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Last Updated: Friday, 3 February 2006, 16:37 GMT
Faces of the week
Faces of the week

Our regular look at some of the faces which have made the news this week. Above are TOM BAKER (main picture), with PETE BURNS, DAME JUDI DENCH, HILARY ARMSTRONG MP and SOL CAMPBELL.

TOM BAKER

The extraordinary story of how the one-time monk jumped from the Tardis, through Little Britain, to become the sonorous voice of UK text messages.

Tom Baker makes no attempt to suppress his pleasure at the latest twist in his long career. "What appeals to me most is the thought that I will be bringing good news to people whether it is a cheeky message, a birthday greeting or just a quick 'Hello.'"

Voted the fourth most recognisable voice in the UK, after The Queen, Tony Blair and Lady Thatcher, Baker's dulcet tones now grace BT's Text, a service which allows mobile text messages to be sent and received on a home phone.

Tom Baker as Dr Who
Who's the man? Tom Baker dazzled as The Doctor
His labours, an 11-day recording session which yielded 11,593 phrases, covering every sound in the English language, have already paid off. with the telecoms giant reporting a 69% surge in the service in the 24 hours following Baker's debut.

But none of this should come as much of a surprise to people in the UK, as Tom Baker, together with his rich, deep, stentorian voice, replete with a hint of mischief, has become as familiar as a favourite eccentric uncle.

The arcane and often disturbing words of wisdom he dispenses on the television comedy series, Little Britain - gems like "Britain, Britain, Britain! We've had running water for over 10 years, we have a tunnel connecting us to Peru, and we invented the cat" - have brought Baker a huge fan base.

At an age, 72, when most actors would be thinking of hanging up their costumes, his career is on a high.

Not bad for a Liverpool lad whose earliest years were dominated by the Luftwaffe's bombing raids on the city and a devotion to religion which verged on mania.

Suicide attempt

Baker, "randy for martyrdom" - as he puts it in his rumbustious biography, Who on Earth is Tom Baker? - took his Catholic faith even further, entering a monastery in Jersey aged 15.

But his six years in the closed order ended ignominiously when murderous thoughts provoked him to lace his brothers' soup with rabbit-droppings.

National Service in the Army Medical Corps followed, then training as an actor, before Baker married a wealthy and beautiful heiress in 1961. The relationship, which produced two sons, floundered: his in-laws loathed him and he attempted suicide.

Baker and Ward
Tom Baker as the Doctor, and assistant/wife Lalla Ward
But solace came in a full-time commitment to acting. Baker enjoyed notable success in a National Theatre line-up which included Derek Jacobi, Maggie Smith and Anthony Hopkins.

"The paradox of performers is that they are licensed liars," he recently mused. "Actors can say things like, 'It's only by lies that the truth can be revealed,' without cracking up.

"Plus, they've got some truly wonderful chat-up lines at their disposal. Just so long as you're not trying it on with an actress who's also read Bernard Shaw."

And it was the National's founder, Laurence Olivier, who gave Tom Baker his first break on the big screen, as the wild-eyed mad monk Rasputin in Nicholas and Alexandra, for which he gained two Golden Globe nominations in 1972.

King of the voice-overs

But, despite this initial success, Baker was labouring on a London building site when the call came in 1974 to become the fourth incarnation of Dr Who.

Playing The Doctor for seven years transformed his life and transfixed a whole generation of children, for whom Tom Baker will always be the definitive Doctor.

The show's often-ropey monsters and rudimentary special effects were offset by the sheer audacity of Baker's charismatic performance, plus his trademark long knitted scarf, fedora and heavy overcoat.

Over-acting? To be sure. But impressive nonetheless.

A second marriage, to his Dr Who co-star Lalla Ward, also came to grief. But today Baker is happily settled in France with his wife of 20 years, Sue Gerrard.

Tom Baker as Wyvern in Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased)
Baker's roles, like Wyvern in Randall & Hopkirk, often ooze mystery
A steady stream of TV work in shows like Medics, Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), Monarch of the Glen and Little Britain, has been augmented by big bucks from voice-overs for everyone from Sainsbury's and Renault to the Territorial Army.

And the bootlegged out-takes of one recording session, allegedly featuring an expletive-laden Baker in full-flow, became cult listening via the internet a few years ago.

Typical of Baker's singular take on life, regaled in spectacular fashion in his disquieting comic novel, The Boy who Kicked Pigs, is this recent baroque tale.

"I hired a hi-tech car," he explained to an interviewer.

"I was sitting in it and began hearing voices. A kind of muttering. People talking about sex, power and murder. I drove in a terrible rush until I saw someone I knew and said: 'I'm hearing voices. It's the onset of dementia.'

"He replied: 'No it's not - the radio's on low.' The hi-tech car I'd hired had four speakers and surround sound."

Not even Little Britain's two highly irreverent stars, Matt Lucas and David Walliams, could have thought-up that little gem.


Pete Burns: No prosecution
PETE BURNS

Celebrity Big Brother housemate Pete Burns will not be prosecuted over his monkey fur coat, the Crown Prosecution Service said. Police seized the coat from the house during the show and tests by the Natural History Museum confirmed it was made from the fur of a black and white colobus monkey. The CPS concluded: "There is no evidence to suggest that this garment was imported illegally and therefore that any offence has been committed."

Oscar nod: Dame Judi Dench
DAME JUDI DENCH

Dame Judi Dench has received an Academy Award nomination, her fifth, for her lead role in the film Mrs Henderson Presents. Dame Judi has already won a best supporting actress Oscar for her commanding performance as Queen Elizabeth I in Shakespeare in Love in 1999. She now joins two other British actresses, Keira Knightley and Rachel Weisz, in the hunt for those elusive golden statuettes. The Oscars will be presented in Los Angeles on 5 March.

Defeat: Hilary Armstrong
HILARY ARMSTRONG MP

Tony Blair's Chief Whip, Hilary Armstrong, was wrong-footed when the government was defeated by one vote in a Commons division on plans to introduce a new offence of inciting religious hatred. Inspired by an episode of TV's The West Wing, Conservative MPs kept a low profile before the vote and Ms Armstrong's office was accused of not appreciating the scale of the Labour rebellion. To add insult to injury, Mr Blair left the Commons shortly before the vote.

Sol Campbell: Walkout
SOL CAMPBELL

Arsenal defender, Sol Campbell, endured a nightmare 45 minutes during his side's match with West Ham. Two first-half blunders by the 31 year-old England centre-back left his side trailing 2-1 at the break. Substituted, Campbell left the ground before the end of the match. Team-mate Robert Pires later revealed Campbell had a "big worry" in his personal life while Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger said he did not know when he would see the player again.

Written by BBC News Profiles Unit's Andrew Walker




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