The Radio Times is a British institution. To celebrate the listing magazine’s 90th birthday, the Museum of London is holding an exhibition dedicated to the iconic publication.
Covers adorn the walls and, accompanied by facts, figures and trivia, visitors can explore the history of Radio Times from small beginnings, through the war, paying tribute to those legendary Christmas issues that could easily break your foot if you dropped them, praising changing designs, evolving templates, eye-catching designs, artists, the mass movement from radio to TV – and, of course, highlighting the very best shows.
It’s perfect that Cover Story: Radio Times at 90 also lauds another British institution – one which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.
In case you weren’t sure, the centrepiece of this exhibit is a Dalek.
The memorable ‘Vote Dalek’ image from 2005 is recreated beautifully with the chance for visitors to pose next to a stunning RTD Bronze model. With that cover, the Radio Times celebrated both the return of the menaces from Skaro and the general election; just one week earlier, Downing Street had been blown up in order to destroy the Slitheen and a certain Harriet Jones, MP for Flydale North, was mooted as the next PM.
(For those unsure, Tony Blair actually won the election, and y’know, I don’t think he would’ve dealt with the Sycorax as well as Harriet.)
The cover is a recreation of The Dalek Invasion of Earth (1964) and involved clearing Westminster Bridge and lining four Daleks up against the iconic backdrop of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. It’s a wonderful attention-grabbing prop, right at the heart of the exhibition… but for hardcore fans, it’s not the most exciting thing there.
There’s no fanfare around the fabulous item that really got my heart pumping. Publicity proudly yelled ‘we’ve got a Dalek’ at the top of its voice. What it really should’ve screamed is:
‘We’ve got the original Dalek design plans!’
I’ve seen the wonderful design template before, of course: Raymond Cusick’s brilliant design has been reprinted time and time again. But actually being in its presence, seeing the detail and its intricacies and frailties behind glass is something else entirely.
Never before have I seen the note at the bottom, simply reading ‘1 DALEK ARM TO BE READY FOR EPISODE 1 15/11/63 AS DISCUSSED WITH DESIGNER.’ Or its scale or the bumps described as ‘4” DIA VOIDS TO BE EQUALLY SPACED ROUND FRONT + SIDES.”
Honestly, if I weren’t with company, I would’ve stayed and examined it all day.
Clips from An Unearthly Child and The Dalek Invasion of Earth play by its side – it’s only in retrospect that I worry about an electrical fault with the TV in close proximity to that wonderful, unique document! – displaying the very first TARDIS scene and the latter’s cliffhanger with a Dalek emerging from the Thames.
It’s a beautifully designed exhibition, a perfect representative for that stylish yet warm publication: a projector flicks through 90 years of covers; there’s a wall displaying the eight mastheads that have adorned the fronts; ads; information about how RT started, how it carried on through the war, how it dealt with competition, and about how its listings expanded from just radio into TV; and there’s some fantastically-crisp original art – including some Doctor Who items.
Victor Reinganum’s The Evil of the Daleks is the most recognisable, but I was surprised to see how tiny it actually is. Frank Bellamy’s The Sea Devils is quite reminiscent of his most famous RT illustration, Day of the Daleks, and is nonetheless superb.
But I fully admit to never having seen two pieces of art before: Bellamy’s intricate Terror of the Zygons and Reinganum’s classy The War Machines, which is reminiscent of his gorgeously simple Cityscape with hints of cubism and art deco. I love these understated illustrations by artists very few have heard of but whose work has been seen by thousands of people.
Of course, Cover Story only occupies a small section of the Museum of London, which is free to enter. Don’t just go there to see the story of the Radio Times: the museum is a wonder to explore. Particular highlights include: healing trephined skulls that show that the victims actually survived Stone Age surgery (I have a strange interest in medicine through time); a printing press; Charles Booth’s map of poverty in London; and a stunning realistic Victorian high street. There’s also a really creepy section that projects a sort of 3D adaptation of Twelfth Night. It’s like a cross between Autons and the Command Nodes from Silence in the Library/ Forest of the Dead.
(There are also a few Radio Times items available in the shop, notably a box of 100 postcards and a book on the criminally-underrated magazine artists.)
Just like the Radio Times itself, Cover Story is relatively small but full of information, trivia, neat designs and a friendly atmosphere that conjures up images of a family gathering around a warm fire and listening to the wireless. At Christmas.
There’s a lot for enthusiasts to enjoy, not just for those who dream of time and space, but for those who really love that cultural phenomenon, the Radio Times. Happy Birthday, RT. I can’t wait for your centenary.