“Have you ever been in Casualty?”
“The TV show Casualty?”
Here’s a funny thing. We were watching Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em the other night – a third series episode where Frank gets to be a motorcycle courier, with suitably disastrous results when his brakes fail. It’s an episode of two halves: the first is typical slapstick tomfoolery, culminating in a madcap chase through a building site and dockyard which only ends when Frank inadvertently trashes the very office he’s recently left. The second half consists of a lengthy courtroom sequence in which Frank defends himself in the sort of flamboyant, utterly oblivious style Michael Crawford developed in series three, when his character became far more self-confident (and the theme music, as if to underpin this, grew a bassoon part underneath those Morse-emitting flutes.)
But what’s interesting about this episode, at least to someone who watches a large amount of Doctor Who, is that the sinister courier for whom Frank is working is played by none other than Derek Newark. In the first instance, this will mean nothing to you if you haven’t seen ‘Inferno’. It’ll also mean nothing to you if you can’t remember that Derek Newark played Greg Sutton – one of the few characters who was basically honourable and decent in both the real universe and the parallel, totalitarian nightmare into which the Doctor is thrust. It wasn’t his only appearance in Doctor Who, of course – but having watched ‘Inferno’ quite recently with Thomas, it was a surprise for both of us to see a slightly podgier, moustachioed Newark playing such a slimy piece of work.
The episode is on YouTube if you want to see it, but the story doesn’t end there. Because it wasn’t the first time I’d noticed the crossover. We’d already spotted Neil McCarthy – he did a couple of memorable turns in the Pertwee and Baker era, but to me he’s always going to be…well, you’ll see below. If it sounds a little obscure, it’s worth bearing in mind that as well as having a reasonable eye for spotting guest stars who have been in other things, I also have a personal stake in this – Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em was a big part of my childhood, as it was for pretty much everyone of a certain age, at least in the UK. Playground shouts of “Ooh, Betty!” were as common as the cries of “Exterminate!”. (I was going to do a comparison with whoever the kids are impersonating in the playground now, but it occurs to me that I actually don’t know what they’re watching and who forms the basis of their adolescent party pieces. This is the price you pay for not really using Tumblr.)
So I took the liberty of doing a little research and finding out which British actors have both Doctor Who and Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em on their CVs. And by god there are a lot of them.
The BBC network is part of it. Crossover is inevitable – and I’m not talking about the stunt casting of soap actors appearing as crotchety commanders on space stations, or cameos from news anchors, or the general over-use of the admittedly talented Olivia Coleman. There’s a large pool of actors that the BBC use again and again, and ’twas ever thus. But there does seem to be a strong parallel between Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em and the adventures of everyone’s favourite Time Lord, perhaps because Classic Who did a large number of episodes per year that called for no end of extras and guest stars, so pretty much everyone who was required for a walk-on in the chronicles of Frank was also required, at some point or another, to brandish a spear or a laser gun in Who. More often than not, you’ll examine their IMDB profile to find a plethora of work during the 1970s and 80s, then a long gap, and then Doctors. This is because everyone has been in Doctors. Even Lynda Baron has been in it.
But I’m rambling. Having noticed a common trend of Who / Mothers guest stars, I have cherry-picked a few of my favourites, and I include them below.
Peter Jeffrey was a renowned character actor whose career is too vast and varied to explore in any detail here, although I’ll always remember his turn as Cromwell in By The Sword Divided (a series that stays etched in my brain only because it was the first time I saw a corpse swinging from a tree). Still, his Count Grendel is a career highlight – a Machiavellian rogue who you can’t help liking, simply because of Jeffrey’s charm and swagger, and a reminder that he could have been great as the Master. Here he plays Frank Spencer’s driving examiner, a job for which it is impossible to get any life insurance. The ‘start at’ function doesn’t work with WordPress embeds, so I’ve had to upload the whole episode, but jump to 37:30 for the driving test. It does not end well.
You get two for the price of one here. As Frank and Betty visit a seaside hotel on a second honeymoon which culminates in broken wardrobes, a collapsed bed and a huge hole in the floor, the already uptight manager reaches new levels of frustration as his business comes (quite literally) crashing down around him. McCarthy’s character here is more like a polite version of his tyrannical Thawn (‘The Power of Kroll’) than the childlike Barnham (‘The Mind of Evil’) but even he can’t cope with Frank’s disastrous attempts at D.I.Y. Playing the timid Kenny is Who veteran Cyril Chaps (‘The Ambassadors of Death’ and ‘The Androids of Tara’, amongst others), in a Norman Wisdom-esque turn that is ever so slightly camp.
This is cheating a little bit, really – Wilson’s role in his only Doctor Who story, ‘The Empty Child’ / ‘The Doctor Dances’, amounts to little more than an extended cameo, and is perhaps most memorable for the moment that a gas mask grows through his face. Still, he’s very good, and he tackles the role of Dr Constantine with the same calm (all right, not so calm) dignity with which he tackled Victor Meldrew and Dr Thorp in Only When I Laugh, and in any case it gives me the chance to show what is perhaps my favourite moment in the third series. What’s great about this scene is the corpsing that follows Wilson’s sudden descent into the sofa – watch Michele Dotrice’s hand fly to her mouth to hide the fact that she’s laughing, before Crawford’s lip trembles a little as he struggles to maintain his composure, while Wilson himself makes a futile attempt to salvage some dignity, before giving up. Comedy gold.
Sarah Jane Smith wasn’t always an investigative journalist – before falling in with the Third Doctor and U.N.I.T., she helped run the family greengrocers. Here she is trying to serve the hapless Frank on his way to visit Betty in hospital. Despite complaints from Sladen (in her autobiography) about Crawford’s general aloofness, the scene doesn’t suffer for it – Sladen’s increasing irritation is perfectly pitched, and the punch line, while obvious, is still flawless in its execution.
Not only but also…
I’ve omitted a great many memorable guest turns here – watch ‘Scottish Dancing’ and ‘R.A.F. Reunion’ for a few particularly interesting appearances from Doctor Who aficionados. For the sake of it, here’s a near-as-dammit-complete list of everyone who’s been in both shows, from the chunkiest guest starring role to the smallest uncredited walk-on, in no particular order, purely in the interests of democracy.
Frank for the next U.N.I.T. commander, perhaps…?