Revealed: memo from the BBC asking for a first Doctor Who cover in 1963

Exhibition to mark 90th anniversary of the magazine revelas letter from head of BBC drama serials... but it fell on deaf ears...

A document has emerged revealing pressure applied by the BBC on the Radio Times to put the first ever edition of the show on the magazine’s front cover.


This week’s magazine brings to light an internal memo by Donald Wilson, head of BBC drama serials, to Douglas Williams, then editor of Radio Times, on 5 November 1963.

In it Wilson complained the launch of the programme was not being supported by Radio Times with a cover feature: “I was unhappy to hear to-day that the proposal to give ‘Dr Who’ the front page of the ‘Radio Times’ had now been abandoned. It was particularly distressing to hear that one reason given was lack of confidence in the programme at Controller level. I assure you this does not exist…I myself believe that we have an absolute knock-out in this show and that there will be no question but that it will run and run. I would be most grateful, if it is not too late, for the decision against it to be reversed, and that will help me to get this show off to a good start.”

Unfortunately for Wilson, his pleas for a reprieve for the show’s first episode An Unearthly Child fell on deaf ears and the cover star for the issue was Kenneth Horne, whose popular radio comedy Beyond Our Ken was the forerunner to Round the Horne. Doctor Who had to wait three months before landing a coveted RT front cover for its fourth serial, Marco Polo.

Doctor Who has gone on to run for 50 years, securing more Radio Times covers than any other programme.

It is celebrated in a special section of the exhibition at the Museum of London, which includes a genuine life-size Dalek against a backdrop of Westminster Bridge


This recreates the famous 2005 “Vote Dalek” Radio Times cover, which was voted most iconic cover of all time in the Periodical Publishers Association’s Great Cover Debate in 2008.