July 24th, 2019


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First Generation, by Mary Tamm

Second paragraph of third chapter:
At seven, at Lilycroft Primary, I was chosen to sing a solo verse in the carol In The Deep Midwinter. As I innocently started the verse, I was astonished to see the heads of the watching parents jerk up suddenly from their programmes, and listen in rapt attention. It was my first taste of power over an audience, and I loved It. Nor have I forgotten my earliest night of stage triumph in Karel Čapek's Insect Play, performed at Bradford Girls' Grammar, circa 1966, in which I was playing the lead role of the Tramp. I had not told anyone in rehearsal, least of all the form mistress who had directed the play, but I had a secret prop that I intended to use in one scene, which I started with a long monologue. The lights went up and I strolled to the front of the stage. The audience coughed and rustled expectantly. I took out a pipe and matches (items I had secretly borrowed from my father) from my pocket and proceeded to light up. The reaction was as expected. Shocked gasps of mingled horror and amusement erupted. I was vaguely aware of angry hissing in the wings, no doubt from the drama mistress invoking me to cease, but I was relishing the moment too much to pay any attention. Where I got the boldness from I shall never know; but it was the talking point of the school for days. I was well on the way to pursuing the secret ambition I had nurtured since the age of six - that of becoming an actress.
Published in 2009, three years before the writer's early death, this is the autobiography of Mary Tamm, who played the first incarnation of Romana in Doctor Who. It's interesting on her early career and romantic life, but the heart of the book is her visit to Estonia in 1990, the home country of her parents, just as it was shaking off the Soviet Union. (The only time I myself have been to Estonia was in August 1990, during her time there, and it is tantalising to think that I may have brushed past her in the streets of Tallinn.) The experience of being taken out of her comfort zone and reconnecting with relatives who she had never seen before clearly moved her deeply, and she expresses it well.

Otherwise, the account of her career stops with Doctor Who in 1979, which is a bit surprising as she continued acting until 2009 according to IMDB. And in fact she goes into detail only about the first three stories of her six, though also gives a brief account of her decision to leave and why she didn't get a proper regeneration scene (Graham Williams, the producer, couldn't believe that she was really leaving; she obviously got on well with Tom Baker, much better than her immediate predecessor had). It's as if she just ran out of energy for doing the writing. (Her obituaries from July 2012 say that she had been ill for eighteen months, but perhaps she was already feeling something. Her husband died hours after her funeral, while replying to condolence messages.)

The other point I found of interest was her comment that she was the first high-profile actress to play the companion. She was certainly the first for several years, but I think Anneke Wills and Deborah Watling both had equally high profiles before joining the TARDIS crew. I must try and watch The ODESSA File, her biggest cinema role. There's also a funny story of a disastrously organised cruise with Peter Davison and Deborah Watling. So it's not at the top of my list of Who memoirs, but it's charming enough in its own way. You can get it here.