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Raymond Cusick obituary

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Obituary: Raymond Cusick: Production designer who gave Doctor Who's Daleks their distinctive appearance

The iconic shape of the Daleks - the most enduring villains from the BBC's long-running television science-fiction series Doctor Who - came from the imagination of the designer Raymond Cusick, who has died aged 84. The famous domed silhouette, with three protuberances - eyestalk, sucker arm and gun - and distinctive spherical skirt decorations, has retained its shape even into the current incarnation of the show.

Cusick's involvement with the second Doctor Who adventure, The Daleks, in 1963, came by chance. The original designer was due to be Ridley Scott, but his schedule ended up clashing with the proposed filming dates. Cusick took the job instead, which required him to come up with such creations as a petrified jungle, a gleaming alien city and some robotic-looking creatures. The Dalek was revealed to be not a machine but a protective shell in which a mutant creature - the result of the genetically disastrous consequences of nuclear war - was housed.

According to Cusick, Terry Nation, the Doctor Who writer who created the Daleks, suggested they should make a gliding movement "like the Georgian state dancers", but there was little other visual description in the script. There was a general consensus among the production team that the cliched "man in a suit" look be avoided in favour of something more otherworldly. Cusick demonstrated the creature's style of movement by grabbing a pepperpot and sliding it across the table to the model maker Bill Roberts (whose company Shawcraft built the Daleks). An initial design involved the Dalek operator propelling the machine with a tricycle housed inside it but eventually the actors moved the squat, castor-mounted props along by shuffling their feet.

Over the next two years, Cusick had to contend with a number of Doctor Who adventures that required new sets each week. The Keys of Marinus (1964), for example, featured hideous brains in jars one week, a lethal jungle the next and a snowy vista after that. Cusick felt that the show's low budget was stretched particularly thinly on stories of this kind, but was assisted by the low-resolution television picture, which, he admitted, covered a multitude of sins. Planet of Giants (1964) was a humdrum story made remarkable by Cusick's impressive renderings of an oversized science laboratory, dead insects and a moving giant fly.

Cusick left Doctor Who after the 12-part epic The Daleks' Master Plan (1965-66), on which he shared the intensive workload with a fellow designer, Barry Newbery, and was occasionally somewhat rueful about his involvement with the show. He recalled appearing on the TV discussion show Late Night Line-Up with Nation and asking him afterwards about potential involvement with the forthcoming Dalek feature films (made in colour by Aaru productions and starring Peter Cushing in 1965 and 1966). Nation was enthusiastic and reassuring about the projects but, Cusick said: "Then I never heard from him again." From these films and many other commercial exploitations of the Daleks, Nation, a freelancer with a canny agent, became a rich man. Cusick, on the other hand, was a BBC staff member, and only after a lengthy and hard-fought battle by his head of department, got a special merit payment that amounted to no more than a few hundred pounds. He was, however, the proud recipient of a gold Blue Peter badge for his work.

Born in Lambeth, central London, Cusick nurtured a desire to be a sculptor and attended evening classes at art school, but his father felt he should pursue a more practical path. He studied science and maths at Borough Polytechnic (now London South Bank University) but did not enjoy it, then enlisted in the army and served in Palestine. Returning to the UK, he worked in repertory theatre and joined the BBC staff as a design assistant in 1960. Graduating to designer proper in 1962, he was - as was the norm - expected to turn his hand to a variety of programmes with diverse requirements and from different genres.

After Doctor Who, he worked on productions as wide-ranging as The Pallisers (1974), The Duchess of Duke Street (1976-77), Rentaghost (1978), When the Boat Comes In (1981) and Miss Marple (1985-87). A history enthusiast, he most enjoyed productions that required fastidious research. He had a particular interest in the Napoleonic wars and contributed military campaign articles to the journal of the Waterloo Association.

He provided a vast number of photographs and design sketches for J Jeremy Bentham's 1986 book Doctor Who: The Early Years, and contributed to several Doctor Who DVDs. He was largely self-deprecating about his work, highlighting the ad hoc nature of 1960s television production.

After retiring from the BBC in 1988, he ran a small hotel in south London with his wife Phyllis, whom he had married in 1964 ("Monster man marries" said the local paper). She predeceased him. He is survived by two daughters and seven grandchildren.

Raymond Patrick Cusick, television production designer, born 1928; died 21 February 2013

Caption: Cusick with a pair of Daleks in 1964: the initial idea was for their operators to propel them using a tricycle Photograph: Alamy

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  • APA 6th ed.: Hadoke, Toby (2013-02-25). Raymond Cusick obituary. The Guardian p. 27.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Hadoke, Toby. "Raymond Cusick obituary." The Guardian [add city] 2013-02-25, 27. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Hadoke, Toby. "Raymond Cusick obituary." The Guardian, edition, sec., 2013-02-25
  • Turabian: Hadoke, Toby. "Raymond Cusick obituary." The Guardian, 2013-02-25, section, 27 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Raymond Cusick obituary | url= | work=The Guardian | pages=27 | date=2013-02-25 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=26 May 2024 }}</ref>
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