South African born Glyn Jones is well known to fans of British TV as both a writer and an actor. His TV credits include Here Come the Double Deckers, Doctor Who and The Gold Robbers. He is also an accomplished playwright and author and he even penned the script for an Oscar nominated film about King Edward VIII. Kieran Kinsella recently had the opportunity to speak to Glyn who now lives and works in Crete.
In 1965 you wrote the script for Doctor Who and the Space Museum. What do you recall about working on that show?
“A couple of years ago the BBC had me go over to London to do a commentary for the DVD release of the Space Museum and I really had to put my thoughts together and decide what to say. The thing about Doctor Who and the Space Museum is that although it has become something of a classic, it is not actually very good! It is very primitive. Poor old Bill Hartnell could never remember his lines and the director was about the most unimaginative director that the BBC could throw up. I have been told that the cast refused to work with the director again but I enjoyed writing it. My only regret now is that none of the rebels were girls and if I wrote it now I would have girls as well as boys.”
That was your one and only contribution to Doctor Who as a writer. Were you just ready to move on to new projects or did you have a desire to write for the show again?
“A few years later I submitted another script for a story called The Light Benders. It was a pretty good piece of sci-fi but they decided it was not good enough for Doctor who. The thing about these TV shows is that personal contact is so important and by the time I sent in the Light Benders it was a completely different staff who did not know me. Why should they take a script that they were not 100 percent sure about? When the new Doctor Who started a few years ago I sent in a new, up to date script all based on computers called the Ultimate Virus. It has the best opening ever for a Doctor Who story! The TARDIS lands on an air strip and gets blown away by a jet liner. Tell me that is not a good beginning!”
After Doctor Who, you wrote the screenplay for The King’s Story in 1967, a documentary that was nominated for an Oscar. It was about Edward VIII and was narrated by Hollywood royalty in the shape of Orson Welles. What was it like writing a script for Orson Welles?
“I did not even think about it. I just wrote it and if Orson Welles wanted to rewrite it, he probably would have and I cannot actually remember if he did change any of it. That is just how film making is because once you write the script it goes out of your hands and you are not asked to do any more work on it. I enjoyed making the film very much. I enjoyed meeting “the couple” in France. It was a very good job.”
At the time it was only about 30 years after Edward VIII had abdicated so were you at all worried about the reaction the film would get from Buckingham Palace?
“It was just a question of getting on with it as I don’t think anyone even approached Buckingham Palace about it. The nearest I got to getting the third degree was the widow of the man who was the Prince’s Equerry at the time, asked me to go down to Kent to be questioned as to whether I was going to make her husband look daft. In actual fact he was a very good man so there was no need to do that but she was the closest that I came to meeting nobility, except of course for his Royal Highness Edward VIII.”
Not long after that film, you spent two years working on Here Come the Double Deckers which became one of the most popular kids shows of the early seventies. What was that experience like?
“It was terrific, it really was terrific. The kids in the cast were great, as were the adults. Everything worked well but I think they could have had a slightly more imaginative director. He was well known as an editor and was a very good editor but he should have stuck to that because by becoming a director he was slightly out of his depth. I remember one scene there was a flea circus and he did a master shot of everyone and then did a close up of every single person in the scene because he was afraid he would not be able to edit it – even thought he was an editor! That was the kind of thing that would happen with him but it was a great experience overall.”
Around that time, you returned to Doctor Who, not as a writer but as an actor in the Sontaran Experiment. That story was filmed entirely on location so did that cause any problems from a production standpoint?
“It was challenging for one reason: because the location was Dartmoor in the middle of winter and it was bloody freezing! I remember watching it afterwards and thinking ‘I am not that fat!’ because I looked like the Michelin man. Then I remembered that I had about six tracksuits on under my costume just to stay warm. We couldn’t wait to get to the pub in the evening just to sit by the warm fireplace. It was another great experience.”
What was it like working with Tom Baker as opposed to William Hartnell?
“William Hartnell was a very aloof man. He got on with the job as best he could but there was no rapport with him whereas Tom Baker was very friendly, easy going and a good companion. He is a nice guy so there was quite a difference.”
Away from film and TV, your best known creation is probably Thornton King who appears in several of your novels. What was the inspiration for him?
“He actually came from a television script that I had written but that got rejected many years ago. A few years back I took the script out and read it and thought to myself ‘this is a bloody good script I can’t waste this so I will turn this into a book.’ That is how he started. The thing I love about Thornton is that he is a very human detective. He makes mistakes but he comes out on top in the end. There is nothing outlandish about him. he needs to reach a wider audience though because I have two other favorite novel characters, one Russian and one Italian and both are best sellers but Thornton is nowhere near that yet so I have to somehow get him out there.”
You were in a harrowing episode of Crimewatch some years back that detailed a particularly brutal murder. Did taking on that role cause any problems for you?
“No it didn’t cause me any problems because as an actor you have to act. I am not a method actor so there was no way I could get into the mind of a paedophile killer but I could work around it. I fully expected to have a bad reaction from audiences but quite the contrary actually happened. I was in two episodes and at the time we lived in Yorkshire and I remember going into the local bakery and the little old woman behind the counter said ‘Oh my God! As you came in I almost had a heart attack but I said to myself – ‘he is only an actor.” I thought that was funny ‘Only an actor,” I may use that for an autobiography!”
You are from South Africa but have lived in the UK, USA and now Greece. Do you think all of this travel has made you a better writer or do you think you would have written the same material regardless of where you were based?
“No that would have been an impossibility. I don’t know if it made me a better writer but for example I just wrote a play that is set in Athens and I could never had done that if I had stayed in South Africa. I have two American plays that I wrote when I was working at James Madison University and I never would have written those if I hadn’t had a hands-on experience. The first play I wrote was called The River of Sand and was written in South Africa. It couldn’t be done at the time because it was in the middle of Apartheid and it called for having black servants but at the time blacks and whites could not be on the same stage so it could not be done. It was heavily influenced by early American writers and would make quite a good film in a South African Ingmar Bergman kind of way.”
Glyn Jones Official Site: www.glynjones.net