Directed by Douglas Camfield, by Michael Seely

Second paragraph of third chapter:

They worked on the seventh floor of Lime Grove, assigned to different film editors. This was the same building where Alfred Hitchcock made The Thirty Nine Steps twenty years before when it was the Gaumont British Picture studios. Perhaps it was a portent for the future of the film industry when the BBC had bought tip and converted the studios in 1949. Situated in Shepherd’s bush, the building was on a cramped and enclosed site and the only way to expand was up. Lime Grove Studios became a multi-levelled rabbit warren of a building, easy to get lost in and was not much loved by those inside. Try as they might, the people who worked here in the 1950s find it very hard to describe the place as magical. Further down the road at Wood Lane, something magical had been postponed.

A couple of years ago, I read a biography of Robert Holmes, the greatest of Old Who’s writers; this book looks at the life of Douglas Camfield, one of the greatest of the Old Who directors (the top three must be him, David Maloney and Christopher Barry – and Camfield directed more episodes than either of the other two).

I found it a really fascinating read. Seely has hunted down as much information as he can about every single TV episode that Camfield ever directed. He knows his audience, so he has concentrated particularly on Doctor Who – the stories we now know as An Unearthly Child, Marco Polo, The Crusade, The Time Meddler, and most of all The Daleks’ Master Plan; and also The Web of Fear, The Invasion, Inferno, Terror of the Zygons and The Seeds of Doom. Those alone would be a fantastic legacy.

But Seely is very good at taking us into the world of the director, to the point that you can almost smell the static electricity in the studio gallery and the manure on location. Not every BBC director was as meticulous or professional as him; at the same time, he seems to have been genuinely charming, always bringing his guitar to finish the evening singing with those of the cast and crew that wanted to. (Though he also had his musical blind spots, and repeatedly refused to hire Dudley Simpson for incidental music.)

Camfield had a loyalty to a certain group of guest actors who tended to pop up in many of his productions, but in general they were good. This included his wife, Sheila Dunn, who got a small part in the Dalek’s Master Plan and a larger part in Inferno; though I remember her best as the daughter of Kessler, in the sequel to Secret Army, which had nothing to do with Camfield. Incidentally Bernard Hepton, the star of Secret Army, started his career as a director before turning to acting and was a peer of Camfield’s on the BBC training courses.

He did his best to move away from being typecast as a police and science fiction serial specialist, but did not quite success. He directed Duel, one of the great Blake’s 7 episodes, and the first episode of Shoestring and two others. His only close co-operation with the great Robert Holmes was not Doctor Who but the 1981 series The Nightmare Man, based on the novel Child of Vodyanoi by David Wiltshire; I have fond if scary memories of it forty years on, and would love to get hold of a copy.

Camfield’s health was always a problem, and he had to be taken off the Doctor Who story Inferno after a couple of episodes when he suffered a heart attack. Another heart attack hilled him at the age of 52 in 1984. Unlike Robert Holmes, who had sadly run out of steam when he died a couple of years later, one feels that Camfield was still innovating and finding new things to do, though he would have refused to return to Doctor Who. We must be grateful for what we have. This is a good book, with occasional rough edges. You can get it here.

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