Arnold Yarrow has had an amazing working life: he was script editor on Softly, Softly, and as part of an onscreen career that began in 1956 he had a stint as an actor in EastEnders (playing Mr Bloom – he later wrote for the series), was the President in The Andromeda Breakthrough, worked with Tommy Cooper, and, of course, cropped up as Bellal, one of Doctor Who’s most loveable aliens, in Death to the Daleks.
And yesterday he turned 100 years of age.
In 2013 I wrote to Arnold to ask if he might take part in my Who’s Round project, for which I interviewed a number of people who had crossed paths with Doctor Who about their time on the show and their lives before and after.
Arnold wrote back thanking me for my “continued interest in my career” – gosh, he’d remembered a correspondence we had had a few years earlier – and declining with apologies. “You would know how old I am now and understand that I am accordingly extremely frail,” he said, by way of (unnecessary) mitigation. He did, however, send me his written memories based on some notes he had made when preparing for the documentary about the making of Death to the Daleks for the BBC DVD release of the story.
Please note that portions of the below has been transferred from notes, some of which are written in the third person, into a more readable/interview style for ease, as what he sent me was a mixture of handwritten remembrances from Arnold himself and typed notes by a third party transcribing Arnold’s memories.
How did you come to be cast in Death to the Daleks?
I was the script editor on Softly, Softly at the time [so I was around] – and I had been friends with Barry Letts since we acted in rep in the 1940s.
How did you approach the part and decide upon Bellal’s physicality?
I was shown sketches of what he would look like. I visited a zoo and saw some marmosets and bush babies and this inspired me – looking at the way they conveyed their feelings. I thought the script echoed the underground Morlocks from The Time Machine.
How would you describe the costume? How was it put together?
It was made of separate bits that were all glued together – I was stuck in there for three hours at a time. They were very restricting. I was filled with horror the first time I put it on. There were two tiny pinholes for eyes to look out of and nostrils to breathe through. My vision was extremely limited.
What do you remember of Jon Pertwee?
He looked after me and guided me around the set. Rather more than that, Jon was very considerate. As a fellow actor, he was aware of my practical problems.
What about the rest of the cast and crew?
They made me a supporting board to lean on [between takes]. I leant on it and waited for my call. And waited. They’d left me behind, while the whole lot, cast and crew, went off for their tea break!But that was just once.
The received wisdom is that there were quite a few production problems during this block, and that Pertwee had quite a difficult session…
My contact with Doctor Who was only for two days and for most of that time was glued into the Bellal outfit. I was certainly not aware of any recording difficulties of of Jon Pertwee’s unease.
How do you look back on Death to the Daleks?
It was a brief episode in a jobbing actor’s career… until the fan mail started coming in!
Some people think that Bellal would have made a great companion – would you have stayed on if asked?
In that costume? No thank you!
Happy Birthday Arnold Yarrow, and congratulations!