Friday, May 17, 2013

Bobi Bartlett RIP

Robina ‘Bobi’ Bartlett

Robina ‘Bobi’ Bartlett was born on 13 February 1939 and attended art school in Somerset before training in fashion design at the Royal College of Art in London. She then worked for three years as a designer for a number of large companies in the fashion industry before launching her own design label selling young, trendy clothes to large stores and boutiques.

Bobi designed the new Martian Leader for
'The Seeds of Death'
Image (c) Estate of Bobi Bartlett.
She eventually joined the BBC as a Costume Designer around 1967 as they were looking for designers to be specifically trained in the techniques of colour television, ready for the start of colour production. One of the first programmes on which Bobi Bartlett worked was the police series Z Cars, and this was followed by the first of many assignments to Doctor Who. This was the eight-part Patrick Troughton adventure ‘The Invasion’ in 1968. For this she not only redesigned the look of the Cybermen, but also provided the uniforms and badges for the military organisation UNIT in their first appearance on the show. ‘When I came to design the UNIT uniform, I tried to keep in mind the fact that it was for an organisation that was supposed to be an international taskforce under the command of the United Nations,’ she explained in a later interview. ‘It had to have an international look about it, and not resemble too closely the established uniform of any particular country. It also had to be very up-to-date and maintain the traditional macho, masculine image of the military.’

A Kroton.
Image (c) Estate of Bobi Bartlett.
After completing her work on ‘The Invasion’, Bobi Bartlett went straight on to work on the next story, ‘The Prison in Space’. Unfortunately the story was abandoned at a late stage, and Bartlett’s design work on it went unused. ‘I’d already completed most of my designs for it. I’d even started making up a few of the costumes. The plot involved a race of dictatorial women, and I was going to have them in a lot of very nice leather wear.’ The story that replaced ‘The Prison in Space’ was ‘The Krotons’, and Bartlett designed the crystalline monsters and other costumes for the show, as well as for the following story, ‘The Seeds of Death’, which saw the return of the Ice Warriors – including designs by Bobi for a new rank of the alien race: ‘The Ice Warrior commander hadn’t appeared in earlier episodes, so I designed an altogether smoother version of the head, and the rest of the costume also became more streamlined.’ – as well as several futuristic outfits for the cast.

In this period Bartlett also worked on episodes of the popular sit-com The Liver Birds and an episode of The Wednesday Play called ‘Emma’s Time’ starring Michele Dotrice, Andrew Kier and Ian Holm. A year or so later saw Bartlett again assigned to Doctor Who for a Jon Pertwee story called ‘The Mind of Evil’ which again featured the UNIT organisation. ‘There was a location sequence, early on in the story, which featured some children playing in a park in a London square, and I remember that my son Blake appeared as a little boy on a tricycle. He and some other children were asked to be extras, as the director had decided at the last moment that he wanted to have them there to complement the action. Very conveniently my son had come along that day to see Jon Pertwee performing his scenes as the Doctor.’

Bobi working on 'The Invasion'.
‘The Mind of Evil’ marked Bartlett’s last contribution to Doctor Who and subsequently she worked on episodes of All Gas and Gaiters (with Derek Nimmo) and Sykes (with Eric Sykes and Hattie Jacques) before leaving the Corporation to go freelance. She went on to work on two television plays in 1975, an episode of One-Upmanship (with Richard Briars, Peter Jones and Frederick Jaeger) for the BBC in 1976, 1990 (with Edward Woodward) again for the BBC in 1977 and finally on the Worzel Gummidge series (again with Jon Pertwee), in 1979.

In later years she returned to teaching, including at the University of the West of England in Bristol, introducing a new generation of students to the art of costume design.

Bobi Bartlett died from a stroke in her home in Brighton on 9 April 2013. She was unmarried at the time of her death and leaves one son, Blake, from her first marriage.

David J Howe, with thanks to Stephen James Walker and Blake Bartlett. © 2013

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