This week RT marks 40 years of our Trackword puzzle, created by Clive Doig in 1980. So what better time to celebrate the career of a wonderful wordsmith, who has created 15 puzzle books and four board games and is also an award-winning TV producer.
How did it all begin? “I joined the BBC straight from school in 1958,” says Clive. “At the time they were recruiting engineers and I was studying maths and physics — but I went to the wrong board [interview] and they ended up offering me a job as a technical operator.
“I operated a camera on many wonderful programmes, including The Blood Donor for Hancock’s Half Hour in 1961. That year, I became a vision mixer — the person who cuts between the different cameras, like an instant editor. I worked on the very first Doctor Who… That was 1963. I went on to do 84 episodes and still get asked to go to Who conventions. By three-quarters of the way through the first year people were talking about the show, and especially the Daleks.”
Clive also vision-mixed the very first series of Dad’s Army. “That was great fun, as David [Croft] and I liked each other very much. John Le Mesurier was such a lovely man. Robert Bathurst, who played him in Hattie and Dad’s Army: the Lost Episodes, is a friend of mine. He was such obvious casting as John Le Mes — he has the same diffidence and subversive wit.”
It was perhaps as a director at BBC Children’s Programmes, which he joined in 1971, that Clive has left his most indelible mark, winning Baftas for Vision On (which he directed from 1971—76) and Jigsaw and creating shows from Puzzle Trail to Beat the Teacher.
“Vision On was so creative,” says Clive. “It was a mix of animation and Tony Hart’s drawings or mimes. But puzzles were always a key part of it. It was originally intended for the hard of hearing, but instead of lots of sign language, we put art into it, and animation and humour, and a little bit of anarchy! We had children sending in 3—5,000 paintings a week. Unfortunately, we couldn’t return them. There were only token prizes, so it was just the honour of having their picture shown on TV.
“The 70s and 80s were a golden age of children’s programming, because it was mainstream, on BBC1 and BBC2. We got pretty big audiences, and there was a crossover in those days. On Eureka I used to get as much mail from adults as from children! Every children’s series after then started with the merchandise. The children became Americanised, which I think is a great shame.”
It was Clive’s games for children’s TV that led RT to develop a regular Back Page, featuring John Craven (then presenting the innovative Newsround), and a selection of puzzles by Clive. How does he find all those nine-letter Trackwords?
“I look through an old crossword solver book. I do try to test the readers. I once set ‘Zemindary’ — a system of land tenure of the Mogul emperors in India!”
Does he do puzzles himself? “Yes, I do. I love Only Connect, and Radio 4’s Round Britain Quiz, too, is fiendishly difficult.”
Clive has a famous sense of fun, and as producer of the final series of Beadle’s About in 1996 he came up with what was voted the world’s best scam. Janet Elford was persuaded a spaceship had landed in her back garden (the alien visitor was a plastic doll, dripping with glycerine). “It was by far the most expensive stunt we ever produced, involving the army, police, Dorset fire and ambulance services, actors as scientists, reporter Rob Curling, a druid and a lot of pyrotechnics!”
Crazy, creative, warm and enormous fun… just like Clive. Congratulations to him on his 40th year at RT, and thank you.