Tom Baker visits the Royal Edinburgh Hospital for Sick Children
Now that the current series of Doctor Who has had its finale this past weekend, we celebrate by presenting the first in a series of photo histories from LHSA’s collection.
LHSA holds two photographs accessioned in 2011 showing the actor Tom Baker, who played the Doctor in the BBC science fiction series, 'Doctor Who', posing with nurses from the Royal Edinburgh Hospital for Sick Children when he did a publicity visit in approximately 1977. In both images, the nurses are together holding his twenty-foot long scarf, which was a trademark of Baker’s costume. (To see bigger versions of the photos, please click on them.)
Although public hospitals in Scotland have been funded through the NHS since 1948, they have still often looked for additional funding streams to augment this and have used publicity to increase awareness and remind potential donors that they still need help, which may be why this image was taken.
'Doctor Who' (1963-1989, revived in 2005) is a famous British science fiction series about a humanoid alien, known only as the Doctor, who travels through time and space in a craft which resembles a police box. The series is known for periodically changing its leading actor, where he ‘regenerates’ into a new persona if he becomes old or suffers a severe trauma. Tom Baker was the fourth actor to play the Doctor on television and starred from 1974 to 1981.
Tom Baker was born in 1934 in Liverpool to an Irish Catholic family. He joined a monastic order between the ages of 15 and 21, but soon after this decided to become an actor. He appeared on stage and screen in a number of roles in the 1960s and 1970s, most notably an acclaimed performance as Rasputin in the 1971 film, ‘Nicholas and Alexandra’, however, his acting work had dried up and he was working on a building site to earn money in 1974 when he was offered the lead part in 'Doctor Who'. His performance, which mixed offbeat eccentricity and humour with deadly seriousness, is often cited as one of the best of those actors to have played the role. During the 1970s, the series gained high levels of popularity with children and adults and was regularly seen by audiences of 11 to 12 million viewers in Britain. Therefore, at the time of the Sick Kids Hospital visit, Tom Baker was a celebrity who attracted a huge amount of media interest.
Tom Baker is known to have visited many places and events during the period he played the Doctor, such as Derry Christmas illuminations in 1978, both as a means of publicising the event and giving publicity to 'Doctor Who' for the BBC. The character of the Doctor was immensely popular with children, so a visit to children in hospital would have been very exciting for the patients and provide a welcome distraction.
According to a 2002 interview between Scottish actor, Russell Hunter and the Edinburgh and Lothians Doctor Who Group, Edinburgh Evening News had asked Russell if he could think of any stars who might visit a hospital to raise its profile and he suggested Tom Baker. To their surprise, he did it. Hunter appeared in ‘Doctor Who: The Robots of Death’ with Tom Baker, broadcast in January and February 1977, so the photographs are assumed to have been taken shortly after this. LHSA also has photographs of Russell Hunter planting a tree at Liberton Hospital.
In 2014, the current star of 'Doctor Who', Peter Capaldi, in an interview with the Radio Times cited a photograph of Tom Baker ‘…larking about with nurses during a visit to the Royal Edinburgh Hospital for Sick Children…’ as one of the images which reminded him of his responsibility in the role, presumably referring to one of these LHSA photographs. The article can be found here: http://bit.ly/1rpJ2tm.
These photographs are amongst a number in LHSA’s collections which feature well-known figures visiting Edinburgh hospitals. One of the earliest photographs of a celebrity we hold is that of Sir Harry Lauder, the music hall comedian visiting Bangour General Hospital in 1942.
http://www.geocities.com/dugs777/russell.htm (Accessed 13.08.2014).
Doctor Who: The Seventies by David J Howe, Mark Stammers and Stephen James Walker, Virgin, London, 1994.
Stephen Willis, LHSA Archive Assistant, 10.11.14
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