October 51 years ago - Patrick's first day
The following day, 22nd October 1966, my father arrived early in the morning at Riverside Studio R1 and got his first real look at the interior of the TARDIS. He remembered that moment well,
‘I just stood by myself in the dimly-lit studio playing with the TARDIS control levers thinking about all that had happened to me in the past few weeks and wondering how long the series would last.’
There were five sets for episode one of The Power of the Daleks constructed on the huge and spacious 6,000 square feet of grey smooth camera-friendly floor. Lesterson’s laboratory containing the intimidating space capsule opened out through a metal sliding door into a further interior set containing the two Daleks.
There was a stretch of short corridor, some small guest quarters and the bleak rock-strewn surface of the planet. The exterior of Vulcan spread out across almost a quarter of the space, complete with rocky cliff edge that was used to frame some of the camera shots. Styrofoam boulders were strewn randomly around the vapour-spewing mercury swamp that had been constructed from a garden fishpond liner. This would be filled with dry ice to create a mysterious mist-covered surface. The Police Box sat rather precariously right on the edge of the swamp. Dad’s original copy of episode one reads,
‘The TARDIS has landed in a rough, mist-covered landscape. The ground is littered with rock formations and small bubbling pools of liquid. At regular intervals, a small spray of liquid is emitted from one of the pools, causing the rocks to be covered by a small silver filament.’
Underneath this description my father had scribbled a note – ‘watch out, don’t slip over or crawl below level of mist. Can suffocate!’
The whole morning and most of the afternoon was taken up with blocking camera shots and rehearsing the technical aspects of the episode. Camera and boom positions were worked out by Chris Barry (director) for each scene so that the cables did not have to cross each other when moving between sets and get tangled up. Lens choices were plotted and noted by the vision mixer in the control room. In 1966 the black and white cameras were equipped with a turret of fixed lenses that were changed from one to the other by pressing a switch or, on earlier models, by turning a handle. This studio probably had four pedestal cameras and a two man operated Mole Crane camera. Manoeuvring such unwieldy machines between sets called for an almost military plan of operation. My father described it as ‘like watching a herd of elephants doing Swan Lake.’ Studio drama at that time was recorded in sequence without breaks between scenes as if it were live, in order to reduce the cost of the very expensive recording time. In his book, The Largest Theatre in the World, Shaun Sutton described what a TV actor had to endure during such technical rehearsals. It vividly underlines why he and Innes Lloyd had cast such an experienced TV actor as my father,
‘The inexperienced television actor, thrust overnight into the hubbub of his first studio, might feel some dismay that the director who has been so sympathetic in rehearsals has now abandoned him. Now the attention has moved to the cameramen peering into their viewfinders, the sound operators swinging their booms over the actor’s heads and occasionally making contact; the electricians staring discontentedly up at lamps; with property men hanging last minute curtains. The actor might feel his importance to the play, so evident in rehearsal, is now secondary to the costume designer darting into the set to tweak a collar, or the beautiful make-up girl peering impersonally at his wig. The scenes, so flowing in rehearsal, now limp through, constantly interrupted to accommodate the director’s visual dreams. When the moment finally comes to run the scene, the actor’s sonorous tones are drowned out by a band of carpenters correcting the wobble on a banister rail. His friendly director is largely invisible, glimpsed briefly as he flits down from the control gallery to set up a shot, or discuss an obstinate shadow on a leading lady’s face. He is clearly too busy to spare the actor more than an abstracted glance before darting back to more important things in the gallery. This abrupt shift in concentration is inevitable. It is therefore essential that the actor enters the studio with his performance so solid, that nothing can chip its quality.’
By 6.00 pm the studio was gearing up to record the first ever episode of Pat’s Doctor Who. Most of the cast and crew would have been on supper break but my father sat alone in his dressing room. He told me he would never eat before a show. He had this theory that all the blood needed to keep the brain working well would be diverted to your stomach for digestion. I don’t know how scientifically accurate that is but I have always followed his advice. It does make a difference. You feel clearer in the head and able to concentrate much better.
Even at this late stage everyone apart from Pat was unsure about his makeup and hair. He had already convinced Gillian James during rehearsal (makeup designer) that he should be wearing a Harpo Marx type wig, which she had duly supplied.
‘It was a wonderful mass of wild black curls that cascaded down…a bit like wearing a massive mop head on your bonce. I thought it was just the job. It fitted the rather eccentric tramp like character that I had created and would allow me to hide my identity enough so perhaps people wouldn’t know who was playing the new Who!’
It was left to Anneke and Michael to convince him otherwise. As he was having it fitted in the makeup room beneath R1 control room, Anneke took one look at him and said she wasn’t acting with that! My father used to tell me this story over and over again barking uncontrollably with laughter,
‘They were responsible for that absurd Beatle cut…just before we went on I got down to makeup and I’d had a lovely wig fitted which had loads of mad thick curls. I put it on and took a look in the mirror and I thought that looks lovely. They both stared straight at me and said, you look just like Harpo Marx and we are not going on with you if you wear that wig. I said don’t be ridiculous but they insisted! So Gillian took it off and started hastily ‘doing things’ with my hair. This was about five minutes before transmission. The next time I looked in the mirror I saw a Beatle! I looked like Ringo Starr! But it was too late to do anything about it. I was stuck with it and I stayed the same through the whole series.’
How much of this version of the story is accurate is subject to debate. Innes Lloyd suggested to me that the decision to cut the wig was actually a production judgment from the control box and that Anneke and Michael had merely been the messengers of that news. However, Pat would not lose the stove hat for his first appearance even though they hated it as much as the wig! ‘I hung on to that hat to hide my horrible hair!’
Michael explained how he teased Pat about it until he finally gave in after the first couple of stories had been completed.
‘Anneke and I used to tease him, and say, “Oh take that bloody hat off, for God’s sake.” Once he got over the initial trauma of creating the character, I think he settled in very well.’
The transmission light above the studio R1 entrance door glowed red and began to flash at 7.00 pm. The recording would take around two hours to complete and by all accounts it went fairly smoothly. According to Innes, the only hiccup was a set of lenses on one of the cameras. The switch that operated the selector had jammed and just continued to revolve endlessly. They took it out of commission and completed the night’s recording with hastily adapted shots. Frazer Hines described what Dad’s first studio recording must have been like,
‘It was hard work, because we shot it almost as live…and when that red light went on at night you could shoot maybe three scenes in one go. Whereas now they’d shoot all the interior scenes of the TARDIS in one go, all the baddies in one go, we would shoot it as live from page one, right through to the end in story order, which they don’t do now. And they didn’t have the wonderful tape editing facilities they have now, and so if something went wrong in scene three they couldn’t cut it and say, ‘We’ll go from there’ – so we’d have to go back to the first scene, and so the pressure to do that, and luckily we’re all theatre-trained, but the pressure to do that was enormous.’
At about 9.30 pm the phone rang at my home in Mill Hill and I answered it. It was Dad. I hadn’t expected him to phone after all that had happened. He sounded exhausted but very relieved that he had got the first one over – bit like a first night in the theatre.
‘Hello matey, I’ve just finished. They seem very pleased.’