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A Peculiar Effect on the BBC

In 1954 Bernard Wilkie and Jack Kine founded the BBC’s Visual Effects Department. Between them they would work on such diverse programmes as Monty Python’s Flying Circus, The Sky at Night and, of course, Doctor Who. In this extract from his memoir, Bernard recalls some of his pioneering work.
Bernard Wilkie, photographed in 1973 for the Radio Times Special marking the tenth anniversary of Doctor Who.

In the early days of the Visual Effects Department, everything was exciting.

Time away from work was spent thinking about work. We arrived in the office early in the morning and often left long after the official leaving time. If there was an opportunity to work at weekends, we grabbed it. In 1954 we worked during every public holiday, including part of Christmas. Perhaps subconsciously we felt it was all too good to be true and that like the perfect dream it would vanish and we would be told that our section was to be reorganised or amalgamated or something equally hideous. The principle of letting two men run a section, making their own decisions and handling every programme without supervision, seemed so far removed from BBC policy that we both felt it couldn’t last.

Jack and Bernard, at work in the Visual Effects Department they founded.

The reason Jack Kine and I became such a successful duo was that, although thinking alike and reacting alike, we had different talents. Jack had originally trained as a model-maker at a time when most of the work was created by hand and the level of skill required was phenomenally high. These skills enabled him not only to make any model we were asked to provide, but to assess the time it would take and the materials we should use. Above all I appreciated his unique sense of humour. Jack seldom repeated jokes he’d been told in the pub but was able to recount his own experiences in a fashion that made even the most mundane activity seem hilariously funny. His sense of humour lightened the intervals between takes and did much to smooth out those nervy occasions when things were not going well.

The three-legged Martians were constructed from fibreglass.

In 1958 we were asked to provide the visual effects for Quatermass and the Pit.

Rudolph Cartier, the director, phoned us one morning asking if we were free to come to his office. He had Nigel Kneale, the writer, with him and they wanted to discuss the visual effects for the new serial. Normally phlegmatic, Rudy positively bubbled with excitement. I don’t know what we were working on at the time, but the mere mention of the name Quatermass was enough to have us hurrying through the corridors to Rudy’s office. Tom Kneale was already sunk in a chair. I say sunk because Tom (‘Nigel’ was his professional name but we always called him Tom) had a way of relaxing in a chair that seemed to put his head lower than his knees, but he untangled himself and got to his feet to greet us. We had met him several times since the previous Quatermass and it was good to know that we’d all be working together again.

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About Doctor Who Magazine

Special effects can transport audiences to alien planets, render familiar surroundings unrecognisable and bring terrifying monsters to life. Doctor Who has been at the forefront of such television trickery for more than 50 years. This richly illustrated publication celebrates the series’ greatest effects and meets the people who created them. From the trailblazers of the 1960s to the digital artists of today, here is the story of Doctor Who’s journeys into the impossible.