Tuesday, 5 May 2015

My Grandma, President of the Earth

My grandma appeared in Doctor Who once. She played President of the Earth. It’s the kind of fact that gets people talking - easy to flourish at the right moment. She appeared in the 1973 Frontier in Space sequence, back when Jon Pertwee was racketing around in the Tardis with Katy Manning (Jo) at his side.

She wasn’t just any President of the Earth either. This ruler held her power with style. As my grandma said of director Paul Bernard, “he had a completely new idea of what a female president would look like: feminine, pampered, nails painted, pearls in her hair.” Sartorially this translated into stiff orange collars, long gloves, patent high heels, and a particularly clingy blue dress (so clingy, in fact, that it was sewn onto her body)… She had her temples massaged and spoke with authority. This was a character who walked with real presence.

It’s been years since I watched it. We had a version on VHS (back when that was a thing people actually used), once sitting down as a family to plow our way through all six episodes. Monsters and moments of peril aplenty. When I think of my grandma in Doctor Who though, it’s stills that come to mind rather than moving images. We have plenty of portraits stowed away – close ups of her looking fabulous and futuristic.

I mentioned above that it’s a fun detail to let slip. It is. Doctor Who is something of a cultural institution. To be related to someone who contributed to that is pretty great. But I’m aware that the full sentence should be this: “my grandma appeared in Doctor Who once: it’s the thing she’s least proud of.” She took it on because she knew the director. She was also a widow with two young children by this point, a little more preoccupied with an ill son at home (my dad) than focusing on a stunning performance. “I think nothing of it,” she commented a few weeks ago when we were discussing it, “it was really just a time filler – a kids' TV show.”

What is she proud of? Playing Anne Frank’s mother onstage in her mid-twenties. Being in the first English production of A View from the Bridge in Liverpool, directed by Sam Wanamaker. Performing Shakespeare across America. Getting into RADA in the first place, her thick Czech accent an issue – but not a barrier.

Then there are the things that aren’t necessarily to do with pride, but provide wonderful embellishment nonetheless. Such stories! She was chased by a toothless lion on the set of a dodgy B-movie filmed in Kenya, and rode a one-eyed rhino for a bet with the crew. She was once trapped in a lift in New York with Salvador Dali, zooming up, down, up, down five times as he wouldn't let her leave and deemed her “the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen” (funny, as he said it to a looooot of other women too). One evening she went drinking with Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud in Soho. On another the young woman she was meant to be chaperoning at a party disappeared, only to be discovered in a nearby B&B making use of the ‘bed’ part with a certain very well known bad boy Scottish actor – who apparently grinned at my grandma when she told him off.  

I love all of these details. They make for rich pickings – little delicious morsels of tales. Her life continues to be enlarged in each retelling. It also finds further echoes online. For the first time ever today, I googled ‘Vera Fusek Doctor Who’ and spent a good half hour scrolling through various websites and blogs. I discovered a few images, this profile of her character and, to my complete surprise, a reference to a comic book from 2012, where a character named ‘President Vera Fusek’ appeared alongside the Eleventh Doctor. All of these resonances and references feel intriguing – divided off from the woman I know who is deprecating about that one small part she played more than forty years ago. But you know what? Even if she’s not proud of it, in some small way I am. But maybe that’s because I view it as part of a larger mosaic of anecdotes, experiences and snippets from her life. 

Besides, I’ve got the dress now too (pictured above). It may not make me feel like President of the Earth, but it does encourage a certain sense of power...

Having possession of this dress feels very special indeed - and I wanted to pay tribute to its futuristic beginnings. So here it's styled with ridiculous heels from eBay and plenty of vintage jewellery. Below are a selection of stills of my grandma. Look at those outfits! 



Hannah said...

This amazing in literally every way. She should be very proud to have a granddaughter who knows to dig deeper into what she considers to be her best accomplishments, rather than basing it off of a name. Though let me say, I'm impressed enough by the time filler!

the style crusader said...

Wow. This is amazing. It sounds like grandma has had such an interesting life. She has got stories to tell! The dress is incredible and it's so special that it has been passed down to you. What an incredible piece for you to own! xx


Carlota Antolin Vallespin said...

Oh my god!!!!! How couldn't you be cool coming from such a family???!!!!
Don't tell this to your grandma because she will kill me but....the dress fit better on your beautiful body. This tone of blue is made for you.


Closet Fashionista said...

Wow! That is so cool!! She was gorgeous! And it's funny how sometimes the things we are least proud of are what most people find the coolest.
The dress looks amazing on you, I love the color.
(I recently found out that my great aunt - married to my dad's uncle - was in a movie with Brad Pitt! A hospital scene, ha ha)

The Lady Nerd said...

Wow....what an incredible story! Actually, make the plural, stories!I feel like our grandparents generation has far more interesting stories to tell then we do (or it might be a matter of "yet". That's the hope I cling to. I bemoan the idea that we're more restricted in things we can and can't do due to rules, laws, societal pressures, etc. but we shall see what stories our generation ends up having at the end of things.)

Being a big Doctor Who fan, this post is among my favourites. Both from a literal piece of TV history you get to wear and your grandmother's story (and interesting take that it was 'nothing' job for her, just filler. Then going on to hear all of her other incredible exploits. I hope one day I can have incredible tales like that. Oh to have an interesting life!) Thanks for sharing such a fascinating set of tales. Your grandmother sounds like quite the woman. :)

- Briana

Melanie said...

I love the story of your grandmother trapped in the elevator with Dali! I also like her non-chalance about the things that those looking in regard as so glamorous. The fact that you only let these stories slip from time to time is a good sign that you can hold your own without them. Her dress looks amazing on you, very President of the Earth.

Vix said...

Goodness me, your Grandma doesn't half look familiar or it could be that she and you are so alike!
Those were the days when I used to watch Dr Who (although I gave it another go when Chris Eccleston played him).
Love the Dali story and how good you look in that dress. xxx

Gareth From StyleHoney.com said...

I absolutely love your dress. It's such an incredible colour on you! x


This dress is special indeed--what wonderful tales about your grandmother. I grew up watching Doctor Who, so it was a golden nugget of excitement to read. What an eyeful, and styled beautifully. The drama of the heels certainly makes the simplistic sihouette of the dress look incredible. x

Ivana Split said...

you do look powerful wearing her dress! It is clear why you grandma is a source of inspiration for you...and mine is for me as well!

I'm impressed by all these stories about her life...and she even got to meet Salvador Dali!!!

The Heba Blog said...

I love this dress. Before I read the post I saw the dress and I fell in love with it. It's a shame I can't get my hands on one like it now!!

Heba xx || http://www.californiaroadtrippin.blogspot.com

MaskedMan said...

She should be proud of it! For the same reason that Nichelle Nichols should be-- and is-- proud of her role as Uhura on "Star Trek."

The President was a brilliant character.

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