Dudley Simpson was one of the most prolific ‘Doctor Who’ composers, scoring much of the Pertwee era. His work on the show stretches back to the second season, and he was present during many of the major innovations that were developed at the BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop. In this DWM interview, he talks about getting started in music and television, about working on ‘Doctor Who’, and about the Timecode technology.
“I didn’t get a break conducting until Brian Ashbridge introduced me to Hugo Rignold, the then musical director at the Royal Opera House. He said ‘So you’re a conductor, are you? Alright, how would you like to go on next Saturday?’, and I said ‘Yes please’. No rehearsals, and I’ve never constructed an orchestra of that size before. I became chief conductor in the early sixties, and conductor on the touring section of the ballet, going all over Europe and the middle East. So I got a great deal of experience conducting, but what I really wanted to do was write.
“I was at a party in Holland Park, and I was introduced to this little fellow, a television producer. He said ‘I’ll give you something, it’s called Jack’s Horrible Luck’. He was called Gerard Glaister. That was my first show. A little white later, in 1962, I was asked by Gerard to compose for ‘Moonstrike’. Somebody had already done the music for it, but all the directors agreed it was terrible. So they came to me.
“Moonstrike went on for about two years. God knows why, it was a terrible show. But my name was up on screen. I think that’s how I got my first ‘Doctor Who’. I was contacted by Mervyn Pinfield, who directed ‘Planet of the Giants’, the one where they went down the plughole. I remember they’d made a giant telephone which only just fitted into the studio, and a scene with some gigantic crazy paving. I used plain piano music for that story.
“I’m very proud to say that Timecode was brought in as a facility for me. There were lots of teething problems, of course. But no-one could help us, as we were all new to it. I used to work a lot with Dick Mills, who was a pretty clued-up engineer, but even he couldn’t figure out how to make it easier for me. I used to get calculations in fractions of seconds, and that’s no good in music. I never twigged until about a year or two later, but now it’s as easy as pie and everybody uses it.
“Usually, the music would be the last consideration, in accordance with their budget, and if I could do something with two musicians they would be very pleased. Every now and then, they’d go mad and ask for something special. ‘Spearhead from Space’ had eight musicians and they had to pay for them. Barry Letts loved the Radiophonic Workshop’s new synthesizer, and I went on to do ‘Terror of the Autons’ through to ‘Cure of Peladon’ all by myself. Brian and I would go off for deep-friend Kentucky chicken from Maida Vale, because we could synch up the tape recorders and leave them running. It was hilarious, but it worked.
“On ‘The Green Death’, there was one scene with a poor chap all in a daze walking along this parapet, and he went bang over the edge and splattered on the path below. Barry Letts said it was horrible, that they couldn’t show it to the kids, so we put a gong or something silly on it, and it took away the sting. That was Katy Manning’s last story, where they said goodbye on the sunset. We had to have some romantic music there. She had a very husky voice towards the end, as if she drank too much black coffee, and of course she smoked like a trooper. All the time. She was lovely, though.
“I used to sit up all night doing ‘Doctor Who’. It used to be such a rush. I would have to deliver music to my copyist at all hours. I got pulled up once by a policeman, who said I’d been past him three or four times each way. I said ‘It’s alright, I’m delivering music’. ‘What for?’ he asked. When I told him, he said ‘What? Doctor Who? Well, you’d better be going on your way, then’.
“Knowing I’ve had a great deal of experience, I think most people leave it up to me. A lot of the directors don’t even come to the recording sessions. It would be a waste of their time. It was often like that with ‘Doctor Who’. I was usually contacted by the production unit manager. At one time I would have dealt with the producer or a director, but now there’s this man in the middle who sorts out the money problems, and takes the worries off their minds.
“Having me appear in ‘The Talons of Weng-Chiang’ was Philip Hinchcliffe’s idea. He was a very good producer, very visionary. He used to encourage me more than any of the others, and I appreciated that. They had me dolled up in a set of tails, and I conducted to my own music, which I’d recorded beforehand.
“It came as quite a blow that ‘Shada’ was scrapped. First of all, it cut my earnings down by over fifty per cent, and when I was doing ‘Doctor Who’ there was very little time to do anything else. Fortunately I had ‘Blake’s 7’ to fall back on, but you can get pigeon-hold very easily in British television. Some people are in light entertainment, some drama, some classical. Having made a success on ‘Moonstrike’, through years on ‘Doctor Who’ and ‘Blake’s 7’, people would say ‘Oh, Dudley, he’s a drama queen”.