Doctor Who

Having spent so much of my career working in the science fiction and fantasy genre it might come as a small surprise to some to discover that I am not a particular fan. I have watched and enjoyed some recommended movies and TV but honestly would rather be gardening.

The exception to the rule is Doctor Who. I got on board with David Tennant and have enjoyed the ride along with him and Matt Smith. I couldn’t describe myself as a major fan. I loved it as a young teen and remember being terrified of Daleks but I can’t really remember much more about those early shows.

Don't just lie thereJon Pertwee was MY doctor and I can see him so very clearly in my mind’s eye. I also remember being on tour with him in ‘Don’t Just Lie There, Say Something.’ He WAS or rather had been the Doctor even though he really wanted people to recognise him as Worzel Gummidge. To be out and about with him was to be in the shadow of somebody very recognisable to the masses but even better was to sit up in bed with him in front of a full house with only my hands to protect my modesty and here some teenager in the audience exclaim…ooohh Doctor… priceless. Got to love a British farce.

I do have a memory of his predecessor Patrick Troughton and dimly remember the very first Doctor William Hartnell. Then there is a major gap and we zoom through time and galaxies until we come to David Tennant. Big gaps though so I haven’t really haven’t been a very consistent fan.

I have also touched on the very periphery of the Doctor Who world having done an audio with the delightful David Warner in the title role. I have even played a sort of blob in the computer download games with Matt Smith at the helm.

Once I had ventured into the Doctor Who Stratosphere I was able to wiggle my way into a couple of marvellous Doctor Who conventions in New York and Los Angeles and I have learnt to LOVE all things Who. They are also the most brilliant and knowledgeable fans and even more brilliant…many of them were already my friends.

Whilst we talk of these same friends I have to acknowledge that they are totally committed and somewhat obsessed ( to my mind ) with everything to do with the show. I am not like that and certainly could never hold a lengthy conversation about the Doctors latest adventures but I do understand. I have my own personal little obsession and I am not sure what it says about me. I am completely hooked on BREAKING BAD. I just can’t get enough and having only started watching this year I am just starting season 6 after mammoth viewing sessions.

It felt like my own little dirty secret. Hooked on a programme whose lead character is a Met Amphetamine cook…junkies and killers and bad people…what will my friends think?

Now this is where it all gets wonderfully interesting. My lovely friends who spend their every moment fantasying about the TARDIS are now commending me or at least getting me because one of the directors of BREAKING BAD has just shown his love of the Doctor by directing the upcoming BBC docudrama ‘An Adventure in Space and Time’ Mr Terry McDonough has made it alright and I can’t thank him enough for tying up the loose ends for me.

doctor_who__waris_hussein_meets_sacha_dhawan_for_mark_gatiss_s_an_adventure_in_space_and_timeLast night I had the pleasure of going to the screening of ‘An Adventure in Space and Time’ at the British Film Institute. Written by Mark Gatiss it tells the story of the creation of Doctor Who.

The BBC invited a bunch of folk and all the other seats went to serious fans that had almost fought to get their seats and the whole audience was an absolute delight. A little drink before hand and a very excited audience sat down to watch and wonder. Nothing overly starry about the audience just wonderfully committed fans of every size and shape and age.

Now you are possibly wondering how I, the not so serious fan, got there and why?

My dear friend and long-time L.A. neighbour and coincidentally my London neighbour as well, Waris Hussein, was the very first director of Doctor Who. Way before the Daleks were born and at the very start of his career, Waris worked for the BBC and was invited to direct the original script. I have heard Waris’s stories so often but to actually sit in a cinema and look at him along the row watching himself portrayed on the big screen by a fabulous young Indian actor (Sacha Dhawan) was most surreal.

I am not going to give any spoilers but suffice to say that whether you’re a major fan or not this is really good entertainment and a fascinating insight into the machinations of the early BBC (surely it can’t still be so archaic? ) But most of all I have to commend the wonderful performance from David Bradley who was so believable as William Hartnell and therefore the first Doctor.

Mr Bradley will now join other Doctors who have walked the streets of Stratford and thrown the tourists into a complete tizzy. He gave a wonderful , poignant performance as the late great character actor and I am sure is now going to also be identified as yet another Doctor.

I urge you all to try and see it whether or not you are a fan. There is some bloody good acting. The sets are fabulous. The period is perfectly set. My US friends will certainly get a wonderful flavour of England in the 60s and can find the show on BBC America, the rest of us can sit down in front of the telly next week…

I am now getting even more confused with who the real Doctor is…if there is one. Just last week I almost ran over one in Stratford. He was rushing to the RSC stage door and sporting long hair extensions and now there is another wonderfully classically trained actor to add to the list. Can someone please tell me who the REAL Doctor is? I would swear it is David Bradley!

Never quite sure what I am going to write about until the pen actually gets in to my hand my night at the cinema spurred me on to finish this blog but it was another incident in the summer that really got me thinking about what I feel is important to me and my career.

I recently talked with a young actress out in Hollywood. British and rather over confident with a recurring role in a not so brilliant TV series she nevertheless felt the world was her oyster. With a break in her TV schedule she told me she had recently turned down a job in film because ‘it didn’t tick all the right boxes.’ Her character was integral to the story and she would be working with a hot new director. The part required acting opposite a leading movie actor BUT she told me, with something close to horror, she had only very few lines.

Lucky cow and silly creature for missing such a learning opportunity. We gain so much from watching others and never ever fail to grow whilst we practice our craft. I appreciate that we all at some stage think we know better and I for one missed plenty of wonderful opportunities and regret that I often just wanted to stay home instead of getting out there. However, when it came to work I was SO fortunate to have a bloody brilliant agent. The late, great Julian Belfrage insisted in my early years, that nothing was too small and although we didn’t call it ‘networking’ back then…that’s what it was. Meeting and watching and learning. I don’t necessarily mean learning about acting either. Learning about Life too.

Years later I now look back at some of the wonderful opportunities that were handed to me. I also realise that I didn’t grab a lot of them, some just slipped through my fingers but I have few regrets and lots and lots of credits which might not be big acting role but in terms of experience….priceless!

A day’s work on TOMMY was an exciting chance to be in the presence of the highly regarded and totally barking mad Ken Russell. The day made even more memorable when he took a dislike to the hat I was wearing and swopped ME for another actress. I didn’t dare ask why he hadn’t swapped just my hat. But I was there and at least shook the hand of Anne Margaret and got a glimpse of Roger Daltry’s hair. I had called my agent at the first opportunity to bemoan my fate and dear Julian just told me to get out there and soak up the atmosphere…watch and learn.

In CANDLESHOE, a Disney production I was cast to play Jodi Foster’s mother. It was a flash back scene and ended up on the cutting room floor but again I was there and able to get a little more experience of a big American production to put in the mix of my early experiences. I didn’t actually meet the young Jodi but I certainly enjoyed telling her many years later that I had once played her mother. Luckily she had the decency to say I was way too young!

Some of my experiences were memorable for different reasons. I was thrilled to be cast as a ‘ harpy’ in a TV adaptation DRACULA directed by Dan Curtis whom I am sure I left a lasting memorable impression on. Sadly I don’t think it was my acting ability but more my inability to keep my fangs in my mouth after each attempt at gnawing on Simon Ward’s neck. They just wouldn’t stay in and when I pulled away after the attack, more often I would leave them balanced on Simon’s neck ruining the take! In desperation I was told to spit them out over his shoulder and make sure I did it off camera.

My fellow harpy, Virginia Wetherell , became a lifelong friend and to this day we laugh and laugh at our memories of flying fangs and remember with fondness Simon Ward and Jack Palance and our time cavorting around being ghoulies!

Once I was called to go to Franco Zefferelli’s house as he wanted to take some photos of me as he was looking for his Camille for a new project. I remember wearing a black turtle neck sweater (was it his?) and him applying eye makeup to me (can this be true?) and then taking photographs. He barely spoke to me. I am still in the dark about the whole bizarre experience but it was one of many, many strange meetings with even stranger industry people.

These were early days for me but so important and it must be said that us British are much more likely to grab anything at the beginning, whereas in the USA, agents start being incredibly selective from the get go. I certainly experienced that and back then didn’t have the voice or confidence to argue, It was a time to listen and observe and learn.

In my time Drama school only prepared you for theatre. Big screen acting was something one hardly dared dream off let alone spoke off. How times have changed now. Consequently when faced with that first film job it could be very intimidating and somewhat overwhelming.

My very first job EVER was on a film called THE FINAL PROGRAMME and in the US it was titled ‘THE LAST DAYS OF MAN ON EARTH’ It was released in 1973 so I was just 20 when I went to work on it.

I remember walking onto the sound studio, a place completely foreign to me, and being utterly overwhelmed with its size. It was pitch dark and in the very further most corner of the studio was a small magical patch of light. This was to be my set and as I approached I remember being amazed at all the people working away to prepare it for my scene. My screen time. Sparks and painters and stunt men and prop masters, lighting and make up…the list of people was endless but everyone there to reach the same goal. All I had to do was to slip in and make it mine…Then the chairs, just like in the movies, canvas backed with cast names emblazoned on the back.

picture-55Then the best part of all. The leading man. MY leading man…I was to play the sister of Jon Finch. At that time he was considered one of the leading lights of the British film industry and was drop dead gorgeous. I had watched him in Lady Caroline Lamb and also Macbeth and he was magnetic and now I was going to die in is arms…and go to heaven! But first he had to accidentally shoot me with a hypodermic needle. Having zapped me I then had to slide graciously down the curtain where upon he would scoop me up and I would die in his arms as he lay me down on the bed. Oh I did die…deliciously and happily I died and went to heaven over and over again…my chest was rising a bit too hard…be still my beating heart…but it did mean a few takes before we got the shot.

We dated a few times after that and I was so over excited the first time he came to pick me up from work. I had finished The Final Programme and gone straight on to work on a TV play with none other than the great Dame Edith Evans and Denholm Elliot. I was terrified but soon got over it when the stage manager told me there was a flash convertible sports car waiting for me outside.

We rehearsed in the Chelsea barracks and by the time I got outside there was quite a group of fluttering eyelashes and flailing limbs clamouring around Jon as he waited. What a treat. I was very puffed up with my own self-importance as I hopped into his car and we shot off up the Kings Road. He took me to a well-known Chelsea pub and serenaded me by playing the spoons…

Later he took me back to his flat and I got glimpse of a white fur thrown over his King-size bed. Now I knew he was a real movie star and suffice to say to tell anything more would be indiscreet…well maybe in the book one day …but I digress!

Back to the set…

What has remained with me to this day is that extraordinary feeling one gets when the lights and camera are on you. All those people working away to make YOUR screen time memorable, That’s magic time for me! The feeling has always remained for me. Magic Time. We, as performers, owe so much to ALL the people behind the scenes. Whether a skeleton crew or a vast studio set up, we owe it to them to give our best, to know our character, to have learnt our lines, to have got enough rest.

Sometimes it’s hard and for those artists who abuse their positions, who screw up over and over again, for whatever reason….MOVE ASIDE. There are so many brilliantly talented people just waiting for their chance to shine in the Spotlight.

The summer has come and gone and as usual I have divided my time between Los Angeles and London and Stratford upon Avon.

displacementLos Angeles has been the home of my latest project ‘Displacement’ and I eagerly await the finished project. I have a small but integral role in it and was nevertheless spoilt and pampered and loved my time with the cast and crew. I really rather miss them. London has been the home of the wonderful world of Disney and I have been delighted to be able to work on numerous promos for them. Quite a change of tempo for me and especially rewarding as I am giving a softer and warmer voice to some lovely children’s programmes.

Stratford of course, is my 92 year old mother’s home and I am spending some wonderful time with her. Lots of family stuff and a few outings though time and age is somewhat limiting however it didn’t stop us from having a wonderful summers evening with the fabulous Illmington Morris Men who welcomed us so graciously into their midst. A perfect evening for a Warwickshire lass. Thank you.