❉ Myth-busting the ‘feud’ between the recently departed composer and the legendary TV director.
Did director Douglas Camfield really stop Doctor Who composer Dudley Simpson from working on his Doctor Who episodes simply because of an argument over earnings at a dinner party hosted by the musician at his new house in Atherton Close in Stanwell, Middlesex? Unfortunately, some Doctor Who fans have turned Simpson’s personal theory into fact and confidently write that Camfield was jealous of Simpson’s success and refused to work with Simpson again until forced to by producer Philip Hinchcliffe on Target in 1977, after which he realised he had ‘misjudged’ him. As usual, the truth is more complicated – and banal – than the myth. Camfield was not a petty or vindictive man. He had a different reason not to employ Simpson. It was a question of styles.
In a 1978 interview for the Doctor Who Review, Camfield was asked by Gary Hopkins why he hadn’t used composer Dudley Simpson on Doctor Who since 1965. The answer was:
“Dudley is a very talented composer, but I’m against the idea that the same man is brought in automatically year in, year out, for each serial. Dudley has made a tremendous contribution over the years, but I felt he’d worked too long on the same show and had run out of steam. With all due respects to him, I thought it was time to try another composer. Anyway, Dudley’s never short of work so I’m sure he didn’t mind.”
Oh yes he did. Simpson was a freelancer in a very competitive market. Simpson suspected an ulterior motive and expressed it in 1988 for the Doctor Who fan magazine DWB :
“Once we invited Douglas Camfield and his wife for a meal with us and a couple of other people… at our home in Middlesex. He pulled me aside during the evening and said, ‘You’re doing very well for yourself, aren’t you Dudley?’ I said, ‘Well, I’m making a living.’ He said, ‘You’re making £20,000 a year, aren’t you?’ ‘No, I’m not, nothing like that.’ He said, ‘You ARE,’ and he never engaged me after that. It was a mistake to ask him to my house! I think he did it on purpose because he thought I’d had enough.”
To be fair Simpson did seem to present the story as an amusing anecdote rather than a serious charge, but fans instantly took it as the cause. It is assumed that this dinner party was in 1965 as that was the time Camfield and Simpson last worked together on Doctor Who. Emigrant Australians were very sensitive to perceived British snobbishness towards the colonials. The Aussie stereotype was of a brash, uncouth, loud and uncultured drunk and was frequently portrayed as such on television during the sixties and seventies. Monty Python’s ‘Bruces’ sketch says it all. They were either villains (see Adam Adamant Lives: Mightier Than the Sword) or innocents abroad (see Paul Temple: Game, Set and Match) so any argument over earnings at a dinner party was going to annoy Australian Simpson. It is true Douglas could be competitive about money, especially with his friends, but their fields were different. He would not have barred a freelancer from employment.
Directors do not pick composers – producers do. On Doctor Who, directors could express a preference, but this could always be over-ruled. It was rare for drama programmes to have specially composed music beyond a theme tune, if even that. In fact, out of all of Douglas’ BBC directing work in the 1960s, only one production allowed him special music. Everything else used library music or nothing at all. Douglas rarely had the chance to work with composers, need it always be the same one?
Music costs a lot of money. It’s not just the composing, it’s the recording where the fees really kick in. Simpson could have up to 7 musicians (as indeed did his contemporaries working on the programme). The Musicians’ Union was very strict. If any of them played a second instrument, that’s a extra fee. As well as porterage and the hire of the studio to consider, Simpson could claim a conducting fee. Furthermore, the recorded music could only be played during the actual recording [post-dubbing was rarely used on Doctor Who in the 1960s] and not during the day’s camera rehearsals, as each playback was a performance and payments were due all round.
Douglas first worked with Simpson on the final episode of Planet of Giants; the other episodes were directed by Mervyn Pinfield, who booked the composer in the first place. Camfield was allowed to brief the composer for his sole episode and record it separately from the rest, which was an added expense. Simpson charged the BBC for coming in to play to Camfield his ideas. A few months later in 1965, Camfield employed Simpson on another Doctor Who, The Crusades, but after that, the director could only afford to employ composers for two out of next four productions. Tristram Cary provided the alieness needed for The Dalek Master Plan, and Don Harper the thriller vibe for The Invasion. Camfield did hire a percussionist for The Time Meddler but the budget was so tight he had to rely mainly on evocative library records, and the same was true for 1968’s The Web of Fear.
Simpson would only score two more stories for William Hartnell’s Doctor Who. The first was The Chase, and only after Max Harris wasn’t available, and then in 1966 on The Celestial Toymaker. Camfield had no obligation to re-engage Simpson any more than he was obliged to employ composers who had also worked more than twice on the series such as Tristram Cary, Norman Kay or Raymond Jones. Yet soon, the versatile Simpson rapidly established himself later in the decade as the ‘go to’ composer but with fewer musicians, sometimes just himself on an early Radiophonic synthesiser.
The only other production Camfield was allowed specially composed music was in 1968 on Out of the Unknown. This was with another Australian composer, the fore-mentioned Don Harper. Camfield re-employed him on Doctor Who six months later to write very similar sounding music for The Invasion. The irony is Simpson taught him how to conduct and joked that his doing an eight part Doctor Who was “a knife in the back!” Harper’s music was very different to Simpson’s. Bright and vibrant, undeniably the Sixties, especially with the use of the Cimbalom. This was a Hungarian instrument which produced a sharp and striking sound that simply shrieks suspense Sixties style! Simpson favoured multi-layered melodramatic orchestral sounds, influenced by classical and Hollywood film scores, enhanced by electronics when available. Camfield did not.
Next we time we shall explore the next part of the myth that Camfield snubbed Simpson until he was forced to work with him in 1977, and later on boycotted him on Blake’s 7. This rather overlooks the time they worked together in 1970 and 1971, and Blake’s 7 was not a boycott.
❉ Michael Seely’s biography of director Douglas Camfield was published by Miwk Publishing in May 2017. Click here to order.