Doctor Who News William Hartnell and Michael Gough as Doctor Who and the Celestial Toymaker

Published on August 23rd, 2013 | by Christian Cawley

Hartnell on Panto: “I’m a legitimate actor”

Last week we brought you news of the rediscovery of a rare interview with William Hartnell, just a few months after his last regular appearance in Doctor Who.

It turns out that the interview for Points West, a regional BBC news show, was conducted by director Roger Mills – whose name you may recognise from Horizon and the various Michael Palin travelogues – back when he was working as a cameraman. He recalls of the 1967 interview :

The interview was conducted by the director, Roger Mills, who, in 1967 was reporting for Points West. Mills recalls:

I wasn’t really a reporter. I was more of a behind the cameraman, but down in the regions you do everything.

William Hartnell, of course, was famously difficult to work with, and Mills recalls that he wasn’t keen to be interviewed.

I do remember that he didn’t want to be interviewed. He was extremely grumpy. He really wanted us out as quickly as possible …I don’t think he liked the press very much… I was someone who didn’t hold back,

As we shall see…

Doctor Who researcher Richard Bignell, who unearthed the footage, told The Guardian this week:

The interviewer says to him at one point, something along the lines of: ‘Is pantomime something you’d like to continue doing in the future?’ And he sort of goes: ‘Ooh, no, no, no, no, no.’ So, he says: ‘Oh, why not?’ And he says: ‘Well, I’m a legitimate actor. Pantomime is for the sort of person who is used to variety and going on the front of the stage, but I’m a legitimate actor. I do legitimate things.’

He very much comes over with that sort of gruff manner. In fact, towards the end of the interview, the actual interviewer says to him: ‘You’re actually quite a grumpy man. Why do you think that people like the Doctor so much?’

Now, the legitimacy or otherwise of pantomime (Hartnell was appearing in Puss in Boots) is an interesting topic, one that has often reverberated with Doctor Who fans, particularly in the 1980s. It’s interesting to see the show’s first star take this attitude; in some ways, however, his apparent snobbery to one of the oldest forms of theatre is a little disappointing – particularly as he only made four more appearances on TV (one of which was The Three Doctors).

I think you’ll agree that this particular extra feature on the upcoming DVD of The Tenth Planet looks evermore tantalising…


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About the Author


A long-term Doctor Who fan, Christian grew up watching the show and has early memories of the Graham Williams era. His favourite stories are Inferno, The Seeds of Doom and Human Nature (although The Empty Child, Blink and Utopia all come close). When he’s not bossing around the news team, Christian is a freelance writer specialising in mobile technology and domestic computing, and enjoys classic rock, cooking and spending time in the countryside with his wife and young children. You can find him on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.

9 Responses to Hartnell on Panto: “I’m a legitimate actor”

  1. avatar David F says:

    I have experience behind the scenes at pantomimes, and we shouldn’t judge Hartnell too harshly for his attitude. It’s extremely common. Actors can be very depressed by the process, as if they’re selling out. In truth, it’s entirely understandable that they should take the opportunity, with their profession being so fickle and many of them having mortgages to pay. But I’ve seen a number of essentially decent people descend into “What am I doing with my life?” ruts during panto runs.

  2. avatar FrancoPabloDiablo says:

    He was most likely still p*ssed off at (let’s face it) being forced out of Doctor Who and ending up in Panto.

  3. avatar rickjlundeen says:

    And by the reporter’s own admission, he didn’t hold back and semed a bit pushy really. Which you don’t often see in interviews of this sort but it seems over all as if it might have been a contentious dialogue.

    • avatar FrancoPabloDiablo says:

      I can’t wait to see this interview for myself. Am I right in believing that it is the only ‘on-camera’ interview with Hartnell?

  4. avatar vortexter says:

    Hartnell was Ill as well and allowances should be made. JNT practically made his principle actors perform in his panto productions. Maybe Baker and co felt it beneath them but just gritted their teeth and got on with it. How would you feel if you were putting your greasepaint on with a hundred sweaty kids shouting ‘its behind you!’ every night when a Points West reporter barges in demanding an interview with you? Hartnell was a grumpy so-and-so its well documented, but probably no more than any other ‘artiste’ with an equity card struggling with his lines.

  5. avatar a fan says:

    I think the footage will prove to be very depressing.

  6. avatar DonnaM says:

    Very sad; but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s a common attitude, then and now, to panto. Actors have to pay their bills the same as everyone else, and if that means doing a job you hate, tough.

    The difference is most of us don’t have people shoving microphones under our noses and asking us questions about it!

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