articles
Biography

  • Childhood
  • Radio Days
  • Early Television
  • Established Author

  • CHILDHOOD


    Terry with his parents as a child.
    Terry Nation was born in 1930 to Gilbert and Susan Nation who lived in the small Welsh village of Llandaff. Terry's father, whom everyone called Bert, was somewhat of an entrepreneur, having been trained as an upholsterer he sold furniture, later he ventured into a multitude of things ranging from chicken farming to stocks speculation. Always maintaining a modest living Bert was able to pursue his hobbies and interests. He was a gifted artist and loved drawing the birds and animals that surrounded him. Bird watching was a frequent pass time of Bert’s and he was extremely well read on the subject. Susan Nation was always a hard working, determined woman. She was a devoted housewife and professed the values of a rigorous life, always trying to lead a humble and frugal life. Terrys parents had very different personalities, one inquisitive and artistic the other strong and driven, all of these attributes they passed to their son. His boyhood in Wales was not abnormal, when asked about his childhood Terry said this,
    ‘I was a wartime child. My Dad went off to the army and my mother was an ARP, an air-raid warden. I was an only child, and I used to spend nights alone in an air—raid shelter. And I would make up stories for myself — I was entertaining myself in those days! I seem to remember I was always believed to be a terrible liar. Nowadays they would say “He’s got a wonderful imagination”, but in those days I was just ‘that liar’, you see. So I think I always made up stories, mostly with me as the hero! There was no television of course, but I used to listen to the radio, and I also read a great deal.’
    Reading was Terrys great childhood passtime and seems to have reached an almost manic level, his parents would have to constantly remind him that it was bad manners to read at the dinner table, and when his books were taken away he would study the labels on boxes and jars. This love of books and reading remained with him his entire life, in fact his personal collection of books eventually grew to a size that would rival many small libraries.

    Terry was never very good in school, always being accused of daydreaming and being lazy, he put no effort into school and consequently had mediocre success, he never pursued higher education. Despite his scholastic shortcomings he had a keen intellect and imagination which he began expressing through writing. His writing rose to a prolific level and soon became quite good. Being a voracious reader of anything he could get his hands on helped him emmulate and utilize many great authors. As his love for writing began to grow, his interests expanded to include theatre and all kinds of performing arts. Terry began to immerse himself in this artistic world and his parents gave him all possible support. He began to write for and appear in local plays, and was an active member in the local theatrical society.

    RADIO DAYS

    During world war II Britain got its first taste of American radio and Terry was hooked, he loved the American comedians like Bob Hope, Jack Benny and all the big stars of that time. His attention turned to comedy and he began to write humorous prose and skits. He decided that he would become a comedian, write his own material and perform it to an audience. So at the age of twenty-two he set out Into the world and moved from his Welsh village into London. London at this time was thriving, having risen triumphantly out of the war it was a world center. Everything was flourishing fashion, music, art, and even comedy. Terry was trying to make his way in a quickly changing and maturing comedy scene. His attempts at stand-up comedy were far from successful,
    ‘I wrote my own material, performed it - and died a death! By this time I was living in London, starving. Trying to be an actor, trying to be a stand—up and trying to write. And somebody told me:”Hey, the jokes are terrific - it’s you that’s terrible!” That was a bad moment for me.’

    Comedian Ted Ray holding his writers Terry Nation and John Junkins (c.1958)
    It was then that he decided to seek assistance. Someone had told him about an unusual agency called Associated London Scripts(A.L.S.), they were looking for young comedy writers. A.L.S. was formed by popular comedians Spike Milligan, Eric Sykes, Alan Simpson and Ray Galton. He went down to the agency and met Spike Milligan and was told to bring back a script for Spikes radio play the ‘Goon Show’. That night Terry wrote a script and brought it back the next day. Within a few weeks he was hired to do a thirteen week comedy radio show called ‘All my eye and Kitty Belwitt’.

    Terry found comedy writing extremely difficult, as he put it “Comedy writing is the toughest, toughest writing in the world.” Those days were really tough for him, but he soon gained a name for himself as a writer and his work started to mature. He began to branch off with other comedians and experiment with different styles. However it became more and more clear to him that he was not a comedian but a writer, this was his strength.

    For the next couple years Terry wrote comedy radio for all the big names of the time, Tony Hancock, Spike Milligan, Frankie Howard, Ted Ray and many more. He worked at a furious pace and helped write over 200 radio shows. Terry found himself an important part of a new wave of British comedy, he had become a professional.


    EARLY TELEVISION


    The wedding of Terry Nation and Kathleen Gaunt
    At this time Terry met his future wife Kate, she was a student of the piano at the Royal College of Music. She was a very gifted pianist and won many awards, she was set to be a prominent musician. At the age of twenty seven Terry married Kate. Not long after they had a baby girl named Rebecca and a modest apartment in London.

    By then television had become the prevailing form of media in Britain and Terry was poised to play a role. Confident from his success in radio he transitioned smoothly into television. His move to televsion also became a move away from comedy. He no longer wanted to work solely on comedy, but wanted to tell stories like those he had read as a boy. Drama, adventure, science-fiction, and fantasy all interested him, his focus was broad.

    This is when Terry began work with the B.B.C. Early on at the B.B.C. Terry was asked to write a script for a British science—fiction show called Dr.Who. He wrote the script and pitched Dr.Who against his arch-enemy the Daleks, a race of evil robots bent on galactic domination. It was a hit Dr.Who became an instant success and the Daleks stirred fear in all those who watched. These villans the Daleks were a real success, it caused a fad to race across Britain. About the Daleks he said this,
    ‘It had to be something, it was mechanical. And then in order to make it non-human what you have to do is take the legs off. That’s the only way you can make it not look like a person dressed up. I had seen the Georgian state dancers, where the girls do this wonderful routine. They wore floor—brushing skirts and took very tiny steps and appeared to glide, really glide across the floor. Thats the movement I wanted for the Daleks.’

    Terry Nation with his Daleks

    ESTABLISHED AUTHOR

    With his success he began to gain freedom and the ability to develop his own shows and projects as well as pursue active writing in multitudes of other projects. His daughter was getting older and there apartment smaller, so he invested his savings into a large country home, which he planned to make completely self-sufficient. His new home was a money pit but soon became a stately home called Lynstead Park. By this time his second child was on the way.


    Terry Nation in the seventies
    Bring an author of some acclaim, this was a turning point, a moment when Terry was able to settle down into his life and career. He decided to write his first novel, it was to be called Survivors. Survivors is about a plague which sweeps across the world and wipes out ninety—nine percent of mankind. The novel is about the way of life after that disaster and the society which rebuilds itself, he dedicated the book to his wife Kate. Here is a small exerpt,
    The man lay stretched across three seats at the front of the aircraft. A stewardess knelt on the floor beside him, the steady blast of cool air from the overhead ventilator had blown her hair free from the grip of the lacquer and it lay in thick strands across her forehead. She looked up gratefully as the ambulance man appeared beside her. She got awkwardly to her feet, her legs stiff from being folded under her. The ambulance men snapped the stretcher open and laid it in the aisle. They tossed aside the airline blanket that covered the passenger and lifted him onto the taught canvas. The man was shivering violently but his face was glossy with sweat. His breathing was swift and shallow. His eyes opened and closed as if he were drifting in and out of sleep.
    This novel was somewhat of a success and went on to be an even more successful television show adapted from the book. Having written a novel he could be taken seriously to do anything he wished, so he decided to write a childrens story called Rebeccas World. Named after his daughter it was the fanciful tale of her travels to another planet and saving it from being overrun by ghosts. It was highly acclaimed and still to this day remains a favorite story of many children.

    Terry then set his sights on doing a whole new sci—fi show, he was to name it Blakes 7 and it was a great success. He had never really had his own show, the work was tiring but rewarding. The show was doing very well, and still has a fan following in the U.K. and U.S. This would be another success to add to the list.

    Having triumphed over British television Terry thought the only way to move up would be to go to the U.S. so he packed his bags and moved his family to America. He was hired by a string of major studios and continued to write at a proliphic pace. He had many ideas for new series, and he wrote many pilot scripts. While none of these series was produced, his expertize was called upon for many projects including MacGyver and several television films.

    In 1997 Terry died in his home in Pacific Palisades after a long battle with emphysema. He is survived by his wife and two children. His legacy continues to live and evolve in ways that would certainly make him happy.
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