Dr Who: Was William Hartnell a Socialist?


William Hartnell (1908-1975) was the British actor who first played the Doctor in the long-running BBC science fiction drama Dr Who.  I possess no indepth information about William Hartnell’s political views, but I was reading the BBC 2013 book entitled ‘Who-ology – Dr Who the Official Miscellany’, and came across a very interesting entry for the first Doctor (Pages 327-328).  Before presenting this information for analysis, it is interesting to note in passing that the BBC writer Malcolm Hulke is mentioned as the creator of the ‘Silurians’ – one of the alien races that did battle with the Doctor.  Malcolm Hulke not only wrote many scripts for various Doctor Who episodes, but is also known to have been a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB).  This might explain the progressive nature of his scripts, which had a wide appeal across British society, and I suspect he was not the only Communist involved in Dr Who in the early days. On August the 23rd, 1965, William Hartnell appeared on BBC Radio Four’s long-running programme ‘Desert Island Discs’.  (interviewed by Roy Plomley). The premise for this thoroughly bourgeois distraction is that a celebrity is stranded on a remote island, and is allowed (theoretically) to chose a record, a book and a one luxury item for company, (although logic dictates that it might be more prudent to chose a sustainable supply of food, clothing and medicine!)  William Hartnell chose a number of tracks to be played throughout the show as he revealed his chosen items.  His list is as follows:

Tracks played during the show:

1) Paul Robeson – ‘Trees’

2) Alexander Borodin – ‘Polovtsian Dances’ (from Prince Igor)

3) Ludwig von Beethoven – Violin Sonata – No. 9 in A major,Op 47 ‘Kreutzer’

4) Peggy Cochrane and Jack Payne and his Orchestra – El Alamein Concerto

5) Louis Armstrong – ‘Lawd, You Made the Night Too Long’

6) Sergey Vasilievich Rachmaninov – Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor

7) Flanagan and Allen – ‘Underneath The Arches’

8) Charlie Chaplin – ‘The Spring Song’ from A King in New York

Record: ‘The Spring Song’ by Charlie Chaplin

Book: English Social History by GM Trevelyan

Luxury Item: Cigarettes

Paul Robeson and Charlie Chaplain were well-known Socialists and supporters of the International Communist Movement, and William Hartnell’s selection appears remarkably ‘multicultural’ and ahead of his time.  Paul Robeson had suffered terrible persecution in the USA for his political beliefs, and I think it is significant that Hartnell had the fore-sight to place Robeson at the top of his list.  Charlie Chaplin was hounded-out of the USA for his leftwing sympathies (and friendship with Ho Chi Minh).  William Hartnell had no qualms associating himself with these other great progressive entertainers and revolutionaries.

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