In an interview with two journalists – David Southwell and Matt Adams – before his death in 1996, printed in full for the first time in Doctor Who Magazine, Jon revealed that he served as a senior intelligence agent during the Second World War – though he kept this fact quiet for much of his life for fear of breaching the Official Secrets Act. He told the pair:
I did all sorts. Teaching commandos how to use escapology equipment, compasses in brass buttons, secret maps in white cotton handkerchiefs, pipes you could smoke that also fired a .22 bullet. All sorts of incredible things. It suited me perfectly as I have always loved gadgets… I don’t remember much of my first meeting with Churchill except he gave me some priceless advice. He told me to always watch people, that there was a lot you could learn about someone’s character from the little actions they make – which was great advice for an actor.
Pertwee, of course, is famous for his love of gadgets, with the Third Doctor taking any opportunity to grab himself a hovercraft, a helicopter or a quad bike… and reverse the polarity of the neutron flow!
Jon even served alongside James Bond creator, Ian Fleming, who recommended him for a job liaising with the French (though he didn’t fancy the work, so messed up the job interview on purpose).
A promotion also meant he narrowly escaped death, as he recalled:
I was on HMS Hood and I got called to the captain’s cabin. I was told I had passed the captain’s test and I was now a fully fledged officer cadet. I had 20 minutes to pack before being transferred back to Pompey barracks for training. It saved my life. Of the 1,418 crew, only three survived.
You can read more extracts from the interview here – or simply pick up the full two-part interview in Doctor Who Magazine #457 and #458. They’re a unique look at the brilliant man who took on the most iconic role on television between 1970 and 1974, and highly recommended.