Interview with Fan Can about Biography
It's 24 years now since Patrick Troughton died. As the second Doctor Who he was impish and mischievous and was, as Matt Smith admits, the biggest influence on Doctor Number 11.
His son, Michael Troughton (who you might remember as the buffoonish Piers Fletcher-Dervish in The New Statesman), has now written the first ever biography of his late father. The Fan Can tracked him down for a natter.
What made you want to write a book on your father?
I had already done a number of articles for Doctor Who Magazine about growing up as the 'son of Who,' and the feedback from those was very positive. I had received a lot of letters from fans asking whether I was going to write the biography.
Christmas 2011, Tim Hirst, from Hirst Books, contacted me by email and suggested I should write the book. I had a long, hard think about it, and asked various members of the family whether they thought I should. On the whole most were agreeable.
I thought it was about time to tell Dad's story - after all, it had been over 23 years since he had passed away, and there was no biography about him out there.
What kind of research did you have to do?
I was very lucky because both my mother and my father had kept all sorts of photographs, letters, diaries and scrapbooks. I also had a huge amount of help from a fan who had bought some of my father's original acting scrapbooks on ebay. He was fantastic because he returned them to me without any payment saying, "These are rightfully yours."
I owe him a great deal because the books included all Dad's earlier TV and radio work. I also contacted many friends and family to provide a deeper insight into his private life. They were incredibly helpful and provided me with revealing quotes about the complex man he was.
I was surprised at how little I used the internet - mostly to check facts from multiple sources. Above all, my sister Jo was probably the most helpful, because she has got a wonderful memory and reminded me of moments I had completely forgotten.
What are your memories of him?
My memories begin, really, when I was around the age of six or seven. The first memory I have was waiting for him at the 113 bus stop in Mill Hill. By that time he had left us, but regularly visited each week. I remember him getting off the bus and chasing me up the road with his jumper pulled up over his head, growling and snarling and shouting, "The daddy monster is going to eat you up!"
My most vivid memories began during the Doctor Who period, when I was around 12. Visits to the studio, school friends in awe, huge birthday presents and, above all, being immensely proud of him.
The one thing that sticks in my memory, though, was how much I missed him when he was not at home.
Did your impression of your father change during the course of writing the book?
Yes - I had not realised how much work he had done during his life, and the range of characters he had played. It was a voyage of discovery for me both in his professional and private life.
My sister later told me that I was the perfect member of the family to write the book, as I was more divorced from him than the others.
He had left our family home when I was just a few months old, so I had never known him as a father who was always around, you see.
Were you apprehensive beginning the research?
Yes... I could hardly get into my office on occasions, due to the huge number of papers, diaries, scrapbooks, photos, letters, postcards and other material. It took me around three months just sorting and filing the material I had, including emails from friends and colleagues.
I was never apprehensive about finding out something new about dad - whether good or bad. To be honest, this was another reason I had started the book. It was to answer some questions that I had always wondered about.
What did your family think of this book being written?
My brother, David, was a little apprehensive when I told him for the first time, but having read it now, he is more than happy.
The rest of the family couldn't wait to read it! My half brother, Mark, was delighted to help with memories from his childhood with Patrick. I was unable to contact my half brother Peter or my half sister Jane. I hope they read it though.
What's your favourite anecdote about your father?
I have two - the first is while I was playing golf with him on the Stage Society Golf course. My father had a rather eccentric tendency to pee quite openly in public places. On this occasion we were in the middle of a fairway and dad decided he needed to relieve himself - and did so! I heard, from the opposite green, two ladies talking. One said in an astonished voice, "What on earth is that man doing?" The other replied, quite calmly, "Oh don't worry dear, that's just Doctor Who having a pee."
The other is when he was in the BBC Club and saw, who he thought to be, Tom Baker. He rushed up and threw his arms around him exclaiming what a wonderful Doctor he was. The only problem was that he wasn't Tom Baker but Jonathan Miller, the famous director!
Did you re-watch much of his TV and film work while doing the book? What did you make of them? Are they things you can watch easily?
Yes I did watch a lot of his film work again. I was struck by how different all the characters he created were. I was also struck by how little he featured in most of them, but how people remembered him so clearly from them.
The Omen is a case in point. He's only in it for a short bit at the beginning of the film, but fans and the public constantly talk about that moment when he gets it with the lighting conductor.
That's what dad was so good at doing. Cameo performances that were so believable.
Finally, Matt Smith says he was very influenced by your father's performance. Can you see much Patrick Troughton in the 11th Doctor?
Yes... I think of all the Doctors, Matt's is the closest to my father's. He has a certain wicked smile, eccentric way and muddled logic about him that mirrors the Second Doctor well.
I must admit I really like the new series with Matt. He is doing a brilliant job. He wrote a few word for me to put in my book
So. Patrick Troughton. People often ask me what makes a good Doctor... And for me, the Second Doctor epitomises this in one short sentence... He's peculiar, without ever asking you to find him peculiar... he never asked me to find him peculiar.
I think they both have that same quality.