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Sydney Newman

Director, Producer, Editor
(b. April 1, 1917 Toronto, Ontario - d. October 30, 1997 Toronto, Ontario)

On January 4, 1970, the Sunday Times of London declared: “Sydney Newman flew back to Canada yesterday, and British television will never be quite the same again.” Arguably the most significant individual in the development of British television drama and a central architect of Canadian television in the fifties, the feisty, irascible and outspoken Newman – an acolyte of John Grierson – instituted a populist “theatre of the people” approach to television that was commonly characterized as “kitchen sink” drama. Responsible for transforming both the style and substance of the industry and known in England as the “crude colonial” and “the abominable showman,” Newman was intent on capturing contemporary trends and popular experience and reflecting these values back to the audience. As he once proudly declared: “Damn the upper classes – they don’t even own televisions!”

The son of Russian-Jewish immigrants who owned a shoe store, Newman dropped out of school at age thirteen and worked as a stage designer and commercial photographer until he joined the National Film Board in 1941 as a film editor. After directing army-training films and information shorts, he became a producer on the “Canada Carries On” series in 1945 and in 1947 he was appointed executive producer of Unit C. After spending a year in New York City as a working observer for NBC television, he joined CBC-TV in 1952 as director of features and outside broadcasts. In 1954, he became the supervisor of dramatic production and ran the CBC’s groundbreaking “General Motors Theatre,” “Ford Theatre” and “On Camera.”

In 1958, he moved to England to become supervisor of drama for ABC-TV (now Thames Television), where he produced the hugely successful and influential “Armchair Theatre” and “The Avengers.” He also completely restructured the production system and instituted a policy of creating contemporary content expressly for the medium, rather than simply recycling old stage plays. Newman discovered and nurtured writers who would become the best of their generation – Clive Exton, Arthur Hailey, Alun Owen and Harold Pinter – and also recruited young directors from North America, such as Philip Saville and Ted Kotcheff, in order to break free from the staid, theatrical approach to drama and implement a freer, more fluid and self-conscious style. After making an impact at ABC, Newman landed the plum job of head of the drama group at BBC-TV, where he served from 1963 to 1968 and produced such hits as “The Forsyte Saga” and “Dr. Who.”

On his return to Canada, he briefly worked as director of programmes for the CRTC, and then served as government film commissioner and head of the NFB during its most turbulent period, 1970 to 1975. Toronto Star journalist Martin Knelman has explained that “as the head of a federalist institution where many of the most talented employees were committed separatists, [Newman] was mired in political warfare and administrative chaos.” He censored or banned several films (most famously Denys Arcand’s On est au coton, 1976), and moderated the Board’s role as social activist, but he also established regional production centres and stimulated feature production (including Mon oncle Antoine, 1971, and Cry of the Wild, 1972). From 1975 to 1977, he was a special advisor on film to the Secretary of State, and later served as a chief creative consultant at the Canadian Film Development Corporation (CFDC, now Telefilm Canada). He died of a heart attack in 1997 at the age of eighty.

Film and video work includes

Banshees Over Canada, 1943 (producer)
Fighting Norway, 1943 (director)
Fighting Sea-Fleas, 1944 (co-director, co-writer, co-editor, and co-producer with Julian Roffman, Nicholas Read)
Flight 6, 1944 (director)
Train Busters, 1944 (director)
Trans-Canada Express, 1944 (producer)
48 Hours Leave, 1945 (producer)
Suffer Little Children, 1945 (director; producer)
Wings Over Canada, 1945 (producer)
A City Sings, 1946 (producer)
Everyman's World, 1946 (producer)
The New North, 1946 (producer)
Ski Skill, 1946 (co-writer with Bernard Devlin; producer)
Small Fry, 1946 (producer)
White Safari, 1946 (producer)
Canada Dances, 1947 (producer)
Careers and Cradles, 1947 (producer)
Johnny at the fair, 1947 (producer)
M├ętropole, a.k.a Montreal by Night, 1947 (producer)
River Watch, 1947 (producer)
What's on your Mind?, 1947 (producer)
Arctic Jungle, 1948 (director; producer)
Art for Everybody, 1948 (producer)
Champions in the Making, 1948 (producer)
Inside the Atom, 1948 (producer)
An Introduction to the Art of Figure Skating, 1948 (producer)
It's Fun to Sing, 1948 (producer)
Pay-off in Pain, 1948 (producer)
Science in Bloom, 1948 (producer)
A Capital Plan, 1949 (producer)
Choral Concert, 1949 (producer)
Famous Fish I Have Met, 1949 (producer)
Newfoundland: Atlantic Province, 1949 (co-director with Roger Morin; producer)
Passport to Canada, 1949 (producer)
Red Runs the Fraser, 1949 (producer)
Summer is for Kids, 1949 (producer)
Welcome Neighbour!, 1949 (producer)
City in Siege, 1950 (producer)
Thunder in the East, 1950 (producer)
After Prison What?, 1951 (producer)
Cadet Holiday, 1951 (co-producer)
Chansons creoles, 1951 (producer)
Gangway for Navy, 1951 (producer)
Hands in Harmony (with Neil Chotem), 1951 (producer)
Inside Newfoundland, 1951 (co-director with Roger Morin; producer)
It's the Fashion, 1951 (producer)
The Man in the Peace Tower, 1951 (producer)
Meet Gisele, 1951 (producer)
Music Master (with Neil Chotem), 1951 (producer)
Penitentiary, 1951 (producer)
Rescue Mission, 1951 (producer)
Royal Canadian Army Cadets, 1951 (co-producer with Michael Spencer)
Screaming Jets, 1951 (producer)
Sing with the Commodores No. 1, 1951 (producer)
Sing with the Commodores No. 2, 1951 (producer)
Sing with the Commodores No. 3, 1951 (producer)
Songs by Gisele, 1951 (co-director with Douglas Tunstell; producer)
Struggle for Oil, a.k.a. Fight for Oil, 1951 (producer)
Talent Showcase, 1951 (co-director with Douglas Tunstell, Roger Blais; producer)
Toronto Boom Town, 1951 (producer)
Tropical Lament, 1951 (producer)
Yoho: Wonder Valley, 1951 (producer)
Wits End, 1952 (producer)
General Motors Presents series, a.k.a. General Motors Theatre; Encounter, 1954 (producer; TV)
On Camera series, 1954 (producer; TV)
Armchair Theatre series, 1958 - 1963 (executive producer; TV)
I Can Destroy the Sun, a.k.a. Armchair Theatre: I Can Destroy the Sun, 1958 (producer; TV)
Underground, a.k.a. Armchair Theatre: Underground, 1958 (producer; TV)
No Trams to Lime Street, a.k.a. Armchair Theatre: No Trams to Lime Street, 1959 (producer; TV)
Roast Goose and Walnut Stuffing, 1959 (producer; TV)
After the Funeral, a.k.a. Armchair Theatre: After the Funeral, 1960 (producer; TV)
Lena, O My Lena, a.k.a. Armchair Theatre: Lena, O My Lena, 1960 (producer; TV)
A Night Out, a.k.a. Armchair Theatre: A Night Out, 1960 (producer; TV)
Pathfinders in Space series, 1960 (producer; TV)
Pathfinders to Mars series, 1960 (producer; TV)
Pathfinders to Venus series, 1960 (producer; TV)
Police Surgeon series, 1960 (creator; TV)
Target Luna series, 1960 (producer; TV)
The Avengers series, 1961 (creator; TV)
The Man Out There, a.k.a. Armchair Theatre: The Man Out There, 1961 (producer; TV)
Murder Club, a.k.a. Armchair Theatre: Murder Club, 1961 (producer; TV)
The Ship that Couldn't Stop, a.k.a. Armchair Theatre: The Ship that Couldn't Stop, 1961 (producer; TV)
Afternoon of a Nymph, a.k.a. Armchair Theatre: Afternoon of a Nymph, 1962 (producer; TV)
Out of This World series, 1962 (producer; TV)
Doctor Who series, 1963 (creator; TV)
The Wednesday Play series, 1964 (creator; TV)
Tea Party, 1965 (producer; TV)
Grierson, 1973 (appears as himself)
Doctor Who Who's Who, 1986 (creator; TV)
The Magical Eye, 1989 (appears as himself)
Doctor Who: The Troughton Years, 1991 (creator)
Doctor Who: The Tom Baker Years, 1991 (creator)
Doctor Who: The Missing Years, 1998 (creator)
Doctor Who: The Crusade, 1999 (creator)
The Truth About 60s TV, 2004 (appears as himself; TV)