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Digital Subscriptions > Doctor Who Magazine > 496 (Feb 16) > THE TROUBLESHOOTER

THE TROUBLESHOOTER

“Doctor Who was always a bit special to me,” said Anthony Read, who died on 21 November 2015. We pay tribute to the writer and script editor, with contributions from his colleagues and previously unpublished quotes from interviews conducted in 1990 and 2008.

ANTHONY READ 1935-2015

Everything about Anthony Read seemed carefully considered – from his scrupulously trimmed beard to the meticulous way he approached his craft. If he isn’t better remembered, it’s probably because his career is so difficult to categorise. In one 12-month period from 1980-81, his work encompassed such diverse assignments as Hammer House of Horror, The Professionals and children’s favourite Into the Labyrinth. His talents as a writer, editor and producer made him one of British television’s go-to guys for the best part of four decades. For a brief but intriguing period in the late 1970s, he lent those talents to Doctor Who.

These were the days when the Doctor Who script editor acted as one of its showrunners, his influence on the programme being comparable to, or sometimes greater than, that of its producer. In an era when Doctor Who’s relevance was threatened by the seismic impact of Star Wars, Read and his producer Graham Williams introduced a new style of storytelling that took the series in a fresh and sometimes experimental direction.

A portrait of Tony Read from the early 1960s.

Anthony Read was born in Cheslyn Hay, Staffordshire, on 21 April 1935. His mother’s family ran the village pub and his father was a miner who fought the Blitz fires in Coventry during the war. Tony was an only child, and just seven years old when his father died in a pit accident.

Despite this tragedy and the hardship that ensued, Tony proved to be an enthusiastic pupil. He took his 11-plus exam early, gaining a scholarship to Queen Mary’s Grammar School in Walsall when he was ten. At the age of 16 he was offered places at Oxford, the Slade School of Fine Art and RADA, but chose to attend the Central School of Speech and Drama because that was the only place that would allow him to enrol at 17. “My dad did everything early,” reflects Tony’s daughter Emma. “He was just running at life.”

Tony described his decision to attend Central as largely pragmatic. “I’d always wanted to be a writer since I was six years old,” he said. “I trained as an actor to learn about theatre, to learn about drama. That was the only way you could do it in those days, because there were no drama departments in universities.”

While at Central he became best friends with fellow student Ian Hendry. Together they formed a company called Theatre Unlimited, which toured Britain and even crossed the Iron Curtain. When they were booked to appear at a stadium in Bucharest, the locals were so starved of Western culture that there was a stampede to get into the venue. Tony was caught up in the crush and briefly hospitalised.

Some of Theatre Unlimited’s two-act productions required Tony to work front-of-house for the first half and perform on stage for the second. As a result, the first line of his CV described him as an actor-manager at the age of just 18. It was an exhausting experience that partly prompted him to turn his back on acting.

Ian Hendry as Dr Geoffrey Brent in Police Surgeon (1960).

When he left Central he found work as an advertising copywriter before being drafted into the army for his National Service. Read family legend has it that Tony was typically philosophical when his sergeant ordered him to shout at the soldiers in a drill square. “Why?” Tony responded. “They’re all intelligent graduates from Oxford and if I ask them reasonably it’ll achieve exactly the same results.” Thereafter, Tony was excused square-bashing and instead given an office job. For the remainder of his National Service he occupied an office that gave him a picturesque view of Stonehenge on the horizon.

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About Doctor Who Magazine

Contents include: John Hurt interview; the War Doctor on audio; Steven Moffat answers readers' questions; Feature – The story of Doctor Who videogames; Comic Strip – Theatre of the Mind written and illustrated by Roger Langridge; A tribute to Anthony Read; The Fact of Fiction – The King's Demons; Time Team – The Beast Below; Missing in Action – The Myth Makers; Relative Dimensions; Wotcha; Reviews and Previews; Crossword
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