From colonial roots – his dad was Guyanese and his mother was born in India – the family settled in Surrey where Peter’s academic achievements were unspectacular – he even managed to fail CSE woodwork, eliciting a lament from his astonished teacher (‘All you have to do is recognise wood!’). Despite this, Peter has secured his place in science fiction history, becoming the fifth Doctor Who, although he nearly turned down the role. The Time Lord connection continued with the marriage of his daughter Georgia to Dr Who number ten, David Tennant.
The artist formerly known as Peter Malcolm Gordon Moffett has starred in a number of television series including Love for Lydia, A Very Peculiar Practice, At Home with the Braithwaites and The Last Detective and became a national treasure for having his arm up a cow in his role as Tristan Farnon in All Creatures Great and Small. He was also in a Michael Winner movie…
He made his first stage appearance with an amateur dramatic company, but The Byfleet Players’ loss was the West End’s gain as he now has a number of musicals to his name, including Legally Blonde, Chicago and Spamalot. Most recently he starred in the box office record-breaking Gypsy where he rubbed shoulders backstage with Dames Meryl Streep, Maggie Smith and Judi Dench – all asking him for directions to Imelda Staunton’s dressing room.
One thing is for sure: of all the British screen and stage actors of the last fifty years, Peter Davison is certainly one of them and, within these pages, intrepid readers will at last have the dubious honour of sharing in his life and times – as he despairs over whether there truly ever can be life outside the box.
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About the Author
Peter is married to actress and writer, Elizabeth Morton and the success of their marriage can be gauged by their appearance on All Star Mr and Mrs. Not to mention the acquisition of two teenage sons, Louis and Joel.
Peter Davison has worked regularly since graduating in 1972 from the Central School of Drama. As well as being the fifth Doctor Who, he has appeared in numerous shows, films and starred in a number of beloved television series.
Peter is married to actress and writer, Elizabeth Morton and the success of their marriage can be gauged by their appearance on All Star Ms and Mrs Not to mention the acquisition of two teenage sons, Louis and Joel.
Read an Excerpt
IN A GALAXY FAR, FAR AWAY ...
Thursday, 1 January 2015. In two weeks' time, I'm flying to Australia and New Zealand to host the Doctor Who Symphonic Spectaculars, a month-long commitment. A week after returning I start rehearsals for Gypsy with Imelda Staunton at the Savoy Theatre in the West End of London, a week out in May to do the Symphonic Spectacular tour of the UK, and then back into the show. When I agreed to write the autobiography there was nothing in my diary. A big fat empty yawning chasm of a year that suggested retirement was just around the corner. I had an empty year so why not have a go at a book? The day after I agreed, my agent rang, and the jobs started rolling in.
The TARDIS materialises at the entrance to a cul-de-sac of modern houses with a splash of the Georgian about them. We are on the outskirts of Woking, a commuter town thirty minutes from London. The main railway line runs along behind the houses. The daylight is fading quickly. The Doctor emerges, and looks through the window of the house on the corner.
A Trimfone is ringing in the front room. No, not ringing. There is no way to describe the sound. Warbling perhaps? That'll do. It's a chilly evening in late March 1980. There is no one in the front room. Sandra, my wife (at the time), is upstairs, I am in the back garden, there is no answering machine attached yet, and so the phone sings plaintively.
It's hard to remember what life was like before this moment. I've got some time to think about it because another crap thing about Trimfones is you can't figure out where the sound is coming from, and the front room is still cluttered from our move of house. I rush in and start throwing boxes around, searching, before the caller can ring off.
I've been told the Trimfone warble was developed by the army for field telephone use on the battlefield. Its frequency makes it difficult for the ear to locate, and so the job of the sniper is that little bit tougher, which I imagine is a good thing. Apart from the confusing warble, the illuminated dials turned out to be radioactive, which is why millions of them were put into sealed containers and left in a car park in Wales. Good riddance. I nearly missed the call that changed my life.
Life before the phone call? It's all coming back to me now. One minute you're running in from the garden, frantically throwing things around, and the next ...
'Peter? Hi. It's John Nathan-Turner. How would you like to be the next ...?'
Monday, 9 March 2015. Week two of Gypsy rehearsals, and I'm thinking I might be able to do this. Could be a bad sign as usually I'm at the despairing stage by now. Imelda is very generous and helpful but doesn't suffer fools gladly. Note to self: try not to be a fool. Yesterday I said a theoretical yes to Dan Harris and his Caribbean Sci-fi cruise, mainly because Elizabeth thinks it's a chance to visit the lands of my forefathers and because Dan says he will pay for the family to go as well. It's over a year away and is subject to work commitments, so is unlikely to happen. That was a dumb thing to write down and almost certainly means I'll never be offered another job. Singing practice with Nick Skilbeck went well.
My Doctor Who journey started many years before that evening. At the very beginning, on 23 November 1963. Actually, the day before, which brings me in a roundabout way to what happened two years before that.
In April 1961, we moved to the village of Knaphill, in deepest Surrey, to fulfil my father's sudden and unexpected ambition to run a local grocery store, a strange choice for a man trained as an electrical engineer, back home in his native British Guiana. Whatever roused him to this lofty ambition no one could imagine, but it left his family bewildered and was the closest my parents came to a marital crisis. The marital crisis bit we only discovered years later from my mother in a moment of age-related candour; all we children knew was that we were dragged away from our friends, from the cosy world we loved, and were plonked down in the middle of nowhere.
This sense of loss was felt by me more than my sisters. Shirley, being of a more gregarious disposition and, on the threshold of her teens, slotted into the local grammar school with ease and set about developing 'style'. She was the only one of us to pass the eleven plus, and even when her hemlines ascended and her necklines plunged, she remained the perfect role model, and in our parent's eyes, the touchstone for what we siblings would never achieve.
Pamela was nearly four when we moved, but was quiet and self-contained, and took everything in her stride. Barbara was only a year old and knew nothing about anything at all.
It turned out that Knaphill wasn't quite the middle of nowhere, it was a thriving little village bordering a tract of unspoiled common land that shouted out to be explored, and, best of all, my family was now living in what was essentially a sweet shop. Two weeks after we moved in, we all came down with a severe case of conjunctivitis, but that was as bad as it got.
At least for us.
My mother didn't get away so lightly. My father's dream of being a shopkeeper was a financial black hole, and after struggling to pay the bills for eighteen months, he went back to work in the service department of an electronics shop in nearby Woking, leaving my mother to run the grocery business, a job she was unsuited to in every way. She hated the shop as much as I loved it. It made no money, possibly because I spent a good deal of my time stealing sweets after we closed up for the evening.
Eventually my father put up a large padlocked door to keep me out, which deprived me of confectionary for a few months until the mice came to my aid by nibbling the ends of boxes packed with bars of chocolate and leaving them unfit for sale. I had no problem sharing with rodents if it meant free access to chocolate, and so was allowed to cut off the offending ends of the bars, leaving me with a good two-thirds of each one intact. How could life get better?
Tuesday, 24 November 2015. This is the point at which we tick off the days on Gypsy. No more Mondays. Last night's performance was interesting. Imelda did the whole of the first scene with a mouse wriggling its way up her sleeve and across her shoulders. It made its great escape as the children made their exit, and the chaperones saw it disappear into the darkness of the wings. Imelda, unsure of its whereabouts, spent most of the second scene shaking out her coat, to the bafflement of Patrick, who plays her father. Imelda, of course, was unfazed by the incident, being more concerned about whether the mouse might have been injured leaping from her sleeve. I would not have coped so well, having been traumatised as a teenager by mice running across my bed. A consequence of living above a grocery store.
One day my father, feeling the stabbing pains of guilt and taking advantage of a healthy discount at his new place of work, came home with a new television set. His children were tremendously excited – despite his distinguished history in electrical engineering, this was the first time we'd ever had a set that worked efficiently without a vigorous thumping. I'm not sure how the new set was supposed to placate my exhausted mother who had no time to watch anyway, what with washing and ironing and making dinner after the shop closed, but that didn't occur to me at the time, because the TV had a massive 23-inch screen, in crystal-clear black and white, but most importantly it came adapted with a UHF tuner, which was the future of television. For the first time, in technology terms, our family was ahead of the game.
Which brings me back to Friday, 22 November 1963, when I was helping my mother carry bags of discarded clothes to the school jumble sale being held the next day, and a woman at the bus stop asked if we'd been listening to the news. That's the moment I heard Kennedy had been shot. By eight o'clock that evening the television news that had replaced the scheduled programmes, confirmed that President Kennedy had been assassinated.
For years I was sure I had the enduring memory of NBC's Walter Cronkite removing his glasses, looking at the studio clock, and with a heavy heart confirming the President's death, but that isn't possible, this was long before the age of geo-stationary satellites and instant transatlantic images. Maybe I saw it the following day, and slotted it into my memory's timeline. Anything is possible because I was in a state of shock, which is surprising because I hadn't much idea of who Kennedy was. The Cuban Missile Crisis had made an impression, but only photos of him and Khrushchev looking belligerent on the front pages of newspapers, and the rather exciting thought that there might be another big war like the one my parents spoke of so fondly, and we would all get to live in an underground station.
The conflagration didn't happen of course, which was just as well because the nearest tube station was Waterloo; and that meant catching the bus to Woking and getting the train, which was unreliable at the best of times, and total war would have played havoc with the timetables. The most unwelcome result of this momentous event in modern history, in so far as it affected my life, was that no one in our house took much notice the following day when the first episode of Doctor Who was broadcast.
Except for me.
I remember being eagerly perched on the sofa in our upstairs sitting room, watching on our new high-tech TV in the corner next to the fireplace. I found the first episode more mystery than sci-fi but still gripping. We had to wait a week for the TARDIS to time travel though, when the following Saturday the BBC ran the first two episodes together, and in my opinion, the greatest science fiction show of all time, hit its stride.
... 'Peter? Hi. It's John Nathan-Turner. How would you like to be the next ... Doctor Who?'
I stand there with my mouth open. Is it a joke?
Sandra is desperate to know what the call is about, and when I tell her she's waving her arms about excitedly: 'Is there a part for me?'
John invites me to lunch, and a couple of days later we meet at Julie's Wine Bar in Holland Park. (In those days Julie's was to the BBC what the Polo Lounge was to the Hollywood movers and shakers.) It's the first time this has happened to me: a producer shelling out for lunch before I've said yes to a job, and I joke that it's proof he is serious. He tells me that he never jokes, which I realise later might well have summed up his approach to the show. Over the prawn cocktail I did my best to behave as if I was undecided but in my heart I knew this was an offer I couldn't refuse. I had watched the show from the beginning through the first two doctors, only drifting away when other more physically appealing pursuits began to preoccupy my life. The idea of turning it down and never being able to announce loudly that I was offered it first, was unbearable. Not that I was without my doubts: I was by far the youngest to be offered the part, perhaps too young; my career was going pretty well without taking the risk of taking such an iconic role (the risk was real as was proved when I left the series).
It was the main course of chicken Kiev that was the turning point, or the white wine John was plying me with and which I didn't have the wit to refuse. I was being whipped into a frenzy of excitement about what I could bring to the series – a younger, leaner, more athletic Doctor, a more accessible role model; and I had my own ideas to throw in the mix, a more vulnerable Doctor, and the return of a sense of jeopardy I thought had gone missing. It was the first of many discussions that extended throughout the making of the series, and by the time the sticky toffee pudding turned up, I had as good as accepted the part.
A SHORT HISTORY OF THE WORLD BEFORE I ARRIVED IN IT
Monday, 12 January 2015. Went to see my uncle John, to record his memories of my mother, of growing up in the thirties and during the war. It's something I wish I'd done with my parents but never got around to it. I felt the camera might make him self-conscious so I turned on a sound recorder and discreetly placed it on the arm of the sofa. I always liked my uncle John. When I was young he would occasionally take me to see our local football club Crystal Palace playing a league match. In those days they were a Third Division side, and so bad that we would regularly start cheering the opposition. My mother used to say I took after him, and I wish it was true as he's extraordinary – always upbeat and without a bad word to say about anything or anyone. His approach to life could be summed up with the phrase my mother would often use but never quite mean: 'You've got to see the funny side of it.'
I'd never really thought of my parents as being particularly interesting or unusual because what else did I know? I imagine this is true for everyone. A few years ago I was watching a cable channel when an old episode of Campion came on. I called my reluctant sons into the room, pointed at the screen and said, 'Look. Who's that?' They stared blank-faced at the TV, and said indifferently, 'You,' then turned around, and left.
My parents' lives became more interesting, the more I discovered. There is only one sibling left on either side now, and Olga, my father's sister, was absent for the first few years of his life. A few months ago I flew to see her in Florida, where she lives with my uncle Ben in a senior living development, and grilled her as discreetly as I could. This was not very discreetly at all, as she suffers from a combination of deafness, and tinnitus, which required me to over-enunciate each question at maximum volume, at least twice, before she understood. It didn't help that my uncle Ben would then shout the question again, frustrated that she couldn't understand. When we finally got through to her, the phone would ring and a concerned lady from reception would enquire whether everything was all right as the neighbours had heard shouting, and despite the amplified phone, my aunt couldn't understand her either, and it was down to me, the nephew (or possible assailant), to take the call and reassure them everything was fine.
Sunday, 12 April 2015. This evening I was sitting at the computer when my son came downstairs with an old school exercise book of mine, which he'd found on top of a bookshelf in our bedroom. It had no writing on the front, and was probably one I'd nicked from the school stockroom during Mr 'Ron' Davies's technical-drawing class. Joel wanted to know if I had been alive in 1940 and I told him, no, I wasn't that old, which confused him because there was writing in the exercise book that mentioned that year. I took it from him and discovered forty-two pages written by my father, detailing his arrival in Britain from the colonies during the war. The handwriting was in pencil, very small and neat, and some of the punctuation had been corrected by my mother. Elizabeth was doing something similar to my efforts only the other day, so it was familiar, a kind of shared experience between my father's memoir and my own.
My dad's literary ambition was to have a story published in the 'Humour in Uniform' section of the Reader's Digest, and it may be it was this that inspired him to sit down and write. I regarded it, with an unusual pang of sentiment, as his gift to me from the past. His opportunity, having been rejected by the Reader's Digest, to get his short memoir into print.
My father, Claude Neville Gordon Moffett, was born in Georgetown, British Guiana in 1918. He was the third of five children; the youngest child, Olga, was born in 1920, and by the end of 1921 both parents were dead. Donald, their father, died in a fire, and shortly after, Ivy, their mother, succumbed to pneumonia. She was twenty-seven. The newly orphaned children went to live with their maternal grandmother in a small two-bedroomed apartment in Rosemary Lane in the Tiger Bay district of the town. There was one bedroom for Claude and his elder brother Orville, and another for their three sisters, Trixie, Eileen and baby Olga, along with Granny and their mother's sisters, Aunt Lily and Aunt May.
Despite a fearsome physiognomy, Granny Louise was a cheery, big-hearted woman who could refuse no one in need. Mealtimes would present a challenge for the children as the extraneous and uninvited would turn up with uncannily good timing and necessitate cruel adjustments to the size of the children's portions. Before she was one, Olga was taken off to Brazil by a great-aunt who just happened to be visiting, presumably at lunchtime, and didn't see her siblings for almost twelve years.
Excerpted from "Is There Life Outside the Box?"
Copyright © 2016 Peter Davison.
Excerpted by permission of John Blake Publishing Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
CHAPTER 1: IN A GALAXY, FAR, FAR AWAY,
CHAPTER 2: A SHORT HISTORY OF THE WORLD BEORE I ARRIVED IN IT,
CHAPTER 3: THE ELITE OF CLODS,
CHAPTER 4: THE SUMMER OF LOVE,
CHAPTER 5: AN ACTOR PREPARES,
CHAPTER 6: EXIT, PURSUED BY SHAKESPEARE,
CHAPTER 7: MY ARM UP A COW,
CHAPTER 8: DAVE PROWSE TRIED TO KILL ME,
CHAPTER 9: TAKE THE MONEY OR OPEN THE BOX,
CHAPTER 10: PLAYING THE DOTS,
CHAPTER 11: MY TEN YEARS IN THE WILDERNESS,
CHAPTER 12: LOVE AND DEATH,
CHAPTER 13: CONVENTIONS AND HOW TO SURVIVE THEM,
CHAPTER 14: THE MUSICALS,