Richard Starr peeked through the curtains at the audience and straightened his tie. The crowd was not quite like the ones back in England, but there were a lot of similarities. The look in their eyes as they waited, he noted for one. The way they all wore the different costumes, for another. Among the Cybermen and the Ice Warriors, Richard counted at least eight young men with seaman’s coats and leather caps, a good sign that the crowd really was here for him.
He looked over to the wings, where Adrienne Hill was leaving the stage. He caught her eye and made a hand signal, as though lifting a round. She tapped her wrist twice and pointed to the hotel’s bar. Richard hoped he could remember how long a tap on the wrist was supposed to be; some of the audience looked ready to storm the stage with pictures and programs and pens.
Richard only now noticed the two young ladies who were wearing his old gear, looking very smart dressed up as merchant sailors. Their faces were very well painted, their femininity bursting though the men’s clothes they wore. He gave a smile despite himself, wondering just how much of his costume they wore underneath, and if they were fans enough to want to show him what was under their coats…
The squawk of the microphone focused Richard intensely as the emcee got the intros ready. “And that was Adrienne Hill, ladies and gentlemen, one of William Hartnell’s more alluring companions, Katarnia. Now,” he said with a sudden wide-eyed facial stretch that threatened to spill over his glasses, “there’s a slight change to the program here at FantaCon. We’ve decided to do away with the next guest and run non-stop episodes of Strike Force Omega-“
The howls of anger and groans at mention of a show that Richard had never heard of, so derisive a cry he thought it would never play outside the American market, were met by the host with a ‘Gotcha’ smile. “You think that we’d really do that to you?” the emcee said. “After we flew our next guest all the way out here to Chicago? Not many people may know this, but when Ringo said he’d grown up in a rough port as a lad, Richard could claim that too. A Liverpudder-“
“Liverpudlian!” Richard called out from behind the curtain to correct him. At the sound of his voice, cheers began to come from the crowd.
“Ah, who am I kidding?” said the emcee. “You don’t want me anyway…” He used his hand to elicit a few “Awws” from the crowd. “So without further ado, the man who played Ringo Stark for five years, and the ever faithful companion throughout all of Patrick Troughton’s time at the TARDIS controls, the incomparable… Richard Starr!”
Richard smiled as he came out, giving a small wave to the crowd, and the enthusiastic standing ovation he got from them nearly bowled him over. He gave the emcee a warm handshake, smiled to the crowd, and took one of the two chairs on stage while a FantaCon volunteer set up the midget mike stands for him and the host.
“Richard,” said the host, “thank you again for coming to the ‘Colonies’ for our celebration of the fifteenth anniversary of Doctor Who’s premiere in England. Tell me, how do you find American fans?”
“Well, they usually come round and find me,” said Richard. “The first of ‘em went for me kit when I got off the plane, and it’s been a mad dash from ‘em ever since.” The crowd laughed at the joke; Richard felt a lot more at ease after that.
“So tell me, how did you, a lad from the north of England, end up traveling through time and space with the Doctor?”
“Well, it wasn’t me first choice. I guess I was just lucky, getting into acting and all.”
“Well, tell us,” asked the host, “how did that come about?”
“Believe it or not, I was originally going to be a musician. I’d spent me youth in a few bands from Liverpool, as a drummer.” Richard paused as he let the murmur pass through the crowd. “I was in a couple of groups, back then. Me first big break was with a band call the Hurricanes, and we’d done a lot of gigs in the UK and Germany. Then, I was asked to join this group called the Beatles. I was in there with three good friends, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison. We thought we were going to take on the world together.”
“Were you any good as a drummer?” the host asked. The crowd booed him for suggesting that their idol could have a fault.
“I thought I did well, but they say we’re our own worst critic. And I never did get a good chance to find out. We’d actually gotten a chance to record records in London, the four of us, but it just didn’t happen.”
“What went wrong?”
“Well, the man who was supposed to oversee our first record, he was a bit hard to get on with, and the four of us didn’t care for ‘im. He’d even gone so far as to have me replaced with a studio drummer for our first record. I wasn’t too ‘appy with him, and me band mates Paul and John were also pissed with how he did things. The last day of the sessions, it got so tough that John lost it and put his fist into his face, and the poor man went through the glass wall they have in recording studios.”
“Wow!” said the host. Richard thought his rehearsed reaction looked real enough.
“So there we were, down to a trio because EMI pressed charges against John. Our manager couldn’t even get us into an HMV record store booth to record on our own after that, and for a few weeks we’d had nothing. This was September of ’62, and by the time John ended up with a few months and a heavy fine after his case in December, there was no group anymore.”
“So what made you go into acting, then, if music wasn’t in the cards?”
“Well, I think I was especially shirty with the record producer, because me bird Maureen had flown.”
“A pet bird?”
Richard remembered in time that the dumb question was part of the stage patter and continued, “No, Maureen was me girlfriend, and while I was on the road with the lads playing drums, she’d met herself a bloke from Manchester. I was moody and mad at first for the longest, and that made that September so awful, but really, he had a trade and good “O” levels, so I could see why he’d swept her off her feet. And by then there was Christmas.”
“Ah, Christmas,” said Richard. “I’d stayed on in London, thinking I’d nothing to go back to, which was right. Me other band mates, Paul and George, wrote postcards of how bad it was being ex-musicians now, but I wasn’t doing much better in the city, odd jobs ‘ere and there. But on towards Christmas, I was feeling very hard on meself, so I said, ‘Bugger it all! Let’s celebrate!’ and I went to a posh place in Kensington for a real good meal, and that’s where I met Barbara.”
“Barbara?” the host asked conspiratorially.
“She is a woman who I have to thank me stars for every night, because if things had just been a little different I’d never have met her. She and I struck up a chat over a round, and we’d ended up spending an hour together there. An hour there turned into a night at her place-“
Richard paused as the innuendo culled a few “oooohs” from the audience.
“Right, from there a night turned into a few months palling ‘round the city, and we’d been good friends on and off ever since. Wonderful woman, she is, who introduced me to acting. Said I was a natural, though I didn’t believe ‘er, even if she was a casting agent.”
“How could you doubt being an actor, Richard?”
“Well, for one,” Richard pointed to his large nose, “you don’t see a lot of matinee idols endowed like this, now do you? And I was a kid from the Dingle, the worst neighborhood of Liverpool. What’d we know of acting, now?”
“But you did do quite a bit starting in ’63, didn’t you?”
“Mostly small things, then. I was one of the gamblers in the casino in Doctor No, for one, and when the Rolling Stones made their first movie, You Can Make It If You Try, I played one of the Bobbies keeping the crowd in line as they ran from their train at Victoria Station. I was actually up for a role in Zorba the Greek, but I lost out when I couldn’t do a good Greek accent. That’s what led me to try a bunch of accents after that, to keep me from losing roles.”
“And what started you onto Doctor Who, too, right?”
“You’ve ‘eard all this before, son, eh?” Richard smiled. “I was in the midst of doing a strong ‘Merican accent refresher, trying to talk like John Wayne all the time, which drove poor Barbara daft. She thought she’d kill me efforts by getting someone she’d heard was looking for actors that do Americans to turn me down, so she got me a reading for Verity Lambert, who was doing this story for Doctor Who called ‘The Gunslingers.’ And to her great annoyance, he cast me, as Johnny Ringo.”
“That’s how you got the name Ringo, right?”
“Oh, no sir. I’d been Ringo once before, as a drummer, because I used to wear lots of rings on me fingers. I ‘ad to sell most of ‘em to stay in London back in ’62, so the name fell away, but I was a convincing cowboy, and everyone called me Ringo after that as a joke.”
“So how did Johnny Ringo become Ringo Stark, then?”
“Ah, we look ahead a few months, and Bill Hartnell wasn’t fully ‘imself anymore. When they considered what was going to happen next, figure out who’d do any of the action they’d need, they came up with the idea of a character who was a sailor. I think they wanted to call ‘im Ben, and they even had a bloke lined up to do it, but then he backed out to do a long run on the West End. I hear now and then from Michael Craze, the man whose job I took, and we joke about how unfair life can be over a few rounds.
“Well,” Richard continued, “suddenly they had to rethink things, and Verity remembered me from before, and we talked about it. The character changed a bit when I got the role, because I ‘ad a lot of input on making ‘im. He became a Liverpudlian, for one, and a bit more fun then they’d thought. They liked the name Ringo, so that’s what the character’s name became, and it was Stark because it sounds a little like the ship the Cutty Sark, and because it’s a play on me real last name, Starkey.”
“So when had you changed your last name?”
“I’d called meself Starr since me music days, and when Barbara started suggesting how to present meself around, she suggested I use me real first name but keep Starr.”
“So here you were, Ringo Stark and Polly Wright caught up in the TARDIS after ‘The War Machines.’ How long did you think you’d stay with the show?”
“I always thought me first encounter with the Daleks, I’d be gone,” and the crowd laughed along with Richard’s smile. “I didn’t expect to be there that long. As I said, Bill wasn’t feeling too good, so I guessed along with everyone else he’d go and the show would go with him. So when I read the script for ‘The Tenth Planet,’ and then met Patrick for the first time, I felt really gear then.”
“For us colonists,” said the host, “that means happy, right?”
A few of the ‘Colonists’ shouted rude things at the host for presuming their ignorance.
“I was in ‘eaven on the set after that. Patrick and I got on like a house afire, and we’d really hit it off. I was especially amazed at that, because here’s me, this man who’s only just fallen into his career, and a real professional who’d been at it for twenty years doing Shakespeare and all, and we just couldn’t stop being with each other. I think it was from day one, when he’d ‘ad a grip sneak some pudding into the pocket of me coat, so that when I’d do the scene, I’d find a mess in me hands. The way he laughed when I found the pudding, I knew it was ‘im, and before day’s end I’d left a bucket of water over the sill of his dressing room door, so it’d been a long, long string of practical jokes between us and on everyone else the whole time.”
“Through four seasons, three other companions, three meetings with the Daleks, two with the Cybermen, three with the Ice Warriors. What do you attribute to the fact that you’re the only companion in the series’ history to have been at the side of the Doctor throughout an entire regeneration?”
“I think it was the fun we ‘ad. The way we’d get along. I could never bring meself to quit the show, and if Patrick ever said he’d want to go, I’d ask, ‘And what of me, mate?’ so he’d stay on a little longer. It took the Beeb removing the show from the air in ’70 to get us to stop coming into work, otherwise we’d both still be there or out in some quarry somewhere having more adventures in time and space.”
“Richard, we’d like to take a few minutes for some of the fans’ questions, if that’s okay with you,” the host asked.
“Love to,” Richard said with a flourish. “I’ve always got time for the fans. You kept me coming into work for four years, and you even brought back the Doc a year later, so how could I forget you?”
A young man in a T-shirt with the face of the third Doctor, John Levene, came up to a mike placed in the middle of the aisle and asked Richard, “Are you sorry you never made it in music?”
“Every day,” Richard said with a solemn head nod before a wicked smile crept on his face. “Of course it’s nice to think what would have happened had the Hurricanes or the Beatles had a chance to grab some of the glory that went to the Rolling Stones or the High Numbers, but I think me life turned out all right, all said. And I wouldn’t miss having been on the show all that time.”
A man dressed like William Hartnell’s Doctor asked Richard, “Will any of your later work come over to the States soon?”
“Which show you mean now, Merchants of Venus?”
“That and anything else, yeah.”
“Well, the last I’d heard, there was some discussion as to whether Bob Heinlein when he sold rights to the Beeb had actually given them the right to bring the show over to the States. It’d be a shame to miss it, in me ‘umble opinion. They’re not quite the same kinds of stories as Doctor Who, but we’ve got more money for space ships and the like, so it looks just grand.”
“By the way,” said the host, “we’d heard that the adaptation of Great Expectations that BBC had done will be coming to PBS here this fall.”
“Ah,” said Richard, “do catch it. You get a chance to see me do Wemeck.”
A young lady dressed in a futuristic looking one-piece swimsuit with her exposed skin painted gold asked, “Did you ever keep up with your friends in your old bands?”
“Ah,” said Richard, “let me tell you the one about the Beatles reunion. It happened in 1966, during the filming of the show ‘The Horror of the Daleks.’ I’d invited the lads down to London for a fortnight, to catch up on old times, and as it happened Patrick and I had made a few of the crew in the shop wary of ever driving those pepper pots near us. Something about blowing itching powder under the hoods, I guess.
“So we needed three Dalek drivers, and I suggested that I knew three good fellows who could sit on a tricycle in a cramped space and were willing to do it for scale, and to me surprise, they agreed. Now, George and Paul had no trouble at all with it, but John hadn’t told anyone that he’d needed glasses more than he had last I’d seen ‘im. So you can see the four of us on screen together for a few scenes when the Daleks corner me and Victoria a few times. But you have to look quick, because John couldn’t see out that thing and kept missing ‘is mark all the time. He’s the Dalek that keeps veering away in every scene.”
“So,” the young lady asked a follow-up, “what happened to them?”
“Well, we all know ‘bout George, how he got together with Gerry Marsden and formed their band, before he met up with Eric Clapton and Robert Plant to form Indalo. Paul went on to become a painter and poet, mostly doing things in the West End. John’s had his ups and downs, but these days he’s level,” said Richard, hoping he wouldn’t have to elaborate.
Thankfully, another person dressed as the fourth Doctor, but without Paul Darrow’s icy charm, had a turn at the other mike, and asked, “Of the three other companions to share the TARDIS with you, Polly, Victoria and Zoe, which was your favorite?”
“Ah,” Richard looked up to think. “Well, Anneke Wills was a darling woman who left us a little soon. Deborah Watling was a decent lady who put up with quite a few shenanigans from Patrick and me, taking it like a pro. Now, Wendy Padbury, she could dish it out, especially the one time-“
“Um, Richard,” interrupted the host, “I think he meant your characters.”
“Ah, right. Sorry, there,” Richard noticed the look on the fan’s face finally. “Well, I liked them all. I noticed that as we got a new female companion, the new one was smarter than the one before her, and the way Zoe could add and all, we’d have been hard pressed to find a smarter woman. I think they were all good characters. It would be interesting if we could get all five of us in on one adventure some time. I remember when we did the tenth anniversary show, I was there with Patrick and John and I was the only old companion they invited back.”
“Took a lot of scratch, son, to make them want ye!” someone screamed into Richard’s ear. Richard jumped from the chair and spun around, his shock deepening when he beheld the long face before him.
“Whoa!” said the host. “Ladies and gentlemen, an unscheduled appearance this afternoon by none other than… PATRICK TROUGHTON!”
The room was on its feet and Richard hugged his old friend before the crowd.
“Cor, didn’t ‘spect you ‘bout till later,” said Richard to his friend.
“Tag,” said Patrick with a gleam in his eye.
Richard smiled and waved to the crowd with his arm around the second Doctor, plotting how he was going to get back at him…
James Ryan has been on the verge of actually being recognized as a writer in the past; who knows, someday it may happen.... His work has appeared in such places as Dragon magazine, Lacunae, the Urbanite, the New York Times, and some of the better men's room walls across the state of New York. Until he gets the chance to follow the program for disenfranchised neurotic writers, he's doing the regular job and grad school schtick. His wife Susan and son Jamie just nod and smile when he starts to rant, which, all said, makes things that much easier.
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