Norman Taylor: Creator of the 'howl-around' visual in the original 'Dr Who' title sequence

Thursday 10 March 2011 01:00
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Long before the days of hi-tech special effects, Norman Taylor accidentally created the swirling "howl-around" visual seen in the original, 1963 title sequence of Doctor Who – by pointing a camera at a monitor showing its own picture.

"I got the usual effect of diminishing images of the monitor disappearing into limbo when, suddenly, some stray light hit the monitor screen and the whole picture went mobile, with swirling patterns of black and white," explained Taylor, who was working as a technical operations manager at the BBC. "Later, I repeated the experiment but fed a black-and-white caption, mixed with the camera output, to the monitor and very soon got the Doctor Who effect. However, I was somewhat miffed to find that Bernard Lodge got the credit on every episode of Doctor Who when all he did was to produce one white-on-black caption."

The visuals were combined with music written by Ron Grainer and performed by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop to create one of the most memorable title sequences of the day, with Taylor lighting matches to trigger the effects when it was recorded. The "howl-around", which lasted for 10 years, was modified twice, including a colourisation of the images in 1970. Doctor Who went on to become the world's longest-running science-fiction programme.

Born in London in 1928, the son of a travelling salesman, Taylor won a scholarship to the Latymer School. He joined the BBC in 1943 to train as a technical assistant and spent his entire career there, with a break for National Service, as a radio mechanic in the Navy (1946-49). He became a vision control engineer in 1950, then supervisor two years later. He rose to technical operations manager, working in that role on the new current affairs programme Tonight during its first year, 1957.

"Norman achieved miracles and brought us things in one afternoon that would normally have taken an engineer a week's work," recalled Alasdair Milne, one of Tonight's founding producers and directors.

Taylor gained different experience on a six-month attachment in 1961 as a production assistant on Maigret and in 1964 he helped plan the general election programme, the first of several on which he worked. He was involved in other special broadcasts, such as the 1964 US presidential election, four summer and two winter Olympics, two football World Cups and four Apollo space missions. He became assistant controller of engineering for television international operations in 1982 and retired four years later.

Anthony Hayward

Norman Houghton Taylor, television engineer: born London 21 February 1928; married 1959 Monique Legrand (two daughters); died Southampton 13 January 2011.

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