Barry Letts : biography
Barry Leopold Letts (26 March 1925 – 9 October 2009) was a British actor, television director, writer and producer best known for his work on the BBC science fiction television series Doctor Who, and for producing the BBC's Sunday Classic drama serials in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He was associated with Doctor Who for many years, with active involvement in the television programme from 1967 to 1981, and later contributions to its spin-offs in other media. His sons Dominic and Crispin Letts are both successful actors. Barry Letts was born in Leicester, Leicestershire.
Letts' first involvement with Doctor Who was in 1967 when he directed the Patrick Troughton serial The Enemy of the World. This was a complex serial to direct as Troughton played both the Doctor and the Mexican dictator "Salamander" in the same story and sometimes in the same scenes – a rare and demanding directorial requirement for the 1960s.
He became the show's producer in 1969 in succession to Derrick Sherwin. Jon Pertwee had just been cast as the Doctor. Letts' first story as producer was Pertwee's second, Doctor Who and the Silurians, and he remained the producer for the rest of the Pertwee serials, becoming the father figure in the 'family' atmosphere that had developed on the show at that time. It was an exciting era for Doctor Who, with episodes broadcast in colour for the first time and an improved budget which enabled more location filming and action sequences than had previously been seen. He also oversaw the celebrations of the programme's tenth anniversary in 1973.
When he was offered the chance to become producer on the series, Letts asked that he be allowed to also direct some of the stories. The BBC agreed to this and Letts directed several Doctor Who stories during his period as producer: Terror of the Autons, Carnival of Monsters, Planet of the Spiders and the remaining studio scenes of Inferno after Douglas Camfield had been taken ill. He returned in 1975 to direct The Android Invasion during the era of Philip Hinchcliffe as programme producer.
Barry Letts formed a particular partnership with two other contributors to the programme: Terrance Dicks, who was the script editor on the programme at that time; and Robert Sloman, with whom he contributed four stories to the Pertwee era: The Dæmons (credited as Guy Leopold); The Time Monster; The Green Death; and Planet of the Spiders, which was Pertwee's swansong. Indeed, he provided an official obituary to Sloman in December 2005. Barry Letts was a Buddhist, and this influenced several of his contributions to Doctor Who.
He was still producer when Tom Baker was cast as the Fourth Doctor. Letts cast him after the actor was recommended to him by Bill Slater, an experienced director and Head of Serials at the BBC. After one story with Baker, Robot he left the position of producer in 1974, having been the longest serving producer on the programme to that time.
In the 1980–81 series, he returned to be executive producer alongside John Nathan-Turner as the producer. This was for one season between The Leisure Hive and Tom Baker's final story Logopolis. Letts' return to the programme was because Nathan-Turner had not previously served as a producer and a restructure of the BBC Drama Department meant that Head of Series & Serials Graeme MacDonald was unable to offer the support previous producers had received. As it happened, 'JNT' (as he was known) stayed for nine years, overtaking Letts as the longest serving producer on Doctor Who. When the programme returned in 2005, Letts was involved in the hectic round of interviews to promote the show, most unusually appearing for a lengthy discussion piece on The Daily Politics with Andrew Neill on BBC2.
Barry Letts also wrote two scripts for two radio plays broadcast in the 1990s: The Paradise of Death and The Ghosts of N-Space. He wrote the novelisations of the TV story The Dæmons (Target Books, 1974) and the radio plays The Paradise of Death (Target, 1994) and The Ghosts of N-Space (Virgin Books, 1995, published as part of the Virgin Missing Adventures line). He also wrote two original Doctor Who novels published by BBC Books: Deadly Reunion (co-written with Terrance Dicks, 2003) and Island of Death (2005).
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