It is with sadness that we report the death of Bill Sellars, the prolific producer of popular TV drama in the ’70s and ’80s, who also directed the 1966 Doctor Who story, The Celestial Toymaker. He was 93.
Born in Tideswell, Derbyshire, Bill left school age 14 to work in a factory. After a stint in the army, he moved into theatre production before securing work at the BBC as a floor manager in 1958.
Just a few years later, Bill had his first taste of science fiction television as production assistant for the groundbreaking drama serial, A For Andromeda. He also played a couple of walk-on parts in the series and its sequel, The Andromeda Breakthrough.
Rising to Director, Bill helmed a number of drama series including the soap operas, Compact (co-created by The Mind Robber writer, Peter Ling), and United!, which has numerous Doctor Who production credits including Innes Lloyd, who went on to produce Doctor Who in 1966, starring William Hartnell.
Innes asked his United! colleague to direct his very first serial, the four-part Celestial Toymaker. Written by Brian Hayles (who also wrote for United!) and guest starring Michael Gough, the fantastical game-based adventure proved to be one of the most technically challenging and unusual of the First Doctor’s run.
Apart from the final episode, only the soundtrack survives. But The Celestial Toymaker made a big impression on viewers at the time, despite Hartnell’s limited involvement (appearing as a disembodied voice) because the actor was on holiday.
But it is as a Producer of prime-time BBC drama that Bill will likely be best remembered for, despite a prolific career – principally for the hugely successful All Creatures Great And Small, which ran for 88 episodes between 1978 and 1990. One of the three leads Bill cast was a young Peter Davison as Tristan Farnon, in a breakthrough role for the actor.
It was on All Creatures that Production Unit Manager, John Nathan-Turner spotted Davison. When JNT became producer of Doctor Who in 1980, he cast Davison as the Fifth Doctor the following year.
It was not the only time that Bill worked with a future Doctor: he also produced The Brothers in 1976, when it featured Colin Baker as the villainous Paul Merroney. Also in the cast was future Rani actor, Kate O’Mara, who went on to star in another of Bill’s productions, the infamous Triangle.
Bill Sellars will be fondly remembered by fans of ’70s and ’80s television as a producer of high-rated and much-missed family drama. Our thoughts go out to all who knew and loved Bill, including his wife June, their son, Paul, and two daughters, Janine and Lindy.