Production Personnel Biography
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Sydney Newman

Creator, The Avengers

 

by David K. Smith
 

"Damn the upper classes—they don't even own televisions!"

—Sydney Newman

Best known as the creator of Doctor Who, The Avengers, and its own competitor, Adam Adamant Lives!, Sydney Newman was considered one of the most innovative and influential forces in British television drama of the early sixties, transforming both the substance and style of the industry. More a catalyst for creativity than a creator per se (a "creative midwife" in his words), he would bring together the best technical and creative talents available, encourage and nurture new talent and thinking wherever it may be found, and do so with a rare clarity of vision—using today's vernacular, he very much thought "outside the box."

Born 1 April 1917 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, Sydney Cecil Newman attended Ogden Public School in Toronto, then studied commercial and fine arts at Central Technical School in Toronto. The first six years of his career were spent working as a painter, industrial and interior designer, and still and cinema photographer.

Having moved to Hollywood in 1938, he returned to Canada in 1941 to join the National Film Board of Canada as a splicer-boy for John Grierson. Within a year he was editing and directing armed forces training films and war information shorts, and from 1947 to 1952 he was executive producer for all Canadian government films, generating over 300 documentaries. During this period he was assigned to NBC in New York by the Canadian government to study U.S. television techniques for a year. Moving to the Canadian Broadcast Corporation in 1952, he became Director of Features and Outside Broadcasts, and went on to become Supervisor of Drama and producer of such series as General Motors Theatre, Ford Theatre and On Camera.

Newman left Canada in 1958 to head up the Drama Department for the Associated British Corporation, where he took over from Dennis Vance as supervisor and producer of Armchair Theatre. Faced with a stiflingly staid environment, he quickly gained a reputation for "cleaning house" in a major way, completely restructuring the production system and instituting a policy of creating contemporary content expressly for the medium, rather than simply recycling dusty old stage plays.

"I came to Britain at a crucial time in 1958 when the seeds of Look Back in Anger were beginning to flower," Newman said. "I am proud that I played some part in the recognition that the working man was a fit subject for drama, and not just a comic foil in middle-class manners." (Daily Express, 5 January 1963)

It was during this period Newman also began creating new programs. One of the first was Out of this World, for which he brought in Boris Karloff to introduce and close each episode. Next came The Avengers, which actually rose from the ashes of Police Surgeon: he kept its main character and star (Ian Hendry), added a secret agent (Patrick Macnee), and called it The Avengers. Armed with little more than this, he gathered together several new writers (among them Brian Clemens) and charged them with the task of creating a tongue-in-cheek spy thriller; the results hardly need be detailed here.

Moving to the BBC in 1962, he held the post of Head of Drama for three years, during which time he reorganized the drama department and oversaw the production of the controversial The Wednesday Play anthology. He was able to draw upon a creative team of writers including Dennis Potter, John Hopkins, Neil Dunn and David Mercer, and directors such as Don Taylor, Ken Loach and Gareth Davies. He also discovered and nurtured new writers, some of whom acquired great notoriety, including the likes of Clive Exton, Alun Owen, Arthur Hailey and Harold Pinter.

Returning to Canada in 1967, Newman continued working for a variety of related industries including the National Film Board of Canada, the Canadian Radio and Television Commission, the National Arts Center, the Canadian Broadcast Corporation, and the Canadian Film Development Corporation. In 1981 he formed Sydney Newman Enterprises.

Sydney Newman married Margaret Elizabeth McRae in 1944 and had three daughters. A widower since 1981, he died 30 October 1997 in Toronto of a heart attack.
 

 Honors and Memberships

1991  

Royal Television Society

1981

Officer of the Order of Canada

1973

Canadian Pictures Pioneer Award

1970

Writers' Guild of Great Britain Zeta Award

1969

Society of Film and Television Arts President's Award

1967

Royal Society of Arts

1967

Desmond Davis Award

1958

Fellow, Society of Film and Television Arts

1957

Liberty Award for Best Drama Series

1956

Ohio State Award for Religious Drama

All materials copyrighted per their respective copyright holders.
This website Copyright 1996-2017 David K. Smith. All Rights Reserved.
Page last modified: 5 May 2017.

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