– SHORT STORY (PART 1)
Whilst clearing out some files in preparation for a long-awaited house move I came across this, an interview I had conducted some years ago with a lesser-known actor who appeared in many Doctor Who stories over the years.
I first met Dave A. Dalek at a Doctor Who convention in Wolverhampton in the nineteen eighties. Dave and I had one thing in common; we both enjoyed a good drinking session. As the hours crept by we found ourselves the only two in the hotel bar and like all barflies we got talking.
Dave was indeed an imposing figure, to his great frustration he would often intimidate many people he met but after just a few hours in his company I found that this imposing, intimidating figure was something of a misunderstood soul. It became clear that he had been invited to the convention as a guest but treated more like a prop, and when it became clear he could not ascend the steps to the special stage constructed by the organisers they withdrew his fee in a fit of pique.
The next time I met Dave was at his home. I had written him a letter asking if I could interview him for the popular fanzine I had been putting out at the time. Dave sent a delightful letter back to me inviting me to his home. So I tripped along to his flat in Muswell Hill with my tape recorder and notebook. What you are about to read is a much-delayed unveiling of that forgotten interview…
“I first became involved in Doctor Who when I was created for the inaugural Dalek serial in late 1963. Raymond Cusick [BBC staff designer who was responsible for the famous Dalek design] was like a father to me in many ways. I was born in Uxbridge that year. Well my bottom half was born firm. My dome section was born some days later and then assembled.” A somewhat inauspicious start for an actor but this was just a sign of things to come. “I would suffer many more indignities in the years to come so perhaps it was a sign.”
What was it like working on the first ever Dalek serial? “Well Richard Martin was the director who took one look at me and demanded I was given another coat of paint. This duly happened but I didn’t dry out in time for the first studio recording of episode two of that serial so I missed out on that very famous moment where the Daleks are unveiled for the first time. I got my chance the following week when one of my co-stars could not say a line as scripted. Or he refused, I’m not sure so I said to the director that I could do it. By this time he had forgiven me for not drying in time for the previous weeks recording. I made up for it by not “drying” on the studio floor,” he laughs.
Dave was soon in receipt of much fan mail as the first wave of Dalekmania swept the nation. “I was astounded. The BBC, well it was Raymond Cusick really, had found me some very nice lodgings in the back of a lock-up garage.”
“When I moved in, there were all these mail sacks just full of fan mail from children and grown-ups asking for stories, autographs, photographs or whatever. That took a good while to reply to those letters I don’t mind saying, this was before computers and word processors. It is very difficult to hold a pen when all you have is a magnetic plunger. If I dropped the pen I had to ask a neighbor to pick it up for me.” It seems Dave struggled in his early years to master simple tasks like using the telephone. “I never had a problem with cooking though because I would just give a bit of raw meat a quick exterminating blast and it would soon be ready to eat.” I wonder at this point where Dave puts his food and where and how he digests it but I didn’t ask. Dave had an aura, a mystique. I decided not to intrude upon that.
The Daleks returned to the screen in Terry Nation’s “Dalek Invasion of Earth” in 1964. What did Dave do in the meantime? “Well I was asked to go to Barnardos as a gift for the children. I went and stayed a few days but that was all I could stand. Those kids were a nightmare, jumping up and down on me and trying to play trains. I had to keep reminding them I wasn’t a toy. I went AWOL in the end. I don’t regret it.”
Dave performed the Dalek emerging from the Thames sequence in the aforementioned serial. “I did, that was such fun. I’d never been in any water before. I mean obviously Ray had given me a good hose down when I went back to work because I had got very, very grimy but I had never been submerged in water before. I enjoyed the serial a great deal.” And what of working with the show’s star, William Hartnell? “He was a lovely old boy really but he did have these prejudices.” Against Daleks? “Well yes. I mean he was happy to have them on the show, delighted in fact. He could see we were as much a part of the show’s success as he was but he wouldn’t speak to us afterwards. He would walk right over to the other side of the studio. It was a bit awkward but it stood me in good stead for the prejudices people would later hold against me.”
The next serial was “The Chase”, this led to an embarrassing moment for Dave which was caught on camera. “I forgot my lines! I had these numbers to reel off, some co-ordinates or some such and I just dried. Normally I would have just made the numbers up but my mind just went totally blank. All I could say was er, um, er.” Was the director angry with Dave? “No he thought it was hilarious! He was creased up with laughter. I remember to this day dear Richard doubled up and holding his tummy. Then he wiped his tears away and said “that’s great. We’ll keep that in!.”
The rest of the recordings for “The Chase” did not pass without incident either. “Well I’d volunteer for all the stunts you see. So when they needed a Dalek to career off this old sailing ship, I mean this ship it was a piece of shit it really was but they asked if I wouldn’t mind going over the top it. I said, luvvie I’ve been going over the top all my life!” An embarrassing moment ensued, however. “Yes my top came off! And I got all my innards all wet. The director was happy because he got the shot he required but Ray was a bit cross. He said they should show me more respect. He was wonderfully protective. Such a shame he never got any seriously good money from designing us but that’s life. But he was a fantastically inventive designer!”
Dave’s stunts on the story were not over, however. “Was it some kind of monster that picked me up on that one? I mean he picked me up right over his head and just threw me to the ground. I think he thought I was a prop or some kind of trained stunt Dalek so he just chucked me like that (he mimes the action with his plunger). Ridiculous. My top came off then as well!”
I remind Dave of a particular sequence where a Dalek is visible in the background of a scene before they are seen to arrive. “Well I’m not naming names but that wasn’t a mistake. I mean Richard Martin was a good director. I think he’d done three or four Doctor Whos by that point so he knew his stuff, he wouldn’t let a shot like that go through normally but it was this Dalek, as I said I’m not naming names, but he insisted on being in the shot. He said “ look my auntie will be watching this and I’m only in one f—— scene so far! My auntie will not be happy!” Well what could the guy do, I mean he couldn’t sack us, there were only a handful of us anyway and they couldn’t afford to build more.” I ask Dave if the other Daleks ever took advantage of their position. “Oh all the time. I mean we were Daleks. We were almost as big as The Beatles. I mean I literally towered over Ringo Starr when I was on my special dias thing. He’s a very silly little man, Ringo Starr. He always smells to me of old cabbages.”
Beatles and old cabbages aside Dave tells me the sixties really were swinging for him. “Oh I had a ball! We were famous so we got into all the really good night spots in London, provided they didn’t have stairs of course! We got drinks bought for us and we always had lovely girls dancing round us on the dance floor. I used to lift up their skirts with my plunger haha! I was a devil Dalek! We could have whatever we wanted too. I had really expensive fur coat that was just given to me by a top London designer. He just gave it to me, just like that! It was really smart, went right down to the floor. It was a bit of a godsend really because I had became a bit battered by this point. A few of my balls had dropped off. I used to use them to pay for things like restaurant bills and things too. I would say to the waiter, ask your manager how much a genuine Dalek ball is worth to him! They got me a few free meals those balls. When they took off those metal strips and gave us those vertical plate things instead it gave me even more to bargain with! Ray would constantly be putting new ones on, at the BBC’s expense so I suppose it was the BBC who paid for all those lovely expensive meals and wine.”
It wasn’t all fun and fillies for Dave though as work soon began on an epic twelve part Dalek serial. “That was one of the bigwigs at the BBC who insisted they do this epic Dalek story. I think the Doctor Who team had got fed up with Daleks and were keen to try new things but this bigwig insisted. That was partly my fault. I’d the wife or auntie or whatever of this BBC department head at a party and really hit it off with her. I was making her laugh all evening and so when they left the party she said to him, how about giving Dave some steady work for a few weeks? Well being the sort of good husband or nephew or whatever he agreed and there I was up on screen for almost twelve weeks straight.”
Dave’s memories of the “Dalek Master Plan” are sketchy at best. “I was going a bit mad on the social side I suppose. I’d dabbled with some drugs by then and was hitting the wine quite hard. I was partying with bands like Hawkwind who were really into that kind of psychedelic rock. Some of that story was filmed around the Christmas and New Year period so as you can imagine I was hardly ever at home. I would be out somewhere or with a lady or something.”
The decadent lifestyle continued for Dave into the late sixties. “In a way it was quite sad because I came off set one day and headed straight for the nearest bar and that was the last I ever saw of Bill. When I came back there was a new boy in charge”
What did Dave make of the second television Doctor, Patrick Troughton? We’ll find out tomorrow when Dave lifts the (Dalek) lid on more secrets tomorrow here at No Script for Life.
Copyright Martin Gregory
PHOTO CREDITS: Daleks vs. Beetles: https://aminoapps.com/c/doctor-who/page/blog/the-beatles-in-doctor-who/8Rtm_u2Gxd1BDJwE8kMXGp2NXnX2bv Dalek in garage: projectdalek.co.uk