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The man who brought the Daleks to life

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1973-08-18 Belfast Telegraph.jpg


JACK KINE has supervised the building of space vehicles and secret weapons, the birth of incredible monsters, and a number of gory injuries and deaths. He has ruined bridges, exploded oil derricks, set fire to factories, crashed cars—and even created total war.

At least, he has seemed to—and that is the secret of Jack's job as manager of the special effects section at the BBC Television Centre in London. When a TV programme needs a visual effect which in reality either hopelessly expensive or totally impossible, special effects are called in.

Programmes like "Quatermass", "It's a Square World" and perhaps the prime example— "Dr. Who" — would not be possible without special effects, and the section has contributed to some of the most spectacular scenes in series like "Trouble-shooters", "The Man Outside" and "War and Peace".

The department created the Tardis, the Daleks, the Cybermen and other monsters for "Dr. Who", built space vehicles and lunar landscape mock-ups for the space programmes, and now works closely with the academics to produce "visual aids" for the "Open University" courses.

Jack now has 30 designers—organised in teams of three—working under him, but when the department itself was created in 1954, there were only two of them. Jack and Bernard Wilkie. "In those days we were regarded as the blokes who made a few bangs from time to time". Jack told me. "In those days most of the programmes went out live—which led to a few disasters.

"Our first major job was a series called 'Running Wild', which starred Morecambe and Wise, and Alma Cogan, all of whom were pretty new to television.

"In the very first programme, which was done before an audience at the Shepherd's Bush Theatre, the opening number was a flying routine, and Bernard and I mocked up an aeroplane which seemed to fly through the air with its propellors turning.

"I turned the propellers from the side of the theatre, and Bernard hid under the thing and waggled the wings. There was a spontaneous round of applause, and we felt really proud of ourselves—until we were presented with a bloodstained propeller and told that the nurse was attending a member of the audience who had been hit by the plane.

"In another sketch, Eric was supposed to be a Spanish guitarist. At various points in the show, he was to come on stage and try to play By Albert Watson something, only to have something go wrong. First the wires leading from the guitar to the amplifiers were supposed to catch fire. Then the amps should have blown up, and finally the guitar itself was to explode. In all three cases, the effect 'went off' too soon. The backstage crew and, in one case. the studio audience, saw what happened and had a good laugh, but it must have been mystifying to the viewers".

The programmes which really brought special effects the fore were the 'Quatermass" serials which brought horror to our screens in the late fifties. "We really worked against the clock", recalled Jack, "and every job was a challenge. But the one that sticks in my mind was the problem of creating Martians who were believable and yet alien".

He says though that the TV audience is much more demanding now than it was then. "Since those days, we've seen ITV programmes like "Thunderbirds, "Stingray" and "UFO" made on big budgets and the film "2001" which really set the special effects business into orbit.

Now people judge by those standards, and we have to try to satisfy them on a moderate budget. It's a big headache." Nowadays "Dr. Who" is special effects' biggest customer, and the Daleks its biggest popular success. "They were intended for use in one "Dr. Who" serial—but they caught on because any kid could stand inside a large packing case, with two holes for the arms, and identify with these ridiculous things.

"Now, of course, "Dr. Who" is a constant headache, but we've got the measure of it."

The Open University has special problems. "We have to work closely with the academics in building these scientific models," said Jack. "but they are often so airy-fairy that it takes three days to get them down to practicalities."

One of the jobs which Jack described as "easy" was the blowing-up of an oil derrick in "The Troubleshooters." "We build a full-scale mockup of the base of the derrick," he said, "and a few hundred yards away we suspended a small model of the rest of the derrick. When the camera pointed at them, they 'joined' to make a complete derrick—then we blew up the base." (The full-scale base was important because a car had to be seen driving away from the derrick during the explosion).

On the face of it, the job of special effects is to create an illusion of reality but Jacks says there is more to it than that. "Sometimes we have to gild reality," he explained, "for instance, if you seal a cave, or a house, for a number of years and leave it, it won't get very dirty there'll just be a thin film of dust. But, if we are doing something like that, we have to scatter a few cobwebs around or else people will feel cheated.

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  • APA 6th ed.: Watson, Albert (1973-08-18). The man who brought the Daleks to life. Belfast Telegraph p. 6.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Watson, Albert. "The man who brought the Daleks to life." Belfast Telegraph [add city] 1973-08-18, 6. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Watson, Albert. "The man who brought the Daleks to life." Belfast Telegraph, edition, sec., 1973-08-18
  • Turabian: Watson, Albert. "The man who brought the Daleks to life." Belfast Telegraph, 1973-08-18, section, 6 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=The man who brought the Daleks to life | url= | work=Belfast Telegraph | pages=6 | date=1973-08-18 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=23 March 2023 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=The man who brought the Daleks to life | url= | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=23 March 2023}}</ref>