Here’s One I Wrote Earlier, by Peter Purves

Growing up, I knew Peter Purves as one of the presenters of Blue Peter two afternoons a week. It wasn't until after he had left, I think, that I became aware before I was born he had been a regular on Doctor Who, as Steven Taylor, one of the companions to the First Doctor. I was delighted when he was practically the first person I met at Gallifrey One in 2013. I think he's also the earliest of the regular actors on Who to have written an autobiography. (The only other Hartnell-era personality to have done that is Anneke Wills.)

It's a good read. 30 pages of 250 are devoted to his one year on Doctor WhoBlue Peter. That's still less than half of the book, and he makes a good set of anecdotes out of the indignities of the life of an actor, and his subsequent shift to directing (I wished he'd said a bit more about that) and presenting various TV programmes about subjects such as dogs and darts. He also seems to have settled down into a long-lasting second marriage. (Not mentioned in the book, but his Gilly Fraser, his first wife, also appeared in Doctor Who as Ann Davidson, the possessed air stewardess in The Faceless Ones.) The most moving section is where he writes about Petra, the Blue Peter dog who he looked after for much of her long life; she was a rather difficult dog, but she taught him a lot.

The book also provided me with a moment of unexpected enlightenment about Dire Straits. I'm sure many of you are familiar with their song Tunnel of Love. I had personally always been mystified by the lines "Girl it looks so pretty to me / Like it always did / Like the Spanish City to me / When we were kids." It turns out (and here those of you familiar with northeast England will be giving me serious side-eye) that the Spanish City was a famous funfair, close to the railway stations of Cullercoats and Whitley Bay, just north of the mouth of the River Tyne, where the young Peter Purves was taken by his grandparents while visiting from Blackpool, and where the young Mark Knopfler acquired a taste for rock and roll a decade or so later.

One shouldn't expect a lot from celebrity memoirs, but this one is reasonably shot through with humanity and a certain degree of humility. Acting is a fragile career, and Doctor Who and Blue Peter, Purves' high points, both came pretty early. He's had a lot of time to reflect, sometimes through force of circumstances, and this book that doesn't promise much does deliver a bit more.

One thought on “Here’s One I Wrote Earlier, by Peter Purves

  1. People say it all the time: they’d love to get into science fiction or fantasy, but they’ve no idea where to start.

    Do they really? I guess these straw people probably also say, “I’d love to get into 19th century Russian literature, but I have no idea where to start.”

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