The opening sentence of Tom Baker’s autobiography is a classic – “My first ambition was to be an orphan”.
He was born in the Scotland Road area of Liverpool on 20th January 1934, the son of John Stewart Baker and his wife Mary Jane (née Fleming). His father was a ship’s steward who sailed on the Queen Mary and Mauretania, eventually rising to the position of chief steward. His mother, a devout catholic, worked occasionally as a cleaner and barmaid at the Sefton Arms. He attended St Swithin’s Primary School and then, having ‘failed’ the 11+ exam, went to St Matthew’s Catholic Secondary Modern School. By this time the family had been re-housed to 5 Gribble Road, Fazakerley L10.
When he was 15 entered a religious order, the De la Mennais Brothers originating from Ploёrmel in Brittany. He received instruction at their establishment in Jersey, the Maison Bel Secour, and then at Cheswardine Hall in Shropshire. After six years (which he describes hilariously in his autobiography) having lost his faith, he left the order. He returned to Liverpool, the family home by this time being 23 Silverdale Avenue L13.
Aged 22 he was conscripted into the Army for his national service, serving as a medical orderly in the Royal Army Medical Corps. During his spell in the army he took part in amateur dramatics and on his demob determined to try his hand on the stage, enrolling in the Rose Bruford College of Speech and Drama in Sidcup, Kent. He found some early success when someone from the National Theatre saw him in a revue in York and recommended him for an audition with its director, Sir Laurence Olivier. Accepted into the company, he performed mainly small roles from 1968-71, and gained his first Tv roles in programmes such as Softly, Softly and Z Cars. In 1971 he was recommended by Olivier for the role of Rasputin in the film Nicholas and Alexandra. He was a great success in the role, his performance drawing nominations for a number of awards.
Surprisingly this exposure did not lead to further parts and before long he was having to work on a building site to make ends meet. In despair he wrote to an acquaintance, Bill Slater, Head of Serials at the BBC, pleading for some work. The letter arrived just as the BBC was looking, in vain, for someone to take over the role of Dr Who from Jon Pertwee. Slater thought Baker a natural for the part and in 1974, complete with hat and very long scarf he became the fourth doctor. He stayed in the role for 7 years and 172 episodes, making him the longest running doctor by some distance.
Although he never really shook off the Dr Who role his subsequent career has seen him acting across a wide spectrum of stage and screen. Alongside appearances in Blackadder and ITV’s hospital drama Medics he is well-known as the narrator of Little Britain and appeared in the re-make of Randall and Hopkirk Deceased (following in the footsteps of fellow Liverpudlian Kenneth Cope).
Baker has been married three times. His first wife was Anna Wheatcroft, who was a niece of famous rose-grower Harry Wheatcroft, with whom he had two sons, Daniel and Piers. The marriage ended in 1966 and he lost touch with his sons. By a bizarre coincidence Baker was in a restaurant in New Zealand when his son Piers walked in and recognised him. Once over the shock it proved a happy reunion and reconciliation. He was briefly married to Lalla Ward who played his Dr Who assistant Romana. Since 1986 he has been married to Sue Jerrard, whom he met when she was an assistant editor on Dr Who.
Tom Baker's family home in Fazakerley from the late 1930's.
The Baker family home in the 1950's.
Tom Baker's autobiography Who On Earth Is Tom Baker ? [Harper Collins 1997] is a hugely entertaining read, a great showcase of his humour and an honest account of his life, warts and all. Equally entertaining and informative is his appearance on This Is Your Life in 2000 which can be viewed on YouTube. There are countless other video clips and interviews which a Google search will reveal. Tom Baker has his own website which has a lot of biographical information. The Wikipedia entry is fairly extensive.
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