Bobi Bartlett was a costume designer on a number of Doctor Who stories between 1968 and 1971. She was responsible for redesigning the Cybermen for the 1968 story The Invasion. Sadly Bobi passed away in 2013. This interview was conducted by Stephen James Walker and David Howe in 1993 and is used here with their kind permission.
‘I went to art school in Somerset and trained in fashion design at the Royal College of Art in London. This was in the early to mid-1960s. I then worked as a designer for a number of large companies in the fashion industry for three years before launching my own design label selling young, trendy clothes to large stores and boutiques. It wasn’t until around 1967 that I got into television, when I applied for one of a number of vacancies advertised by the BBC Costume Department. They were looking for a new influx of designers to be specifically trained in the techniques of colour television, ready for the advent of colour production first on BBC2 and then across the board.’
‘At the time I was actually lecturing at my first art school. The mid-1960s was an amazing period for art schools and we were doing some very interesting, experimental stuff. I was encouraging sculptors and painters and dress designers to work together in a pool of talent, doing moulded plastics, soft sculptures made from fabric, welded metal pieces and so on. After I applied to the BBC, I had a rather daunting interview in front of a board of five people, but all this experience at the art school, along with my Royal College of Art background and fashion industry training, stood me in good stead.’‘It was highly unusual for someone to go in directly as costume supervisor (as designers were called in those days) rather than as an assistant. I was very fortunate, as they hadn’t had a new influx of supervisors for some time and needed about six more. Most of the people in the Costume Department at that time had started out in the theatre rather than in television, and I think they felt that it would be useful to have someone with this very different knowledge and experience of having trained at the Royal College of Art and taught in an area that was very much to do with experimenting with new materials. I had a different perspective of looking at things in a more detailed way and using new methods such as mass production, which is quicker and more cost effective than traditional methods of costume making.’
One of the first programmes on which Bobi worked was the popular police series Z Cars. This was relatively undemanding in terms of its actual design requirements, but she did have to provide large numbers of character costumes and uniforms. It also gave her an opportunity to familiarise herself with television techniques and learn the ropes of the supervisor’s job, including budgeting and other BBC procedures. It was not long after this that she was assigned to Doctor Who, initially to take charge of the costumes for The Invasion.
‘The main thing I remember about that one is having to spend about half a day down the sewers near St Paul’s Cathedral! The Cybermen’s helmets had to be screwed together, with a single screw at the back attaching them to the main part of the costume for quick release. They were made of fibreglass, as they had to be lightweight, but the actors couldn’t stay in them for more than about twenty minutes at time before they became too hot and started to have problems with condensation as the eye visors steamed up. They could also get to feel claustrophobic. Consequently I had to be on hand throughout the filming, to take their heads off between shots and then screw them back on again when they were needed.’
‘Unfortunately the director, who was usually extremely efficient, took an incredibly long time to film these particular shots of the Cybermen coming out of the sewers, so I was down there for ages, constantly taking Cybermen’s heads off and putting them back on again. What didn’t help matters was that there were also lots of rats in evidence! I had to say to the director, “I’m sorry, but I’m not going down there unless you let me have some big men with torches to scare the rats off, because if I see a rat, it won’t be a Cyberman coming out of the sewers, it’ll be me!” I got quite firm about it, because I know that if I came out while they were filming, and ruined their shot, they would get extremely annoyed with me. In the end, it worked really well and to great effect, as they conceded and gave me warning before the Cybermen were needed each time.’
You can read the full interview (and many more) in the excellent Talkback: The Sixties which is available to buy here:
Read the earlier Cybermen design features here: