FEATURES | INTERVIEWS | NEWS | FRIGHTFEST | REVIEWS | BOOTH'S BLOG Interview With Doctor Who Legend Katy Manning - Part 1
By James Whittington, Tuesday 26th May 2015
Multi-talented Katy Manning has been acting and directing for over 40 years but to Doctor Who fans across the globe she will always be associated with the character of Jo Grant.
Companion to the Third Doctor, Jo was brought vividly to life by Katy and so became a fan favourite. We’ve been lucky enough to chat to Katy and here in the first part of an amazing interview she chats about her early career and how she became part of the Doctor Who family.
HC: How did you get your big break into acting?
KM: I had, and I saw it for the first time only recently, I did a Softly Softly, I keep forgetting about that one, and then I had a part in Man At The Top which was the hottest thing on TV at that time, the huge follow up to Room At The Top which contained all that gritty stuff that hadn’t been seen on telly before. I was given the lead of Julie and I was so thrilled! That was my big break!
HC: Before you starred in Doctor Who were you a fan of the series?
KM: Bearing in mind I knew of it and of course watched it, it was great television and there was nothing like it but you used to just watch it but I wasn’t a huge fan. Back then you kind of just watched stuff and moved on. You just watched it, it was great television, there was nothing else like it and it was really cool, I loved it. I was a fan but not a “fan” if you know what I mean? I didn’t think, “Oh my God! I hope I’m home to see that!” You know, I come from a very sporting family and the Football Results were important and I think that’s how we got a lot of fathers watching in the end because of the football results!
HC: The important news of the day!
KM: (laughs) Yes, exactly, that was the most important news in my family! (laughs)
HC: Can you remember what you felt like on your first day on set when making Doctor Who?
KM: I wasn’t on set the first day, we shot film first so it was on location.
HC: So was this for your first story?
KM: Yes, it was Terror Of The Autons and I met everyone on filming but I knew Jon from before. We had met at the BBC when I was up for Softly Softly and he had already told producer/director Barry Letts that he had seen somebody fabulous and he said no and they had already got it down from 500 auditions to 3 when I came along as I was doing Man At The Top when the auditions were held. So I arrived late, after they shortlisted it without my glasses, got terribly lost couldn’t read the script and improvised for them and the next day I got a call to say I got it!
HC: Do you think your improvising skills got you the part?
KM: You know, when you’re young you don’t think about things, you just do. The less you know the more just do on instinct and I had already been spotted in America some years before and been offered a contract for MGM a few years then I came back and went to drama school that’s all I wanted to do in the whole wide world. I just didn’t think of anything I just “did” and still do. I’m not a career planner and back then you never said anything like, “I’m going to be a star” you just thought, “I’ll be bloody lucky if I worked!” that’s what they taught you at drama school back then.
HC: Talking about show business, how do you think it’s changed over the course of your career?
KM: Oh, massively. Styles of acting have changed. You’ve only got to look at old films and listen to how people spoke on that level its changed and you have to go with that fashion and if you don’t change then you’re not going to keep going are you? Back then there wasn’t so much concentration on television and film, it was mostly on theatre that you were being trained which is a God send because that was going to make up a large part of your career. Everybody can do television for years and then bang they’ll end up, maybe after a television series having to go and do theatre and you need a lot more training for theatre. You know? Vocally, like in the days when I was doing my first West End play a lot of people they had seen had been in television and didn’t have the vocal ability to go into theatre. Now, people concentrate a lot more on television and things like that when training.
HC: I have to ask, which media do you prefer, television or theatre?
KM: Well I started in television, I did nearly 10 years in television before I did my first stage play which ran in London for over three years. There are three things I believe in with this business, you have to have determination, dedication and discipline all underlined six times! That’s what we had back then you couldn’t have a day off when you were feeling unwell in the theatre, who wants their understudy to go on and do good and secondly you didn’t even consider not going on. If you were throwing up you went off threw up in the wings and went back on! I trained that way. When my father died I was on stage 15 minutes later. Because that’s what you do and apart from which if I hadn’t he would have killed me anyway (!) because we were very much a working family, we were all dedicated to what we did. So I know on that level, when I was living in America and someone would say, “I don’t feel good, I can’t go in tonight”, I would never say that, I would have to be in Intensive Care not to go on stage (laughs)
HC: Or in a box?!
KM: Perhaps but I’d still probably have something to say! (laughs) When I was in Drama School we had to learn to do everything, we had to do hair, we had to do make up, we had to do directing we had to do every single part of the business and when I went into television I was so interested in everything about all parts of the business, what the cameraman was doing, how you’d edit. It was a God send for when I was asked to direct a musical I knew how to light scene, I knew these things, I was ready to go I didn’t have to study it. There’s a lot of acting schools that don’t do that they’re separate categories you either do the technical side or the acting side where as we were expected to do everything.
HC: You knew the mechanics.
KM: Yes, and I believe that is vital because if you love this business you love every part of it and I’m passionate about what I do, I’m passionate about all aspects of the business. Television is my favourite I sort of missed out in the film area. Had I accepted my five year contract with MGM I may have done one film, I may have done none, I may have done a lot so I never really explored film like I explored television. When I went into theatre director Douglas Camfield said, “I can’t bear theatre, I hate theatre I can’t believe you’re going into theatre” I asked why and he said, “A lot of people shouting in long shot!” He was wonderful. I never did a Doctor Who with him but I did TARGET where I played a junkie and often forgotten I was the first full lesbian on British television and I played an Australian in a court case where I had been found out having an affair with another woman I wanted full custody of the children. Quite a heavy piece. I was also doing an arts and crafts programme called Serendipity teaching people how to use apoxy resins and semi-precious stones and weaving and sculpting so I don’t think I got typecast! (laughs)
HC: What was it like working with Jon Pertwee?
KM: I think it was one of the most wonderful experiences of my life. I had worked with a leading man prior to this, I won’t mention his name, who was incredibly difficult and I just assumed that’s what leading men were. Jon was absolutely wonderful and we hit it off from day one. On day two I was taught to do a stunt to jump from an all be it slow moving car I managed to pull every single ligament in my foot, didn’t tell anybody because we had to do it again by which time they had to cut my boot off as my leg was so swollen and Jon realised at that time that I couldn’t see so Jon became my eyes and held my hand and was always by my side. He taught me so much and he was the one who encouraged me so much with my voices and took me years to realise I could work in entertainment with my voices and used to just make them to make everybody laugh. So Jon I did voices together, make characters and things he was so wonderful. I learned more from him that I probably did than at three years at Drama School.
HC: Do you think it’s the chemistry between you two that’s makes your era so successful?
KM: Absolutely. You can see it in every photograph ever taken. There was just a thing we just found in each and that the people we were working with we loved that was so strong and it was a blessing and as Barry Letts often said that’s what a director absolutely prayers for is that he picks people who are going to have chemistry and it makes a huge difference on screen, it really, really does. And that chemistry stretched as far as Roger Delgado, Nick Courtney and Richard Franklin we were strong and between Jon and I in particular because we just adored being together and we adored working together. We did everything together.
HC: This really comes across as your era is classed as one of the golden eras of the series isn’t it?
KM: It’s just the chemistry, it really is. Yes there was some great stories and so on and it was a wonderful time to be in it because they were upping the ante as we had just gotten an older audience. We were just starting to become “cult” in Jon’s second season. They has a special budget, 2 and sixpence for our special effects, I was like a guinea pig for CSO now known as blue screen or green screen, I knew it as Colour Separation Overlay. So I worked with the experimentation of that. It was a very exciting time. The make-up ladies used to do all the masks and they went over to the special effects department, everything was changing. They brought in real Army and real Navy to give the stories much more validity and also, I though, interestingly setting it on Earth for his first season only was terrific as no one expects to see Autons in the High Street so its slightly more frightening than if you go to another planet and you’d expect what you get!
HC: People took it a lot more seriously then too as it had that Quatermass feeling to it.
KM: Exactly. You know, policemen ripping off their faces! Hello!
In the next part of this interview Katy talks more of her time on Doctor Who and her thoughts on returning to the part of Jo Grant.
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