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Obituary: John Wiles

By Jon Preddle

While John Nathan-Turner currently holds the record for being the longest-serving producer of Doctor Who, his namesake, John Wiles, who died on 5 April after a period of illness, was one of the shortest in tenure - as well as in stature! Although his name appears on just four serials, Wiles was actually directly involved in the production of seven. But his 10 months in the top position were uncomfortable ones, due mainly to his rocky relationship with star William Hartnell.

Wiles was born in South Africa and emigrated to the UK in 1949. He joined the BBC in the 1950s as a staff writer, later served several years as script editor on the long-running soap, Compact and eventually moved on to serials and thrillers for BBC2 in 1964. His work as a director in the theatre - a medium that Wiles also worked in while still employed by the BBC - also gave him experience in the field of directing for television, a job he enjoyed as it gave him contact with actors. In early 1965, Wiles was approached by Donald Wilson, at the time Head of Serials and Series, to take over from Verity Lambert, who was leaving the post of producer at the end of Doctor Who's second production block. This was a job that Wiles did not want, as it was predominantly a desk-bound position; he much preferred writing and directing.

Wiles began work on Doctor Who in April 1965 while The Space Museum was in production, shadowing Lambert during her final months on the job. According to The Handbook: The First Doctor, Wiles commenced his official duties as Producer around Monday 5 July 1965, while The Time Meddler was in production. Lambert, however, retained the Producer credit for this and the next two stories.

Wiles and new story editor Donald Tosh, who was appointed around the same time as Wiles, had a harmonious working relationship. Realising that just as many adults as children watched the programme they both wanted to introduce a more sophisticated, adult style for the series. Unfortunately, the scripts they had inherited from their predecessors, including the epic twelve-parter The Daleks' Master Plan, did not fit their new mandate, being far too humorous.

It was Wiles who was ultimately responsible for releasing Maureen O'Brien (Vicki). He wanted a different companion, and with Donald Tosh created temporary companions Katarina and Sara Kingdom while a replacement was developed. The first idea was to have young Anne Chaplet join the Doctor at the end of The Massacre of St Bartholomew's Eve, but when it was realised that the character simply would not work within their new style, he and Tosh devised Dodo. They eventually cast actress Jackie Lane in the role.

It was during three troublesome months working with Daleks that Wiles began to become ill-at-ease in the job. His discomfort had also become exacerbated by Hartnell's ‘prima donna’ attitude. On one occasion, Hartnell caused the entire costuming staff to walk out, following a disagreement with his dresser. When Hartnell became irritable the studio staff used the secret call sign “you had better phone the designer”, which actually meant ‘summon John Wiles’, so the Producer could be brought down to speak to the temperamental star. Because of this problem Wiles, considered replacing Hartnell with another actor in The Celestial Toymaker, but his new boss, Gerald Savory, vetoed the idea.

It wasn't until The Massacre (suggested to John Lucarotti by Tosh and Wiles to replace another Lucarotti submission about Eric The Red), The Ark (based on an idea of Wiles'), and the surreal The Celestial Toymaker that Wiles and Tosh's new adult-orientated format for the show began to emerge. However, before these stories had even entered production, on 14 January 1966, during the making of the final episode of The Daleks' Master Plan, Wiles resigned. Out of sympathy Tosh also handed in his notice, a move with which Wiles did not entirely agree. Wiles was at the time apparently the first producer ever to resign from the BBC.

Innes Lloyd was brought in as producer in February 1966, and trailed Wiles during the final episodes of The Massacre. Wiles, however, retained the Producer's credit on that story and The Ark due to contractual obligations.

After leaving the BBC, Wiles returned to freelance writing and directing for TV and the theatre. His subsequent work for the BBC included three episodes of Warship (guest starring Anthony Ainley and Patrick Troughton), and two episodes of the science-fiction anthology series Out of the Unknown - Taste of Evil and The Man in My Head (1971). Other TV credits include writing all six episodes of the 1969 Granada TV series Judge Dee, based on the books by Robert van Gulik, plus episodes of Dixon of Dock Green (which ran from 1955-1976) and Poldark (1975-1977).

Wiles also wrote more than a dozen books, such as Homelands (1981), as well as three children's play texts published in the UK: The Golden Masque of Agamemnon (1978); Lords of Creation (1987); and The Magical Voyage of Ulysses (1991). It is interesting to note the titles of the first and third plays given Wiles's earlier involvement in The Myth Makers! Of the many stage plays penned by Wiles, Blood and Roses was performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Wiles made a rare convention appearance at the 30th Anniversary of Doctor Who Panopticon in 1993. He also contributed a short story to the Drabble Who collection.

Sources: The Handbook: The First Doctor, Doctor Who - The Sixties, DWM 1983 Winter Special, DWM 228.

This item appeared in TSV 57 (July 1999).