The Devil Came Down to Aldbourne

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Image Credit: Matthew Kilburn (All Rights Reserved)

Image Description: John Levene, Katy Manning and Richard Franklin in Bessie on Aldbourne Green

Ian Bayley attended June 2019’s gathering at Aldbourne, where the cast and setting of The Dæmons awaited

Location filming was commonplace in early 1970s Doctor Who. With the exception of the Peladon stories, every Pertwee story had some, and yet there’s nothing else quite like Aldbourne for fans of twentieth-century Doctor Who. Crucial to this was the way in which The Dæmons fully embraced its location, with the whole cast, including Jon Pertwee (the Doctor), Katy Manning (Jo), Roger Delgado (the Master) and all three UNIT regulars coming down to Aldbourne. As a result, the village of Devil’s End feels that much more real than other settings of the era, and pleasingly the outdoor stage on which much of the drama unfolded looks much the same now as it did in 1971. The combination of the village green, flanked by a large church on its northern side, along with the pub and houses on the others, ensures it appeals to a cultural memory of the English village shaped by cinema and television across genres.

Matthew Kilburn and I were in Aldbourne to meet Paul Booth, professor of media and cinema studies at DePaul University in Chicago, and his class of 16 study-abroad students who, like many of Oxford’s WhoSoc freshers, had just watched some older Doctor Who episodes for the first time. Unlike them, they had all written essays on the subject (Essays for Tides are always appreciated! – Eds.). Having met them, we took a two-kilometre hike to the Four Barrows, one of which played the Devil’s Hump. Unfortunately, we were unable to visit the inside, given that the entrance on screen led, in reality, to a wall of grass; the interior seen on camera was taped in the studio. Having worked up an appetite, we broke for lunch at the Cloven Hoof itself, or as it is in reality, the Blue Boar. Unlike the ill-fated customer Jim in Episode One of the serial, we left the pub on a sunny June afternoon, rather than a dark and stormy night, an effect created by the combination of fire engine hoses and wind machines.

After lunch we made our way to Aldbourne Memorial Hall for An Afternoon at Devil’s End, organized by Who’s at the Playhouse, who in recent years have been running Doctor Who events from the Playhouse at Epsom in Surrey. The guests were Damaris Hayman (Olive Hawthorne), John Levene (Sergeant Benton), Katy Manning (Jo Grant) and Richard Franklin (Captain Yates), who were returning to the village at which they had spent an unprecedented two-week shoot in the second half of April 1971. The event began with an introductory panel before the four actors departed for different village locations.

We started our tour at a duck pond away from the green, where we greeted Damaris Hayman. Sitting in a wheelchair wearing a purple fleece and a light brown tartan rug on her lap, she was just a week past her ninetieth birthday, a fact we had recognised earlier by singing happy birthday to her at the village hall. Although Damaris was frail, she spoke clearly and fluently, with her main memory of recording being the initial confrontation with the Master, where she suggested to the director, Christopher Barry, that she should have a talisman to hold as a reflection of a white witch’s power, that could help her defeat her pseudo-satanic counterpart. Though she may have been fighting the Master on screen, she recalls that offscreen Roger Delgado was a “sweet, charming and good person” who invited her to his London home to watch the transmission, because she didn’t have a colour television at the time. She was utterly distraught when he died. That hasn’t tainted her memory of Aldbourne however, and she returned many times to read the lesson at the church on Sundays, and even attended a wedding there.

In Mawdryn Undead (1983), the Brigadier reveals that Sergeant Benton is now a secondhand car dealer. John Levene, the actor who played him, seemed to reflect that profession by dressing snappily in a dazzlingly bright royal blue blazer, stating that “clothes maketh the man”. We met him on the south side of the green, where the maypole had been.

John focused on the uplifting story of his personal journey from a harrowing childhood in Salisbury to acceptance within the Doctor Who family. He had a terrible relationship with his father, who came back from the war having missed the first four years of his life, so they never really connected. Worse was to come, with the waterborne polio virus infecting the main supply, and slowly working its way up the street in Salisbury towards his house. His daily life was consumed by the horrifying thought that the next drink could be the one that would kill him, and though he escaped infection, he saw the devastating effect the virus had on a neighbour who was crippled by it. The only pleasant memory he shared from that time was a face-to-face encounter with the lead actor of the film The Dam Busters (1955), Richard Todd. Neither knew they would one day have Doctor Who in common, as after John’s time on the series Todd played Sanders in Kinda (1982). Looking back on his childhood now, he has nothing but admiration for his mother, which has consequently made him an ardent feminist horrified at how badly a male-dominated society treats women. He is clearly passionate about this, having expressed those same sentiments to a handful of the students who had run into him earlier that day.

The climax of his journey came when he joined the cast of Doctor Who as the “main” Yeti in The Web of Fear (1968), arriving first and leaving last each day, because he had finally found himself working alongside people he loved and who loved him. He clearly impressed because his work ethic inspired director Douglas Camfield to cast him as Benton in The Invasion (1968) as a last minute replacement for an actor who failed to turn up four times. But why was the character such a success, recurring across Doctors and eras? He attributes Benton’s success to the fact that he was that he was “deep down an innocent” with a lot of integrity. Indeed, The Dæmons was a story he particularly loved because it gave him the most lines, allowing him to show this side of his character more fully.

On the north side of the green next to the church, we found Katy Manning, the leading lady of Doctor Who in 1971. She claimed that she was probably going to “babble on”. It was good that this instantly made me think of her character because that was the main topic she wished to talk about. She loved the fact that Jo was “a girl of her time”, “not a screamer”, “definitely non-UNIT”, “clumsy”, “determined” and “quite brave”; the last of these shown most memorably in her “gone to get you a maggot” note in The Green Death (1973). Her famed short-sightedness was the main reason why Katy Manning the actress was able to act as fearlessly as Jo the character, because she could not see the danger she was putting herself in.

Katy recalled the unusual weather encountered when filming The Dæmons. One day it was hot enough to tan director Christopher Barry “the colour of a horse chestnut”. On another day, they woke up to snow, something she couldn’t believe when Jon Pertwee reported it to her. She also enjoyed her character moments within the episode, and especially the climax, with Jo telling Azal “Kill me, not him!” Although on most viewings I find it hard not to see this as a “saved by the power of love” cliché, Katy herself loved the fact that she explicitly offered her life for the Doctor as she was the first companion to do so.

Katy spoke also about her admiration of the technicians, who with such a constrained budget and before the age of computer editing “made a huge meal just out of scraps.” They would stay up all night to get their complex effects to work, and Katy was proud of the fact that she was the guinea pig for Colour Separation Overlay. Certainly, anybody who jokes to her about “wobbly walls” is swiftly reminded that what she and others did in 1971 is still being talked about today, adding that “we didn’t know then what we know now”. Building on John Levene’s comments, she said that Doctor Whohas not only helped people through terrible times, but inspired people who have gone on to be actors and directors who later worked on the show. She described this as a chain of love, stretching down the years to the modern day, and she encapsulated this metaphor by hugging each one of us as we left.

Finally, we came to Richard Franklin, whom we found standing round the back of the churchyard amid the tombstones. He was dressed in a smart tweed jacket with a green hankie daintily inserted in his top pocket and, in recognition of the heat, a dark blue Spurs baseball cap and a water bottle. He began with The Dæmons, declaring that Yates’ “finest hour” was the scene when he almost landed three punches on Girton to stop him stealing the UNIT helicopter. Only the Dæmonic power harnessed by the Master saved his henchman, at least in Richard’s interpretation of the scene. He enjoyed being a man of action, sharing an anecdote from The Mind of Evil (1971), where he overestimated his biking skill, leading to his fall from a powerful Triumph which then continued without him. He also revealed that, as in Aldbourne, unusual weather was also present for The Claws of Axos, with his friend Fernanda Marlowe getting an extra line about “freak weather conditions” when snow interrupted filming unexpectedly.

Once Richard started taking questions, I was interested to hear his answer to Paul Booth’s question about Yates’ darkest hour: his betrayal of the Doctor in Invasion of the Dinosaurs (1974). Richard remarked to the student members of his audience, for whom such character arc climaxes are commonplace, that he was lucky to have such a three-dimensional character. He asserted that any companion of the Doctor, caring about the world in which we lived, would jump at the chance to establish a “golden age” with Professor Whitaker. Yates withdrew his support, however, as soon as he saw that the Doctor was in danger and in any case, Richard added, his mind had been affected by the crystal from Metebelis Three that the Doctor had used to cure him of BOSS’s mental conditioning in The Green Death.

Eventually, the day came to an end, and everyone went their separate ways. I had an excellent time, and it is tremendous that it is so easy to explore the village where the cast and crew of The Dæmons once worked.

This article was first published in The Tides of Time Special Edition Summer 2019

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