|Director · Producer · Writer · Executive Producer|
Born: 26th March 1925 (as Barry Leopold Letts)
Barry Letts was born in Leicester, Leicestershire. While still a teenager during the Second World War, his parents' interest in amateur dramatics led him to take a part-time job as an assistant stage manager. Because military service had deprived the industry of many of its employees, Letts was soon offered full-time work, and left school against the wishes of his parents. He also began acting, and made the leap to the cinema with San Demetrio London in 1943. Letts' career was then put on pause when he was called up for his own National Service, during which he joined the Royal Navy Coastal Forces as a minesweeper. After demobilisation, he continued to win minor movie roles, including 1949's A Boy, A Girl And A Bike, on which he met drama student Muriel Pears. They married in 1951, and would have three children: a daughter, Joanna, and sons Dominic and Crispin.
Letts began acting for BBC Radio in the late Forties, and then made his television debut (opposite the future Second Doctor, Patrick Troughton) with the play Gunpowder Guy in 1950. However, the early Fifties were a fallow time for Letts, who briefly took a job packing cartons in an ice cream factory. Fortunately, things turned around with a starring role in the play The Three Princes, broadcast for Christmas 1954. Letts then became a prolific actor for television, with appearances during the latter part of the decade including The Gordon Honour, The Black Arrow and Queen's Champion.
However, Letts was concerned about the long-term viability of his acting career, and he added scriptwriting to his resume with a 1960 episode of Skyport. The same year, he was an unsuccessful applicant for the BBC's directors' training course. Nonetheless, Letts continued acting for much of the Sixties, earning regular roles on programmes such as The Last Man Out, The Indian Tales Of Rudyard Kipling, Z Cars and Softly Softly. He also wrote for shows like Knight Errant Limited, Emergency -- Ward 10 and The Newcomers. In 1966, he submitted ideas like “The Mutant” to the Doctor Who production office, but none were accepted.
Letts was still determined to become a director, and gained experience in the theatre before reapplying to the training course in 1966. This time he was accepted, and he soon found himself working on The Newcomers and Z Cars. He was then assigned to Doctor Who for 1967's The Enemy Of The World, where he was reunited with Troughton. The series star was impressed by Letts' ideas about how to improve the show's production schedule. This sentiment proved prescient: two years later, Letts was hastily appointed Doctor Who's producer when both Peter Bryant and Derrick Sherwin were moved onto another project at short notice. In the meantime, Letts had directed episodes of Adventure Weekly, A Handful Of Thieves and The Doctors.
With Doctor Who, Letts inherited a programme in a state of flux. Jon Pertwee had just become the Third Doctor, the BBC was skeptical of its long-term future, and Bryant and Sherwin had imposed a new Earthbound format which relied heavily on the Doctor's association with the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce (UNIT). Fortunately, Letts quickly formed a strong working relationship with script editor Terrance Dicks. Over the next five years, they assembled the so-called “UNIT Family” (including popular companions Jo Grant and Sarah Jane Smith), introduced arch-villain the Master, and gradually reintroduced the Doctor's travels to other times and places.
Contrary to the standard BBC policy of the time, Letts obtained permission to direct several serials during his producership. He also worked with writer Robert Sloman on four adventures, which reflected Letts' interest in Buddhism and the environment. Most of these went out under Sloman's name alone, but 1971's fondly-remembered The Daemons was credited to “Guy Leopold”, the pseudonymous surname coming from Letts' middle name; he also novelised it for Target Books in 1974. Letts bookended his time on Doctor Who with uncredited acting performances: he appeared during the plague sequence in The Silurians, and could be heard over a police radio in Pertwee's swansong, Planet Of The Spiders, which he directed and helped write.
By the time Letts decided to leave Doctor Who in 1974, the programme's health was robust. With Pertwee leaving at the same time, Letts cast the Fourth Doctor, Tom Baker, and produced his first serial, Robot, before handing off to Philip Hinchcliffe. Letts had spent the latter part of his time on Doctor Who collaborating with Dicks on an original science-fiction drama called Moonbase 3, but it didn't survive past its initial six-episode order, broadcast in 1973. Letts briefly worked an assistant to the BBC's Head of Drama and then returned to directing, including a 1975 Doctor Who serial entitled The Android Invasion.
Letts then became the producer of the BBC's classics serials, several of which he also directed. This is where his focus would remain for the next decade, although he also spent a year as the executive producer of Doctor Who for Tom Baker's final season in 1980-81, during which he provided guidance and oversight to neophyte producer John Nathan-Turner. Letts remained with the classics serials until 1985, and continued to direct for the strand into 1986. His last work as a director was on episodes of EastEnders in 1992.
In 1993, Letts was recruited for The Paradise Of Death, the first of two BBC Radio Doctor Who dramas he wrote in which Jon Pertwee reprised the role of the Third Doctor. Letts' 1994 novelisation was the last in the original Target Books range. His other play, The Ghosts Of N-Space, was intended to air in 1994 but wound up being delayed by two years, meaning that Letts' 1995 novelisation for Virgin Publishing -- released as part of the Doctor Who: The Missing Adventures series -- actually came first. Another audio script was The Tao Connection, a 2002 entry in the Sarah Jane Smith range from Big Finish Productions. Letts was a two-time contributor to the line of Doctor Who novels published by BBC Books, first with Deadly Reunion in 2003 (co-written with Dicks) and then Island Of Death in 2005. Both featured the Third Doctor.
Having started his professional career as an actor, it was fitting that this was how Letts earned his final credit, with a small role in the 2007 film Exodus. Sadly, by this time, he had been diagnosed with cancer. After a long battle, Letts died on October 9th, 2009. The following month, The Waters Of Mars, David Tennant's penultimate story as the Tenth Doctor, was dedicated to Letts' memory. Around the same time, an autobiography entitled Who & Me was released by Fantom Publishing.
|Updated 7th July 2020|
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