This past Monday morning, while checking my inbox, I received some unfortunate news. An e-mail from a familiar addressed opened with the following:
“Dear friends both near and far
“I have some sad news for you. As some of you will have already heard (and thank you for all your kind thoughts), at 3pm on Wednesday the 2nd of April, Glyn Idris Jones died peacefully here at home in Vamos, Crete. It was just 25 days before his 83rd birthday and 4 days before our 54th Anniversary.”
These words were written by Christopher Beeching, Glyn’s partner of more than a half a century. While I never had the good fortune to meet Glyn in person, I was fortunate enough to have regularly corresponded with him via e-mail for the past several years.
I wrote a bit about Glyn’s life and career as an actor, writer & director in January last year in my blog post about his excellent autobiography No Official Umbrella. I highly recommend picking up a copy. It is a wonderful read.
As to how I got in touch with Glyn personally, well, not too surprisingly I discovered his work via his involvement in Doctor Who. Glyn held the rare distinction of having both written for and acted in that series, penning the 1965 serial “The Space Museum” and appearing a decade later in “The Sontaran Experiment.”
I have always liked “The Space Museum,” finding it an underappreciated gem. It was the very first Doctor Who story to really explore the idea that time travel is a lot more complicated and dangerous than simply bopping back and forth from one era to another in the TARDIS.
The Doctor (William Hartnell) and his companions Ian, Barbara, and Vicki land on Xeros, a conquered world that has been transformed into a vast museum celebrating the history of the once-mighty Morok Empire. However, the TARDIS has “jumped a time track,” and the four travelers arrive out of sync with the time stream. The first episode ends as they see their own personal future: they have been turned into museum exhibits, freeze-dried and placed in glass display cases for the rest of eternity.
Then time re-aligns itself, and the Doctor and friends “arrive” in the present on Xeros. They spend the next three episodes desperately attempting to avert the dire future fate they have glimpsed. There is an interesting philosophical debate running through the story: Is the future set in stone, or can it be altered? By attempting to avert their horrible fate, are the Doctor and his companions actually initiating the events that will lead them to become museum exhibits?
The thing about “The Space Museum” is that, in addition to its high concept premise, Glyn Jones also conceived it as a tongue-in-cheek tale. However, script editor Dennis Spooner cut a great deal of the humor from the final scripts, and the episodes were directed in a very straightforward, static manner by Mervyn Pinfield.
Offered the opportunity to novelize “The Space Museum” in 1987, Glyn restored much of the excised comedy. He also used the prose format as an opportunity to get into the heads of his characters and develop them. This was particularly the case with Governor Lobos, the villain of the story, who was quite a one-note figure on-screen, but rather more interestingly realized in print. All in all, the novelization was an entertaining read.
In any case, when “The Space Museum” was released on DVD, I did a write-up of the story on Associated Content in July 2010. Having come across Glyn’s website, I decided to e-mail him a link. After all these decades, I had no idea how he felt about his involvement in Doctor Who, but I figured, why not, he might be interested. Soon after, he wrote back:
“Thank you so much for your letter and for the article which I read with interest. No, it doesn’t bother me one jot that people after all these years are still talking about The Space Museum. It’s quite flattering and who objects to being flattered especially when sincerely meant?
“Since moving to Crete I have virtually given up with theatre and the media so, apart from a new musical, still waiting in the wings, one play set in Athens which I hope will shortly be produced there, I have turned to prose with the following results: an autobiography titled No Official Umbrella, four comedy thrillers with my very own detective Thornton King and his female sidekick Holly Day. These are Dead On Time, followed by Just In Case and then Dead On Target. The fourth The Cinelli Vases is due out later this year. Much fun if read in sequence as characters from number one go right through to four.”
Of course very soon I had purchased Dead On Time and No Official Umbrella, and found both of them to be very engaging, entertaining reads. I wrote back to Glyn with my thoughts, and soon enough I was corresponding with him pretty regularly.
On his own blog Glyn penned some intriguing, insightful, witty commentaries on theater, television, society, politics, religion and many other topics. We ended up talking about quite a few of these. On the subject of post-Apartheid South Africa, Glyn was happy to see the end of the systemic discrimination that had plagued the country of his birth for decades, but he was saddened to see it replaced by rampant corruption & crime. He concluded with an optimistic wish for the future: “However it is still the most beautiful country and hopefully the years will see a distinct improvement for everyone and not just for a few.”
I asked Glyn if it would be possible to mail him my copy of the novelization of “The Space Museum” for him to sign. He warned me that the mail in his region could be unreliable, but agreed. A few weeks later, when the book was mailed back, I was very pleasantly surprised to discover that he had included an autographed copy of The Cinelli Vases, his fourth Thornton King novel.
Glyn was kind enough to take a peek at my WordPress blog and offer feedback, either via comments here or by e-mail. I always took it as a compliment that he took the time to do so, and found his views to be interesting.
In the last year I ended up sort of dropping off our correspondence. I was pretty wrapped up with personal matters and searching for a new job. I really regret that I never took the opportunity to read the copy of his new play The Muses’ Darling which he e-mailed me, or order the DVD of Champagne Charlie, Christopher Beeching’s musical play about Victorian music hall entertainer George Leybourne which Glyn had written.
I want to offer my thoughts, sympathies and best wishes to Chris, and to Douglas Foote, who was their good friend of 27 years.
“The Play is over, tired, he sleeps.”
Glyn Idris Jones
27th April 1931 – 2nd April 2014