Newsletter mid October 2009

Barry Letts

Barry Letts appearing on my This Is Your Life in 2000. © Fremantle Media

Barry Letts appearing on my This Is Your Life in 2000.  © Fremantle Media

I’m sad to hear that darling Barry Letts has died. He was a very accomplished director and producer for many years at the BBC. He was greatly admired by so many people. He was especially admired by Tom Baker who became the fourth doctor on the say-so of dear Barry. There were several links in the chain of command at the Beeb when it came to replacing John Pertwee. Bill Slater as head of Series and Serials put my name forward and Shaun Sutton as Head of Drama saw me too. But it was up to Barry to decide. He saw me as a wizard in a Ray Harryhausen film (The Golden Voyage of Sinbad) and decided I was worth the risk. And for that I am always grateful. I had no idea how to approach the part. I just turned up and did my turn and Elisabeth Sladen was pleased and so was Barry. Lis always thought of herself as Barry’s girl. I always think of myself as Barry’s choice. And I always think of Lis Sladen with such tender memories for the confidence she had in me. We had such a happy time together. And soon after setting me up as number four Barry was replaced by Philip Hinchcliffe. And off we went with a bang. Barry directed us in one story in which there were humanoid robots. In one scene a deadly robot finger was pointed at me and threats uttered: the usual thing. I didn’t have a line so I casually asked: “Is that finger loaded?” One of my silly ideas. Barry Letts knew that aliens from Gallifrey could be just as silly as the next outsider and he allowed the line to stay. As I cast my mind back to those days the memories are of a serious Barry Letts, but also memories of how sweet and patient he was. Always so ready to give time to suggestions. Always so kind. He was a good man and I am proud to have known him. Click here to read my story of how Barry cast me as Doctor Who.

Mary Tamm

Do get Mary Tamm’s new book: “First Generation”. The elegant Mary tells a good story of her origins, Estonia and her journey to stardom here in England. I have often said that her talent for comedy went unappreciated during her time in Doctor Who. Well, when you read her book you will laugh and agree with me.

Walking the dog

I have been down to woods today three times. Poppy has been spayed and we are told not to let her loose as chasing rabbits could undo her stitches. Well the rabbits around here could be caught by Long John Silver. In fact chasing hardly comes into it. They have very little sense of self preservation and often just offer themselves up, as fearless as the silly pheasants which do not even break into a trot as Poppy and I appear. So there is no danger of Poppy’s stitches coming adrift. The only small risk is when we get back to the house and she leaps onto the island in the kitchen to gobble up the kitten food. Treasure Island for a dog. Devil’s Island if you are a hungry kitten: and little Bella is always hungry. She eats like a horse and gallops about the place nipping the heels of cats, dogs and any other heel that might be there.

It’s time for bulbs to be planted so that we can be sure of a good show next spring. Off I went and fetched hundreds of daffodil bulbs: two varieties, King Alfred and Mount Hood. Sue did all the work as usual and I did the admiring. It seems a reasonable arrangement: I’m big on admiration and Sue knows what needs to be done and how to do it. Because of the badgers who dig as hard as Jack Russell terriers we have to defend the newly planted bulbs. They have to be fed too, so no stinting on blood meal. And especially they have to be protected from the squirrels and Badgers. How? Simple: plenty of cayenne pepper. Lawks, how the badgers sneeze and how I laugh at the thought of them staggering about weeping tears of rage at being outsmarted.

The temperature has dropped further and the flies are suffering and I hope they’ll be off soon. Bella will miss them, well she always misses them but she loves the chase. I watched a spider abseil down from a beam to near where Bella was waiting for action. Down came the spider and would have sat down beside her but Bella was not in the mood: she snaffled the spider and gobbled it up. None of that Miss Muffet nonsense, no sir: down the hatch.

The place is littered with thousands of sweet chestnuts in their hairy green cases and out of them. Too many even for the squirrels. In the woods they fall on your head! Well, not on your head but on mine. And I rake up the chestnuts with the leaves ad have a good old burn up. I just adore the smell of woodsmoke on these damp mornings. Sometimes in the late afternoon I prepare several heaps of leaves and nuts and then when I get down to them in the morning it’s the work of five minutes to get a conflagration going. I try not to inhale as young sweet chestnuts mixed with holly leaves and hornbeam might have a strange effect.

This morning at 8.15 sharp I am dressed in pink shorts and striped shirt and both my feet in a red plastic bucket of hot water. Why? Because Mrs.Toes is to arrive and do my feet. Oh, the pleasure of an 8.15 tickle. What a light touch she has and how sharp her instrument. I felt so much lighter afterwards that I toyed with the idea of changing the way I walk. I showed Mrs Toes my idea but she pronounced it too “bouncy” for my age.

When my knees feel particularly creaky and I’m full of aches I feel old. Of course I am old. BUT I noticed the other day as I was standing next to the Castle in Hastings that the castle looked very very old. And, can you believe it? I suddenly felt quite young! Yes, and the sensation of being young again lasted for about five minutes. Bliss. And I noticed how high it was and then I felt small. One moment I felt young again and the next moment I felt small, belittled.

My new Forum

Some news for you! I’ve decided to open a forum on my site. I can see from my guestbook that some of you would like to communicate with one another, so now you’ll have the chance! Watch out for it within the next few weeks – we’ll announce it in the news section, so if you opt for an RSS feed, you’ll get to hear about it! Thanks for all your inquiries in my guestbook. Many of you have asked whether I’ll do any more Doctor Who audiobooks. Well, I suppose it’ll depend on the response from the fans! If I’m asked to do another one and I like the script, I probably will. There was another question about the names of my family members on the picture in my photo album. I’ve updated the caption on the picture itself so you’ll find them there. As for a picture of Bella, here’s one of her with Poppy enjoying a pile of feathers after someone else had a pigeon.

I don’t have a favourite Halloween story, but I’ll try making one up when I’m down in the woods!


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