I’M ONE of the generation who can remember where they were when they heard the news of the assassination of President Kennedy (just returned from the Friday evening church youth group) fifty years ago but I’d forgotten that the following day saw a happier event when the first episode of Dr Who was broadcast.
I’m travelling back along my own timeline by digging out my 1963 Lett’s Schoolboy’s Diary from the attic. Unfortunately the only event that I recorded for November that year was bonfire night. Not very helpful in building up a picture of the era.
My shiny new 1964 diary.
I didn’t get into my stride with a diary until the following year but when, aged twelve, I started so enthusiastically (I dropped the colour after 3 weeks) we were still mid-way through the first series of Dr Who so a Dalek appears in my entry for Saturday 4 January;
‘Doctor Who was good today’.
I hadn’t quite got the hang of critical reviewing. In the previous year on the ‘Films seen during the year’ page of my diary I’d summed up Ben-Hur as ‘a good film’ but Tarzan goes to India got a more in-depth review; ‘some excellent elephant shots’. No wonder big screen spectaculars made such an impression on me as television was still 405 lines and black and white. But, as you can see from my postage stamp-sized sketch, the new science fiction series was a hit with me and I could imagine it bursting into colour.
At the barber’s, 2 January.
Unfortunately I no longer have two pieces of Dr Who memorabilia from the 1970s and 80s. One was a sketch that I made of one of the later Doctors, Sylvester McCoy, at a book awards event , the other a copy of Dr Who script editor Terrance Dicks’ paperback guide to the first ten years of the series. But where those two items ended up suggests the effect of the show on the creative imagination of children.
I’d asked Sylvester McCoy to sign the sketch for my nephew Damian, who was Dr Who mad and who would often wear a dressing gown and an extra long scarf, like his hero. And occasionally a piece of celery in his button-hole like Peter Davison’s Dr Who.
3 January, using my chemistry set, a Christmas gift from my parents.
Damian has apologised to me for losing the sketch years ago! But he is now an architect so if you think you can detect a Cyberman or Dalekian influence in a building, it could be one of his.
The paperback went to Wilfrid, the son of one of my art college tutors, who sometimes quizzed me about the early episodes as he could remember only as far back as Jon Pertwee. Wilfrid went on to create puppets for Spitting Image including an irradiated sea monster for the French version of the show which wouldn’t have been out of place in Dr Who.
The fondly remembered American science fiction series The Outer Limits also features in my diary. Much as I appreciated the Doctor, I liked the slicker (for the time) production values of The Outer Limits and I liked the way that, as a series rather than a serial, you would find yourself in a completely different imaginative world with each one hour episode.
The Beverley Hillbillies
Television shows feature a lot in the diary including including The Beverley Hillbillies (Friday 4 January). The six o’clock comedy slot on ITV, which included such series as My Favourite Martian, Mr Ed and Petticoat Junction, was a feature of week-day evenings; a break between school, tea and an evening session homework.
Some things never change. January 4: ‘I did my homework with my new pen (3/6).’
Half a century later my search for the perfect pen, the one that’s going to improve my handwriting and my drawing, continues.
My fascination with any technology which would help me to see the world around me in a different way had already started too;
Looking out over the railway and Storrs Hill road.
2 January; ‘I went on a walk over Storrs [hill] down to Horbury Bridge. Tested telescope.’
This was a pocket-sized telescope/microscope but the sky was the limit as far as my ambitions were concerned and later in the year I saved up to buy a reflecting telescope kit (£7 from Charles Frank’s of Glasgow).
I remember the thrill of seeing the tiny points of light of the stars come into focus scattered against the inky blackness; that feeling of looking into the depths of space. And of course back in time too . . . perhaps the light from some of those stars had been travelling for fifty years . . .
15 September 1964; ‘Got 50 lines ughh! for not backing book. Did homework. At 8.15 pointed (with Mum’s help) the telescope at the moon. My mother pushed up the mirror too far and out of focus. Eventually we got it focussed. You could see the craters. With Dad out we looked at starfields invisible to eye.’