The GODS of Cult TV

Selected from Cult Times Special #15

Patrick Macnee with Honor Blackman - the woman Newman didn't want to hire!The Man Who...

... created The Avengers, and then had the idea of a senile alien travelling through Time and Space in a Police Box. We present an interview with Sydney Newman, who is sadly no longer with us

Feature by Stephen Payne and Jan Vincent-Rudzki

Canadian-born Sydney Newman came to Britain in the late Fifties, and became Head of Drama at commercial television station ABC.

His first brush with Science Fiction and Fantasy was the anthology Out of this World. To heighten its popularity he brought in Boris Karloff to introduce and close each story. The series became very successful. His next idea in this area, however, proved to have even more potential… “The Avengers came about as the result of a series of accidents and flukes,” explained Newman when he was interviewed for genre magazine Fantasy Image in 1984.

“A guy called Julian Bond had a great idea to marry two ideas that were popular then – Emergency Ward 10 and Dixon of Dock Green. His idea was about a police surgeon, a doctor, who is on special call to the police. We cast Ian Hendry – a young, virtually unknown actor – as the doctor. We made him a very moral, upright, earnest guy. Hendry had just come out of National Service and was a stunt motor cyclist. So I said, ‘Why don’t we use his physical skills?’

"We deliberately introduced Patrick Macnee in the last episode of the new series. He assisted the doctor, who was heart-broken at the death of his nurse. The basic idea was the conflict between the very moral, somewhat prudish, doctor and the amoral MI5 guy.

"Patrick was designed to be a kind of James Bond ruthless killer, except of course James Bond hadn’t been seen then; we went on the air six months to a year before the first Bond movie. Ian’s physical skills were used more and more, he was also a fine actor and the series gradually became very, very popular.

"The whole dynamic of the series was in the friendly enmity, firstly between Ian and Patrick, and this was then carried over with the new character, Cathy Gale.

“Then came the problem of casting her. The Avengers producer, Leonard White, showed me a short list of performers, at the top of which was Honor Blackman. She was a Rank starlet and I can’t stand the simpering smile all Rank starlets were, it seemed to me, trained to have. I wanted Nyree Dawn Porter who I had used in Armchair Theatre. Being the boss her name went to the top of the list, and I went off on holiday.

“I came back two weeks later and asked who had been cast. Leonard told me, Honor Blackman. ‘Jesus Christ’, I said, but Leonard told me that Nyree was not available and out of the others Honor Blackman was the best. “We gave her ju-jitsu lessons to follow through on the Ian Hendry strengths and the chemistry between her and Patrick was exciting. It was marvellous to take a woman as sexually attractive as that and turn her into a prude...

This interview was originally published in Issue #1 of Fantasy Image - the very first magazine to be published by Visual Imagination, and now available once more in an exclusive offer via VI Direct.

Sydney Newman on
the creation of Doctor Who
Sydney Newman picture ęS Payne

Sydney Newman joined the BBC on 12th December 1962, with a five-year contract, as Head of Drama. With the competition of ITV the BBC had become very ratings-conscious.

On Saturdays the BBC had a head start with afternoon sport. That finished at 5.15. The Controller of BBC1 asked Newman if he could make a drama to follow the sport (and hold its older audience) while still being a good children’s programme.

“I was very much in love with Outer Space and had, of course, read HG Wells. Always lingering in my mind was his time machine, so I thought up the idea of this old, old man, over 700 years of age. He had come from a distant planet, which had been invaded by some dreaded Outer Space enemy, and had been trying to get back there ever since. But he was senile, so he never knew how to work his Time-Space machine. So in the first episode he lands on Earth in a junkyard, with his machine disguised as a Police Box. The rest is history...

“I wrote out a two page memorandum and handed it to Donald Wilson (his Head of Serials), who said there might be something in it. I asked Verity Lambert, one of my production assistants from ABC, if she wanted to come over to the BBC and be a producer. She came dashing over. I handed her the memorandum and asked if she’d like to take a whack at it. She said, ‘Yes, yes, it’s great’.

"She is sharp, tough, charming, very efficient and has a sense of humour. Donald was rather sceptical but had to accept her, and over the weeks they hit it off. My involvement with the setting up was quite light, but I went to the first rehearsals and I read the first scripts. I was involved with the restructuring after the pilot.

“The central idea for the programme was quite a serious one although it was important that it be done with wit and fun. I was more interested in the Time shift rather than the Space shift, which is why so many (early) episodes were set on Earth...

Images © Contender Video / S Payne
Feature © Visual Imagination 2000.
Not for reproduction

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