The Radio Times is one of the oldest & best selling magazines in Britain & until recently part of the BBC. It’s a British institution.
The Daleks were about to return to Doctor Who after an absence of 17 years. That same week was also to be a general election. Two big events in the same week deserved special treatment - a ‘gatefold’, which folded out to double the size of the cover.
A new series of Doctor Who had been made the previous year and was an enormous success - almost 10 million people watched it every week, over 40% of the viewing public. The programme had a huge following & there was fevered anticipation for the new series about to start. The return of the Daleks hadn’t been officially announced but there were rumours & a great deal of excitement about the idea of Doctor Who’s best known enemy returning.
Art Director Paul Smith’s inspiration came from a famous 1964 photograph of the Daleks crossing Westminster Bridge from the publicity surrounding the second series of Doctor Who when the Daleks first appeared, striking terror into the hearts of children all over the land. Paul & I had worked on many covers together over the years & it’s always been a pleasure to work with him. He’s a big secret Doctor Who fan so this was very special for him too.
At the time of the shoot Westminster Bridge was undergoing renovation work – the pavement was cordoned off with barriers and portable buildings. With Westminster Council's help, these were moved back and room cleared for the shoot. The barriers proved invaluable; they helped hide the shoot from pedestrians and passing traffic at a major tourist hot spot in the middle of the evening rush hour. The Daleks' new look – chunkier, armoured and metallic bronze – was a closely guarded secret, so there was no way they could be photographed on location in the centre of London. An old-style Dalek stood in to work out the composition, To prevent onlookers in double decker buses or on the nearby London Eye from seeing what was going on, the Dalek was hidden under a blanket except for a brief moment to shoot the Polariod tests.
It was raining when the shot was taken & I was worried that the lights I had set up would blow if wet, so the balustrade of the bridge was lit by the headlights of my car. Which worked better than the lighting I had planned! Everything had been set up during daylight so we then had to wait for night. I saw a cormorant dive from the terrace outside the Houses of Parliament & emerge with a wriggling silver fish. I'd never seen that in central London before.
These were the last photographs I took on film (the BBC requested it - I had been shooting digitally long before). The last time I used the Sinar P2 large format camera that I had used almost everyday for the previous 20 years. The final sheet of Polaroid. I think I may have something in my eye...
The set-up on the bridge was carefully sketched and the position of each element planned & measured using the old Dalek - especially the distance from the camera. A few days later in a film studio in Cardiff we met the stars. Security was very tight - we even had to leave our phones at reception before we could go in. There were 3 new Daleks. One was in bits with technical problems & another wasn’t working properly, so we had to photograph the one Dalek in lots of different angles as an operator brought it to life, carefully following the plan from the earlier shoot on the bridge. Perspective is not determined by the lens. It’s determined by the distance between the object and the camera.
Each of the new Daleks has it’s own name badge beneath it’s eye (bet you didn't know that) so I shot close ups of each badge & retouched them in later
Years before we had an old Dalek in the studio for a few days & had great fun sitting inside & scaring visitors. So it was interesting to compare to this much more sophisticated version. But I’m not going to give away any secrets. Except…I’d been told that in the early series if a Dalek operator had to answer a call of nature they would normally trundle out to the car park, position the Dalek over a drain and er… well, it seems it’s true.
The starry sky was drawn by hand in Photoshop. Each star was individual, as it can be very obvious when you copy & paste them. My son helped me with this, much to the awe of his school friends when they found out a couple of weeks later.
Not long after I had shot the Daleks word got out to the media (I don't know how, I suspect the film processors) & I was besieged by calls from Newspapers to get the photographs. One tabloid newspaper offered a lot of money to use them: far more than I was being paid by the Radio Times, but it wasn't a difficult decision. I had a lot of loyalty to Paul Smith & the Radio Times & I knew that if I sold them I would never work for him or the BBC ever again.
The cover was a huge success. The Radio Times printed extra copies but they still completely sold out - a very rare occurrence. The art director & I could walk on water for a few weeks after that. The image was produced as a poster which also sold out & was then reprinted in lenticular 3d.
I was particularly excited when I saw it for the first time in the newsagents & saw Ian McK peeking out of the side - the best credit I’ve ever had I thought. Until I picked it up saw that it said Ian McKellen. Whoever he is.
This ‘Vote Dalek’ cover went on to win a number of awards, the most prestigious (and unique) being the Professional Publishers Association’s ‘Cover of the Century’: a short list of 10 (including iconic covers from Vogue, Harpers, Cosmopolitan & the Beano) was drawn up from the preceding 100 years (what a task!) & then opened to a public vote.
A display of the cover, with one of it’s stars, was the centre piece of an exhibition at the Museum of London celebrating 90 years of the Radio Times.
It was a great privilege to be involved in the creation of such an iconic cover.