Posts Tagged ‘daleks’

The shape that inspired the Daleks

June 15, 2015
Maxwell Wood Astra coffee set from the 1960s - favourite for the Dalek shape

Maxwell Wood Astra coffee set from the 1960s – favourite for the Dalek shape. Note the bobbles down the ‘skirt’

I mentioned last week in a Radio Times/Dr Who piece that the BBC designer Raymond Cusick had been quoted as saying that he got the idea for the look for Terry Nation’s Daleks ‘while fiddling with a pepper pot’. But it just doesn’t ring true. Top of my list of potential inspiration for the iconic aliens are the above 1960s Maxwell Wood coffee pot, called Astra, and conical kulfi moulds, below.

Mould for kulfi, the Indian ice-cream, with its screw-on lid. Definitely Dalek

Mould for kulfi, the Indian ice-cream, with its screw-on lid. Definitely Dalek

Kulfi moulds also used to have bobbles on the side. I’ve seen these in Britain and as far afield as Indonesia (where I won a symbolic 50p bet on the shape of the ice-cream in an Indian restaurant in Jakarta with a former editor of New Scientist!).

In a BBC obituary piece, Cusick is quoted as being more vague, and that the pepper pot was used during a lunch to describe how the Daleks should move:

[Cusick] explained that, in fact, the pepper pot detail came from a lunch with Bill Roberts, the special effects expert who would make the Daleks, when Mr Cusick picked up a pepper pot and moved it around the table, telling him: “It’s going to move like that – no visible means.”

“Ever since then people say I was inspired by a pepper pot – but it could have been the salt pot I picked up,” he said.

Incidentally, the pale green colour of the Astra pottery is ‘celadon’, the theme colour chosen for the revamp of the Savoy Hotel in 2010.

A Nation in thrall to the Daleks

June 13, 2015
The first Radio Times cover showing Dr Who in February 1964

The first Radio Times cover showing Dr Who – with Marco Polo and devious enemy Tegana – in February 1964

Doctor Who took to the nation’s TV screens in November 1963. The arrival was covered inside the Radio Times, but the first cover was not for another three months, in February.

The first Daleks cover for Radio Times in November 1964

The first Daleks cover for Radio Times in November 1964

In November that year, the Daleks got their first Radio Times cover treatment after the success of their first outing a year earlier. The article inside, below, noted that ‘Currently the robots are multiplying like rabbits for Christmas…’, a reference to the Dalek toys that were appearing the shops.

The Radio Times Dalek article showing the cyborgs on Westminster Bridge

The Radio Times Dalek article showing the cyborgs on Westminster Bridge

In 1965, the Daleks appeared in a comic strip in the comic TV Century 21 that was licensed by Dr Who writer Terry Nation. The story lines are totally different to the TV series because Nation owned the rights to the Daleks and some of the other early monsters, but not the Dr Who character. The two sides fell out in a big way and even 20 years later when the BBC launched its first Dr Who computer programs for the BBC Micro there was no mention of the Daleks.

The return of the Daleks to Dr Who in 2005 sparked this gatefold cover for the Radio Times

The return of the Daleks to Dr Who in 2005 sparked this gatefold cover for the Radio Times

The return of the Daleks to Dr Who in 2005 sparked this gatefold cover for the Radio Times, which recreated the 1964 scene of the Daleks on Westminster Bridge. It was voted the best magazine cover among 10 covers nominated by editors in a competition organised by the PPA, the magazine publishers’ trade association, for its 100th anniversary. Kate Moss, Darth Vader and Dennis the Menace were among the vanquished rivals.

Despite the appearance of Dalek as a word in the Oxford English Dictionary, US software packages and computers – Macs and iPads included – usually treat it as a spelling error and try to change it to ‘dales’ or something similar.  Strangely, though, trademarks such as Microsoft and iPad are accepted as valid words.

The OED entry is worth repeating here for its list of mentions of the word and statement of what inspired Nation to invent the name:

1963 Radio Times 26 Dec. 11/1 Dalek voices: Peter Hawkins, David Graham.
1966 BBC Handbk. 39 The main activity over the period in this ‘merchandising’ operation concerned the widely popular Daleks from the ‘Dr. Who’ series. Some sixty licences for the production of Dalek-inspired articles were issued.
1969 C. Hodder-Williams 98·4 iv. 49 Under what interesting new law do you propose to enforce this regime? Or have you hired the Daleks?
1971 Radio Times 30 Dec. 10/1 Who are the Daleks? Dr. Who’s most dangerous enemies, written into his second adventure in 1963 by Terry Nation, who named them after an encyclopaedia volume covering dal-lek.

The BBC designer Raymond Cusick has been quoted by Asa Briggs as saying that he got the idea for the look of the Daleks ‘while fiddling with a pepper pot’.

The best magazine cover

December 24, 2008
Voted the best US cover of the past 40 years

Best US cover

This year, there was some fuss about the PPA’s favourite magazine cover vote. Magculture, for example, set out its best recent covers from a designer’s viewpoint.

The ASME/MPA in the US ran a similar project a few years ago with Annie Leibovitz‘s Rolling Stone portrait cover of John Lennon and Yoko Ono published just after the Beatle’s murder taking the prize there.

There was no attempt by the PPA to add any historical context and, to my mind, the Dr Who cover from the Radio Times proposed by BBC Gardeners’ World editor Adam Pascoe was a worthy winner within a very limited framework.

THe PPAs vote winner

The PPA’s vote winner

So, I took a look around my archives and was struck by Alfred Leete’s brilliant image from 1914 for London Opinion. Of course, this was an era before radio, TV, colour newspapers or the web, so any magazine cover today immediately starts off with a lot more competition.

Look familiar? Alfred Leetes Kitchener cover

Look familiar? Alfred Leete’s Kitchener cover

However, how many images, whatever their source, are so familiar – from Russia to Italy to the US – as Leete’s, 95 years after they appeared? And today’s publications (and even many others in 1914) have the advantage of colour, glossy paper and time (remember  London Opinion was a weekly). As an image, it echoes around the visual universe in the same way as Big Brother or Clockwork Orange.

And although few people have heard of London Opinion now, it was a leading title of  its day; a racier Punch and in the 1950s, ‘probably the funniest magazine of its era’, for Dennis Gifford. In 1907, London Opinion had introduced limerick competitions and started a ruckus comparable with today’s Celebrity Come Dancing phone-in and the National Lottery combined. So many people had a go that the Post Office nearly ran out of the 6d postal orders needed for entry – 1,140,000 were bought in six months against a normal sale of 700,000-800,000. It was debated by MPs and legal action started to try to have the competitions banned as illegal lotteries.

Does London Opinion have any relevance today? Two examples prove its undying influence for me. First, the US version of the wartime poster was the basis for an Economist cover in September. Second, on a walk last week in Sarratt Bottom in Hertfordshire, what should be staring out at me from a poster but Leete’s Kitchener, calling on the locals to do their bit for an event in the village. You just can’t get away from it.


To see almost 500 magazine covers and pages, look out for my book, A History of British Magazine Design, from the Victoria & Albert Museum, the world’s leading museum of art and design


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