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Heroes of Cult: Jon Pertwee

Jon Pertwee is best remembered as the third Doctor, the first action Doctor and a lovable, if slightly creepy, scarecrow who could change his heads to match his personality.

Jon Devon Roland Pertwee was born in Chelsea London on the 07/07/1919. His father was respected screenwriter and actor Roland Pertwee; his mother housewife Avice Scholtz. His parents separated, divorced and remarried whilst he was still young. Jon struggled to build a bond with either of his step parents which, lead to a rebellious streak as a youngster.

With no real formal training Jon started acting in his local school plays. After he left school he enrolled in RADA. He was not there for long; refusing to play a part he felt was both a waste of his time and his fathers money and owning up to graffiti found in the boys toilets soon lead to him being expelled.

He instead joined the Royal Navy and by the outbreak of World War II he was working, alongside James Bond creator Ian Fleming, in Naval Intelligence reporting directly to Winston Churchill. A master of unarmed combat, espionage and escapology he would go on to train Royal Marine Commandos. By the end of the war he was a well respected officer.

After the war Jon returned to acting and made a name for himself in radio comedies such as ‘Waterlogged Spa’ and ‘Puffney Post Office’. His big break came in 1959 when he joined the cast of a new radio comedy by the name of the ‘Navy Lark’. He would play the role of Chief Petty Officer Pertwee for the next eighteen years.

He was also making a name for himself in TV and film. His first few films saw him mainly being cast when actor Danny Kaye, whom Jon resembled and could do an impression of, wasn’t available. This included being cast alongside William Hartnell in the film ‘Will Any Gentlemen Do…?’.

Still largely seen as a comedy actor Jon would appear in a number of ‘Carry On’ films and was the first choice to play Captain Mainwaring in ‘Dads Army’. He would eventually turn down the role preferring to continue his run on Broadway in the play ‘There’s A Girl In My Soup.

In 1970 Jon took what would become his most famous role as the Doctor. Knowing the role was becoming available Jon asked his agent to apply for the role; only to find out the outgoing Doctor, Patrick Troughton, had recommended him and he was already on the shortlist. He was eventually given the role when the first choice, Ron Moody, became to busy to take the part.

Jons Doctor was all action in fancy clothes. For the first time corridors were ran down, sonic screwdrivers blew things up and foes were dispatched with a Venusian Aikido move. He was the Doctor for longer than both his predecessors but, due to a lighter filming schedule, recorded less episodes. Unfortunately his final story, 1974s ‘Planet of the Spiders’, is probably more remembered for it’s terrible special effects (even for the 1970s) and poor representation of the mentally disabled then his regeneration.

Jons career after the Doctor did not falter. He would appear in a number of roles on radio, the stage, film and TV. The most famous of which was playing the title role in the ITV series ‘Worzel Gummidge’ from 1979 to 1981. This loveable scarecrow became popular the world over and in 1987 was picked up again by the ‘New Zealand TV Network’ creating the series ‘Worzel Gummidge Down Under’.

He would also reprise the role of the Doctor in the stage version ‘Doctor Who – The Ultimate Adventure’, a few stories on BBC radio, 1983s The Five Doctors and the 1993 ‘Doctor Who’ and ‘Eastenders’ cross over ‘Children in Need’ special ‘Dimension in Time’.

Jon died in Sherman Connecticut on the 20/05/1996. He was the first of the all action Doctors paving the way for the role to be played by younger actors. He also played the role slightly more human than it had ever been played before. This would be a massive influence on many of the future actors who took the role including David Tennant and Matt Smith.

With flair and a smile he took the Doctor into a new Decade and proved that the show could still find new fans and connect with a new generation.

Recommended film, radio and TV appearances (outside of Doctor Who):-

CPO Pertwee – The Navy Lark

Doctor Fettle – Carry On Screaming

Worzel Gummidge – Worzel Gummidge

Paul Henderson – The House That Dripped Blood

Salmon & Kraken – The Water Babies

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