The BBC Media Centre have released a new interview with Brian Cox, who will be portraying Sydney Newman (Head of Drama) in the upcoming drama An Adventure in Time and Space:
“Sydney Newman was a formidable force in television,” says Brian. “He started at ABC and kind of revolutionised drama. I first worked at the BBC in 1965 and did my first-ever television play, ‘A Knight In Tarnished Armour’, and Sydney was there and I actually met him very briefly. You could always spot Sydney in the BBC Club because of his brightly-coloured cravats and waistcoats. And his personality was the same!”
We first meet Newman in An Adventure In Space And Time as he strides into Television Centre, ignoring the security guard’s calls to show his pass, and walking away with “That’s not how we do it at the BBC, sir” ringing in his ears.
But as Brian explains, Sydney was very different to others at the corporation.
“The BBC was very stuffy. There were very good producers and directors, but it was all done by the board and delegation committee, and lots of memos. Sydney had a very different approach, a hands-on approach, and I think that’s what made him unique. He brought a breath of fresh air.”
As well as being very passionate about his projects, Newman also had a knack for spotting a hit and delegating. He trusted those he appointed to do the work and gave them second chances. This is evident in ‘Space And Time’, which reveals that despite rumblings of criticisms about producer Verity Lambert’s overspending and hating the first try at the first episode of Doctor Who, he gave his team another shot.
“He had them reshoot the whole of the first episode of Doctor Who because he didn’t think it was quite right,” explains Brian. “I think he was very revolutionary. I think he really did create a standard.”
Trying to find a teatime family show, Newman was clear there should be no “bug-eyed monsters”, and he hated the idea of the Daleks, but as we see in ‘Space And Time’, on seeing their success he was happy to admit he was wrong.
“Ultimately, he was a populist,” says Brian. “He believed in making drama popular. I think he took forward the original Director-General Lord Reith’s philosophy in wanting to get the best possible drama to the maximum number of people.”
So does Brian see any similarities with Newman?
“I think there’s something very positive about Sydney and he was a force going against the norm of the day. In a sense, I’m very empathetic to him; he’s very much my kind of guy.”