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TOP DOG!

He’s best known for being the voice of the robot dog K9 – but John Leeson’s connection with Doctor Who runs even deeper than that...

It could almost be one of the television show pitches suggested by a desperate Alan Partridge: ‘Lunch with K9’ – the Doctor’s high-tech hound instructs D-list celebrities on how to complete a variety of culinary challenges. But in fact, I have the more pleasurable experience of being served a splendid repast by K9’s alter ego, John Ducker, better known by his stage name of Leeson.

Sitting in the garden of his family home in Ealing, we take a conversational journey through John’s half-century career on stage and screen – tapping into memories not just of his time in Doctor Who, but also appearances on the likes of soap opera Crossroads, children’s series Rainbow and Blue Peter, and a wide range of popular primetime quiz shows.

“When I was thinking of a title for an autobiography – which is a very grand thing to do – I was thinking that a suitable one might be Watching the Wake. In other words, when you’re standing at the back of a ship, and there’s all this flurry going on, and [pointing at the ship’s wake] you say, ‘I was there, I was there, I was there, and I’m now moving on, backwards’…

“In fact, when the paperback of my autobiography actually arrived, I looked through it and thought, good God did I do that? I just couldn’t remember half the things I’ve done, how many lives I’ve had. I’d been a magistrate for 25 years, a wine educator and writer, I’ve done a fair number of things in my time. I worked with [TV prankster] Jeremy Beadle in the 80s, I was the agent provocateur on Game for a Laugh and Beadle’s About.”

John Francis Christian Ducker was born in Leicester in 1943 to a family immersed in the clergy, so his eventual choice of career was somewhat of a surprise.

“My father was the vicar of St Margaret’s parish in the middle of Leicester which was the church that most people assumed was named after St Margaret’s bus station, which was right opposite.” He laughs, showing a playful humour which is evident throughout our conversation.

“My paternal grandfather was originally from Derbyshire and he was a vicar; my mother’s father, Canon Payne, did a lot of work with the Red Cross during the First World War and received an OBE for that; I had a godfather who was a bishop… so I had to become an actor really didn’t I?”

But perhaps the differences between taking the cloth and taking to the stage are not as vast as one might expect, as John elaborates: “There is a correlation between religion in terms of an organised church with a priest there who stands between you – the audience as it were – and something out there, and acting isn’t so far different from that sort of syndrome.”

John’s father was also a hospital chaplain at the Leicester Royal Infirmary, and was able to open doors for the young Ducker’s first proper employment: “I do remember when I left school

I was at a bit of a loose end and so he got me a job as a hospital porter, which was quite an eye-opener for a young lad. In fact mortuary duty was the quietest part of it I tend to remember!”

But youthful experiences in am-dram, mainly at The Little Theatre in Leicester, had obviously left their mark, and John resolved to take up acting as a full-time career. John underwent an audition at the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, and against his own expectations, landed a place.

“I don’t know how I got into RADA! I applied, did an audition, and I was totally gobsmacked when I got a letter back accepting me. My reaction was that they’d sent it to the wrong person.”

John attended RADA between 1962 and 1964. “My parents suddenly thought, crikey,

we’re going to have to think about getting John organised to live in London, because we were all in Leicester. Of course, in those days the government was very much more user-friendly, as it were, and one could get local authority grants, so at least the education was paid for. I think a rather well-to-do godmother of mine – who happened to have the name Leeson – looked after quite a bit of my maintenance. I never knew for certain, but that’s what I suspected.”

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About Doctor Who Magazine

Contents include: David Tennant and Catherine Tate talk about their new audio adventures as the Doctor and Donna; Steven Moffat on groundbreaking stories; a tribute to Robert Banks Stewart; in an exclusive interview, John Leeson talks about being the voice of K9 ; Sadie Miller remembers her mum, Elisabeth Sladen; The Time Team watch The Time of Angels and Flesh and Stone; comic strip – Witch Hunt part 2, written by Jacqueline Rayner and illustrated by Martin Geraghty; Fact of Fiction studies the Fifth Doctor adventure Four to Doomsday; Missing in Action – a look back at The Evil of the Daleks; plus news, reviews, previews, competitions, a prize-winning crossword and the Wotcha column.
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