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Jon Pertwee as Wurzel Gummidge

For a man with such a singular visual presence and talent for physical comedy, it’s a surprise to discover that the bedrock of Jon Pertwee’s career was on the radio. Fresh out of the navy at the end of the Second World War, he used his dramatic training (RADA, no less, although he was expelled), and talent for mimickry to great effect, taking comedic roles in BBC radio shows such as Waterlogged Spa and Puffney Post Office.

His earliest big hit role came in 1959, with the long-running BBC radio comedy, The Navy Lark, in which he played Chief Petty Officer Pertwee (a role that had his name written all over it etc etc), for 18 years.

During this time he also made full use of a huge talent for funny voices, recording children’s songs such as “The Runaway Train” and “Three Little Fishies.” If you grew up in the early ’70s, his was an unescapable voice and face:

Here he is in 1966’s A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum, the film version of a stage play starring British comic Frankie Howerd, in which he also appeared:

And a year earlier, here he is in Carry On Cowboy (around the nine minute mark), one of four of the Carry On film series that he appeared in:

(which incidentally makes that two Doctors who’ve appeared in Carry On films. In 1967 he gave this performance as part of The Avengers adventure From Venus With Love (five minutes in):

And even during his Doctoring years, he found the time to appear in other things, such as this 1970 horror flick, The House That Dripped Blood. That shirt looks familiar:

Here he is in 1975, having left Doctor Who, presenting the TV murder mystery show Whodunnit! (no relation):

And a year later, here he is helping children to learn to cross the road. Apparently the acronym SPLINK proved to be far too complicated for children to remember:

In 1979 he began his second most notable children’s TV role, that of the witless scarecrow Wurzel Gummidge (and all of his interchangeable heads). This was a huge hit, eradicating the memory of the Doctor for a generation raised on Tom Baker and Peter Davison.

Here’s an entire episode, do write and let us know if you’re struggling to understand what he’s on about:

And his third child-friendly hit came shortly afterwards, in the form of the cartoon Super-Ted, for which he provided the voice of the sidekick Spotty:

And here he is in The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles episode Attack of the Hawkmen (around the 13 minute mark):

At the time of his death in 1996, he was appearing on British TV screens in this advert for Vodafone, looks rather familiar, doesn’t he?

Incidentally, did you know that Jon Pertwee’s godfather was the actor Henry Ainley, father of Anthony Ainley, who played the ’80s incarnation of the Master? Acting is even more of a wibbley-wobbley world than time travel, it seems.

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By Fraser McAlpine