Derek Martinus: Actor and director who worked on ‘Doctor Who’ and ‘Z Cars’ as well as classic literary adaptations

 

“Enjoyable and direct storytelling” was the headline of a review in the trade paper Television Today of a BBC adaptation of Henry James’s What Maisie Knew, directed by Derek Martinus. This was the hallmark of Martinus’s career.

In common with his contemporaries Philip Saville, Barry Letts and Herbert Wise, he had begun in the theatre as an actor before becoming a director and then exploring storytelling possibilities as television expanded. Borrowing his professional surname from a Dutch grandfather, he continued to take inspiration from farther afield in Europe.

Born in April 1931 in Essex, to a father who worked at Smithfield market, he attended Brentwood School before National Service in the RAF. He had his induction into the acting profession with the Taverners, who performed Shakespeare plays in pubs, insisting that they’d originally been staged in taverns. Winning a scholarship to study drama at Yale, he directed a summer season at Connecticut aged 22, which prepared him for British repertory theatre.

In a 1956 article for The Stage, written just as the TV companies were moving out of New York and into Hollywood, he declared that “One often gets the impression that the producers pay more attention to the commercials than to the programme.” He then wrote and produced commercials in Toronto. His repertory career began in 1956 in Swansea, and continued in Leatherhead the following year.

Martinus played Orsino in a Manchester Library Theatre production of Twelfth Night in 1957, alongside seasoned players John Franklyn-Robbins and John Ringham. He would later cast the former in a Z Cars story in 1968, and Ringham in another four years later, in which he also used Bill Kenwright. Kenwright acted for him again in an ITV four-parter starring Jenny Agutter, A House in Regent Place (Southern, 1973) – and the impresario later returned the favour by assigning Martinus to direct The Killing Game (Greenwich, 1981), a thriller questioning the nature of soldiery.

In 1957, Martinus appeared in Nest of Robins at the Royal Court, Liverpool; its main attraction was the musical star Jessie Matthews as Martinus’s mother, although later generations would be more familiar with the name of Valerie Singleton, who played one of the “juveniles”. In 1958 he joined the Arena Theatre Company at Newcastle, and a year later directed his first play there, Summer of the Seventeenth Doll. At the Pembroke Theatre in Croydon, he combined acting with directing, often of new plays.

His 1965 appointment as associate director at the Salisbury Playhouse coincided with his entry into television. As an actor he had been in Carry On Sergeant (1958) – and he began directing for another future British institution grown from rickety beginnings, and initially starring William Hartnell: Doctor Who.

“The Tenth Planet” (1966) was Hartnell’s third story for the sci-fi series and the first to feature regeneration; Robert Beatty, whom Martinus had previously directed on stage in The Man Who Played God, guest-starred. Jon Pertwee’s debut story, “Spearhead from Space” (1970), and Martinus’s last, was the first in colour and was made on film, and arguably had the highest production values of any Who story until the 1996 one-shot revival and the resumed series from 2005. 

Martinus’s time on Z Cars began in 1968, when the series was in an earlier time slot and averaging audiences of 8-10m. He undertook various projects for BBC2’s literary adaptation strand (newly in colour) and BBC1’s Sunday classics serial. Among them were What Maisie Knew (1968), The Black Tulip (1970), A Little Princess (1973) and A Legacy (1975). Two children’s series for ITV won Pye Television Awards: The Paper Lads (Tyne Tees, 1977), made on location in Tyneside, and Dodger, Bonzo and the Rest (Thames, 1985), set in a children’s home.

As early as 1962 Martinus had felt Sweden to be “an actor’s Utopia”, with “an enormous state and municipal subsidy for theatre, and in having a classless society, which makes theatre-going an entertainment that all can share.” He had a lasting partnership with his Swedish wife, Eivor, whom he met in 1959. He acted in her one-act play You at the London fringe venue the Cockpit in 1974. Twenty years before John Madden’s film, he assembled Shakespeare in Love (1978), an anthology which toured Scandinavia, with Eivor providing a Swedish commentary. He directed Vargen (1984), a drama for Swedish TV set in an unnamed country in 1994, depicting the aftermath of civil war.

Martinus co-directed, and Eivor translated, three one-act Strindberg plays at the Gate, Notting Hill in 1985, where they also staged the playwright’s Thunder in the Air four years later. In 1991 he directed and she translated Caryl Churchill’s Mad Forest in Swedish in Malmo. Having directed student productions since a 1962 Merchant of Venice for Rada, in which the Venetians included Ian McShane and George Layton, Martinus regularly directed for the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in the late 1980s and ’90s. His last years were overshadowed by Alzheimer’s.

Derek Buitenhuis (Derek Martinus), director and actor: born Ilford, Essex 4 April 1931; married 1963 Eivor (two daughters); died London 27 March 2014.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
health
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister
TVSPOILER ALERT: It's all coming together as series returns to form
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Voices
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
music
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvName confirmed for third series
Sport
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
art
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine