Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Dalek Designer Raymond Cusick Passes On

Raymond Cusick, who served as a production designer for the BBC for years, died on 21 February 2013 at the age of 84. The cause was heart failure. He is perhaps best known as the man who designed the Daleks, the iconic villains on the long running programme Doctor Who

Ray Cusick was born in Lambeth, London in 1928. He attended Borough Polytechnic where he studied science and mathematics in preparation for a career in civil engineering. When he grew bored with studying to become a civil engineer, he left school to enlist in the British Army. He was stationed in Palestine and did not particularly enjoy his time in the Army. Once he returned to England he completed a course in teaching. Afterwards he took a job with the Prince of Wales Theatre in Cardiff, Wales. For a time in the late Fifties he taught art, abandoning his teaching job for a position at the Wimbledon Theatre in London. He remained there for three years. 

Ray Cusick entered the television industry when he became a designer for the Granada programme Chelsea at Nine. He moved from Granada to the BBC, doing his first design work for the Corporation on the series Stranger on the Shore in 1961. Over the next few years he served as production designer on the shows Pops and Lenny, Hugh and I, Z Cars, Sykes and A, The Mind of the Enemy, and Dr. Finlay's Casebook. In 1963 he began what would become a three year stint as the production designer for Doctor Who. "The Daleks (also known as "The Mutants" and "The Dead Planet") would be the first episode of Doctor Who on which he worked and it was also the first episode to feature the Daleks. While script writer Terry Nation created the basic concept of "The Daleks," it was Raymond Cusick who created their appearance. The Daleks proved extremely popular, to the point that they not only propelled Doctor Who to success, but they also became an outright fad in mid-Sixties Britain. With "The Chase," aired during the second series of Doctor Who, Ray Cusick redesigned the Daleks. giving them the design that they would have (with only a few changes) until 2010. 

Following Doctor Who Ray Cusick worked on the shows Broome Stages, Out of the Unknown, The Forsyte Saga, Boy Meets Girl, Thirty Minute Theatre, Cold Comfort Farm, The Jazz Age, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, W. Somerset Maugham, Menace, and Biography. In the Seventies he worked long stints as the production designer on the programmes The Pallisers and The Duchess of Duke Street. He also worked on such shows as Paul Temple, Eyeless in Gaza, Clouds of Witness, Comedy Playhouse, Quiller, Madame Bovary, RentaghostThe Les Dawson Show, The BBC2 Play of the Week, and To Serve Them All My Days. In the Eighties he worked on such programmes as When the Boat Comes In, BBC2 Playhouse, Play for Today, Objects of Affection, Black Silk, and Miss Marple.

There can be no doubt that Ray Cusick had a lasting impact not only on Doctor Who, but on British pop culture as a whole. While Terry Nation created the initial concept of the Daleks, it was Ray Cusick who brought them to life with his design. Ray Cusick's Daleks were something that had never been seen before. Unlike previous cyborgs and robots on film, the Daleks resembled human beings in no way, shape, or form. Indeed, lacking legs they seemed to simply float over the ground. Had the Daleks not proven so popular it is quite possible that Doctor Who would not have lasted past its first series, let alone fifty years this November.

Of course, it is important to remember that the Daleks were not Raymond Cusick's work on Doctor Who, nor was Doctor Who the sum total of his career. Ray Cusick designed a number of incredible, science fiction landscapes and fantastic aliens on Doctor Who, all of this on a shoestring budget. He also did impressive design work on a large array of programmes, from historical dramas like The Forstye Saga to fantasy sitcoms like Rentaghost. In a quarter of a century with the BBC, Ray Cusick proved himself to be both a reliable and talented designer, one capable of producing impressive designs with little to no money. 

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