Jon Pertwee’s Novelty Songs

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The Doctor Who and Worzel Gummidge records from the third Doctor.

You don’t get many TV stars producing novelty records connected to their hit shows these days, but once upon a time, it was all the rage. And no one seemed more in tune with the possibilities of a quick cash-in than Jon Pertwee, who produced gimmicky records based around both of his hit TV characters.

Pertwee was a showbiz veteran of over thirty years when he was cast as Doctor Who in 1969, having mostly worked as a comedic actor and sometime Danny Kaye lookalike in British film, theatre, radio and television. His Doctor was a change from what had come before (and what would come after), a dashing Earth-bound character who was closer to James Bond or John Steed or Adam Adamant. For some of us, he was the best Doctor, and that’s not just an age thing – Pertwee’s stories were grittier, sharper and less space-opera than what came afterwards.

jon-pertwee-songs-for-vulgar-boatmen

But while Pertwee’s Doctor was a straight-faced dandy, that didn’t mean that he was averse to the novelty cash-in. He was no stranger to the recording arts – in 1962, he’s recorded the bawdy Songs for Vulgar Boatmen, and then in 1966, he’d changed tack with  Children’s Favourites for Music for Pleasure, which included The Runaway Train, Froggy Went A-Courtin’ and I Know An Old Lady. As a small child, I owned this record and never quite connected it to the man I was also watching battling monsters every week on TV. In 1972, midway through his run as the Doctor, he recorded a single for Purple Records called Who Is The Doctor (sometimes referred to as I Am The Doctor), which he narrated – in character – over the Doctor Who theme. It’s a metaphysical study of who the Doctor is, and so by novelty record standards, it’s fairly serious stuff – almost prog rock, perhaps, with lyrics like:

As fingers move to end mankind
Metallic teeth begin to grind
With sword of truth I turn to fight
The Satanic powers of the night
Is your faith before your mind?

It was, to a degree, an official Doctor Who release and came out again in 1983 on BBC Records. But despite the popularity of the show, it wasn’t a hit.

jon-pertwee-who-is-the-doctor

In 1974, Pertwee left Doctor Who, and after hosting the fun spy-themed game show Whodunnit? for a few years, he starred in the shocking Worzel Gummidge, playing the titular scarecrow. It might seem cruel to mock the show, especially as it seemed to be a labour of love for Pertwee, but my God, it was terrible and seemed to be on forever. But kids loved it, and so did their parents, and Worzel Gummidge was something of a pop culture phenomenon, leading to almost as much merchandise as Doctor Who – comic books, toys, books and, of course, records. Namely the album Worzel Gummidge Sings.

Like many albums, Worzel Gummidge Sings spawned a single, Worzel’s Song. Readers of a certain age will perhaps involuntarily shudder at the mention of this song, and indeed this is one of the most appalling novelty records ever made. So of course, it was a hit – reaching number 33 on the UK charts at a time when you actually had to sell a bunch of product to get into the charts.

worzels-song-jon-pertwee

This wasn’t the end of Pertwee’s musical career – there was another Worzel Gummidge song in 1987 (not a hit this time) and a 1984 charity cover of When I’m Sixty-Four, again as Worzel. I haven’t heard this, and can’t find it online (if you own a copy, forward it please – there’s probably another feature in covers of this song).

Pertwee died in 1996, aged 76. He was buried with a Worzel Gummidge doll attached to his coffin.

DAVID FLINT

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