DOCTOR WHO Dalek Week - Ray Cusick, the man who designed THE DALEKS

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Tom Pheby pays tribute to the man who designed the look of the Daleks, Ray Cusick.


When we think about the Daleks it's understandable to associate them exclusively with writer Terry Nation, but without BBC designer Ray Cusick's contribution they may not have gone on to be the iconic menace we have grown to love and fear from the safety of 'behind the sofa'. It was this modest and meticulous South Londoner who worked on a series of sketches to bring the ruthless aliens to life for the petrified young television audience.

Born in Lambeth in 1928, Raymond Patrick Cusick originally set out on a career path as a civil engineer but he soon became disillusioned with that particular choice, which met with the disapproval of his Father. Cusick joined the Army and was stationed in Palestine for a spell, on his return he undertook a teacher training course in Art (quite a u-turn) and was well on the way to becoming a full time educator, but he seemed to have second thoughts and accepted a position at the Wimbledon Theatre (I didn't know they had one?).


Cusick joined the BBC in the 1960's and was given a fledgling programme to utilise his particular set of skills, you may have heard of it - Doctor Who! At the time it wasn't thought that this show would last that long due to its radical content, but how wrong were they? Ray rolled up his sleeves and immersed himself in the design of futuristic and period sets as the scripts demanded, then came the moment that would change his life.

In 1963 future film maker Ridley Scott was given the task of designing a new foe for an upcoming story, the Daleks, but he was unable to fulfill the task and so it was dumped on to the lap of Ray Cusick. Time, and budget, was not on his side, but undaunted Cusick set to work. It's often been documented that he got his inspiration from a humble pepper pot on his table whilst scoffing in the BBC canteen. It's also been suggested that he had little more than an hour to submit his design, but that's romantic folly which makes a nice story. However, it's quite possible his design was actually based on the chimney of a girls school in Gloucester, and if you look at the picture below it's a much more credible conclusion.


In an interview with Doctor Who Magazine, Cusick said: "I spent the whole of one Sunday doing rough sketches of what I thought it should look like. I wanted to make sure it wasn't obvious how they worked, at the same time keeping them relatively simple. I didn't want either man shape or man height, so first of all I figured out that the operator would have to be inside the shell. Bearing in mind how long he'd have to be there, I thought it would be an idea to have him sitting, pushing himself along with his feet. A small actor in a sitting position would be only 4'6" high, which killed two problems with one stone."

Ray Cusick told a BBC documentary that he moved a pepper pot backwards and forwards on a table to show how it would navigate around a set, "It's going to move like that - no visible means". In reality, and off the design pages, the Daleks proved to be awkward and difficult to move, and modifications were needed to make them more user friendly. On set when the operators tried to maneuver over bumpy pavements "they rattled like an old biscuit tin", so Cusick had to add extra pneumatic wheels to stabilise them.

He finally left the BBC in 1966, frustrated by the lack of recognition and financial reward from subsequent commercial ventures. On his departure he was given the paltry sum of £100 and a Gold Blue Peter Badge - what an insult! Especially when you consider that Terry Nation received both recognition and reward in equal measure.


Cusick continued as a designer for many years but was deeply scarred by the unwillingness of the Corporation to give him the credit he richly deserved. It's interesting to note that even if the BBC and the vast majority of the public didn't give him the credit he deserved many people working inside the show did, including the Third Doctor himself, Jon Pertwee.

Pertwee was appearing on the BBC programme, Pebble Mill. He was asked to select the winning entry to a competition asking "Who created the Daleks?". Pertwee pulled the name and read the postcard stating that the Daleks were created by Terry Nation. This was the answer that they were looking for and the presenter announced they had a winner. However, Pertwee spoke up and set the record straight there and then on live television, the answer was wrong and the true credit belonged to Raymond Cusick.

Cusick sadly passed away in 2013 at the age of 84. Like many other people toiling away behind the screen, he is often an overlooked hero of Doctor Who - such a shame as he is one who made such a remarkable contribution and lasting impact on the series.

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