Rex Tucker - The Forgotten Producer
By Paul Scoones
Rex Tucker died peacefully in late August 1996, aged 83.
To many fans, Rex Tucker's name will be unfamiliar, except perhaps as the director of the 1966 story The Gunfighters. In fact, Tucker's association with the series dates back to the earliest origins of the series, when, for a few months in 1963, he stood in as temporary producer and helped in the development of Doctor Who.
Rex Tucker was born in 1913. Educated at Cambridge University, he first aspired to be a businessman but, disliking the world of commerce, took up school teaching and freelance writing. In 1937 he joined the BBC as a script-writer and producer in Birmingham for the radio series Children's Hour. In the forties he became a drama producer specialising in children's material, then in 1950 he switched to television when he was selected as the first of seven producers in the BBC's Children's Department. He worked variously as a BBC television writer, director and producer on over fifty productions, including children's drama and classic serials. In his time he worked with actors such as Roger Delgado, William Russell and Patrick Troughton. He wrote episodes of Maigret and Dr Finlay's Casebook, directed television serials of The Three Musketeers, Jane Eyre and For Whom the Bell Tolls, and both wrote and directed The Pretender.
Around April 1963, Sydney Newman, the BBC's Head of Drama, was overseeing the early development of the series concept that would become Doctor Who. On the strength of Rex Tucker's lengthy and considerable experience as a television producer, Newman invited him to take charge of the project, filling the role of a 'caretaker producer' pending the appointment of a permanent producer. Tucker recalled that he was initially reluctant to accept Newman's invitation: "I remember coming home and talking to my wife, Jean, about this new project and telling her I did not particularly want to work on it, but as I was due to go on holiday I decided to help out with the initial casting sessions." 1
Tucker was summoned to a meeting in Newman's office where the format of the new series was explained to him. In subsequent discussions, Newman and Tucker arrived at the name 'Doctor Who'. The late Hugh David, an actor and director who later worked on the series directing The Highlanders and Fury from the Deep, claimed that his good friend was responsible for creating the series' name: "I remember Rex giving me either the back of an envelope or a serviette, something like that, on which they scribbled down the vague idea behind the serial, and at the bottom they wrote 'Doctor ... Who?' They left a space to fill in the name, but they just couldn't think of anything suitable, and when they took a casual look at it Rex said, 'Doctor Who', and that's how it stuck. I actually kept that scrap of paper for many years, before I lost track of it. I wish I'd held onto it, because it would be priceless now." 2 Tucker himself maintained that the series title was Newman's idea.
In addition to overseeing the series' creation, Rex Tucker was also appointed to direct the first story. The script writer was originally C.E. 'Bunny' Webber, another old friend of Tucker's. Webber's story The Giants was however subsequently rejected by Tucker in June 1963. Tucker's reasoning was that the effects were too complex, and that Webber was "too good a writer to write down to the level required." 3
Composer Tristram Cary was approached by Tucker to see if he would be willing to provide both the theme tune and the music for the first serial. Cary recalls: "Rex Tucker and I had got on so very well previously and with some producers you hit it off straight away. So Rex rang me up and said 'We're doing this new science fiction series for kids - will you do some music for it?' This was before Ron Grainer had even done the title music. A little later on, he rang me up to say 'Forget all about that, someone else is doing Serial A.'" 4
Rex Tucker's involvement extended to the casting of the lead roles, and he invited Hugh David to take on the role of the Doctor. David turned down the offer: "He asked me if I'd like to play the central figure, Doctor Who. My answer was no, because I'd just played the lead for a year in a soap opera called Knight Errant for Granada, and like anybody who appears on television, I was stopped in shops and asked for my autograph all the time." 5
It was fortunate for Hugh David that he declined the role, as Rex Tucker's casting choice was not supported by Verity Lambert, the series' new permanent producer, whom Sydney Newman appointed in mid-June 1963, whilst Tucker was still working on the project. The presence of two producers on the same show for a time led to some clashes, and the casting of the Doctor was a particular point of contention, as Lambert recalls. "One of the reasons that Rex Tucker and I disagreed was that he wanted a young man to play Doctor Who - not like the young men they had later, but a younger man, Hugh David, made up as an old man. I didn't see why we should. We were on a very tight schedule in the studio, and it wouldn't have been practical to have a long make-up every day. I don't like younger people being made up as older people anyway, unless they're playing a whole age range. I think that was the point where Rex realised he and I were not thinking along the same lines." 6
Rex Tucker also held preliminary auditions for the two female leads, Susan Foreman and Miss McGovern, later re-named Barbara Wright. He saw several actresses for each part on 25 June 1963. He believed that an Australian girl, recently arrived in England, was ideal for the part of Susan, but when asked about this in later years, could not recall the identity of the actress he had in mind.
At the end of June Rex Tucker was removed as director of the first story. This was not the result of personal friction but simply that the revised recording dates for the first story by Anthony Coburn, which was at this stage postponed by eight weeks, clashed with a holiday which Tucker had booked to take in Majorca. Tucker was instead appointed to direct the second story, which at this stage was Coburn's The Robots (later renamed The Masters of Luxor). The upshot of this was that Tucker no longer had responsibility for casting the regular actors, or the authority to commission Tristram Cary to compose the theme and incidental music.
From the beginning of July 1963, all major decisions regarding the setting up of the series passed into the hands of its permanent producer, Verity Lambert and Tucker's replacement as director of the first story, Waris Hussein. Rex Tucker did not leave to take his holiday until the end of August but it would appear that over this two month period he became disinterested in working on Doctor Who. Verity Lambert recalls, "Rex was very experienced and quite an old-time producer at the BBC. He had very definite ideas about how he saw Doctor Who and who should play the part. I'm afraid that he and I did not share the same views and I think he eventually asked to be removed. We didn't really clash, but he felt there would be just a constant argument about everything, really. Our ways parted quite quickly." 7
Rex Tucker's departure to Majorca on Friday 30 August 1963 marked the conclusion of his part in the creation of Doctor Who. He was never entirely happy working on the series and it was mutually agreed that when he returned in September he would be involved in a different project within the BBC's Drama Department, directing a prestigious adaptation of Flaubert's for transmission in March 1964.
Two and a half years later, Rex Tucker renewed his association with Doctor Who when he was invited to work on the third season serial The Gunfighters. Tucker explained that he was asked to direct "to bring the standards up concerning direction. In rehearsals William Hartnell was especially pleased to have an experienced director like myself working on the programme. Recently he had worked with very young and inexperienced directors which he thought were not very good." 8
Tucker was assigned to direct The Gunfighters in January 1966, and joined the production after he had finished work on the acclaimed television series Farewell to Arms. Tucker had considerable input in adjusting the story before it entered production following his initial reservations about the quality of Donald Cotton's scripts. It was Tucker's idea to emphasise the humour, reasoning that it was impossible to do a serious Western in a studio in England. He also wrote half of the song The Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon, which was sung in segments throughout the story. Tucker originally wanted to use his 17-year-old daughter Jane to sing the ballad, but after deciding that her voice was too light, instead cast her as an extra playing a settler's daughter in a crowd scene. The Gunfighters also provided Tucker with an opportunity to uphold his earlier invitation to composer Tristram Cary. Cary's incidental music had appeared in several Doctor Who stories before he was hired by Tucker to score The Gunfighters.
Rex Tucker did not work on Doctor Who again, but continued to work for the BBC, directing episodes of series such as Paul Temple. By the nineties he was retired and living in Oxfordshire.
This item appeared in TSV 49 (November 1996).