The Daleks’ overall size was worked out by Roberts, who sat on an office chair and was measured up – the logic being that if he could fit inside, then so could the Dalek operators. When the finer points of the design had been established, Roberts decided to make as much as possible of the Daleks out of fibreglass. This was largely a budgetary decision, given that Shawcraft employed a number of staff who were skilled in GRP work. They did not employ any carpenters and hiring more staff would have increased costs.
Shawcraft employee Ron Nicholson was the man given the task of overseeing building of the Dalek props. Ron, who started work at Shawcraft in the early 1960s, (having previously worked in the film industry as a model maker) was also the one most often responsible for the repair and maintenance of the Daleks over the next few years.
Other props were also constructed for the first Dalek story, including a swamp creature and a scale model of the Dalek city. The city model was rebuilt and made more convincing when extra time became available, after it was announced that the episode was to be re-shot.
Shawcraft’s relationship with Doctor Who would continue for the next five years, with them supplying, maintaining and operating many of the props and visual effects. Notable Doctor Who props made by Shawcraft include the Slither, the Zarbi, the Mechonoids, the Chumblies, and the Macra Terror.
Movie Dalek skirts under construction at Shawcraft.
Given the level of skill and the detail that is clearly evident in many of Shawcraft’s surviving engineering models, and the quality of work evident in photographs of their film props, it may seem odd that some of their work for Doctor Who looks relatively cheap. The key factor here is budget. Companies and film producers with large budgets could rely on a high standard of work from Shawcraft. The BBC, however, were on very tight budgets, with extremely short deadlines. Shawcraft were relied upon to produce something great, quickly, for next to nothing – a feat that they often managed. However, as time went on this seems to have become increasingly difficult to achieve. This may have been down to the volume of higher-paid work being offered to Shawcraft, leaving them without time to devise ways to make the BBC’s shoestring budget stretch a little further.
When the two Dalek movies were being planned, Shawcraft were commissioned to produce the hero props for both. The movie props were created from re-tooled moulds that were produced with more care, attention and time. The higher budget meant that the Daleks were, overall, of a much better finish than their TV cousins, with sleek paint-jobs and more fibreglass work.
Relations with the BBC came to a head by March 1967, when an irate Innes Lloyd (visual effects organiser for Doctor Who) sent a memo complaining about problems experienced during the production of The Faceless Ones and that the Macra (Terror) prop had cost over £500 to build. This was a staggering amount of money in 1967, as Lloyd noted, “the same price as a cheap car”.
Not long after this, the BBC stopped using Shawcraft, their last major involvement being on the story The Evil Of The Daleks, in 1967. No further Dalek props were ever supplied to the BBC by Shawcraft
At this time, the BBC began to expand their own in-house visual effects department, investing in space and staff, with a view to reducing production costs on a longer term basis.
Meanwhile, Shawcraft had their eye on higher-profile work, such as the fully working scale model of the flying car, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, built for the film of the same name.
In the 1970s Shawcraft progressed from model making and special effects and acquired CAA registration as Shawcraft (Engineering) Ltd. They made and refurbished airliner refrigeration units for British Caledonian Airways. This was very much a return to their roots, focusing on aviation-based projects.