Frivolous Monsters

Meeting Your Heroes

Imagine your worst nightmare… Imagine it’s something you couldn’t wake up from because it wasn’t a dream… Imagine it’s something so emotionally disturbing that you never told a living soul for ten whole years… And then, and only then, imagine that after another decade has passed that you find a home video of it for sale on eBay… A blog post twenty years in the making: You should never meet your heroes.  01 John Henry Fuseli The Nightmare

Amongst the childhood dossier I recently turned up was a drawing I made at the age of five. It’s a drawing I remember doing as it got given a golden star by my schoolteacher for extracurricular achievement. It was a picture of the scarecrow Worzel Gummidge and little could I have known then how our lives were destined to become entwined.  02 Worzel 03Worzel Gummidge was a legendary children’s TV series from the eighties about a dysfunctional scarecrow, always getting into trouble, who could change his head depending on the situation. The title scarecrow was played by the late actor Jon Pertwee who is perhaps even more famously remembered from playing the third incarnation of Doctor Who.

Jon Pertwee and Roger Delgado

Jon Pertwee and Roger Delgado

Interestingly one of those stories, The Mind of Evil (1971), featured a machine that turned your greatest fear upon you. When the Master, the Doctor’s nemesis figure, turned the machine on Jon Pertwee his nightmare was revealed to be fire. Whereas the greatest fear of the actor who played the Master, Roger Delgado, was being driven by others, and so he always drove himself everywhere… until he arrived to shoot a film in Turkey and the guy sent to pick him up from the airport went and drove them all off a cliff. Which just goes to show you that your greatest fear, be it spiders, wasps, or foreigners, will always do for you in the end. Although, for Jon Pertwee, fire wouldn’t get to become his downfall. He’d meet me first.

And so it’s safe to say that from an early age that I was a big fan, and when a group of adults that I’d become associated with, who held monthly Who-related gatherings in a city centre pub (another blog post, for another time), organised one of the biggest unofficial Doctor Who conventions there’d ever been on my metaphorical doorstep… Well, how could I not go? I was fourteen.04 Manopticon Manchester Doctor Who Sachas

I’m making my excuses now: It was 1991, I was young, not greatly outgoing, and certainly not used to hanging around in Manchester. I also wasn’t an early riser by choice and so to get to a posh city-centre hotel for the time the doors opened I had to be up unnaturally early. But still, getting there on time meant I secured a great seat near the stage that was practically the front row. It always pays to be early.

As I remember it Jon Pertwee was the first up in a weekend schedule. He was therefore the first celebrity I ever came face to face with. He came in costume, looked as great as he did in the seventies, and was practically at touching distance. What’s not to love?

I was that close.

I was that close.

And this is it: I was tired, whilst enthralled, and saw Jon Pertwee as the highlight of the weekend. He started an hour interview/Q&A at nine and the incident soon to become etched on my very soul happened roughly between 9.40 and 9.45. I didn’t want him to end. I looked at my programme to see he finished at 10.00, and looked at my watch to see how much we had left of him…06 Jon Pertwee Manopticon PictureOnly, in isolation, the great man turned to his right at that exact moment, and he saw me looking at my watch, and he saw me yawning, and he stopped what he was saying to a two thousand-plus crowd, and instead he addressed me directly with disdain: “I’m terribly sorry if I’m boring you!

I could have died.

Never meet your heroes.

In theory they’re supposed to disappoint you, but in this case it was the other way around. Later the actor Jon Pertwee, turned on by his disrespectful fan, died of a broken heart… just four short years later. I think they kept me out of the inquest.

As I referred to in the preamble this incident caused me so much childhood trauma that I never told anyone of this incident until the year 2000. It affected me that badly, and I can remember the exact night when I did recant this to someone for the first time. It was kind-of like therapy.

In more recent years I found an eye-opening account of how some other fans saw Jon Pertwee in a book of collected fanzines called Licence Denied – Rumblings from the DOCTOR WHO Underground (Virgin Books, 1997). In an article titled Pertwee by Amada Murray she wrote about him:

The accusations [of fandom] have been wide-ranging, swinging from the sublime to the ridiculous – everything from chauvinism, sexism, bad acting, and imperialism to meanness, Toryism, arrogance and even making little children cry.

I started to wonder if I hadn’t been alone in tasting Jon Pertwee’s ire.

And then, a few weeks ago, I was taken aback to find after twenty-one years that someone was selling video footage of the Jon Pertwee Manopticon convention panel on eBay… For eight pounds-fifty! Steep, but I had to buy it, didn’t I? Daemons to wrestle with, dragons to slay, etc. 07 Manopticon Doctor Who Manchester Memory cheats, I know that. Particularly over twenty years, and so I got down the above account as I remember it, as I’ve always remembered it, before I watched the DVD that arrived in the post. I thought it’d be interesting to see if I jumbled his words, or if I’d get them spot on having had them seared into my subconscious.

And so I watched…

Well to be honest I didn’t watch it all as it was really bad quality, with bad sound, and I knew what I was looking for and I fast-forwarded to near the end of his hour… then rewound it, zipped about, and… I couldn’t find it. Nothing like that was there. And I came to the startling revelation, the one I’d least expected to make, that perhaps I’d made it all up… and invented the whole thing.

I know of a psychology experiment where a young child is asked repeatedly about the time he/she was stung by a bee, even though they never had been, and eventually the child not only came to “remember” it but embellished the story with extra details as they re-tell it. And they believed.

I spent a confused couple of days going all Sherlock and finding that the printed 1991 programme doesn’t back up my timetable of events, but then I know there were alterations to that on the day, however even my own photographs show that Jon Pertwee wasn’t first up on the Saturday, nothing close, or even that I was sat in the front row seat during his solo panel.

Another DVD of the same convention that the eBay seller also gave me for free (nice bloke!) contained other footage including a group panel Pertwee did about the 1989 stage show The Ultimate Adventure and, eventually, I found it. It did exist. I wasn’t crazy. But, it wasn’t how I remembered it. It wasn’t how I remembered it at all.

With the cast of The Ultimate Adventure stage show... So odd to see someone smoking indoors now.

With the cast of The Ultimate Adventure stage show… So odd to see someone smoking indoors now.

And so with his fellow cast beside him, with the now-famous author Steve Lyons interviewing, then came the dreaded nightmare from my childhood. And now I’ve wrestled with technology to open myself up to the world, as usual, so that you can see it too.

He said “I don’t mind you looking at your watch, sir, but when you shake it…” and added after all the laughter “That was a good ‘un!

I remember the laughter of the audience now, as I sank in my seat and wanted the world to swallow me, but… he doesn’t look miffed in the slightest. He actually seems greatly amused that I’ve just set him up for a great gag about being on for so long that someone was checking their watch to make sure it was still working.

All those years worrying. I always felt that if I ever came across his wife Ingeborg, or his famous actor son Sean, that I would have tried to explain the misunderstanding above, but I guess there’s really no need. No need at all.

As it happens, I did get to meet Jon Pertwee once more before his death. March 1992: I was fifteen, and it was at a midweek signing for his new video The Pertwee Years at WH Smith in Manchester. Why wasn’t I in school?

09 Jon Pertwee ManchesterI arrived early enough to be one of the first in the queue and I finally got to get his autograph through the medium of the nastiest unreadable thick blue marker pen available. 10 Jon Pertwee Years Manchester WH SmithI do remember him saying to the stationary shop staff, just after I’d had my turn and he’d shaken my hand, with further words that immediately began to haunt me: “Do you think you can find me another pen from your establishment”. It always pays to be early.

At least, I’m pretty sure that was what he said.

The site of this meeting was lost to posterity four years later when the IRA parked the biggest British peacetime bomb (3,300 pounds, 1,500 Kg) right outside and blew it, and much of the city, to smithereens. I remember hearing it: I was about seven miles away at the time. It produced a billion pounds worth of damage.

That Post Box has a plaque now: I survived the IRA bomb going off next to me when bugger all else did. Those Victorians built things to last.

That Post Box has a plaque now: I survived the IRA bomb going off next to me when bugger all else did. Those Victorians built things to last.

Still, as this led to a city-wide regeneration, posterity has judged this act of mainland terrorism to be a great boon for the city.

It’s funny how, looking back, things aren’t always as dark as they seemed at the time.

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28 thoughts on “Meeting Your Heroes

  1. Phew! When I read that first paragraph I thought that we were about to hear of your long-suppressed meeting with Jimmy Saville…

    I think we all have those kind of moments (not Jimmy Saville ones) seared into our minds, ones that still make us cringe even though we are probably the only person left who still remembers about it. Just as well the internet has managed to put your mind (slightly) to rest about what really happened. Imagine if you had been able to see the clip years ago, so many sleepless night avoided.

    • No, no Jimmy Savile, although one wet dinnertime when I was ten a few of us in my class did compose a letter so we could appear on Jim’ll Fix It: We wanted to ‘haunt’ the school, and I went home and concocted my best green slime with kitchen products… none of the rest bothered, the letter was never sent. You never know how lucky you are.

      Really for the first ten years it obviously bothered me, but after that it waned. You are right about no-one else remembering it as I tried to ascertain from the eBay vendor that this clip (as though it was the highlight that everyone would remember – it really isn’t) was included on the footage he was selling.

      So was Worzel Gummidge a part of childhoods in Australia? They filmed Worzel Gummidge Down Under in New Zealand (shown 1987 – 1989) so I don’t know if this make is more likely to appear on your Aussie radar.

      p.s. A bit I originally included in this, but edited out as it was long already, is that before this clip Jon Pertwee was talking about the casting of the stage show (it was a musical !?!) and that they originally approached Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan for the roles of his two companions. I’m guessing they’d have been just out of Neighbours then (?) and popular with a general UK audience, but they offered them bugger all money. I’m not sure if those two have much impact outside the UK/Aus. Anyway the suggestion was laughable to Doctor Who fans back then, but come 2007 she starred in the Christmas special and was very good.

      • I do remember Worzel Gummidge from my childhood viewing. I couldn’t remember specific events/episodes, but when I googled it I immediately remembered Aunt Sally. I just watched a clip on youtube where he threw a fellow scarecrow off a bridge in front of a train so it doesn’t surprise me at all that I would have watched something like that….

        I can imagine that Kylie and Jason would have been beyond the budget of many things back then, Jason would probably attend the opening of an envelope now but Kylie has certainly gone to a new level hasn’t she?

    • I don’t remember the later NZ series and must have memories of the earlier series as this was 1981 in my first year at primary school when teachers were easily impressed by pictures you’d drawn at home, it seems. I don’t remember specifics, but Aunt Sally (now Sherlock’s landlady) and vague recollections of the Crow Man. I do remember him changing his head.

      And yes you should have put your money on Kylie not lost your shirt on Jason. I’m sure he’s getting by alright though.

  2. I found this completely interesting, though I know who none of these people are. It’s so strange how memory works. I’m now wondering how many of mine are total fabrication.

    • Thanks, I’m glad the human story sells it! I’m glad I wrote it this way, by recanting before I watched it, as the difference in memory to actual events I found shocking. Not as shocking as the time I spent wondering if I’d somehow imagined the whole thing though!

  3. For me Jon Pertwee was first and foremost Chief Petty Officer Pertwee in The Navy Lark. I’ve been listening to some of them again, thanks to BBC iPlayer and they are great.

    • That is a series I’ve never got into, possibly as the repeats always seem to be there. I expect it’s more accessible to a new listener than ‘The Goon Show’ which I just find unfathomable. He did have a career of such a length that many people knew him for different things. I recall in an interview that the actor Frazer Hines said he has different pictures for autographs depending on where the person knew him from.

  4. Great post, FM! Gripping, insightful and funny. I had a copy of that video (not signed). There, I let it out of my head…

    • Thanks. I never expected to find anyone that had a copy of that video. I’m obviously preaching to the converted. As all his Doctor Who episodes exist near enough complete I think the only reason I bought the video was because he was there. Which I guess means he did his job. The previous two videos for Hartnell / Troughton I saw as more worthwhile as they featured stuff unlikely to be released anytime soon.

      • Ha, yes – . I had the Troughton one as well – I watched that a fair bit – not having seen any of his episodes when they were broadcast, I found them fascinating. For a while he was my favourite Dr, because he seemed so unlikely as a hero and not quite of this world. Some of the audio re-constructions of his lost episodes are great too.

  5. reverend61 on said:

    Love, love, *love* this. Remind me to tell you of the idiot I made of myself meeting Whispering Bob Harris almost a decade ago.

    • I’m glad you liked. I think we all make fools of ourselves in front of out heroes. One thing I did catch of interest in the Q&A (where you couldn’t hear the questions) is that he didn’t enjoy his time on the Carry On films, and that he thought ‘Day of the Daleks’ was absolute rubbish and he was miffed when they bothered putting it out on video… Possibly more miffed when everyone bought it and loved it.

  6. Now you have me wondering if all the embarrassing moments that have piled up in my head were really as bad as I remember them, or even went at all like I remember them. I agree, he doesn’t look at all miffed, and you totally set him up for a joke, which I’m sure he appreciated, much like when a volleyball player sets up another player for a spike.

  7. Fraser Hines! Now there’s a name you don’t see every day. That was a great story about meeting Jon Pertwee. He was my favourite Dr Who, not Tom Baker who everyone else seemed to have a thing for, though I thought he was entertaining. Must be the scarf.

    Just goes to show that your memory can be totally unreliable. Thanks for sharing.

    • As much as I love Jon Pertwee you cannot knock Tom Baker! He’s gone full circle from trying to escape association from the role in the eighties where he struggled to get good roles through typecasting, to the nineties getting those children who grew up with him employing him in their own programmes (Lee and Herring, Walliams and Lucas, Reeves and Mortimer, etc) when they got into TV. These days he much more embraces the role and the fans.

  8. While they definitely over-used the Master too much, his appearances were always the highlight of this era. I loved his calmness and cool sense of humor; I’ve been raised with a silly over the top Master (Ainley, Simm).

    • Hello, I just fished this out of the spam folder. I think the plan was to kill off the Master had Roger Delgado not died. Instead it created another oft-returning villain. And even though I see what you say I do love both Anthony Ainley’s and John Simm’s performances, along with the other shorter-lived Masters… Eric Roberts aside. I was raised on Ainley, being able to remember back to pretty near the start of his tenure.

  9. Fabulous post! Thanks for sharing that. I can only imagine if there was a video of something parallel from my teens, that I would probably not post it:) I was painfully shy as a kid.
    I don’t know if that show was broadcast here and still haven’t watched those early generation Dr. Who’s – so don’t know the actor. Gasp!

    • Thanks, if I think that if there’s a good story in it then there’s very little how I won’t humiliate myself on here. After all I’ve covered women from almost every angle and now this. It does show how much I’ve changed from when I was younger how I can confront, distil, and get down on paper these events.

      I think we all have childhood nightmares, I’ve realised I have some more and think I need to plot them all, but I hope they weren’t as bad as we remember them.

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  12. Great post-and the great Doctor didn’t disappoint.
    If you recall, I have ended up on this post from a conversation we both have had on another of your posts six months in the future. Ain’t time travel great!

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