A stint in the BBC script unit led to me working as an extra in Doctor Who and many other TV shows. This page is a compilation of Auton anecdotes, and others from encounters with people who worked on Doctor Who.
Jon Pertwee’s Sports Car
In between being an Auton for special close-ups under the direction of Derek Martinus while on location at Evesham, I was the unit driver, collecting and delivering actors such as Hugh Burden from the station. Jon Pertwee came in his snazzy sports car, which he let me drive once. I wasn’t dressed and made up like an Auton while doing the driving, but I often thought how it would freak people out if I were.
Jon was big in stature and personality. When Spearhead From Space was in rehearsal, and then during the run-throughs, I thought he was underplaying it, not putting much energy into the part. But he knew exactly what he was doing because when I saw the rushes this cool, sophisticated version of the Doctor was seen for the first time. It worked beautifully, and I reckon he was working against the manically energetic Doctor of Patrick Troughton to make even more of a contrast in his new ‘incarnation’. Cast and crew stayed at the Manor House Hotel, Evesham, and when we all got together at breakfast I’d get Jon to do the funny voice of ‘The Postman’ from the radio show (“It doesn’t matter what you do so long as you tears ’em up”) which he was happy to do. He was a fund of entertaining anecdotes that had the table ‘on a roar’, and he was always charming, smiling, courteous and extremely funny. Jon Pertwee was a most splendid, kind and memorable man, a hero of mine it was a privilege to have known.
Happy Days: Spearhead From Space Auton
Although it was October (1969) when ‘Spearhead’ was filmed, the weather was warm with blue sky and sunshine throughout. PA (Production Assistant) Peter Grimwade and I would go rowing on the Avon during times off.
After we’d shot Spearhead down Evesham way and I’d done my Auton bit, Jon Pertwee and I would sometimes sit at a table with our drinks in the BBC Club bar at Television Centre and have a chat. He knew I was a writer and I think this intrigued him because his elder brother Michael was a comedy writer who 3 years before had worked on the film A Funny Thing Happened on the Way To The Forum with Zero Mostel.
Then a year later he worked on a cinema feature starring Morecambe and Wise called The Magnificent Two. I like to think we got on well. I so remember standing at this bar quaffing a subsided pint and dreaming my dreams. I’ve reported elsewhere that the Auton met a Dalek here in the shape of John Scott Martin and I asked him what it was like to be inside one of those things. Happy days.
Yep, that photo really is me, I remember that scene well. Couldn’t see much through the wire mesh eyelets, the main thing was not to fall over. I went on location with the crew and did all the Auton close-up stuff, including being zapped by a nice lady with a shotgun!
Caroline John (aka Liz Shaw)
Somewhere in Caroline John’s part of the script was something about ‘polymer chains’. So up she came to me and said “Hi Robin, could you explain what a polymer chain is, so I can give this line some semblance of knowledge and authority? Derrick Sherwin says you’ll know.” I hadn’t as yet that day been plastered inside my Auton mask or I couldn’t have spoken at all, and of course, as ANYONE knows, a polymer chain is made out of monomer units, and that a polyethylene polymer chain is made from many thousands of ethylene units added together. So I looked at her and said, “I’m afraid I haven’t the slightest idea.” To be honest, nor did anyone else, but when she spoke that line as Liz Shaw she sounded commendably knowledgeable and authoritative. Caroline also appeared in Inferno and Doctor Who and the Silurians.
Christine was the most accomplished and flairful costume designer an Auton could wish for. She who visualised how all of us would look, from Jon Pertwee’s flamboyant garb to the humble boiler suits the Autons wore. She was also beautiful and the loveliest person, if that doesn’t sound too ‘luvvy’. I was privileged to meet Christine again quite recently on being interviewed by Chris Chapman for the DVD ‘Mannequin Mania’, and we still recognised each other despite the passage of years.
Another heroine was make-up lady Cynthia Goodwin, who sealed me inside the Auton mask with great aplomb. Where is Cynthia now? Does anyone out there know?
General Scobie Meets His Auton Replica
The chilling moment at the end of Episode 3 of Spearhead, when General Scobie opens his front door and a replica of himself walks in was filmed in the entrance of the Manor House Hotel at Evesham. To get the effect, head camera operator Stan Speel masked the right-hand half of the lens with a piece of board, then filmed actor Hamilton Dyce reacting in shock to something approaching him. Stan then wound the film back to precisely the point where it began, moved the mask across to blot out the part of the lens with the now exposed film, and filmed Hamilton Dyce walking in. When the fully exposed film was played back, there was Scobie advancing on himself! I think we all applauded, it was a great piece of camera work.
With Jon Pertwee on the Set of The Daemons
I travelled to Marlborough in Wiltshire, where I was put up in a hotel and we were taken by coach to the Downs. I was kitted out as a BBC 3 Cameraman (before there was a real BBC 3), and at the filming site was surprised to see a huge aeroplane propeller connected to an engine. The Doctor and Jo reach the mound and the Doctor rushes inside to stop the dig, but it is too late. The tomb door opens and icy gusts of wind rush out, while the eyes of a gargoyle, Bok, flare with a reddish glow. During the sequence where the tomb was opened and a great blast of wind sent the ‘camera crew’ tumbling, the propeller was activated to create the effect. Certainly the black magic stuff, incantations and ‘so mote it be’ and all that was pretty chilling. I didn’t learn till later that one of the producers, Barry Letts, was co-writer, which impressed me as I knew Barry and could never have imagined such things as devil worship were going around in his head. On a personal note, I used the idea of the invisible force field that surrounds the village in The Daemons to seal off the seemingly haunted house in my screenplay The Tenth Dimension. The next time I saw Katy Manning (Jo Grant) was when we came face-to-face at a recent autograph-signing event at Chiswick, and she still looks great.
John Hurt and Visions of Eternity
Several years ago I visited John at his house at Chiswick to discuss his role in a screenplay of mine. Because of the vicissitudes of the film business, that film has yet to be made, but, at the time, he was strongly attracted to the part of Jerzy in Visions Of Eternity. While waiting for the director to turn up, we had some time alone together. I found him charming, courteous, gentle, sensitive, humorous, quick of wit and profoundly intelligent. It was hard to believe I was in the presence of a legend, he made me feel so at home. Not everyone in this business is sweetness and light, and it’s usually the lesser ones who are sometimes less than pleasant – but John Hurt was an absolute delight and I feel very privileged indeed to have met him.
Nicholas Courtney: Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart
Some three years ago I met a writer pal in London at the CAA (Concert Artists Association) in Covent Garden. Returning there later for a nightcap we found this charismatic gentleman with a hearty booming voice holding court at one of the tables. I knew the voice at once – it was Nicholas Courtney, aka Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. He was kind enough to say he remembered me as the Auton from Doctor Who days, and we joined his table and quaffed a few. To add to the slightly surreal atmosphere, the barman was Phil Rose, once Friar Tuck in Robin of Sherwood at the time I’d been one of the Merry Men, directed by Robert Young. I can’t remember what was said, but Nick was in fine form. It wasn’t long afterwards I was saddened to hear he had died, a great presence and powerful personality still sadly missed, the more so as he’d been so full of life and positivity that evening.
Tom Baker – Energy!
Tom Baker took the role of the Doctor by the scruff of its neck and shook it! Such strength and energy came off him. One evening during the recording of Logopolis (directed by Peter Grimwade) I took my daughter aged 8 down to the studio floor to show her what was going on. I could hear Tom going off on one (he had a bit of a temper which occasionally burst forth and scared the daylights out of everyone). Then he stormed off the set and came striding towards us, his towering figure trembling with rage. He strode up to us, and stopped, and said “Robin? Is she yours?” “Yes Tom,” I said, “this is Kerry.” A big smile came over his face and he crouched down and spoke to her in a gentle voice, then got his assistant to fetch a photo from his dressing room, which he signed with a flourish, tousled her hair, grinned happily, then went on his way like a changed man.
As well as containing anecdotes of my times on Doctor Who and many other shows, The Life and Times of a Doctor Who Dummy describes much more, including how hitch-hiking in the South of France and Beatlemania in Nice led to my first novel.
Read an extract from The Life and Times of a Doctor Who Dummy HERE
More anecdotes on the BLOG pages
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Read EXTRACTS from Robin Squire’s books