this point) challenged me on Twitter to “interview everyone from Doctor Who” to celebrate the 50th year and I suggested instead that I get a first hand anecdote from every story I thought I’d be able to call in a few favours from the Frazer Hineses and Katy Mannings of this world and do it that way. Only when I chatted to the brilliant Kevin McNally did I think that maybe this could be of interest beyond Doctor Who. The internet helped of course, with the likes of Lisa Bowerman opening her Big Book of Actors’ Contacts and Jim Bradshaw from BAFTA making overtures to members and giving me a bit of kudos by association. Suddenly I found myself timetabling in two or three interviews a day – fitting then into my travels around the country performing stand-up comedy, writing radio plays and getting divorced.
150 podcasts later and I’ve interviewed boom operators, Voord, make-up ladies and leading actors. The biggest hit has been the Russell T Davies interview so it’s only fitting that he headlines the climax of the 2013 interviews. I actually thought that getting him was a bit of a cheat: he practically knocked off the whole of the new series for me in one go! I also thought that because he was such a game contributor to Doctor Who Confidential that people might take him for granted a bit. Wrong! The editions with him have been hugely popular and of course he is a witty and candid and engaging subject and I was so lucky to have a whole day with him. I think it was the only interview he gave about Doctor Who in 2013 and, most importantly, his charity (The Terence Higgins Trust) actually contacted him to say that there’d been an upsurge in people making donations : people who all cited the Who’s Round interview as the reason for their pledge. So thanks listeners: I’m glad that people pay attention and oblige the entirely optional charitable element of the podcast.
I could have ended it here, but there was the odd person whom I had tried to secure in 2013 who for whatever reason hadn’t worked out.So I squeezed them in. And then I found other people. And so it went on. Plus, when Capaldi’s first season aired it turned out that I knew someone involved with every episode! So I haven’t confined myself to the stories that go up to 2013 – there are interviews in the can that relate to the very latest ones. So to come there are a few writers and actors from 2014-15, some more classic series contributors and some people who have been involved with key elements of the show who’ve not been interviewed before. Indeed as I speak I am off to interview two people, both of whom were married to important people connected with the show, both of whom have voiced iconic monsters, and both of whom were on hand as a new Doctor was ushered in by an old one. And I’ve not seen or read interviews with either of them anywhere.
I hope Who’s Round will stand as an oral history of certain aspects of the entertainment industry over the past 50 odd years. I’ve spoken to people who knew Pinter, worked with Olivier, and met Ivor Novello. I’ve uncovered a fact about Meglos, drunk wine with Brian Croucher and Skyped people in New Zealand, India, Canada and the USA. I’ve been shown such generosity and hospitality from people from all walks of life who are all united by having crossed paths – sometimes very briefly – with Doctor Who. Highlights? Milton Johns and myself in obligatory collar and tie in the Garrick Club and him giving me a guided tour: every nook and cranny with its own anecdote elegantly rendered by Mr Johns; John Moreno’s extraordinary story about being court-martialled; Geoffrey Bayldon’s unprintable phone conversation with me. And so many more.
I guess that’s why I’m still doing it. I don’t get paid, in fact each one costs me, but I consider it to be a hobby which just happens to produce a product that hopefully entertains and informs others, and one testifies to the skill and dedication of the many very talented individuals who made a silly programme about a time traveling police box something rather special.’
Toby Hadoke’s Who’s Round #150 is available to download today – with Russell T Davies’ nominated charity being the Terrance Higgins Trust. Please take the time to donate if you have enjoyed an interview.”