The first Dr Who remembered

William Hartnell plaque, daugher, granddaughter grandsonWilliam Hartnell plaqueWilliam Hartnell plaque-2Dr Who Michael Daughter and GrandsonWilliam Hartnell plaque MichaelWilliam Hartnell plaque Michael-2

‘It’s not my first blue plaque,’, explained Michael. His first was Noel Coward. But even so, I felt honoured to be invited to accompany Michael – it was after all Dr Who. (MUSIC FADES UP) William Hartnell was the first Doctor, and Michael, fresh out of Oxford and a youthful 20, was directing one of the series. He still gets fan mail occassionally.
‘William Hartnell was notoriously difficult, and bad tempered, but for some reason we seemed to get on ok.’
As Michael explained later to camera, his bad temper was due to his frustration at not being able to remember his lines. He was a professional actor, Shakespearean trained, and he took his frustration out on who ever was close by at the time.

Sydney Newman recruited Verity Lambert to produce Doctor Who, a programme he had personally initiated. Conceived by Newman as an educational science-fiction serial for early Saturday evenings, the programme concerned the adventures of an old man travelling through space and time in his TARDIS, disguised as a police box. In some quarters, the series was not expected to last longer than thirteen weeks

I learned much that afternoon in Ealing studio’s reception: that Tardis stood for Time And Relative Dimension In Space. That the first Doctor Who was the first series to go universal – and became very popular in the US. It was the first to champion and exploit merchandise.

Everyone was quite old naturally. Hartnall was in his 50’s when he started in the 1963 Dr Who, and died young 68 in 1975. His first Assistant however, Susan Foreman, came looking very Biba and rather wonderful. I discovered unusually women at were at forefront of Dr Who, with Verity Lambert the founding producer and Delia Derbyshire scoring the electronic music we all know so well.
There was one there who started as a floor manager and became a director. Another who was in Dad’s Army. Frank?

His daughter and granddaughter talked with Michael and I of anecdotes like how they had two Dalek suits the grandchildren used to dress up in.

Michael, 20 and fresh down from Oxford, the young director.
Waris Husain 20, and fresh down from Cambridge, the young director.

We repaired to a pub in London drizzle, where we drank orange juice or Prosecco, and no food ever arrived but at our table sat a Dr Who follower who entertained us, and the professional organiser (an organisation called Autograph) who said Cliff Richard wrote a very nice letter declining to come (playing at the Albert Hall that day).

It was a touching walk into the world of Dr Who and Willian Hartnell. Long drive back. Hats off to Michael for driving both ways.

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