John Devon Roland Pertwee (7 July 1919 – 20 May 1996) was an English actor. Pertwee is best known for his role in the BBC science fiction television series Doctor Who, in which he played the third incarnation of the Doctor from 1970 to 1974, and as the title character in the series Worzel Gummidge.
Born in Chelsea, London, Pertwee was educated at Frensham Heights School in Surrey, at Sherborne School in Dorset, and at some other schools from which he was expelled. After school, he went to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), from which he was also expelled after he refused to play a Greek “wind” during one of the lessons, feeling it was a waste of both his time and his father’s money.
Pertwee was an officer in the Royal Navy, spending some time working in naval intelligence during the Second World War. He was a crew member of HMS Hood and was transferred off the ship shortly before she was sunk, losing all but three men.
After the war he made a name for himself as a comedy actor, notably on radio at the BBC. On stage, he played the part of Lycus in the 1963 London production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum with Frankie Howerd and appeared in the smaller role of Crassus in the 1966 film version. He also appeared in four Carry On films: Carry On Cleo (1964, as the soothsayer), Carry On Screaming (1966, as Dr. Fettle), Carry On Cowboy (1965, as Sheriff Earp) and Carry On Columbus (1992, as the Duke of Costa Brava).
He had one of his most memorable film roles in the 1971 Amicus horror compendium The House That Dripped Blood. Filmed in the summer of 1970, between his first and second Doctor Who seasons, Pertwee played the lead in the last segment of the film as Paul Henderson, a deliciously arrogant horror film star who meets his quasi-comedic doom thanks to a genuine vampire cloak.
In 1969, Pertwee was selected by producer Peter Bryant to take over as the Doctor from Patrick Troughton in the television series Doctor Who. Pertwee had asked his agent to apply for the role for him and was surprised to find he was already on the shortlist for the role. In a departure from the Doctor’s first two incarnations, Pertwee played the character as an active crusader with a penchant for action and fancy clothes, even while the character was exiled on Earth and serving with UNIT. He played the Doctor for five seasons from early 1970 to mid-1974, at the time the longest stint of any of the actors who played the part, surpassing predecessors William Hartnell’s and Patrick Troughton’s three years each in the role, although due to shortened broadcast seasons, he appeared in fewer episodes than Hartnell. Of the eleven actors to portray the role, only three would play the Doctor for longer chronological time: Pertwee’s immediate successor, Tom Baker (seven years from 1974 to 1981), Sylvester McCoy (eight years from 1987–1996) and David Tennant (four years and six and a half months from June 2005 to January 2010, thus longer by a month). In early 1974, Pertwee announced he would step down as the Doctor in order to resume his stage career in The Bedwinner, also citing typecasting in the role as the reason for leaving. His last fulltime appearance in the series was in the story Planet of the Spiders in June 1974.
In 1978 Pertwee took the starring role in Worzel Gummidge, based on the books written by Barbara Euphan Todd. First aired in 1979 on ITV, the series saw Pertwee as a scarecrow, as well as utilising several comedic voices. The show was an immediate hit and ran on the channel until 1981. Keen to continue beyond this, Pertwee campaigned for the series and it was picked up by a New Zealand network in 1987. Worzel Gummidge Down Under aired for the next two years and was screened in the UK on Channel 4. In 1995, Pertwee played the role one last time in a one-off special for ITV, which celebrated 40 years of the channel.
He returned to the role of the Doctor in the 1983 20th anniversary television special The Five Doctors and in the 1993 charity special Dimensions in Time for Children in Need. He also portrayed the Doctor in the stage play Doctor Who – The Ultimate Adventure which toured theatres in the United Kingdom from March to June 1989.
Pertwee died from a heart attack on 20 May 1996, two months before his 77th birthday. He was cremated at Putney Vale Crematorium with a toy Worzel Gummidge affixed to the coffin, following the instructions in his will.