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  • In the April issue of Best of British

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Pat Gorman

Last year saw the launch of the TV Soap Extra of the Year Award, a contest to recognise “the supporting artists that work tirelessly to enhance the finished product.” It was won by Colin Murtagh who, over the past decade, has appeared in the background as a police officer in shows such as Coronation Street, Holby City, Casualty and Hollyoaks.

Not wishing to detract from Mr Murtagh’s victory but his 20 or so roles in uniform over the past decade pale into insignificance when compared to the career of Pat Gorman. Over the course of 32 years from an uncredited role as a PC in an episode of The Edgar Wallace Mystery Theatre to his final role in a 1994 episode of Soldier, Soldier, Pat appeared in hundreds of films and TV programmes including Doctor Who, The Saint, Softly Softly, On the Buses, The Bill, Secret Army, Minder, Poirot and the Hollywood films The Elephant Man and Batman as Cybermen, policemen, security guards, paramilitaries, pubgoers and warehousemen.

Sadly, Pat died in October 2018, aged 85. However, his stepdaughter, Jackie Finegan, was only too happy to talk about the man who “called me his daughter, I called him my dad.”

“He was quite a character,” Jackie recalls, “actually, he had a very rough upbringing, he lost both of his parents by the time he was five and was sent to live with his grandmother in the East End of London. It was a really hard life; they were very poor. He used to run errands outside the Opera House for pennies and take the pennies back to her.

“During the war, Pat was evacuated into the countryside, which had a really strong effect on him, developing his love of animals, gardening, greenery and all things countryside. They had wanted to keep him but his grandmother wanted him back home. His sister was sent to live with another part of the family, so they were split up, so he never really knew a lot of his family.”

“He was taken on by Arsenal and was a very good footballer but, unfortunately, he had two bad injuries and had to have the discs taken out of his knee. That was the end of his career as a footballer but his love of football endured to the end of his life, literally, when he was being taken to the hospice for his last few days, he was joking with the paramedics about how Arsenal had been doing well that week, and he had a lot of ties with Arsenal.”

Pat briefly emigrated to Canada, where he travelled the country, working in mines and coming face to face with grizzly bears. However, following the death of his grandfather, Pat returned to London to care for his grandmother.

“After he came back from Canada, he did his National Service – and he did go abroad with the army but he didn’t really see active service.

“That seemed to have quite an effect on him, he was very much for the soldiers. In his later years he belonged to the British Legion and he worked with them, organising things and so on.

“And then he joined Smithfield meat market, and during the coffee break, he kept hearing this guy giving a telephone number to a couple of people and, Pat being Pat, said: “What’s this number?’ ‘Oh, it’s an agency, it’s a film agency for extras and stunt work.’ And Pat said:

‘Well, I want the number, give me this number.’ He took the number and off he went and that’s sort of where it all started from really.

“But there was a bit of bad timing because he left his job in the meat market the day that his son was born. My mum was not happy but it worked out, and although he never got to the dizzy heights, he was always in work.”

Pat and wife Vera later moved to Ruislip, an easy commute on the Central line to BBC Television Centre, where he did much of his TV work. Among the regular series that Pat worked on for the BBC, he was most prolific on Doctor Who, appearing in around 100 episodes, from 1964’s Dalek Invasion of Earth through to 1985’s Attack of the Cybermen.

“Pat was a very reliable and fun person to have on any production,” recalls former BBC production manager Margot Hayhoe. “He was used a lot on Z Cars and Doctor Who and was an all-round useful background artist but he could also be trusted with a few lines.”

Margot’s memories of Pat are echoed by many of her production colleagues with design assistant Les McCallum remembering him as “just one of the lads. In fact, in the end he was just like staff.”

Outside of his drama work, Pat did a lot of modelling for European campaign adverts including one for Chanel, directed by Chariots of Fire’s Hugh Hudson. He even crowned Miss Universe (“He got a little cup for doing that, he did that several times”) but it was his Doctor Who roles that Pat was particularly fond of.

“He was very proud of the werewolf and how long it took for him to be made up for that part in Doctor Who [in the 1970 serial Inferno]. The picture of him has been sent everywhere, it’s a quite well-known example of Doctor Who,” says Jackie.

“After he stopped working, he continued to be offered small parts but I think he’d just had enough. I mean, he kind of stayed on the periphery of the business because a friend of his had a props company.

“He used work with him, going round to the studios, collecting and delivering props, just hanging out really, but I think he’d just had enough of work.”

Pat was friends with some of those he appeared on screen with, including It Ain’t Half Hot Mum’s Windsor Davies (“They were great pals,” says Jackie, “but unfortunately, they lost touch because Windsor was put into a nursing home and Pat became less able.”) and John Challis, aka Only Fools and Horses’ Boycie.

“I remember working with Pat on Beau Geste and Doctor Who: The Seeds of Doom,” says John. “He was a great favourite of Dougie Camfield (who directed both stories) who was a dear friend of mine.

“Pat and I both liked a drink and we had some good times together. Pat was a good man and a strong man and always great fun. I remember he turned up to surprise me at Barking Waterstones a few years ago when I was doing a signing with my autobiography and we had a hurried happy reunion. Sadly, I never saw him again.”

“Although one side of Pat was a very outgoing, very fun-loving sort of East End guy, with a wonderful sense of humour,” says Jackie, “another side of him was very quiet and very closed.

“As he got older, he became a bit more reclusive in that way and he wouldn’t go to any of the [Doctor Who] conferences that they asked him to go to and that was even the BBC asking him.

“He was constantly being sent letters and photographs from Doctor Who fans for him to autograph and would always, always, reply to the letters, and return the signed photographs, you know. He felt very proud and honoured really, saying: ‘If they take the time to write to me, I’m definitely writing back.’”

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