Shirley Coward 1934 -2022
Shirley Coward, the woman responsible for creating the first regeneration effect in Doctor Who, has died at the age of 88.
Shirley Coward was a Vision Mixer for BBC Television for over 30 years. She worked for the Corporation in the days when most programmes were either transmitted live or recorded 'as live'.
At the time, the role of the Vision Mixer was vital as they were the person who operated the Vision Mixing desk, the piece of equipment which controlled which camera or video source was fed to the recording machine or transmitter. It's a role that has almost disappeared in TV drama but is still vital in live television programmes, such as Strictly Come Dancing and News programmes.
Following a Camera script written the director, it was the Vision Mixer that set much of the pace of the programme, a job that demanded absolute accuracy. Many mistakes made in live television recordings could be glossed over but it was difficult to hide a cut to the wrong camera.
Shirley Coward worked on many productions for the BBC including many episodes of Doctor Who, and in October 1966 she found herself rostered to work in the BBC studios at Riverside on the final episode of the first Doctor's final story The Tenth Planet.
At the end of the story, William Hartnell collapsed before regenerating into Patrick Troughton. No clear plan had been made as to how to achieve this transformation, with one thought being that Hartnell could just cover his face with a cloak before it was removed to reveal Troughton's face.
Coward suggested to Director Derek Martinus, that they could take advantage of a fault on the second bank of her vision mixing desk, which was causing the incoming image to break up. By using this distorted effect, and mixing between banks of the Vision Mixer, Coward could produce a much more spectacular regeneration effect.
In an interview for the BBC DVD release of The Tenth Planet Shirley Coward explained how the effect was achieved.
It was my job to do the mixes so we had a fluent transition face from William Hartnell's face into Patrick Troughton's. The first I knew about it was when I arrived in the studio, but nobody was exactly sure how they were going to do it.
They knew roughly what they wanted, they wanted one face to come through the other. It was a matter of the studio engineers and cameramen all trying out things. We discovered that the actors cheekbones matched, which helped us enormously.
We had William Hartnell on one camera and Patrick Troughton on another and through the B bank of the Vision Mixing desk, which was breaking up, we could make Patrick's face break up and William's face break up
I started with William Hartnell's face, absolutely straight on the A bank, then slowly mixed to the B bank where I had his face, exactly the same shot, breaking up. I then mixed on the B bank to Patrick's face breaking up and then mixed slowly back to the A bank where I had Patrick's face absolutely straight.
Shirley Coward worked on at least 44 episodes of Doctor Who. As the woman who created the first regeneration, it was fitting she Vision Mixed the 25th-anniversary story, The Five Doctors, which saw the return of the First Doctor, albeit played by a different actor.
Other productions she worked on include Bomber Harris, EastEnders, The River, All Creatures Great and Small , Talking Heads, In Sickness and in Health, Three Up Two Down, Galloping Galaxies!, Dear John, )Tenko, Juliet Bravo, Titus Andronicus, Only Fools and Horses, Last of the Summer Wine, By the Sword Divided, The Two Ronnies, Rentaghost, Ever Decreasing Circles, Aladdin and the Forty Thieve, Don't Wait Up, Just Good Friends, Butterflies, Dombey & Son, Yes Minister, Terry and June, To the Manor Born, To Serve Them All My Days, Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, The Enigma Files, Blake's 7, Secret Army, Rings on Their Fingers, Pennies from Heaven, Survivors, Blue Peter, The Tragedy of King Richard II, The Six Wives of Henry VIII and The Canterbury Tales
First Doctor Regenerates | William Hartnell to Patrick Troughton