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GENERAL INFORMATION AND ARTICLES ABOUT BESSIE
 
A LETTER FROM THE DOCTOR... 

First hand information about driving Bessie from the Third Doctor himself. Below is a letter from Jon Pertwee which gives his opinion on the gearing of Bessie. Many Thanks to Dino Giangregario and his wife for allowing me to add his letter to my website.

 
RADIO TIMES - 29th January 1970  
Doctor Who' actor Jon Pertwee introduces 'Radio Times' to his latest companion, a vintage car called 'Bessie'.


Ooops!!
Though the caption to the photo refers to Pertwee's first story, 'Spearhead from Space', Bessie made her first appearance in the next adventure, 'Doctor Who and the Silurians' from which this photo was taken.

 

 
DOCTOR WHO MONTHLY - Issue 75 - April 1983 
Extract from article "Bessie and the Whomobile". Pages 29-31.


The mainstay of the seventies, coming second only to the TARDIS, undoubtedly was Bessie, the Edwardian roadster. This car was introduced in the second Pertwee story, The Silurians and remained right through until Tom Baker's Robot. The last season for Jon saw the introduction of the Whomobile which sadly belonged to Jon personally and left the programme with him.

Unlike the Whomobile, which was a "one off" specifically designed and built for Jon Pertwee, Bessie was one of a limited edition of a kit car made by Siva/Neville Trickett (Design) ltd; of Blandford, Dorset.

It was possible to obtain either a two or four seater version, the latter being chosen by then Producer, Barry Letts. "Yes, we think viewers will grow quite affectionate towards Bessie." Prophetic words indeed! The Press of the day also spoke very highly of the little car (*1).

THE SUN: "The flighty young crock-useful acceleration with all the motoring pleasures."
THE EXPRESS: "Highly popular."
THE SKETCH: " . . . the car that gives you 100 smiles an hour."
MOTORING NEWS: "The incredible Ford Popular based Edwardian Dummy handles amazingly well."
CUSTOM CAR: "Its appeal is enormous and as a crowd puller it has few equals.
HOT CAR: "Without a moments hesitation I can fully recommend this exciting little buggy ."


The Siva two-seater Roadster and the four-seater Tourer were designed to fit directly on to an unmodified E93A For chassis. These chassis were used by Ford from the late 1940s through to 1958 for their Ford Popular, Prefect and Anglia's. Cars that have since earned the nickname of "Sit up and Beg" cars. The E93A chassis was chosen simply because of its popularity and availability in Britain, today.

Construction of the Tourer was a fairly simple business for the mechanically minded. Detailed fitting instructions were supplied and Siva's maintained that the basic car could be completed in as little as two to three weeks of spare time working. This estimate was perhaps a little enthusiastic for one person but with two working, it was possible.

The first step was to remove the body and in order to do this all lights and instruments with their respective wiring had to be removed. These would be kept for re-use unless one chose to fit new components. Next all the electrical gear from the engine side of the bulkhead had to be disconnected, including the starter cable; choke cable and handbrake.

This done, the throttle pedal and linkage, together with the plates from the brake and clutch pedals were unbolted and removed. The steering wheel and column could remain although the fixing brackets had to be dispensed with. All the flooring (which incidentally was plywood!) had to go as did the front wing support brackets, The metal cowling between the front chassis members could remain, if desired.

The body-shell was now ready to be removed and the simplest method of doing this was to dismantle it piece by piece where convenient i.e. wings, bonnet, radiator shell and boot lid. As any good mechanic will tell you, if the nuts are rusted on (which in this case they were not) take a cold chisel threaten the offending bolt. If that doesn't work then hit it!

Once all the removable parts were off one had to cut the body-shell along the join of the chassis, which was a lot simpler than it sounded; chopping off any remaining rivets or welds where necessary (remember that in the 1950s the body was bolted to the chassis, unlike today where the chassis is an integral part of the design and therefore inseparable). The body could then be lifted clear of the chassis and nine times out often, one was left wondering what to do with it!

Next, the floor covering and the fuel tank had to be cut away as far back as the cross-member behind the back seat. This upright piece was left attached in order to give added strength to the chassis. The fuel tank could then be removed and the chassis had to be shortened by cutting off to the rear of the back cast spring mounting chassis member.

Then came the easy part, remove radiator and cut the fan down to a diameter of 10 1/2 inches. For the best results, steam clean the chassis and engine preparing it for painting. Red Oxide is preferable here.

It was sensible at this stage just to check braking cables, shock absorbers and wiring, implementing repairs if necessary. The fibreglass Tourer body, with the two seats bolted on, could then be slid into position over the steering column. Then the fuel tank had to be fitted into its new position. The wiring and fuel pipe was then connected. This done the body could be bolted into place on the chassis having been pushed forward as far as it will go. The running boards and mounting brackets were mounted next, ensuring equal distance between the wheels. Having done this, the rear mudguards and brackets were bolted in position.

The front mudguards were bolted through the front edge of the running board and a modified mounting was bolted to the front wing support. Next, the only new part needed, a 105E Ford Popular radiator was fixed 1" in front of the fan.

The new bulkhead had to be drilled next to accommodate such things as instruments, choke, starter ignition etc. This was where personalisation came into the fore as it was entirely up to the individual what was used and where. The front headlights were then mounted, as were the rear lights.

Finally, the steering column could be raised to suit by elongating the holes in the top of the chassis and placing washers between the chassis and steering box front bolt. The floor had to be drilled to accept the throttle pedal and the bulkhead to accept the linkage. This had to be bent slightly for completely free movement.

The join between the body and chassis could then be filled with body filler and the car was ready for painting. The simulated artillery wheels when painted were bolted to the original hub caps (now painted black).

When dry, the seats were upholstered using the supplied foam cushioning and leather-cloth covering and popper buttons. The battery is fitted to the running board and the car was ready to go.

For everyday use or just weekend jaunts this little car was one of the most practical and reliable vehicles of its type in the world.

Spares were available through any Ford stockist while various manuals were available for servicing and tuning. It was for these reasons that the Doctor Who 'production team chose this car.

The basic kit comprising of an elegant glass fibre body, seats, bonnet, mock artillery wheel trims, mudguards, foam cushioning and brackets for the bonnet, radiator, running boards and fuel tank cost a mere 160. On top of this were several optional extras which Bessie had. These included bulb horns, luggage trunk, coach lamps; Cibie headlamps, hood and side curtains, battery-box, seat covers, screen and bonnet straps and carpets. The cost of which amounted to 182.00. The total cost of Bessie then equalled 342.00.

Unfortunately, the number plate, WHO 1, was not available when the BBC took possession of Bessie. In order to get round this legal problem a special WHO 1 plate was made and used on the car when filming on private ground" i.e., quarries, large houses and even Welsh slag hills. When the location, filming necessitated use of the public highway then the legal registration plate, MTR 5, had to be used. These sequences were always long shots (as when driving through Derbyshire in The Silurians) so that the number plate could not be read.

Throughout the series bits and bobs were added by the Special Effects team which ranged from a plastic hand to radio control and an elongated bonnet. Plus, a few fictional additions were made such as the "SuperDrive" in The Time Monster and an "Anti Thief Device" in Ambassadors of Death. Thus making Bessie a truly unique and amazing car. Her last appearance in the programme was Tom Baker's Robot (*2). Since then, however, Bessie makes frequent appearances at fetes and charities and is always in the Parade at Blackpool's illuminations. In fact, at the moment, Blackpool is Bessie's home (*3).

While Jon Pertwee was the Doctor he suggested that a toy model of the car, made by someone like Lesney, Dinky or Corgi might be a viable concept. Surprisingly, the toy manufacturers did not agree and a model of Bessie never saw the light of day. The nearest we got was a cardboard cut-out on the back of a Kellogg's Sugar Smacks packet. There is no reason why the option could not be still taken up by a manufacturer reading this article (*4).

Along with the Whomobile, they would make an ideal gift set. The only other merchandising to be connected with Bessie were a couple of jigsaws. The first was a splendid publicity shot of Jon sitting in Bessie when collecting her from Siva's in Dorset
(*5). This was one puzzle of a set of four. The others being of Daleks and Ogrons. Much later in the first set of Tom Baker jigsaw puzzles, Bessie turned up again with publicity shots from Robot which introduced Tom as the Doctor.

Will she ever return to the programme? Well, will the Doctor ever visit present day Earth again? Only time will tell!
 

(*1) Much of this article paraphrases heavily on the SIVA documentation of the day.
(*2) This article was written before subsequent appearances in the Five Doctors, Battlefield and Dimensions in Time.
(*3) Bessie was housed at Blackpool until 1985.
(*4) This article was written before the Corgi models of Bessie were manufactured. 
(*5) Probably incorrect as the jigsaws feature Jon Pertwee in his season 8 costume and Bessie first appeared in season 7.

 

DOCTOR WHO EXPERTS DISCUSSION FORUM - April 2000 
Extract from article about Bessie's License Plate number.

The number plate of the vehicle when used in the show was simply WHO1, however the actual registered number plate was MTR5. When Producer Peter Bryant realised that most of the stories for the new Season Seven of Doctor Who were to be set entirely on Earth and that the Tardis would be virtually redundant as a prop for the show, he decided to commission the manufacture of a new prop for the Doctor. This prop took the form of a vehicle for the Doctor to still be able to remain mobile.

The Third Doctors Yellow Roadster 'Bessie', which makes it's first appearance in Doctor Who And The Silurians, was a limited edition Edwardian 'kit car' made by Siva And Neville Trickett (Design) Limited of Blandford, Dorset. It fitted onto a E93A Ford chassis, from the type used from the late Forties through to the end of 1958. The chassis were used on the Ford Popular, Prefect and Anglia models. The basic kit cost 160 and comprised the fibreglass body, seats, bonnet with foam cushioning and brackets, mock artillery wheel trims, mudguards, radiator, running boards and fuel tank. On top of this Bessie had a lot of optional extras including, bulb horns, luggage trunk, coach lamps, Cibie headlamps, a hood with side curtains, battery box, seat covers, screen and body straps and carpets. These extras cost a total of 182.

Two versions were offered, a two-seater or a four-seater. The producer, Barry Letts, chose the latter. Sometime during the Pertwee era the bonnet was extended to accommodate a ten horsepower engine, rather than the original eight horsepower one. The number plate 'Who 1' was not legal as it was already owned by someone else, Mister Aubrey Stevens, Clerk to the Magistrates for Alton, Alresford and Petersfield, and was only used on private roads. If it was necessary for Bessie to actually be shot on location on a public road then it was nearly always in long shot or in close-ups that didn't reveal the official number plate which was MTR5. In total, back in 1969, the car cost a mere 500, 342 for the kit and another 160 for a chassis and engine from a Ford Popular! This kit car is no longer commercially available.

Later, during the making of Season Ten, Bessie had broken down on several occasions, then Producer Barry Letts had it sent to a company called Gluntura Plastics for a complete refit and overhaul. The roadster was given a new chassis, gearbox, new larger capacity engine, and a more rounded saddle bonnet. Fully re-sprayed and refitted, the car was back at the BBC in time for location footage filming for The Green Death.

Original article  

 

 

 

CONTACT ME:

If you would like to contact me about Sivas, Edwardians or Bessie, you can email me at dean.rose@tiscali.co.uk

 



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