Pete Tyler, Bobby Shaftoe, and my Dad

Those of you who’ve read the introduction to my Doctor Who script ‘Father’s Day’ in the series one script book will already be slightly familiar with my Dad.  I based a lot of Rose’s Dad, Pete Tyler, on him.  He’s a self-made man, a bit of a wheeler-dealer who finally made good when one of his ideas struck gold, and then held on to become responsible, serious and successful.  
     I know it sounds a little weird, also to me now in retrospect, but I didn’t actually tell Dad about that introduction, even about the existence of the script book.  He’s in his eighties now, and wouldn’t notice it without me doing so.  I didn’t think much about that decision at the time, but now I think maybe I didn’t know if he’d appreciate the references to him in there, because he’s a very stoic chap.  I talk about a dream I once had, where he tells me he’ll go to war rather than me.  The piece is really about me appreciating the sacrifices he made, and how I know he’d do what the Dad in ‘Father’s Day’ does.  I think most Dads would.  
     Anyhow, on the same day that Terrance Dicks called me to talk happily about the reference to him in that intro, my brother also called, to say he’d seen the book in a shop, and had told Dad about it.  So, on Christmas Day, I took a spare copy of the script book along to give to Dad.  He sneaked a quick look while successfully hiding from me and my nephew that we’d both bought him the same cricket DVD.  
     A few weeks later, I asked Mum if he was okay with it.  She said she thought he was pleased.  That is, he hadn’t complained about it.  I assume that he’s proud of me on the same basis, apart from on my wedding day, when he told me he was and rendered me nearly unable to make my speech.
     A couple of days ago, I was surprised when Dad produced a photo album I’d never seen before.  All his shots of his service days in the Far East.  ‘That’s the Maharajah’s private swimming pool… there’s me jumping in.’  ‘I swapped the three acres of land on the island in return for that mule.’  There was a photo of a young Japanese woman, with kanji characters on the back, a picture of a girlfriend that he’d taken off the body of a dead Japanese soldier.  It struck me as a gesture that was gentle and aggressive at the same time.  ‘I couldn’t be as brave as they were,’ he said.  ‘Charging in with just a sword.  Taking ears and testicles for trophies.’  He was there right through to the start of what would become the Vietnam conflict, when he was ordered to free the Japanese soldiers he was guarding and arm them to fight the Communists who the week before had been his allies.  
     He once took ‘a week off’ to go hunting for your actual buried treasure with his brother, Billy, who’d popped over from an entirely different theatre of war, and a French landowner.  He kept volunteering for missions that struck him as interesting.  Like shoving very reluctant mules on parachutes out of the side of a DC-3 aircraft for guerillas in the jungle below, under fire, and watching as they were all exploded on the way down by anti-aircraft shells.  He was promoted and demoted three times.  A sergeant once yelled at him that he’d got three stripes and Dad only had two.  Dad replied that he’d had more stripes than the sergeant ever would.  
     Those of you who’ve read Neal Stephenson’s excellent Cryptonomicon may understand how I’m now very attached to the character of Bobby Shaftoe in that book, who had the same sort of random, adventurous, terrifying, Far East war life that my father did.  That maybe a lot of men back then did.  Stephenson seems to have not only done his research, but to have made the same emotional connection with the past.  
     I’m now very glad I wrote that introduction, and wonder why it took me so long to do so.  

8 Response to "Pete Tyler, Bobby Shaftoe, and my Dad"

  • Nick Setchfield Says:

    Interesting that your dad actually volunteered the photos. My grandfather served in Egypt doing WWII, and this period of his life always remained unknowable to me. I wish I'd asked him about it, but the experience seemed to belong to his generation - almost a shared generational secret - and he certainly wasn't going to tell a young boy about the realities of war. All that filtered down into everyday family life were the words to motivate a reluctant camel: "Igri! Igri! Cla! Cla!"

  • Paul Cornell Says:

    We got the 'chai' for tea. I think that generation may even assume we'd feel negative about their experiences. I'm glad Dad's had a chance to talk about it, even if it's so late.

  • Pádraig Says:

    Your relationship with your father sounds a lot like mine. Affectionate but distant, with occasional moments that surprise us both.

  • Paul Cornell Says:

    It's the surprises that make all the difference. And as I get older, I find that all that rebelling I did just put me on the road to being him.

  • andiandi Says:

    Hey dude...Just wanted to say I thought the Rose episode was totally totally rad and for me that was mostly because the Pete Tyler character was great. That whole episode really drew me as a viewer much further into the Doctor Whoniverse...and really cool to find out where Pete came from.

  • Paul Cornell Says:

    That's very kind of you. Thanks very much.

  • dougggie Says:

    Heard about this for the first time during your "DVD" commentary at Galley. Found it very moving as I have a similar non-communicative relationship with my dad... you know deep down they're proud of you, but you only find out occasionally when something slips out ;-)

  • Paul Cornell Says:

    That's so often true that I wonder if it's the norm. It's nice when things do slip out, though!