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April 2017 marks 100 years since the birth of the man who was Doctor Who’s ‘founding father’: Sydney Newman. We present an adapted extract from a new book, telling how Newman was frustrated in his attempts to be officially recognised as the show’s creator…

Some fans may only know Sydney Newman, the man who initiated the creation of Doctor Who, from the 2013 dramatisation of the series’ early years, An Adventure in Space and Time. However, Brian Cox’s portrayal of Newman as an ebullient mogul, fond of saying “Pop! Pop! Pop!” was largely an invention of writer Mark Gatiss. The real Sydney Newman was actually 46 when he began working at the BBC – 20 years younger than Brian Cox was when he played Newman in the BBC Two drama. While Newman was known for moments of ebullience – he used to terrorise the staid BBC establishment by actually swearing during meetings – he was also softer-spoken. He probably never used “Pop! Pop! Pop!” as a catchphrase. But he did have an abundance of ideas.

Newman was born on 1 April 1917. The child of Russian Jewish immigrants (his surname was an Anglicisation of ‘Nudelman’), he grew up in the tenements along Queen Street in Toronto. As a child in the late 1920s, he developed an interest in art through courses taught by famous Canadian artist Arthur Lismer at what would later become the Art Gallery of Ontario. (Newman had to fight his father to go to the classes on the Sabbath.)

From there, during the Great Depression, Newman went to art school, became a painter of scenery and film posters and went on a disastrous trip to California, where he tried to get a job as a Disney animator. By this point, the Second World War had begun. Newman began to work for the National Film Board, which produced public information films – something all the more necessary for the war effort. Newman rose from an assistant editor to become producer of Canada Carries On, the NFB’s signature series of documentaries.

At the end of the 1940s, the NFB attempted to get the licence to be Canada’s national television broadcaster and Newman was sent on secondment to the American network NBC for a year to learn its broadcasting techniques. Newman came back after a year to find that the NFB was not to receive the licence. Becoming more and more disenchanted with work at the Film Board, Newman jumped ship to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s fledgling television service and was involved in its first broadcasts in 1952. At first, he was a producer of CBC’s live remote broadcasts (he devised the method of broadcasting ice hockey matches for Hockey Night of Canada, the Canadian equivalent of Match of the Day) but when there was an opening for a drama producer, Newman jumped at the opportunity.

Newman thrived producing drama. His greatest success was with a 1956 drama written by a British ex-pat in Canada named Arthur Hailey. Flight into Danger was about an airliner where the crew becomes stricken with food poisoning and a World War II pilot has to land the plane. It was hugely popular, was remade for American television and then remade as the 1957 film Zero Hour – which was then parodied in the 1979 film Airplane!.

Sydney Newman with his BBC colleagues including his successor as Head of Drama, Shaun Sutton
The early days of Doctor Who.

Newman’s dramas with the CBC were rebroadcast in Britain and in 1958, ABC television, which had just received a licence from the Independent Television Authority to broadcast on weekends to the Midlands and the North, poached Newman to become producer of its most prestigious series, Armchair Theatre, an anthology series of plays which was fully networked on Sunday nights.

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About Doctor Who Magazine

Contents include: A tribute to Sir John Hurt, the man who played the War Doctor, featuring contributions from those whose knew and worked with him, including David Tennant; Richard Curtis is interviewed about his Doctor work, including The Curse of Fatal Death and Vincent and the Doctor; showrunner Steven Moffat answers readers' questions; a look at the history of the home video recording of Doctor Who; the SFX of The Invisible Enemy, the story that took on Star Wars; Sydney Newman's attempts to reinvent Doctor Who in the 1980s is revealed; the Time Team watch Day of the Moon; new comic strip adventure as the Doctor faces the original Master in Doorway to Hell part three; DWM interviews the people behind the fanzine Vworp! Vworp! ; plus official news, reviews, previews, the Wotcha! page, prize-winning competitions and more!