Blackpool Revisited – artist interviews

Every artist has their own sources of inspiration. As a science fiction artist, I have always cited names from that iconic era of space and sci-fi art in the 1970s and 80s as a major influence, which captivated me from a young age. But as an illustrator and Doctor Who fan, I have always adored the very visual side of the show – the book covers, toy packaging, posters, etc – you name it. The various visions of the show as depicted by numerous artists over the years clearly had a profound effect on me.

For one of my contributions to the upcoming Blackpool Revisited book, I wanted to talk to some of the artists associated with the show, in particular those with a connection to the Blackpool exhibition.

Andrew Skilleter is arguably one of the best-known names in Doctor Who circles and is regarded the leading artist of the show in the 1980s and beyond. What I’ve always loved about Andrew’s work is his use of colour and texture; his shading and reflections on the metallic surfaces of Daleks and Cybermen or the slimy, lumpy reptilian visage of a Sea Devil – he captured these things perfectly and this really made his artwork so atmospheric. I still remember getting his 1986 Doctor Who calendar, which remained on my bedroom wall long after the year had passed. Although I was always excited to see what the following month’s artwork would be, there was always a reluctance to have to turn the previous page over! His work featured heavily in the exhibition shop, on numerous pieces of merchandise or book covers, and the 1985 season poster.

Leafing through his 1995 book Blacklight, it occurred to me, to get in touch and see if he would be willing to contribute to the project. I never thought I would find myself interviewing Andrew, and that has been such a pleasure, and I’ve rediscovered his work all over again. 

Andrew’s interview took us back over a long and illustrious career, which produced some of the best-known Doctor Who pieces by anyone – and he’s still at it today.

Andrew Skilleter’s Blacklight book

All that remains of the Dalek t-shirt that I bought at the exhibition in 1985, is the printed front section, which at some point, I had cut out and stuck in a photo album. Fortunately, I still have it – though it has clearly seen better days. But as a seven-year-old, I loved that t-shirt. I wore my Daleks with pride, and really adored the illustration on it. I no doubt attempted top copy it countless times, as I learned to draw Daleks.

The Blackpool and Longleat exhibitions sold three specially designed t-shirts, featuring the Daleks, the Cybermen and Peter Davison’s fifth Doctor. Looking at the remains of my own t-shirt recently, I noticed the artist’s signature – Rod Vass.

I thought it was time to talk to Rod about that t-shirt. Tracking him down was surprisingly easy. However, I thought I was going to find a jobbing illustrator, whereas it turned out Rod was one half of the company Imagineering Ltd, to whom the BBC subcontracted prop and costume building both for the television series and the exhibitions. Fantastic!

Beyond just the three t-shirts, Imagineering Ltd had also produced all manner of merchandise for the exhibitions, as well as replica latex masks, as regularly advertised by The Movie Store in the 1980s. Rod still works in film and TV through his company Armordillo, which produces armour, costumes and sets. If you’ve seen Gladiator, then you’ve seen his work in action.

Rod was generous with his time and responses, especially given that I’m asking him about work from around 40 years ago, that he has long since moved on from.

All that remains of my 1980s Doctor Who exhibition t-shirt, illustrated by Rod Vass

One of the other items I bought from the Blackpool exhibition was the most amazing poster of a cutaway Dalek – a dramatic painting of a Dalek before a burning cityscape, but with all of its workings on show. That piece of artwork fascinated me, due to the intricacy and detail of the circuitry, machinery, wires and tubes all crammed inside the Dalek, as well as the bubbling, pulsating Kaled mutant housed in the top section. I remember comparing this poster with the drawing of a similar Dalek anatomy in the Doctor Who Technical Manual.

Digging the poster out, I noticed a name in the credits at the bottom – Graham Potts. But despite Google’s best efforts, no website for Graham turned up. Nothing on Facebook either and only a brief reference to him in Telos Publishing’s Target book. I started to fear he may no longer be with us.

As a last resort, I tried searching on LinkedIn, and found a listing for an illustrator by that name, but with little other information. One private message later and as luck would have it, I’d found the right Graham Potts.

Graham only had a brief involvement in the Doctor Who world, having illustrated a few pieces of cover art including the novelisation of The Celestial Toymaker and Peter Haining’s popular 1983 book, A Celebration. Again, I was asking Graham about a piece of work from 36 years ago, but he happily obliged, and it was great to hear more about the background to that piece and his way of working back then.

Target books’ 1985 Dalek poster, illustrated by Graham Potts

As an artist, I’ve always enjoyed talking to other artists, and it is especially rewarding to be able to speak with those whose work inspired me. I can’t thank Andrew, Rod and Graham enough for their time, generosity and interest in the project.

All of these conversations have not only left me feeling enriched and inspired, but they’re absolutely fantastic contributions to the book.

Blackpool Revisited will be available to download for free from https://blackpoolremembered7485.wordpress.com on Saturday 28th August.

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