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David Halliwell Interview

By Jon Preddle

"David Halliwell's 4-part story of next season, which has already undergone numerous rewrites after 10 months of preparation, will [probably never] see the light of day."

The above is from a headline in the British fanzine DWB 29/30 (December 1985). While Christopher H. Bidmead's name will be familiar to most TSV readers, David Halliwell's will certainly be unfamiliar. I wanted to know more about Mr Halliwell and his connection with the troublesome 23rd season of Doctor Who. My research took me to the International Writer's and Author's Who's Who (1989 Edition), which stated that Halliwell had contributed not four but only two episodes in 1985.

The only way to solve the discrepancy in episode numbers was to ask the man himself. I wrote to him in late 1991, and I was delighted to receive his reply and permission to publish his comments in TSV. The following piece is based on two separate correspondences with Mr Halliwell in late 1991/early 1992.

David William Halliwell was born on 31 July 1936 in Brighouse, Yorkshire. He completed his education at the Huddersfield College of Art, Yorkshire from 1953 to 1959. At this stage in his life his ambitions were not as a writer but as an actor. "When I was an art student in Yorkshire, my ambition was to write, direct and star in my own films - rather like Charlie Chaplin. To further this end, I wrote, directed and starred in comedy sketches for student reviews. An ex-actor called Norman Threllfell saw me and suggested I should try and get into the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA)." Halliwell was successful in his application, and from 1959 he trained to become an actor, receiving his diploma in 1961. "My first job on leaving [RADA] was at Nottingham Playhouse where I was an assistant stage manager - spelt 'slave'. I had to sweep the stage, make tea and construct props in freezing conditions." This was hardly his idea of showbiz and he wanted to get out of this line fast.

"It occurred to me that if I could write a successful stage play I might rocket to the top of the profession. In 1964 I wrote Little Malcolm And His Struggle Against The Eunucks, and in 1965, together with Mike Leigh and Philip Martin [the writer of Vengeance On Varos and Mindwarp] put it on at Unity Theatre in London. Subsequently, Michael Codron presented it in the West End and it received critical acclaim. After this, I lost interest in being an actor - although I still do a little [one of his latest appearances was in the 1986 film Mona Lisa] and decided to devote my writing time to writing plays. In the late seventies I started to evolve a new kind of drama which came to fruition in 1989 and 1990 when I wrote a television play called Bonds."

Amongst Halliwell's many writing credits are The Experiment (1967); A Last Belch For The Great Auk (1971); and A Rite Kwik Metal Tata (1979). He has also produced and directed several of his own works, as well as other plays. His writings have earned him two awards: the Evening Standard's Most Promising Playwright 1967 and the John Whiting Award in 1978. His works are very adult in their content, and are also noted for their very peculiar titles!

He also enjoyed working with other media; for television he provided scripts for the drama series Crown Court (1978); The Mind Beyond (1976) and several one-off plays, such as Cock Hen And Courting Pit (1966, one of TV's first dramas to deal with grand passion); A Tryptych Of Bathroom Users (1972, also known as Triple Exposure); There's A Car Park In Witherton (1982) and Arrangements (1985). For BBC radio, he wrote A Who's Who Of Flapland (1967); Bleats From A Brighouse Pleasureground (1972, named after his birthplace); Was It Her? (1980); Spongehenge (1982, in which he also acted); Do It Yourself (1986) and Bedsprings (1989), the latter two directed by his friend Philip Martin. It was this friendship that ultimately lead him to the Doctor Who production offices.

"For many years I used to watch Doctor Who every Saturday afternoon. I never thought it was only for children. It seemed to me that it was aimed at viewers of any age. In 1985, the producer [John Nathan-Turner] was looking for new writers and my friend Philip Martin suggested me."

The BBC had suspended production of the programme's 23rd season in February 1985. Production recommenced in July. Halliwell and the other writers were involved in the initial structuring of the season's umbrella theme: the Doctor on trial.

"I wrote two episodes called Attack From The Mind for a series of fourteen. They were set on a planet called Penelope, which was inhabited by two rival races; the Penelopeans who were extremely beautiful and poetic, and the Freds who were extremely ugly and plodding. At first it seemed as though the Freds were the aggressors but later it appeared that this was not the case.

"I can't remember where my two episodes fitted in with the rest of the season except that they had to be linked to two episodes written by Jack Trevor Story. The other two writers involved were Philip Martin and Robert Holmes. All the episodes of the season had to relate to each other but mine had to lead in some way to the episodes written by Jack - or the other way round. I wrote [my episodes] between July 30th and October 1st. Jack came to my home to discuss how we could link our stories together. He loaned me a book about Ernest Hemmingway, which is still on my shelves. I shall never be able to return it because he died some months ago. I can't remember what his story was about except that, like mine, it was rejected."

I asked David if he found the format of a linked season too constricting. "There was much about the overall format of Attack From The Mind that wasn't flexible. I found it unnecessarily complicated and rigid. However, I managed to work quite nimbly within its constraints. I was given some guide lines [by the production team] which assisted me."

The Trial of a Time Lord season was broadcast in 1986. However there was no sign of Halliwell's or Story's segments. Why had they been rejected?

"Although the script editor [Eric Saward] congratulated me for solving all the problems, I believe the producer didn't like what I had done."

I sent David a copy of the DWB article, which also states that his 'four' episodes had been rewritten by Pip and Jane Baker. "The article in DWB is gibberish," he declares! He admits that he is very much aware of the huge fan following that the programme has, however TSV is the first fanzine to actually approach him about his involvement with Doctor Who.

A busy man, his future projects include the development of Bonds into a full-length stage play that has been commissioned by the National Theatre. "The completion of this is my great goal as a playwright," he says with pride. He is also working on an episode for a TV detective series and a pilot comedy script commissioned by John Cleese. With a director called Chrys Salt he is trying to launch a new production of his 1968 play K D Dufford Hears K D Dufford Ask K D Dufford How K D Dufford'll Make K D Dufford. This year, two radio plays, There's A Car Park In Witherton (based on his 1982 TV play) and Crossed Lines (directed by Philip Martin) are to be broadcast by the BBC.

Finally I asked Mr Halliwell if he had any hints or advice to give to those contemplating becoming professional writers.

"People who'd like to become writers often find blank paper very daunting," he says. "I still do. I find that filling the paper with a very rough first draft takes the edge off the fear. I don't care too much what I'm writing and chuck in dialogue and scenes I know I shan't be using later. Then I write a series of what I call provisional drafts until I've developed something which works. In other words, I don't try to get everything right at one go, but improve things by degrees. I sometimes suggest to people who want to write but are afraid of the paper that they speak into a tape recorder and then have a transcription made. They'll then have something on paper and can start to play around with it."

And in conclusion: "No one should attempt to earn a living as a professional writer unless they already have loadsa money or guaranteed work!"

We would like to thank Mr Halliwell very much for putting aside time in his busy schedule to talk with us. We would also like to wish him luck with his future projects.

This item appeared in TSV 28 (April 1992).