Thursday, November 09, 2023

David Whitaker seen on television

In August 1964, Doctor Who's first story editor, David Whitaker, wrote up a CV for his new agent, Beryl Vertue, ahead of leaving his staff job at the BBC to go freelance. That CV is a key source in piecing together David's wide-ranging career. Before becoming a writer, David had been a professional actor and his CV refers to acting work in both radio and TV - but without saying what this involved.

We know David worked for BBC Radio in Belfast while working on stage at the New Theatre at Bangor, 1954-55, but not the productions or roles. In October 1955, he was one of four unnamed sailors in The Voyage of Magellan produced by Rayner Heppenstall.

As per the Radio Times listing, this play was repeated. That may explain why a recording of it survives - made for this repeat and retained in case of further broadcast. As a result, this is one of two known records of David's voice, and although he's part of the ensemble rather than playing a named character, we can identify him in the crowd thanks to the other recording we have of him. I'll come to that in a moment.

Sadly, the BBC's Written Archives Centre (WAC) in Caversham does not hold paperwork relating to The Voyage of Magellan to give us more information, such as whether it was first broadcast live or recorded in advance. Details of this and any other roles David might have had on radio are not included in the "radio contributions" files for David held by WAC, which instead cover writing work he did for television outside his staff job.

As for the TV acting work he did before 1964, no details are known to survive - though I take an educated guess in my biography, David Whitaker in an Exciting Adventure in Television. But once he'd left his staff job at the BBC, David made a number of other appearances on TV...

Alys and Alan Hayes alerted me to the fact that, on 30 June 1967, David and his wife June Barry were among the celebrities gathered for the 1,000th episode of BBC Two's arts discussion programme Late Night Line-Up. For this, guests from previous episodes (including David Attenborough, Jonathan Miller, Robert Morley, Nyrie Dawn Porter and Ned Sherin) were entertained by comedians Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, assisted by a pre-Monty Python Terry Jones. This programme survives in the BBC archive. Here are two screenshots:

Terry Jones (standing) serves Peter Cook and (his back to us) Dudley Moore, while John Hopkins (with beard) looks on, David Whitaker and June Barry beside him.

Peter Cook standing over Dudley Moore, while John Hopkins, David Whitaker and June Barry watch.

The bearded man sat next to David is the playwright John Hopkins, with whom David worked and corresponded in the BBC script department while they were both on staff there. Hopkins wrote the screenplay for the James Bond film Thunderball (1965), which originally included a reference to Daleks:

BOND (grunts) The Daleks have taken over! 

Here's Hopkins again later the same year that he sat next to David, having just won an award for his script for Talking to a Stranger (available on YouTube), starring Judi Dench - seen second from the left:

TV Awards, 17 November 1967
Eric Portman, Judi Dench, Sydney Newman, Donald Wilson, Basil Coleman, John Hopkins

In the middle of the picture are (in glasses) Sydney Newman, leaving his job as BBC Head of Drama after five years, and beside him tall Donald Wilson, Newman's former head of serials. These two men created Doctor Who and I'm not aware of any other photograph of them together.

Back to David. On 5 March 1969, he was one of the hosts of the Writers' Guild awards held at the Dorchester Hotel in London. The moment that he announced the plaque for 'Best British Light Entertainment Script' awarded to the writing team behind Marty [Feldman] was captured on film and opens the surviving documentary One Pair Of Eyes: No, But Seriously, first broadcast on 7 June. It's the second surviving example of David's voice and you can currently view this on YouTube, but also here is a screenshot:

David Whitaker and Marius Goring
Writers' Guild Awards, 5 March 1969

Beside David is Marius Goring, the actor who'd played a villain in David's TV serial The Evil of the Daleks (1967) and his film Subterfuge (1968, but not released until 1971).

In 1972, David had a cameo role in The Far Country, his own adaptation of the Nevil Shute novel, produced by Eric Tayler for ABC in Australia and first broadcast on 9 February that year. Sadly, David's appearance is not included in the surviving footage from the serial.

Two years later, David wrote another role for himself in the STW-9 series he originated, The Drifter. Again, sadly, this doesn't survive but David's role was covered in the local listings magazine:

'Photo News' from (Australian) TV Week, 4 May 1974

David kept this page from the listings magazine and was also sent the original photograph, plus another one showing him being made-up for this role.

Laurence Hodge, Norman MacLeod and David Whitaker in The Drifter (1974)

David Whitaker made-up for The Drifter (1974)

Although he lived for another six years, these are the latest dated photographs of David Whitaker.

1 comment:


hi Simon. Just received a copy of your David Whitaker book. Look forward to reading it. Had I known you were writing it I would have passed on a copy of a very nice letter I received from June Barry years ago, when I tried to buy the scripts for "Evil of the Daleks" from the BBC script library, back when you could do that. It might have helped you,in some small way,with your research. All the best, Bill.