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Eric Saward interview

Some kind soul has dug out the notorious interview Eric Saward gave in Starburst magazine: I present it here for those who may not have read it (as I hadn't). It's quite astonishing reading; those of you who already hold Saward in dubious regard may want to get hold of one of those squeezy stress-reliever things before continuing.

EDIT: Wot, no JNT tag?


From Starburst #97 Page 16
Q: Lets start with the most immediate thing - you've recently left Doctor Who.

Saward: Well...I was getting very fed up with the way Doctor Who was being run,
largely by John Nathan-Turner - his attitude and his lack of insight into what
makes a television series like Doctor Who work. This had been going on for a
couple of years and after being cancelled and coming back almost in the same
manner as we were before...the same sort of pantomime-ish aspects that I so
despised about the show. I just think it isn't worth it.

Q: So, what exactly was the effect of the cancellation?

Saward: We were rather stunned. We didn't know what was going on. I don't think
anyone's really got to the bottom of why it was cancelled. I don't honestly
think that. Michael Grade can correct me, we were simply taken off because they
thought we were awful. If we were really that bad I can't believe he would have
kept the same team. Grade did criticise us, and when he talks about the
production team he's basically speaking about the Producer and the Script
Editor who are the team that are always there. I don't whether he was just
referring to us.

Q: What was the first thing you knew about the cancellation?

Saward: John had been told on the Monday that we were being cancelled, and he
told me and Anji-Smith, the Production Associate on the following day. He
wanted us to know before it was made public, but as it transpired the whole
department knew anyway.

Q: There were no reasons given?

Saward: Other than it was thought the show needed resting, re-thinking. We were
told we were going back to 25 minutes, which was Michael Grade's decision, and
that more comedy was wanted. I must admit that I didn't understand Grade's not
about comedy, last season we had three very comic stories ("Vengeance on
Varos", "Two Doctors", "Revelation of the Daleks"). It was a pity that two out
of the three stories were poorly directed.

Q: There's a certain something, a sparkle, missing from the direction.

Saward: Most of the directors on Who haven't got the lightness of touch
necessary. And if they've got it they don't hang around Who for very long
because of the budget restrictions, working atmosphere, quality of the scripts
and so on. The show isn't that enticing to a rising director.

Q: What do you mean by working atmosphere?

Saward: Well, the constant thing of having to do everything for tuppence.
Interference does go on. John can become so unpleasant to someone he's
employed, such as his director. The likes of Graeme Harper will not come back
to Doctor Who if they've got something else to do. People like Peter Grimwade,
who I suppose is the only other director of any note who has come out of Who
since John has been producer, says he wouldn't work with John Nathan-Turner any
more - and I don't think Nathan-Turner would employ him.

Q: There was some row, wasn't there?

Saward: It was a lunatic situation...Grimwade directed a script I had written
called "Earthshock". He made the story work well, so John decided he could
direct "Resurrection of the Daleks" (in my opinion the worst Doctor Who story
ever written. (As an author I am entitled to say that!) Peter had been booked
and then there was a strike. So the story was cancelled. Grimwade said "Fine,
well obviously we can't do anything about that. If I've not got anything to do
I'm going to have lunch and go home". So he took me, remember I was an author
as well as the script editor on the show, and his Production Manager and one or
two other members on the team. I think there were about six of us. We went to
the Television Centre for lunch - I mean so exciting, it's unbelievable - only
to find when we got back that John Nathan-Turner had been shouting and
screaming all over the building "How dare they all go off to lunch together,
and not invite me".

Q: Oh, no!

Saward: It's true! Yes he was furious and it was so silly. "How dare they? I am
the one who does the hiring and firing around here - how dare he take..." He
took exception to my going because he said "How dare he take my Script Editor
to lunch, and not me". He took that absolutely as an out and out insult, and
that was a contributing factor to why Peter was never invited back.

Q: No!

Saward: Pathetic isn't it? It's mind-numbing. One of the two half decent
directors he's had on the show he will not use because of a silly, stupid
incident like that. I think he's a very paranoid individual. He probably feels
that I've been slagging him off all over the place since left...which is not
true. There were lots of silly events before I did leave. When I left, I was
writing the last episode. We had talked about this ending of the season and he
had agreed, in principle, to what was wanted - a hard cliff-hanging thing. I
was surprised he had agreed, knowing he does go for these pappy pantomime sort
of endings. I went ahead and wrote the last episode as I had discussed it with
Bob )Holmes) and as I had with John, but the episode went in and, and John said
"Yes, that's all fine, fine. What about the end? I don't like the end, we can't
go out on that end". He reneged on but he had agreed. He wanted the
"walk-down", happy pantomime ending. I couldn't believe it. But that's the man.
He knows so much, he has the show cancelled and is openly criticised by the
Controller of BBC 1 television.

On page 17...


Q: A lot of fans criticise John for his America fixation. How much do you think
that going off to conventions affected the time he had available?


Saward: When he goes to these Conventions he has to get permission from the
head of department to do so. I gather that usually goes through on the nod. At
first, it didn't encroach upon his work in that way. He started going to more
and more of them. A lot of them would be at weekends. What did become apparent
though, if he'd gone off for a weekend Convention to America, he would come
into work on Monday straight from the 'plane. It was as though he wanted to go
to the Conventions, but wanted to show everyone that nothing was distracting
him from his duties as producer, so he would do the lunatic thing of coming
back Sunday/Monday morning, coming into the office, and just shutting the door
and going to sleep. He is obsessed with the American fans. I gather that he
sanctions who can go to America and who can't. It's very difficult obviously to
control actors who are no longer working on the show, and are obviously the fan
Conventions want the leading actors and the companions. But you'll find that
writers were never invited. I mean someone like Robert Holmes who's written God
knows how many stories, has been involved in it since Patrick Troughton's days,
edited the show for three years, a man very experienced in writing for
television who would have had a great deal to offer any audience who would bear
to listen. Men like him were never invited. Only two directors ever went that I
was aware of.


Q: When John originally started he said he was only going to do it for a short
time anyway. He would only do it for three years or so.

Saward: I think the main draw for him apart from the fact that he has got his
fingers in so many pies is the income from the Conventions in America, which I
think is quite a lot of money. I think that is something he is reluctant to
give up.


Q: It has also been said that he doesn't like any of the fans working for the
BBC.

Saward: Well, he's obsessed about keeping everything secret. But the one thing
that again aggravates when someone takes a 2.5-3 hour lunch break every day is
that you know that you're not going to be able to speak to him between that
time. There's no two ways about it. He will come back if something has come up,
but it's a ritual. He trots out at 12:30 and comes back after closing time...

Q: I believe there have been times when you've urgently wanted to speak to him
and he's been on the 'phone?

Saward: Oh, yes...that got rather silly and unpleasant. He went through a phase
a couple of years ago of spending a lot of time on the 'phone I think to
America, certainly to the various Convention organisers - most of them are in
America - and we had the lunatic situation one day. I was standing outside the
office, I needed to see him and two of his directors needed to see him, and
he'd been there chatting on the 'phone, as far as the Secretary was concerned,
for at least an hour. It just wasn't once, it was often, and with people
waiting to see him - waiting to make the g*dd*mn show he was supposed to be the
producer of. It was anything that would come up - I mean he'd rather read a
manuscript from W.H. Allen, or spend hours 'piddling' about with some crappy
piece of merchandising from Enterprises than willingly become involved in
talking about what we were doing. I can't understand it.
Tags: eric saward, interviews
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