Doctor Who News Nathan-Turner

Published on March 25th, 2013 | by Philip Bates

JN-T and Downie in BBC Sex Scandal?

Ex-Doctor Who producer, John Nathan-Turner has been accused of sexually abusing young male fans during the 1980s.

JNT Cover

An upcoming book, JN-T: The Life and Scandalous Times of John Nathan-Turner, alleges that both Nathan-Turner and his partner (and production manager) Gary Downie groomed fans under the then-legal homosexual age of consent of 21. The book is written by former-Blue Peter writer and editor, Richard Marson, who worked for Doctor Who Magazine near the start of his career.

To promote the book, Marson talked to Starburst and recalled that Nathan-Turner was ‘ready with the blue pencil’ if he didn’t like what was written in DWM. Marson says that he wasn’t interested in getting to know the producer socially after an early encounter:

You’ll have to read that and see how much it makes your hair curl. I used to tell the story mainly for laughs. It happened after the first time I was invited up to go and see a recording of the show, and he just got a bit frisky, shall we say. I was a bit taken aback, I was only seventeen and at the time he famously said to me, ‘You’re so f****** provincial.’ And of course I was f****** provincial, I came from Bishop’s Stortford, I didn’t know anything about anything! I just thought I was in this kind of Wonderland that was Television Centre, thinking it was an amazing place, and so I wasn’t really prepared for anything very sophisticated.

Marson reportedly returned to the studios the following year and was abused by Gary Downie in a lift. The incident supposedly ended up with Marson fleeing and hiding from the production manager. He moves on, saying:

[As a student] I quite often used to be hitting my pillow in the early hours, and somebody would come and knock on the door with grim regularity at eleven o’clock in the morning, and they would say, ‘Marson, they’ve got the BBC on the phone!’ We had one pay-phone for the whole college that I was in, in this grotty little kitchenette, mounted on the wall, and I would have to rouse myself, drag on a dressing-gown and go in there, and Sarah Lee, John’s secretary, would be watching the clock and thinking, ‘Where the hell is he?’ and she’d say, ‘You’re keeping him waiting!’ You know when you first wake up and your voice is a bit croaky? John would be put through straight away and it would be, ‘Hi! How are you?’

Nathan-Turner

Marson also says that a fan supplied the producer with male escorts in exchange for studio visits and souvenirs; and that Nathan-Turner engaged in a sexual act whilst on the phone to Biddy Baxter, then-Blue Peter editor.  Marson says:

It would not be true to say I’ve found anyone willing to testify to coercion or abuse… I think what you had was a promiscuous gay bloke in a position where his social life was very actively busy, and he had the opportunity to meet a lot of young people, and did like getting off with young guys. I don’t think he was predatory particularly, I don’t think he forced himself on the unwilling, I haven’t found any evidence of that… I found I was much more cautious about his partner Gary, than I was about John.

He clarifies:

I think John was just a go-with-the-flow, life-is-a-party, you know, ‘I’ll try it on and if somebody says yes, then that’s up to them.’ I have less of a benevolent view of Gary.

Richard says that although he found both John and Gary’s behaviour inappropriate, he never felt he should tell the police.

Nathan-Turner began working on Doctor Who as a floor assistant on 1969’s The Space Pirates, and became production unit manager of the show by Season 15 (which introduced K9 and wrote out Leela). He was asked to take over as producer after Graham Williams, and was responsible for casting three Doctors: Peter Davison (whom he had met on All Creatures Great and Small); Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy. His reign as producer started with 1980’s The Leisure Hive and concluded when the classic era of the show ended with 1989’s Survival.

5 Doctors

He was a highly-polarising character, of course; the 1980s were a turbulent time for fans, and though he was more welcoming to fans than any previous producer, many began to resent and blame him for the loss in ratings. There were even campaigns against Nathan-Turner.

But at the start of his work as producer, he was seen a s a breath of fresh air – and even when the show was ‘in decline,’ he was blamed for problems that likely weren’t his fault. It seems, in retrospect, that perhaps he was a scapegoat for the show’s problems.

In light of these allegations, a BBC spokesperson has said:

We cannot comment on individual cases but clearly allegations of this nature are extremely serious. We have set up the Dame Janet Smith Review to help us understand how alleged incidents of this nature could have been committed and how we can avoid them happening again.

So what of these shocking claims in the wake of the BBC scandal over Jimmy Saville? It’d be easy to say this is merely as publicity stunt; some will surely pick the book up just to find out more about these accusations, and the biography makes no qualms about its subject. Just look at its title, JN-T: The Life and Scandalous Times of John Nathan-Turner.

J N-T Cover

And even though he was a controversial figure, wouldn’t someone have made these claims before now? However, the same argument can be made about Jimmy Saville and other related incidents that have only recently come to light.

With others, though, there had been rumours in the past. With Nathan-Turner and Downie, nothing illegal had been implied (at least to my knowledge).

Plus, of course, the allegations feature only briefly in the book: much of it tells of how well-thought-of the producer was, and the story hasn’t yet been picked up on by many major publications (apart from The Daily Mail), despite preview copies being presumably sent out already. Of course, the story is bound to be a massive issue, particularly in Doctor Who’s biggest year. Marson says:

I did make decisions about what to leave in and what to take out; there was some stuff that I just thought was unnecessary, or too private. There are things that it will be difficult for people to read, and inevitably what will tend to happen is that sometimes people will take what tends to support their view or supports their argument and ignore what doesn’t. And you just have to be fairly resilient about that. I’ve said what I’ve had to say and shown what I’ve uncovered, but as I say I’ve really tried to fairly represent the perspectives of all the people closest to him, his family, his friends, his colleagues; so I’ve tried not to do that thing of, ‘I won’t include them because I don’t like them.’ It was very much an attempt to get everyone around the table, if you like. But there is a lot of stuff in there I think people won’t know, and I think some of it people will struggle with.

Marson even admits he relates to JNT more after researching the book than when he worked with him:

I think I perhaps have more compassion for him than I did before. I have enormous compassion for how things went for him professionally. You can’t, I don’t think, fail to be affected by the strength of feeling, of loyalty and love that there is expressed for him still, by a lot of people – who give their reasons; they don’t just say, ‘Oh I liked him,’ or ‘I loved him’; they’ve got reasons. Clearly John was capable of acts of real generosity and thoughtfulness, and in a way that touched people’s lives.

1980s Daleks

Of course, this all makes the selected review quotations in the book’s blurb sound decidedly grim and ominous. Fiona Cumming and Ian Fraser say:

Some of the revelations are painful (but) we find this very rounded, well written and honest.

BBC Head of Drama Series and Serials from 1981 to 1983, David Reid says:

 Quite wonderful on many, many levels. Gripping, fascinating, appalling – and, by the end, truly moving. Immaculate research makes the whole utterly trustworthy. A very good and very well written book.

And Brian Spilby, Drama Serials Manager and Producer finally notes:

I must say you have skewered JN-T precisely. I can vouch for all of the facts and most of the opinions. It’s a very accurate – warts and all – picture you paint.

Whether these allegations are true or false is hard to ascertain, particularly as both Nathan-Turner and Downie have passed away. But we must also tread carefully for fear that the scandals at the BBC will descend into a witch hunt.

Regardless, these sordid notions have been planted in our heads now – and an idea is hard to kill.

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About the Author

When he’s not watching television, reading books ‘n’ Marvel comics, listening to The Killers, and obsessing over script ideas, Philip Bates pretends to be a freelance writer. He enjoys collecting everything.




19 Responses to JN-T and Downie in BBC Sex Scandal?


  1. I worked for the BBC Club at Television Centre for a couple of years in the 1980′s. I knew some people who worked on the show and I often served JNT and Gary Downie.

    I was openly gay and a DR Who fan.

    Nobody tried it on with me . Maybe I wasn’t his type , maybe it was too close to home . Who knows ?

    All I know is that on several occasions I plied him with alcohol and he never made so much as a pass at me.

    I was young and impressionable and JNT missed a trick on this occasion-even when it was staring him in the face.

    ( I did get friendly with a costume designer who got me into the studio once whilst recording `The Mysterious Planet – no sexual favours were exchanged-he was straight anyway )

    If things had gone in a slightly different direction who knows – I may have been the next Adric !

    Damn!!

    • Philip Bates says:

      That’s what we need – a second Adric! ;)

  2. Ian says:

    The Daily Mirror today carried it on their front page. With a picture of JNT and Colin Baker with the headline, Dr Who Sex Scandal.

  3. Ian says:

    So anyone would think Colin was involved. Clearly the press never learn their lesson! Online they said Colin was involved but thankfully the comments have been removed!

    • Philip Bates says:

      Ah yes; I hadn’t seen that cover by the time I wrote this article.

      But I’ve had several mates texting me and somehow assuming that it relates to nuWho. It seems many are just seeing the headline and making up their own stories!

  4. TimeChaser says:

    Just what we needed for the 50th anniversary. I would take what this guy writes with extreme skepticism unless ironclad proof could be provided.

  5. Francis cave says:

    Not to condone their behaviour but I guarantee the tabloids wouldn’t have given this half the coverage they have if JNT & Gary had been heterosexual and the teenagers had been girls..

  6. yorkshirened says:

    I think it’s important to put things into perspective. The book does not alledge that JNT was a paedo, merely that he liked younger men. While this may have been illegal back then, clearly the law was wrong and hence the age of consent for homosexuality being lowered to below 21. The write has tried to do a thorough biography that does not flinch away from difficult questions be it in JNT’s personal life and about his professional reputation. Nobody has accused him of “sexual abuse”, the tabloids are merely sensationalizing the revelations as a “sex scandal”.


    • Devil’s advocate – the law is the law. The age of consent at the time was 21, regardless of what contemporary opinion for that aberration might be, and therefore rape.

      But despite this… it’s all a bit Uncle Monty, isn’t it?

      • Ian says:

        No one has come forward to say they were abused by JNT. The author makes it clear that those people who had sex with him were willing & at no time did JNT force himself onto them.

  7. Caity says:

    It’s all too easy to stain the reputation of a dead man – they after all can’t defend themselves.

  8. Ian says:

    But what is in the show is fantasy, what JNT did was reality. I met him a few times, always found him to be polite and friendly.

  9. Philip Bates says:

    He obviously loved Doctor Who, and that’s why I made sure to include Marson’s quote, saying that he now holds him in higher regards.

    Oh, and there’re plenty of innuendos in Classic Who – I’m pretty sure there are websites dedicated to finding them. (Worryingly.)


  10. Scandalous that this is being said now, when both JNT and Downie are dead and can’t defend themselves.

    • Ian says:

      Published during this anniversary year to maximize publicity no doubt. I wonder what JNT’s family think of all this.

  11. Alexandra says:

    Plenty of men, gay and straight, will use their position — whether that is in entertainment, politics, sports or what have you — to get into the pants of attractive young people. If Nathan-Turner and Downie did everything that’s alleged it’s at most mildly distasteful and not even very surprising.

  12. Ian says:

    Having read the book and met the author, its clear that sexual favors were the ‘norm’ at the BBC, JNT was not the only one at it. Gary Downie (JNTs partner) did try to force himself on the author once. Also to point out the books title, The life and Scandalous time of JNT is not just about the various sexual encounters with fans, its also the scandalous way the BBC treated JNT.

  13. Adam Pinkus says:

    Nice you bring this out when both my uncle and partner are dead

  14. Joe M says:

    it happened. i was underage at the time. consented (as much as I could), but underage. still illegal.

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