On 1 April this year, Torontonian Sydney Newman would have been 100 years old, but the pioneering TV mogul, producer, and director sadly passed away in 1997.
In my book about him, The Man Who Thought Outside The Box, I compair the alien Doctor wandering through time and space, and Sydney himself. Always considered an outsider, how much of the Doctor was reflective of Sydney Cecil Newman, and the things he said and did during his life? And exactly where did the idea come from? It was with him for at least 15 years before C.E Webber wrote the memo ‘Dr Who – General notes on Background and Approach’…
During his lifetime Sydney voiced his displeasure at the direction the show took on more than one occasion, and it is true to say he originally conceived it to be a children’s science-fiction program with a harder edge, its remit to entertain whilst teaching kids facts and science. Today’s show has had to adapt and change for the modern audience, but has it been dumbed down? The emphasis now is on entertainment rather than education. But this is not a new thing. The old show dropped the format decades ago, and it’s well known that serials set in the future fared better in the ratings than those set in the past.
As a small boy Sydney became interested in drawing and painting and showed quite a talent. As he grew he realised it was what he wanted to do with his life, but the family shoe business needed somebody to take the reins, although it was clear it wasn’t going to be Sydney. At art college he was asked to make a student film, he also designed theatre set, and posters for the communist party, and this involvement came back to haunt him during senator McCarthy’s ‘Commy witch-hunt’ in the 1950s.
By the outbreak of WW2 Sydney had tried his hand at many artistic endeavours, and was offered a job at Disney which was scuppered by the war. Canadian families were sending their sons to the USA to avoid conscription, and Sydney didn’t want to be seen as a coward. By now however, he had developed a new love, one that would be with him all of his life. It was the movie camera.
When TV began in Canada 1952 Sydney was there from the start. Having read science-fiction all of his life he was delighted to work on Space Command with future Star Trek legends William Shatner and James Doohan the following year. He would bring all of these skills with him when he moved to England in 1958, and brought to life Doctor Who, The Avengers, Pathfinders, and Adam Adamant Lives! to name but a few.
Photo credit: The National Film Board of Canada.