Bob Baker – Television writer
Born July 26, 1939; died November 3, 2021
Bob Baker, who has died aged 82, was a television writer, who helped bring to life two of the small screen’s most iconic creations. Along with his writing partner Dave Martin, who died in 2007, Baker co-penned thirty-eight episodes of Doctor Who (1971-1979) during the children’s SF show’s 1970s golden age. Known as the Bristol Boys, the duo’s work began with The Claws of Axos (1971), and, over eight stories, straddled the regeneration of Jon Pertwee’s third Doctor into Tom Baker’s fourth incarnation of the eccentric Time Lord.
This included the programme’s tenth anniversary story, The Three Doctors (1972-1973), which saw the first and second Doctors, played respectively by William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton, join forces with Pertwee in a battle to save Time. Baker and Martin’s tenure on Doctor Who also saw them create K9, the pompous dog-based mobile computer that went on to have a series of its own. Baker’s final Doctor Who story, Nightmare of Eden (1979), was penned solo.
Baker helped immortalise another canine with attitude when he teamed up with Nick Park for three Wallace and Gromit animations; The Wrong Trousers (1993), A Close Shave (1995), and A Matter of Loaf and Death (2008). Baker also worked on the feature length Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005).
Inbetween, Baker and Martin opened up children’s television drama with a fantastical array of serials. These included Sky (1975), about a teenage time traveller stranded on Earth; and King of the Castle (1977), in which a boy living in a tower block escapes into a fantasy world that becomes reality when he falls down a lift shaft. The seven part series was BAFTA nominated. Baker called it “Kafka for kids.”
For adults, the pair wrote Thick as Thieves (1971), and Machinegunner (1976), two one-off works starring Leonard Rossiter. There were contributions as well to off-kilter anthology series, Late Night Drama (1974), including M + M, a dystopian future take on couples based TV quiz show, Mr and Mrs, which used the familiarity of the original’s format to chilling effect.
The collaboration with Park on Wallace and Gromit saw Baker share two BAFTA wins. The first was for The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, which was named Best British film in 2006. Three years later, A Matter of Loaf and Death (2008) scooped the Best Short Animation award, and was also Oscar nominated. With Park and others, Baker co-scripted children’s educational programme, Wallace and Gromit’s World of Invention (2010), and wrote two episodes of a rebooted K9 (2009-2010).
Robert John Baker was born in Bristol, the youngest son of Roma (nee Coleman) and Stanley Baker, a signwriter. He wanted to be an artist from an early age, but after leaving Air Balloon Hill secondary modern school without any qualifications, joined the Co-op as an apprentice monumental mason, learning how to do inscriptions on gravestones.
Baker’s friends included future celebrity chef Keith Floyd and satirist John Fortune, with whom he played saxophone in a trad jazz band. The gang started making 16mm films, and, once his apprenticeship was over, Baker went to West of England College of Art, where he studied painting and film. He and his friends began making animations, attracting interest from director Clive Donner while Baker worked sourcing locations for Donner’s film, Some People (1962).
With a rostrum camera still in his basement, Baker and his friend Laurie Booth made animations for BBC’s pioneering art-based series for hearing impaired children, Vision On. He met Martin, an advertising copywriter, while refurbishing a shop, and the pair began writing together.
A turning point came when director and producer Patrick Dromgoole joined HTV. Dromgoole was keen on nurturing local talent, and Baker and Martin received their first credit for crime caper, Thick as Thieves. The pair worked with Dromgoole on historical yarn, Pretenders (1972), Arthur and the Britons (1973), and Ski-Boy (1974). Dromgoole directed the duo’s second contribution to Late Night Drama, Item (1974), as well as Sky, King of the Castle, and Machinegunner.
Baker worked with Martin on episodes of Z Cars (1974), Public Eye (1975), and Hunter’s Walk (1974-1976), as well as another children’s adventure serial, Follow Me (1977), and a contribution to ITV Playhouse, Rat Trap (1979). The pair also wrote four episodes of detective series Target (1977-1978), including Big Elephant, originally intended as a feature film starring Scottish actor Ken Hutchison.
The duo went on to work together on children’s fantasy serial, Into the Labyrinth (1981-1982). They parted amicably after a decade, with Baker going solo to write for various crime serials, including Bergerac (1981-1983). He also script edited Shoestring (1979), and became a producer at HTV, commissioning new writers to come up with material for a one-set anthology series, Function Room (1985).
Later, Dromgoole directed Succubus (1987), an old horror script by Baker and Martin. Solo, Baker scripted TV film, The Jazz Detective (1992).
Baker published his autobiography, K9 Stole My Trousers, in 2013. He recently completed scripts for both a new K9 film and TV series.
He is survived by his third wife, Marie, with whom he was married in 1991, and her children, Jo, Clare, Rachael and Sarah Jane; a daughter, Cathy, and a son, Martin, from his first marriage to Vicki Hollis; a son, Andy, and a stepdaughter, Laura, from his second marriage, to Angela Wynne; and seven grandchildren. A son, Paul, from his first marriage, predeceased him in 2020.
The Herald, January 3rd 2022