Sunday, 1 March 2015

Britain is no longer a country for and says "Goodbye" to an old TV scenic designer and unsung hero of Doctor Who called Barry Newbery

Barry, who is mainly, but not exclusively, remembered as the most prolific set designer on the tv series, 'Doctor Who' and worked on more episodes than any other designer in its 26 year history, from the very first black and white episode, 'An Unearthly Child ' in 1963 through to 'The Awakening' in 1984, a total of 64 episodes over 14 stories, has died at the age of eighty-eight.

What you possibly didn't know about Barry, that he :

* was born in 1926, in Lambeth, the same Central London borough as Raymond Cusick, three years his junior, later creator of the Doctor Who's 'Daleks', who would work with him on BBC TV when they were both in their thirties, was slow to develop his talents, having left school at sixteen during the Second World War in 1942 and served to obligatory two years National Service, attended day school to study engineering drawing which set him in good stead for his later career in set design and later recalled : "being able to draw rather academically - I knew if I could draw something and paint it to look like it, it was fairly easy to work it out in construction terms."

* in his early twenties in the early 1950s, having put in five years at Art School and after qualifications, found getting work difficult : "There were about 110,000 artists leaving art school at that time. I worked on Wandsworth Common as a labourer, but after a while I got a job as a draftsman/designer doing window displays. I did that for a year. Then two years with Olympia as exhibition designer and then then I got a job at the Beeb as an assistant" at the age of thirty-one in 1957.

* served his apprenticeship, learning to draw for tv construction as "an assistant for seven years. In that time I did acting design work" which involved work as 'Production Designer' in 1962 at the age of thirty-six, on the two-episode. 'The Last Man Out', a period drama starring Barry Letts as 'Captain Stuart', sent on a mission to Nazi- occupied France and then worked on an episode of Comedy Playhouse, 'On the Knocker' in 1963 before being picked up as one of two designers drafted in to replace Peter Brachacki, for the final three episodes of the first 'Doctor Who' story, 'An Unearthly Child' and commented later : "We weren't picked for our skill - we were just chosen because we happened to be free."

 * was left to recreate the original junkyard and school set, which had been destroyed following completion of the pilot and then went on, with confidence, to design the forest and caves where the Doctor and his companions faced the tribe of Gum, later saying : "it was just a matter of how your imagination went when you saw the script. You've got to tell the Director what he's going to get so you do sketches of it. You give him a plan so he can work out where his actors are going. That's how I did it in those days."

 * came into his own when teachers Ian and Barbara, found that 15-year-old pupil Susan and her Grandfather, known only as 'The Doctor', were visitors from 'another time, another world' and their home, camouflaged as a police box, was, in fact, a space/time ship called the 'Tardis' or 'Time and Relative Dimension in Space', were unwittingly transported back to his freezing Palaeolithic landscape, where they are seized by a tribe of cave dwellers desperate to rediscover the secret of fire :

* for the first two years working on Doctor Who, shared design work with Raymond Cusick who took the sci fi stories while he worked on the historical, with his next seven part adventure in 1964 : 'The Roof of the World', where the Tardis landed in the 13th century, was claimed by explorer Marco Polo due and the reconstruction of the court of Kubla Khan necessitated his research for the sets using surveys of architecture and garden design and use of Sir Aurel Stein's archaeological study, 'Ruins of Desert Cathay', for the desert trek which made a large part of the serial's travelogue.

* from his research on travellers in Asia, saw to it that : "the way stations got better through the story and the last one I had a mong gate and running water into a pond with goldfish in it and when (Director) Waris Hussein came into the studio, he looked at it and jumped up and down and clapped his hands together like a little child. "Goodie, goodie!" he shouted. What a reaction, it was wonderful." but later recalled problems he had on set with the lighting technician : (half way through clip).
* in 1964 worked had to recreate the city of Tenochtitlan in the Doctor Who adventure, 'The Aztecs'  but found his chief problem was the recording in the small 'D' studio at Lime Grove, with insufficient space for the background cloth and unsympathetic lighting, which led to wrinkles in the city vista and recalled : "I wasn't particularly happy with the backdrop because if you're going to have painted cloth, it's got to be far enough away from the camera for the brushmarks not to be seen", but had his request to move the production to BBC Television Centre turned and faced  additional problems when half the sets were accidentally junked and destroyed before the shoot was complete.

* found source material scarce, but was confident enough, based on pictographic and ideographic writing systems, to oversee the manufacture, from fibreglass and wood, the clubs and shields of the warriors, as well as vases and plates, in the production of which, he was assisted by a small team of art students, but later reflected that the trouble with designing for 'Doctor Who' was the 'perpetual compromise' created because the show was treated like ordinary half hour drama with 'designers given same resources to make a story set in the Aztec empire as a story set in accountancy office overlooking Leicester Square.'

 * was fastidious in preparation for 'The Crusade' set in 12th century Palestine and televised in four parts in 1965 and "discovered that a lot of buildings in Jaffa were built by Christian masons who were there for the Crusades", who, while they were in the Middle East learnt the secret of building the pointed, as opposed to rounded Norman arch "which was much stronger and capable of taking more weight. Of course, when they returned fro the Crusades they bought these principles back with them, so I looked at a lot of English Gothic architecture when I was researching the interior of King Richard's palace."

 * was later philosophical about the fact that 1960s 'Doctor Who' episodes were junked : "I think it's a bit sad, but when I was doing it, they were programmes just like any others. I just enjoyed doing the work and 'Doctor Who' gave me the opportunity of improving my knowledge of history. Most of those I did were historical. I didn't particularly want to do science-fiction. It was wonderful researching them. I mean, I learnt quite a lot about 'The Aztecs' that I would never have known otherwise and the same goes for 'The Crusade'.
* worked on the 'Count of Monte Cristo' starring Alan Badel in 1964 and one episode of the police serial drama, 'Z Cars' in 1965 and a further seven 
episodes over the next seven years as well as the first Doctor Who Christmas episode, 'The Feast of Steven' and in the 'The Dalek's Master Plan' broadcast between 1965 and '66, recalled : "Trying to set up the scaffolding around the Pyramids. I had to find people who were old enough to remember how you did scaffolding with rope. I did a Thomas Hardy play, set in Dorset I suppose and they were building a house in it. It had to have scaffolding around it and I used the same method. I had to show people how to do it."

* in 1966 worked of the police serial drama, 'Softly. Softly' and another ten episodes over the next ten years and in the early 1970s worked on two episodes of 'The Expert' in '71, two of the thirteen episodes of 'The Shadow of the Tower' in 1972 , one episode of 'The Onedin Line' in 1974 and in 1976, two episodes of 'When the Boat Comes In' and the ' Dad’s Army' episode, 'The Love of Three Oranges'.

 * recalled that he enjoyed working on the four-part, 'Brain of Mobius' in 1976 because "it gave me the opportunity to design the kind of life you'd find on a parallel planet to Earth" and considered : "We have churches with buttresses on the outside, why don't we have buttresses on the inside?  Would that work?" and created the formal structure of Solon's Citadel where "the inside of that place that Philip Madoc lived in, the buttresses were actually columns at an angle", but was frustrated in his plans for constructions based on basalt hexagonal columns like the Giant's Causeway and forced to concede that : "Sometimes, though, you've got the ideas, but the money isn't enough to cover them."

* later reflected that : "It has been said that I based the design on the work of Antoni Gaudi, but that's not so. I didn't use Gaudi at all, although I did look at his buildings in my research. The only place where that influence did perhaps did show though was in the shape of the window in Solon's laboratory."

* was asked by producer Phillip Hinchcliffe in 1976, for the 'Masque of Mandragora', to create a more compact control room to occupy less studio space, took the early science fiction writings of Jules Verne as inspiration and based the console on a Davenport desk in an Edwardian setting, but saw, since the wooden panels could not survive storage between seasons, saw his new look only last one year

* in addition, following the collapse of what remained of the original police box, designed a replacement to bring the traditional design, which in the event, was radically different from before, which although derided by some fans for its odd appearance, he crafted in direct response to the problems associated with the original model, with a timber construction which came apart for ease of transport and saw it subsequently feature to 'The Horns of Nimon'. 

* found that filming the T'he Masque of Mandragora' in Portmeirion away from the studio was : "The closest we got to being quite a collection of people together.We used to go down to the big hotel on the sea. Tom Baker was there, Liz Sladen, a few others so we used to meet in the bar and that was quite nice."

* was challenged by 'The Masque of Mandragora' set in 15th century Italy because : "Although I did history of architecture at art school, it gave me nowhere near enough information for it, so I had to research very thoroughly the period, not just architecture, but the way artists worked. I had an Atlas figure carved in jabolite and I said what I wanted, but when it was carved it looked like an elderly man. It was such a funny shape! Afterwards I put it in the garden and everyone used to stop and look at it. I think the sculptor must have been given the wrong information, because I never met him."

 * coped with 'The Invisible Enemy' in 1977, being based on sci fi rather that history because "it was all high-tech, a bit like an airport waiting area. There was plenty of space, everything was white floored and white walled " and recalled, having drunk a bottle of gin with Raymond Hughes, the Costume Designer, going upstairs and  "watching the director trying to get the cameras to give the actors ( the Doctor and Leela ), instructions to get them to walk in exactly the right place. We sat and watched this, and I went in and said, "Do you mind if I have a go at this?" So I called out to Norman, who was the PA, and said, "Can you get them to do this, do that, etc..." and it all worked. Then I walked out!. I wouldn't have done that if I hadn't had half a bottle of gin!"

* had an interval of seven years before his next Doctor, in which time he worked on Edwardian sets in 1978 for the three- episode, 'Lost Boys' the story of  J.M.Barrie's relationship with the Llewelyn-Davies family and its sons, for whom he had written Peter Pan and starring Ian Holm (left), for which he won an 'RTS Television Award' followed by a further period piece in five of the six episodes of  'Prince Regent' 1979 for which he received a BAFTA nomination and 'The Citadel' in 1983, starring Ben Cross as a doctor working in a 1920s Welsh mining village and based on a 1930's A.J.Cronin story, 

 * returned to 'Doctor Who for' the last time at the age of fifty-eight in 1984 to work on 'The Awakening' remembered that : "this is the one where the horse went through the lych gate, and I wasn't there. I didn't see it. I forget where I was, but someone came down to me and said, "Hey! The horse has just taken the lych gate away!"

*  retired from the studio when he felt things were changing and moving away from "a service designed to get things from your drawing into construction and into the studio" towards one where "freelance designers have to engage all their own contractors with the agreement of the associate producer. You'd have to know where to get all the staff from, and you'd be responsible for employing the carpenters and painters."

* took many behind-the-scenes photographs during his time on 'Doctor Who' and published a large selection in 'The Barry Newbery Signature Collection' in 2013.

* should be given the last word in which he dismissed his vast talent, with perfect self-effacement :

"It's very difficult to talk about a production because it's just work. You try to get this to look right and that to look as you believe it ought to and you never talk about the things that irritated you or amused you."

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