January 2, 2017


Jon Pertwee (1919-1996) b. Chelsea, London, England.

Jon Pertwee

John Devon Roland Pertwee was born in Chelsea, London on 7th July 1919 to a family that can trace its lineage back to the Huguenots. The name Pertwee is the English version of Pertuis.

John�s father was the screenwriter and actor Roland Pertwee, his brother was the actor and writer Michael Pertwee and he was the cousin of actor Bill Pertwee, (Warden Hodges in Dad’s Army). He was educated at the independent Frensham Heights School in Rowledge near Farnham in Surrey and at various other schools from which his rebellious nature got him expelled. On finishing his schooling, he enrolled at RADA, from which he was also expelled after he scrawled obscene graffiti in the toilets.

Upon joining the Royal Navy as an officer, he was posted for some time to naval intelligence, where he remained for most of WWII. He was also a crew member of the famous HMS Hood but was fortunate to be transferred off the ship just before she was sunk in May 1941 � only three hands survived. It was during his time in the Navy that, during a drunken night ashore, he had the tattoo etched on his right arm, something he had to go to great lengths to keep covered up in his later acting years.

When the war finished, he left the Navy and started to get himself noticed as a comedy actor, mainly on radio, starting in particular with Eric Barker in Waterlogged Spa (1948), and Puffney Post Office in which he played the old postman with the catch-phrase “It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you tears them up”. His stock continued to rise with numerous comedy roles until in 1959, he began his long-running role as the scheming Chief Petty Officer Pertwee in The Navy Lark on BBC Radio, a role he played for nearly twenty years. During this time, he also became known as a Danny Kaye look-alike, and the 1949 film �Murder at the Windmill� includes his excellent impersonation of the American actor.

On stage, in 1963 he was Lycus in the 1963 London production of �A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum� the Frankie Howerd comedy and later appeared as Crassus in the 1966 film version. He appeared as Sidney Tait in the comedy Ladies Who Do (1963) and later appeared in Carry On Cleo (1964 as a soothsayer), Carry On Screaming (1966 as Dr. Fettle), Carry On Cowboy (1965 as Sheriff Earp) and Carry On Columbus (1992 as Duke of Costa Brava). His television career began quite slowly, with minor roles in various children�s shows, notably Mr. Pastry. He went on to make guest appearances in many shows ranging from The Avengers to The Goodies.

In 1969, Jon was offered the role of Dr Who, taking over from Patrick Troughton. He immediately set out to make the role his own and played The Doctor as a much more flamboyant and dapper action character. He played The Doctor for five series until in early 1974, when he surprised everyone by announcing he planned to leave the programme to return to the stage, having accepted a role in the play The Bedwinner. It was during his time as The Doctor, in April 1971, that he appeared as the subject of This Is Your Life. He returned as Dr Who for the 20th anniversary television special The Five Doctors in 1983 and in the 1993 special Dimensions in Time for Children in Need. He also portrayed The Doctor in the stage play Doctor Who � The Ultimate Adventure which toured until June 1989.

As well as continuing his stage work, he was regularly on TV as the host of the Thames Television murder-mystery game show Whodunnit! between 1974 and 1978.

In 1979, Pertwee became the scarecrow Worzel Gummidge, based on the books written by Barbara Euphan Todd, which he had read and loved as a child. The show allowed him to use his many comedic voices and was a huge hit and ran for four years. He was so taken by the character that he even secured a two year run on New Zealand TV of Worzel Gummidge Down Under . He also transferred the role to the stage.

Pertwee’s final film role was in a short film, ‘Cloud Cuckoo’ released in June 1994. His final television appearance came on Cilla’s Surprise Surprise, in April 1996, although at this time he was also regularly appearing in a TV commercial for Vodafone.

He continued to be very active on the Dr Who convention circuit and was always in demand for his vocal talents and remained busy right up to his death from a heart attack in Connecticut on 20th May 1996. His remains were brought back to England and he was cremated at Putney Vale Crematorium with a toy Worzel Gummidge placed on his coffin.

A talented water-skier, Jon was twice married, firstly in 1955 to Jean Marsh. They divorced in 1960 and then, on 13 August 1960 he married Ingeborg Rhoesa, by whom he had two children, actor Sean and Dariel.

Compiled by Clive Saunders.

blog comments powered by Disqus