Indiana Jones, Winston Smith and the Black Orchid

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It’s nine months since I visited prop-makers Keir and Louise Lusby, and in all that time I’ve been sitting on a geek goldmine. Or a small Doctor Who scoop, at any rate.

You’ve probably never heard of the Lusbys – they had one TV credit in their career, for an episode of Last of the Summer Wine – but if you grew up loving classic Who like I did, I hope you’ll agree by the end of this post that they’re unsung heroes. Indeed, you may be surprised at some of the iconic props they constructed in their workshop at Shepperton Studios.

For about two years now, I’ve been writing a book about another of my passions: George Orwell. It is, I jokily tell people, the least intellectual book about him ever written. I’ve combined my love of Orwell with my interest in vintage TV and film, examining in depth how the adaptations, docudramas and major documentaries were made. Along the way, I’ve interviewed writers, directors, actors and producers.

Once, while I was Googling Allan Cameron – production designer on the 1984 Nineteen Eighty-Four movie – I came across Keir’s blog, Our Life with Props. Turns out  he and Louise had made the Ministry of Truth speakwrite machines, plus badges, toggles and ink pencils, and that they still had a prototype of Winston Smith’s coral paperweight (the Thought Police smashed the real one to bits).

Now, it must be said that the couple, who are retired, kept only a handful of the props they produced. So you can imagine how thrilled I was to hold the paperweight – and the Cross of Coronado, rescued by River Phoenix in the prologue to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade – when I called at their home in the south of England.

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I’d tipped them off in advance that anything they made for Doctor Who would probably have me geeking out as well. So Keir showed me their many, many diaries, dating back to the early 1970s. Diaries with entries like this:

Yes,wp_20160410_004-1024x768 it’s the first draft of Hamlet from City of Death (1979), with that crucial phrase “take arms against a sea of troubles”.

(“I told him that was a mixed metaphor,” says Tom Baker’s Doctor, courtesy of a Douglas Adams script. I guess you’re probably aware of that, if you’ve read
this far.)

Or there’s this, from Fu Manchu pastiche  The Talons of Weng-Chiang (aka “I can’t believe the BBC was still doing yellowface in 1977”):

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Next up, Destiny of the Daleks, Nightmare of Eden and, I’m surmising, Shada (all 1979):

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Now, as a freelance journalist, I did wonder if I’d bag a Doctor Who-themed magazine feature from this, but concluded quite quickly that it wasn’t to be.

Very rarely did Keir
and Louise schlep over to the set from their Shepperton HQ, and a job on Who was no more memorable to them than, say, one on Dad’s Army or English Civil War drama By the Sword Divided.

Aw, heck, I can’t stop myself.

From 1980, it’s the beach ball K9 followed into the sea at Brighton in The Leisure Hive.

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And from season 21, screened in 1984, here’s a Silurian scroll, a detail from Striker’s uniform and Peri’s passport.

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What really got me excited, though, was a mention of the eponymous black orchid from the currently much-mocked 1982 two-parter.

“I think I have a photo of that in one of my albums,” said Keir. He must have thought I was bonkers, what with the squeals and yelps I was coming out with. There it is, at the top of the page. Two photos, in fact.

So, at the risk of being slung out of fandom for my ignorance, I’m going to finish with a couple of Doctor Who Lusby props I can’t quite place. Would anyone care to enlighten me?

And if there’s any demand for it, I might do a follow-up post on Blake’s 7 and The Tripods. More entries from a work diary, how thrilling!

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