Author: Alwyn W Turner
Publisher: Aurum Press Ltd
It's strange to imagine that, if not for a falling out with comedian Tony Hancock in 1963, jobbing TV writer Terry Nation might never have created the Daleks and the BBC's Saturday night family science-fiction drama 'Doctor Who' might have faded into the mists of time after about thirteen episodes. Nation himself, his career doing little more than marking time, would never have reaped the rewards of the creation of one of the great icons of the TV age. As a consequence, Nation would never have gone on to work for the ITC production powerhouse of the 1960s and then on to create both 'Survivors' and 'Blake's 7' for the BBC in the 1970s. Almost certainly Alwyn W Turner would never have been compelled to write this absorbing, detailed and intricately-researched volume chronicling the work of the man who turned out to be one of the great storytellers of what is widely regarded as the Golden Age of British TV. The man who, despite all his various credits and creations over the years, is forever defined by a race of hysterical, megalomaniacal upturned pepper pots. There are worse things to be remembered for…
Turner’s book is, in fact, much less a biography of Nation - you’ll come away from the book knowing nothing about the man beyond the facts that he was a writer, got married, had kids, and made shedloads of money from the Daleks - and much more the story of the changing face of Britain and the development of British TV in the post-War years. Despite its lack of detail about anything much to do with Nation’s life it’s fascinating stuff, beginning with the young Welshman leaving Cardiff in 1955 to seek fame and fortune, not necessarily as a writer. Work on ‘The Goon Show’ led to the young Nation throwing in his lot with fellow up-and-comings Ray Galton and Alan Simpson and later John Junkin and Dave Freeman. The 1960s saw the beginnings of a long and frustrating working relationship with Tony Hancock, the end of which led Nation to writing for "flipping kids" and the first Dalek serial for ‘Doctor Who’, which Nation churned out in a hurry as a more lucrative offer had come along. So bona fide TV history was made and both ‘Doctor Who’ and, in many ways, British TV would never be the same.
Overnight Terry Nation became one of the most celebrated TV writers in the country, one of the first ‘name’ writers created out of the medium and as the 1960s wore on Nation’s gift for turning out snappy, clever, workmanlike (if sometimes rather unexceptional) adventure stories led him to ITC where he wrote for ‘The Saint’, ‘The Baron’, ‘The Avengers’, ‘The Champions’ and on into the 1970s when the ITC conveyer belt was slowing down but still turning out shows like ‘The Persuaders!’ and ‘The Protectors.’ Surprisingly it was only in 1975 that Nation secured his first proper ‘series created by’ credit with his post-plague drama ‘Survivors’ which turned into an unhappy experience when the show’s strong-willed producer Terence Dudley envisaged the show moving in entirely different directions to those intended by Nation. The writer walked away but his space opera ‘Blake’s 7’ was already under consideration and ‘Terminal’, the last episode of its third series, was to be Nation’s last writing credit for British TV before he and his family shipped over to Hollywood in 1983 for what was to be his least productive and ultimately career-stifling professional move.
Turner tells Nation’s story with real affection and insight and whilst there’s not much on Nation the man there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence to attest to his genial nature and his prodigious work ethic. But it’s the sections which detail the inception and creation of the Daleks and the ITC shows which most enthral, sections where Nation’s name pops up only intermittently as the book delves deep into the origins of some of the most fondly-remembered TV shows of the 1960s, an era when 26-week series could be greenlit by the likes of the charismatic Lew Grade on the strength of a two-line pitch and the whole industry seemed to work on an informal ‘I worked on your show, you come and work on mine’ understanding.
Packed with informed opinion and analysis of all Nation’s work, Turner’s book is pretty much essential reading not only for anyone with an interest in ‘Doctor Who’ and its most famous monstrous creations but also anyone interested in the history of British TV and the part played in its growth and development by Terry Nation, this quiet and unassuming Welsh writer with a vivid imagination and a powerful desire to tell entertaining stories. Very highly recommended.
The Man Who Invented The Daleks is out now.