Sadly, Paul Bernard died in 1997, but it's interesting to note that in the various interviews that were conducted with him after the time of the supposed pilot's shooting, no reference was ever made to this independent production. As part of the research for Dr. Forever! I got in touch with Paul's widow, Carole and talked to her about her husband's supposed involvement in the Burton pilots. Carole knew nothing of any such production, but she very helpfully checked Paul's work diaries for the period as well as consulting his former long-standing PA - and there was no evidence whatsoever that Paul Bernard was ever involved (even peripherally) with the formation of a Doctor Who pilot, let alone spending three months directing one.
Examining Burton's earlier comments in Doctor Who Magazine from 1991 and 1994, the actor curiously makes no mention of Paul Bernard's involvement. Instead, he recounts a slightly different story, saying that he received a telephone call from a company called Millennium Productions, asking to meet him in London. Interestingly, there were two media companies going under that name in the late 1980s/early 1990s. Millenium Management & Productions Limited (with one 'n') had produced factual material for television including Glorious Colour and Viz: The Documentary for Channel 4, as well as material for The South Bank Show. But company director, Vijay Amarnani confirmed to me that they never had anything to do with any Doctor Who pilot. The other company was a much smaller outfit simply called Millennium Productions Limited that had been registered in December 1989 and subsequently dissolved in May 1993, although having checked, there appears to be no record of the company ever actually producing anything before its closure.
As well as citing Millennium Productions involvement, Burton also stated in 1991 that the producer of the pilot was a man named Peter Hillyer, whilst later in 1994, he said that the pilot had not one, but two directors, one of which "was a chap called Peter Kenway - not a terribly well known director." He then went on to say that "the whole thing was done with people largely unknown to television, although obviously everyone had worked quite a lot in theatre." Two names - the problem is that there doesn't appear to be any record of a Peter Hillyer or a Peter Kenway involved in any television or theatre work.
Another area touched on by Burton both in 1991 and in 2012 concerned the location filming carried out for pilot(s). In 1991, the actor stated that they had filmed in Vienna, and yet 21 years later, he had appeared to have completely forgotten about this trip to Austria. Instead, a new list of locales were given - a disused warehouse in Kensington where both the production office and sets were housed, a rocky bay down at St. Austell in Cornwall, a school recreation ground in the Beaconsfield area and Chislehurst Caves. Having fairly recently written the production subtitles for the BBC DVD of the 1972 story, The Mutants, I was quite familiar with both the caves and the staff there. Chislehurst Caves have indeed been used for a number for a number of film and television productions over the years, including Merlin, Randall & Hopkirk Deceased, Neverwhere and the truly terrible 1981 film, Inseminoid (aka Horror Planet). But strangely, the staff have absolutely no recollection of any independent Doctor Who pilot ever being shot there in the late 1980s/early 1990s.
Back in September 2012, I was contacted by producer James Goss who was in the process of researching the fourth in his Dr. Forever! series, Lost in the Dark Dimension, dealing with some of the attempts to revive the series after the 1989 cancellation.
One of the areas that James was keen to try and cover was the story behind actor David Burton's claims that he had starred as the Doctor in two unseen pilots filmed by an independent production company in the late 1980s/early 1990s.
Burton first came to fandom's attention when an article appeared in Doctor Who Magazine's 'Gallifrey Guardian' in October 1991, detailing a fete that had been held at the Holmesdale First School in Reigate on Saturday 8 June. The fete had been opened by David Burton, who had arrived in a Proton Saga car that had been loaned out to him by a local dealer - a car that had also been emblazoned with a statement promoting him as being "The New Doctor Who".
A few words from Burton were included in the original article, but two-and-a-half years later, Doctor Who Magazine ran a follow-up piece after a reader sent in a press clipping from the Middlesbrough newspaper, The Herald & Post, which was promoting the pantomime of Dick Whittington being run that year in the city's Little Theatre. The newspaper mentioned David Burton, who was playing the captain's mate, by saying that he had "just finished filming a new series of Dr. Who in which he plays the time travelling Doctor." On contacting the theatre, both the manager and the pantomime's producer stated that as far as they knew, David Burton had indeed done some work filming one or more new Doctor Who episodes, but to confirm it, the producer put DWM directly in touch with the actor. As a result, the same issue of the magazine featured a one-page interview with David Burton that had been conducted over the telephone by the magazine's assistant editor, Marcus Hearn, in which the actor indicated that he had indeed filmed a pilot episode, entitled The Monsters of Ness.
As can be seen in his Dr. Forever! interview on the Inferno - Special Edition DVD, over two decades on, David Burton continues to stick to his story, but is any of this really true? Well, let's weigh up the evidence...
David Burton's appearance at the fete held at Holmesdale First School on Saturday 8 June 1991.
Photographs courtesy of Tony Whitmore
In both his 1994 and 2012 interviews, Burton states that the first he heard of the part was shortly after he had appeared in the Lionel Bart/Laurie Johnson musical Lock Up Your Daughters that had been directed by Paul Bernard (who had also directed the three Jon Pertwee stories, Day of the Daleks, The Time Monster and Frontier in Space). That part of his story certainly is verifiable. Burton had indeed appeared in the production which was performed at the Harlequin Theatre in Redhill (where Bernard lived) between 27 June to 1 July 1989.
According to his 2012 interview, Burton clearly says that a few months later, Paul Bernard got in touch with him and asked if he would go with the director to a meeting that was being held at the Grosvenor House Hotel at Park Lane in London. At this point, it appears that Burton was not aware as to the purpose of the said meeting, which was attended by various other unidentified people.
It was only later that it became apparent that he was actually there to be offered the lead role of the Doctor in an independent pilot
and that Paul Bernard himself was going to be directing the new production.
And what of that infamous car? The Proton Saga that was given to David Burton came from the now defunct Shield Motor Group in Holmethorpe Avenue in Redhill after Burton had directly approached the dealer seeking sponsorship, claiming to have been cast as the new Doctor and bringing along various pieces of documentation as “proof” of what he was saying. At this time, Burton was a regular columnist for the Surrey Mirror, providing a weekly insight into his personal thoughts on everyday life - the same newspaper in which the car dealership regularly advertised. In his column, published on Thursday 2 May, he talked about receiving the Proton from Shield, commenting, "it has got a bit of advertising on the bodywork, which looks a bit pretentious, but if I've got trouble-free motoring for free, then I can put up with it." Interestingly, in his Dr Forever! interview, Burton states that he didn't know anything about the "New Doctor Who" signwriting on the car until he received it and subsequently he insisted that it be removed, which, he says, it was within 48 hours. However, given that Burton must have taken delivery of his car with the "pretentious" signwriting by the end of April 1991 at the latest (based on his article) and that he was still driving the unaltered car some six weeks later when he appeared at the Holmesdale First School fete, his memory of immediately getting the offending advertising removed can't be correct. However, as far as the Shield Motor Group were concerned, Burton’s claims started to wear a bit thin, as someone who worked for the dealership at the time told Nothing at the End of the Lane in 2016. “He never delivered on his promises and kept messing us about for weeks, so we terminated the deal fairly swiftly after about four months. We ended up taking the car back from outside his house with the spare keys one night because all of the so-called “proof” to show us when Doctor Who was going live on television never appeared.”
So, did it really happen? Did one or two full Doctor Who pilots really get made without anyone ever hearing any more about it? Well, there's nothing about the story that actually seems to hold up under scrutiny, so, at this moment in time, the details as recounted by David Burton both in the 1990s and later in 2012 just don't seem to have any basis in verifiable fact. Some people have surmised that this could have been nothing more than some kind of fan production and that perhaps Burton got confused, thinking that he was involved with something much bigger. But according to him, it was a three month engagement. According to him, it was directed by Paul Bernard. And according to him, it was run out of a warehouse in Kensington - a very expensive part of London - surely something beyond the finances of any amateur production?
It may well have been that David Burton was simply engaging in a little bit of over-enthusiastic and profile-raising "self-promotion" when he decided to make his claims, possibly in an effort to secure himself the sponsorship deal with Shield. He may never have considered the possibility that Shield would then publicly advertise his claims in such a way or perhaps he was simply thinking that no one would ever really question whether or not he had actually filmed anything. If that was the case, then he chose the wrong programme to home in on. If he had fictitiously claimed that he'd done a test to be the new presenter of a revived but ultimately unmade series of Crackerjack!, then it's doubtful that anyone would have ever batted an eyelid. But Doctor Who was always going to be a different matter and over twenty years later, the subject of Burton's supposed involvement is still being talked about amongst the fans.
Understandably, David Burton has never chosen to mention his supposed brush with the programme on his list of acting credits. In the main his work has been in theatre, including his appearance in a long list of pantomimes. But his online CV's that have been published by the agencies that have represented him over the years make reference various pieces of film and television work he's supposed to have done - although when he can be spotted (and having looked at some of the listed productions in question, I haven't been able to see him at all) he seems to be there just as a background artist. Indeed, the only thing I've ever recognised him in on first viewing was his appearance in the 'Identity Parade' round of the BBC quiz-show Never Mind the Buzzcocks in 1997, pretending to be Colin Gibb from Black Lace.
That said, Burton's published list of acting credits includes some rather mysterious entries. In his online CV published several years ago by his former agent, Burton stated that he had appeared as a character called "Dave" in an episode of Only Fools and Horses that had been directed by Richard Kell. Except that a Richard Kell didn't direct any of the 64 televised episode of the series. In fact, I couldn't find any directing credits for anyone of that name. Also included on the list Channel 4 production called The Garbologist directed by someone called Jan Schernik (or Schernick, depending on what version you look at) in which Burton evidently appeared in the title role. But try as I might, I could find no record of either the programme or the director. But perhaps I was just looking in the wrong place...
Even more interesting however is the claim on his CV that he played the role of Albert Steptoe in the 2006 touring version of the stage play, Steptoe & Son - Murder on Oil Drum Lane. When Burton posted an amusing photograph of himself gurning at a couple of pigs on his Facebook page, someone asked if he'd ever thought about playing Albert Steptoe. Burton's reply: "I did! Five months touring the UK as Albert in 'Steptoe & Son - Murder at Oil Drum Lane', 2006. Especially written by Ray Galton and John Antrobus. They said the likeness was 'incredible'...and I was thinking George Clooney." Now, it's quite true to say that David Burton was in the cast of the touring version of the play, acting as both the understudy as well as playing a couple of small walk-on roles, but according to veteran actor Harry Dickman, who played the part of Albert throughout the play's original run both in York and at London's Comedy Theatre as well as on the national tour, Burton never once took over from him in the starring role. The only time his understudy was required was when Dickman unable to perform for a three-night period due to illness whilst in London, and on that occasion, actor Andrew Fettes took over the role.
In all honesty, I'd love David Burton's story to be true. The notion of a completed but never-seen pilot episode that might be stored away somewhere is such a fabulous notion, but unless some more corroborative evidence for its existence turns up in the future, then the only way to call this is BLUFF!
David Burton's appearance on
Never Mind the Buzzcocks (1997)
The Original Eighth Doctor?
David Burton's column from the Surrey Mirror talking about his new Proton Saga - 2 May 1991
David Burton's collects his new Proton Saga car from the Shield Motor Group in Redhill
The cast of Lock Up Your Daughters David Burton in
gold (middle left) and director Paul Bernard (front right)