Monday, September 09, 2013

Doctor Who and Arthur Ransome

I am not a huge fan of the recent revival of Doctor Who, but I have fond memories of the early years of the show and of the actors who played the hero.

My favourite among them is Patrick Troughton, who we have seen as the murderous Tyrell in Richard III and as Cole Hawlings in The Box of Delights.

A few days ago across a post on the blog sophieneville which tells us that Troughton played The Eel Man in the BBC's adaptation of Arthur Ransome's The Big Six: that was filmed in 1983 and screened the following year:
He had lead the most fascinating life. A Naval Officer during World War II, and the first actor to play Robin Hood on television, Patrick Troughton played The Doctor in 128 episodes of Doctor Who. 
But would he be drawn? If we asked him about his life he just started talking about eels in a broad Norfolk accent. He’d worked for our Director Andrew Morgan on Kings Royal and for Joe Water’s on Z Cars, but for us, in the summer of 1983, he was the eel man.
I have borrowed this photo from sophieneville - and Whovians will be interested to learn that The Big Six also featured Colin Baker.

Earlier year Henry Dimbleby and John Vincent.published a government-commissioned report on school meals. If Henry's name seemed familiar it may be because he also appeared in The Big Six as a boy.

And, since you ask... yes, he is from that family. He is David Dimbleby's son. The BBC Charter requires that the Dimbleby family be employed in perpetuity. This is believed to date from the time that certain photographs of Sir John Reith came into the possession of Richard Dimbleby.

Still, Henry's employment as a child actor is nothing. His father and uncle were allowed to make travel films for the BBC while they were still young teenagers.

Incidentally, I never warmed to Arthur Ransome as a child. I think too many people recommended him to me as a child, with the result that I clung even more firmly to my beloved Malcolm Saville Lone Pine stories.

Later I realised that both Ransome and Saville were heavily influenced by Richard Jefferies' Bevis: The Story of a Boy. That was one of the three Jefferies books (along with Wood Magic and After London) that was the subject of my MA dissertation some 20 years ago.


Sophie Neville said...

I see you have been reading about 'Coot Club' and 'The Big Six'. What I must add was that Mervyn Haisman was our script editor on the series. I believe he wrote a number of episodes of 'Doctor Who?'. I worked on 'Vengeance on Varos', which featured Colin Baker as the Doctor and Jason Connery as the principal boy.

callmemadam said...

Much as I love Malcolm Saville, I still find Ransome a far better and more satisfying writer.
I have a DVD of those TV adaptations. I always thought Henry Dimbleby was too fat for the part! Love Patrick Troughton.

Jonathan Calder said...

Sophie: Many thanks for taking the time to comment.

callmemadam: Yes, Ransome is the better writer, but it hard to give up these early loyalties - and Jefferies is better than both of them.

I like the irony around H. Dimbleby.