Friday, April 28, 2023

Doctor Who Magazine #590

The new issue of Doctor Who Magazine features my interview with Devante Fleming, one of the floor runners currently working on Doctor Who. There's also an infographic by me and illustrated by Ben Morris showing the winners of the reader poll for best Third and Fourth Doctor stories.

Stuart Manning has also written a feature on the first and very different draft script of fan-favourite The Ark in Space, which is being released on audio in June - produced by me. It includes an interview with Jonathan Morris, who adapted the script to work in your ears.

Robert Brown has also interviewed former BBC publicist Jacqui Stonebridge about the early days of Doctor Who - a nice surprise for me as I've seen Jacqui's name on lots of old paperwork recently. And I'm dead envious of my mate Mark Wright getting to interview Dave Gibbons.

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

David Whitaker at 95

David Whitaker
in Australia, early 1970s
On 18 April 1928, 95 years ago today, David Arthur Whitaker was born in Knebworth.

In 1963, David became the first story editor of the new science-fiction series Doctor Who, and oversaw of 53 consecutive episodes. 

(Two of those weren't broadcast: the unbroadcast pilot was rewritten and re-rerecorded as the broadcast An Unearthly Child, and the two episodes Crisis and The Urge to Live were, after they'd been recorded, edited down into a single episode. I'm not counting the re-recording of The Dead Planet in this total because, so far as we know, the production team worked from the same script so it didn't need David's attention.)

(Also, David didn't receive credit on The Edge of Destruction or The Brink of Disaster because he was the credited writer on those. There's no story editor credited on The Powerful Enemy or Desperate Measures, either, and he may well have written these while still employed as story editor. But paperwork suggested his editorial duties concluded with the episode before that, Flashpoint, so that's where I'm stopping this count. Phew.)

David is also the credited writer on 40 episodes of Doctor Who - more than anyone else in the 1960s, the fourth most prolific TV writer of old-skool Doctor Who (after Robert Holmes on 64, Terry Nation on 56 and Malcolm Hulke on 45 if we count his co-written episodes as 0.5).

Of the 97 missing episodes of Doctor Who, David Whitaker was the credited writer on 18. (John Lucarotti was credited on 11, some co-written, Brian Hayles on 9, Ian Stuart Black on 8.)

David also wrote two of the first three Doctor Who novelisations, co-wrote two of the first three Dalek annuals, co-wrote the first Doctor Who related stage play, polished one of the two Dr. Who movies and probably wrote the bulk of the long running Daleks comic strip.

It's the 60th anniversary of Doctor Who this year, so where was David Whitaker on this day in 1963, his 35th birthday? Well, he was in (or just about to go to) New York in an effort to sell a musical he'd written, Model Girl, with composer George Posford.

Excerpt of letter from David Whitaker
to June Barry, 30 April 1963

Going round the various showbiz houses to schlep his play, he was introduced as, "David Whitaker who drinks sherry."

He returned to the UK around 14 May, presenting his fiancee June Barry with an antique phone, a gift for the flat they were in the process of agreeing to rent after their forthcoming wedding on 8 June.

June Barry in the
Daily Mirror, 3 August 1963

Yes, that's the same top (and same flat) as seen in a 1965 photo shoot of June and David conducted for TV World - the Birmingham-region version of TV Times.

David Whitaker and June Barry
at home, c. May 1965

Daily Mirror, 3 July 1963
(Doreen Spooner, the Daily Mirror's 'camera girl', who took the photo of June with the phone, had the previous month made front-page news with this extraordinary scoop, sneakily shot from the door of a pub toilet.)

David died in 1980 aged just 51. He was still working on Doctor Who. This form recently came to light, proof (at last!) that he'd been working on a novelisation of his 1967 TV serial The Evil of the Daleks.

I wrote a book about The Evil of the Daleks. Later this year, I've got a book out about another of David's Doctor Who stories, The Edge of Destruction.

You can learn more about David Whitaker in the documentary I worked on with splendid Chris Chapman and Toby Hadoke, on the Season 2 box-set released last year.

And I'm currently writing a ginormous biography, David Whitaker in an Exciting Adventure with Television, to be published by Ten Acre Films later this year. I'll end with this lovely note from David to a young Doctor Who fan in 1964...

Letter from David Whitaker
to Doctor Who fan Ian

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Masquerade: The Lives of Noël Coward, by Oliver Soden

This remarkable, detailed and insightful biography is a great joy, and in the audiobook version you get the author's impressions of various famous people. The result has been excellent company on a couple of long drives, often making me and other passengers hoot.

Coward would surely have approved the deft mix of comedy and bathos, and perhaps the stylistic flourishes, too. Some bits are related in script form (Soden's own invention, based on documented sources), and there's a final sequence in which Soden vies with (and rolls his eyes at) Coward's other biographers.

I'm especially impressed by the honesty when historical sources are clearly suggestive but we can't know for sure what went on, such as with Coward's early (sexual?) relationships with men. But what really makes this work is the clarity Soden brings. He unpicks the complexities of a whole bunch of different people who often masked their true selves. And he's good on the impact and response to events - whether that's a review, a break-up, a change in legislation. I'm particularly impressed by how vividly he conveys the war: the horror of the Blitz, the work Coward was given (and not given to do), and how that appeared to those not in the know.

Soden briefly covers the moment when, while shooting In Which We Serve (1942), Coward dressed down an actor for arriving late on set, and fired him in front of the whole crew. The story of William Hartnell's tongue-lashing by Noël Coward is also recounted by the film's assistant director Norman Spencer, who says that the role was quickly filled by assistant director Michael Anderson. Spencer expresses shock at Coward's behaviour, and I wonder how Anderson felt about what happened. He later cast Hartnell in Will Any Gentleman? (1953) -- alongside another future Doctor Who, Jon Pertwee -- and I wonder if that was partly from guilt.

(On 25 November 2009, when we recorded my Doctor Who audio story The Guardian of the Solar System, the two actors were required to read in lines as Hartnell's Doctor. Jean Marsh, who had of course worked with Hartnell, advised Niall McGregor to play him as Noël Coward. Which was more helpful than my recommendation to play him as Professor Yaffle from Bagpuss.)

Philip Streatfeild
I should also declare a small interest. Soden contacted me in 2021 about a family connection: my grandmother was the niece of Coward's (probably more than) friend Philip Streatfeild. Sadly, the original, faded photograph of Streatfeild I once found among some old family papers seems to have been mislaid; it was in a terrible state when I unearthed it. But I was able to share what my late father told me, and the result is a footnote in the book that would have delighted him - and has really pleased my mum.

From the index of Masquerade
by Oliver Soden

Soden, in turn, sent me a link to a page about Philip Streatfeild on the Dulwich College website, which includes a poignant letter written by my great-great-grandfather.

Friday, April 07, 2023

The Thirties, by Juliet Gardiner

Having found Juliet Gardiner's history of Wartime Britain hugely useful, I've been making my way through this even more enormous tome, in this case 763 pages before the acknowledgements. Annoyingly, my paperback edition does not include the extensive notes - these were originally included on the publisher's website, but that's long been consigned to history. The internet archive and me writing to the publisher all failed to turn up the notes, so I'll have to invest in a second-hand hardback. Arg.

This annoyance aside, it's another excellent history bringing so much of the past to life. Inevitably, it's not quite as enthralling as the wartime volume, as it can't match that mix of horror, oddness and human interest. I've made numerous notes on stuff that illuminates the early life of David Whitaker for the book I'm writing at the moment. But all sorts of other stuff stands out: the vivid descriptions of the fire that destroyed the Crystal Palace, visible from all over London (from p. 473), or the shocking road-traffic statistics from 1934: 7,343 deaths and 231,603 injuries (p. 679).