Rare photos of Jon Pertwee filming his Doctor Who debut 50 years ago

September 1969 saw the first Radio Times photoshoot with the soon-to-be-revealed third Doctor

1969 RT Jon Pertwee

Fifty years ago, Doctor Who’s Jon Pertwee was filming Spearhead from Space, his exciting debut adventure as the third Doctor. Of course, Radio Times was there to capture the moment and the new Doctor – in what would become his trademark frilly shirt and dandy cape. Now we present the full set of photographs for the first time.

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Jon Pertwee Radio Times 1969 01
Jon Pertwee Radio Times 1969 02
Jon Pertwee Radio Times 1969 03

They were taken on either Thursday 18th or Friday 19th September 1969. Our records are sketchy for that period so we can’t be quite sure which day, but the location pinpoints them to the two days when Pertwee was filming scenes at TCC Condensers in Acton, West London.

Jon Pertwee Radio Times 1969 04
Jon Pertwee Radio Times 1969 05
Jon Pertwee Radio Times 1969 06

The derelict premises of electrical components manufacturer TCC (Telegraph Condenser Company) were an ideal location for the story’s sinister Auto Plastics factory, the base of the Nestene Consciousness and its deadly plastic Autons. (In fact, Doctor Who had used the site one year earlier in the Patrick Troughton/Cybermen classic, The Invasion.)

Don Smith RT 17 Sept 2019

Half a century later, our legendary photographer Don Smith (above), now 87, has no clear memory of the shoot. “I photographed Jon Pertwee many times on Doctor Who and other programmes but don’t recall this one in particular.” But studying the full set of negatives still in the Radio Times Archive, he’s sure they are his. “Of all the photographers at the BBC over the years, they all used Kodak film and I always used Ilford. And these are on Ilford film. You only got 12 shots to a roll on this two-and-a-quarter-inch-square format, so we still have the full set here. Remarkable!”

Jon Pertwee Radio Times 1969 07
Jon Pertwee Radio Times 1969 08
Jon Pertwee Radio Times 1969 09
Jon Pertwee Radio Times 1969 10

Don does remember the Acton site well, though, because it was among a cluster of BBC premises (all now demolished) on Gypsy Corner roundabout by the A40. “The BBC’s Acton rehearsal rooms were there – I went many, many times. Also their visual effects workshop, props store and after that the wardrobe store.” It was also a stone’s throw from BBC Television Centre in White City – so a very handy location for the dawn of a new era of Doctor Who.

Jon Pertwee Radio Times 1969 11
Jon Pertwee Radio Times 1969 12
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Doctor Who: Spearhead from Space starring Jon Pertwee would start airing on BBC1 on Saturday 3rd January 1970.