An Afternoon with Phillip Hinchcliffe – Review – Headrow House, Leeds

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An Afternoon with Phillip Hinchcliffe – Review

Leeds Headrow House, November 2018

by David Schuster

Phillip Hinchcliffe, the producer of many of the best loved episodes of Doctor Who in the 1970s, looks relaxed as he sits on the leather couch being interviewed. He is on stage at Headrow House in Leeds, and the conversation is part of the ‘Afternoon with Phillip Hinchcliffe’, the first such event organised by Yorkshire PR company Who77 Promotions. On stage with him are Chris Hoyle, the guest interviewer, a large cardboard cut-out of Tom Baker (who played the Doctor at the time he was the Producer) and a similar one of the famous time travelling police box, the TARDIS. At the rear of the stage a screen shows episodes of the TV series.

Phillip became producer of the famous Saturday family show at the relatively young age of 32 and, despite being aware of the responsibility inherent in the high profile of the programme, was keen to put his own stamp on the series. He did this by moving the storylines away from repeated attempts to invade Earth, Daleks, Cybermen etc, to stories based on other worlds and other civilisations. He achieved this with ‘The Pyramids of Mars’, which sees the Doctor travel to the red planet itself, ‘The Brain of Morbius’, set on a rocky planet which traps space ships like an intergalactic Sargasso Sea. Most famously he did this with ‘Genesis of the Daleks’, where the Time Lord battles the psychotic pepper-pots on their home planet of Skaro, in an attempt to go back in time and prevent them ever being created in the first place.

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“I had to beg for the lights to be left on”

One of the advantages Hinchcliffe had in controlling the show’s direction was to flesh out the storylines himself, before passing them to script writers to be finalised. In this way he was able to achieve another ambition; to juxtapose the science fiction futuristic Doctor and his companions into real times and places from Earth’s history. He did this with ‘The Masque of Mandragora’, set in 15th century Italy and in arguably his most famous storyline; ‘The Talons of Weng-Chiang’, which take place in Victorian London. The latter provides an opportunity for the producer to give us an insight into the everyday issues of working in television at that time: The complexities of filming, such as stage pyrotechnics having to be re-set, meant that production over-ran by an unheard of half an hour. This was at a time when BBC personnel stopped working at 5 o’clock sharp, and the set was in danger of being plunged into darkness. “I had to beg for the lights to be left on!” he laughs. It’s these private moments that make the interview so interesting.

The Yorkshire-born producer has a rich speaking voice, and an easy manner as Chris Hoyle expertly guides the conversation along through the three seasons of the series that he worked on. Chris himself comes from Leeds, and is eminently qualified for the role of interviewer, having spent many years with ‘The Production Room’, a group he set up in order to make his own Doctor Who episodes. Each section of the interview is preceded by a short video of relevant action clips. “I want to show these to my Grandkids”, says Hinchcliffe. “They know I worked in television, but they don’t know it was this exciting!”

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“Interesting asides and anecdotes”

Following a break for fans to get autographs and selfies with the great man, the second half of the afternoon covers the rest of Phillip’s long career after leaving the science fiction series. He produced many well-loved and diverse series; Target, a gritty detective drama, Private Schulz, with Ian Richardson and Michael Elphick, Nancy Astor, with Piers Brosnan and The Charmer, with Nigel Havers. He also worked on the film An Awfully Big Adventure, with Hugh Grant and Alan Rickman. For each he has interesting asides and anecdotes, all told from his perspective as producer: “For the first Doctor Who story we had budget, but no script. For Target we had no budget and no script, and for An Awfully Big Adventure we had script but no budget,” he summarises.

The afternoon ends with Hinchcliffe taking questions from the audience. “Did you keep any souvenirs?” someone asks about Doctor Who. “No,” he answers regretfully. “At the time it was just a job. Often, we were so relieved to get to the end of production, that we would be glad to bin the script! Oh! I did get to keep one thing,” he corrects himself. “A shaving mirror from the back-up TARDIS console!”

Everyone I spoke to afterwards thoroughly enjoyed the ‘Afternoon with Phillip Hinchcliffe’. Who77 Promotions plan further such events, and I for one will certainly go along.

For other Who77 events, visit:
images © Gail Schuster


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