Friday, 22 June 2012

Moon Boots and Dinner Suits

There are two autobiographies by Jon Pertwee. One, entitled "I am the Doctor", was co-written by David Howe, and largely covers the actor's time as Doctor Who, along with some mention of other parts, notably Worzel Gummidge. It's a good book, full of background detail and incident.

But in 1984, an earlier book, written by Pertwee alone, and called "Moon Boots and Dinner Suits" was published. It has a sheer vitality that is missing from the later book, good though that is. It doesn't deal with Doctor Who at all, but instead is the tale of his early childhood and acting career, his time in the Royal Navy, narrowly escaping being sunk on the Hood. It is a memoir full of incident and humour, rather than of anecdotes that were sometimes tired from repetition at Doctor Who conventions.

Here is a brief piece from the introduction, which illustrates what I mean. My son Jon (who changed the spelling of the name after his Doctor Who hero!) also couldn't pronounce the Pertwee name right; for years he would speak of "Jon Peewee"!

The Name Pertwee
(from Moon Boots and Dinner Suits, by Jon Pertwee)

The Pertwee is of French Huguenot extraction. According to our family tree, researched by a French Priest, one Abbé Jean Perthuis de Laillevault and my cousin the late Captain Guy Pertwee RN, the original family of Perthuis de Laillevault were directly descended from the Emperor Charlemagne, who ruled France in 800 A.D., and the line continues unbroken until the present day. The head of the family is Comte Bernard de Perthuis de Laillevault who fought with the RAF during the last war and is now a celebrated painter of murals.

After the Huguenot purge of 1685, the refugees fled to many countries including England where they settled mainly in Suffolk and Essex.Norman Pertwee, the veteran tennis player and head of the Pertwee Flour and Flower Company in Frinton, is a direct descendant of the original Huguenot settlers,  as am I.

Due to the inability of the English to pronounce the name Perthuis any other way than Pertwiss, it was subsequently changed to Pertwee. This proved a pointless exercise as over the years, even in England, I have been subjected to the following interpretations of my name, the veracity of which I will swear to, having avidly filed them away over the years : -

Tom Peetweet
Jon Peterwee
Jon Peartree
Mr Twee
Saniel Pertwee (A strange amalgam of my son and daughter, Sean and Dariel)
Mr Pardney
Mr Bert Wee
John Peewee (School, of course)
Newton Pertwee (Scientist?)
Mr Pickwick
Miss Jane Partwee
Master J. Peewit
Mr Pertweek
Joan Pestwick
J Pertinee
John Between
Mr and Mrs Jon Perkee

And the most recent addition, from a gentleman in Zimbabwe, assuming presumably that I am a "brother". . . J. Parpertwuwe

In the United States of America, however, I found that if you have a complicated, almost unpronounceable name of Lithuanian, German, Bulgarian, Russian, Czech, Japanese, Polish or Hungarian descent - a name Pztyltz for example - they will get it in one! But, if you happened to have a simple, honest-to-God name like Pertwee, they are utterly confounded!

I was playing on Broadway in There's a Girl in my Soup when our ancient name received its final indignity. The stage door keeper of The Music-Box Theatre was sitting, cigar in face, guarding the keys, when I entered the stage door.

"Hey Jan!"

As my Christian name is Jon, and as I was being proudly reminded of that fact by the regular sight of it emblazoned in letters of light on the Marquee above the Theatre, it was a natural assumption that the cigar-chewing voice was addressing somebody else!

The summons came again this time molto forte.

"Hey! Jan"

With puzzled expression and finger pointing at my chest, I turned, asking, "Who? - Me?"

"Yes! You! Jan Putrid! There's a letter for you!"

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