Published on: 07 November 2017 in The Industry

Remembering Paddy Russell

Reading time: 2 minutes and 45 seconds

<i>Photo: BBC</i>
Photo: BBC

We were deeply saddened to hear of the recent passing of Paddy Russell, a pioneering television director who forged her career at a time when female directors were almost unheard of. Here we take a moment to appreciate her remarkable career.

Paddy Russell was born in Highgate, London, in 1928. She originally trained as an actor, attending the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, and in 1953 she appeared in the first two episodes of The Quatermass Experiment - although her chief role in filming was Production Assistant to the director, Rudolph Cartier. She worked again with Cartier on his 1954 production of George Orwell’s 1984

Russell’s start as a director came in 1963, where she directed twenty episodes of the BBC soap opera Compact. BBC TV series quickly became her main province as a director, and she worked with the company throughout the sixties on The Massingham Affair (1964), Hit and Run (1965), Heiress of Garth (1965) and The Newcomers (1966) among many others. 

In 1966 Russell joined the programme for which she is perhaps best known: Doctor Who. With the production of The Massacre of St Bartholomew’s Eve, Russell became the first female director in the show’s history. While no footage of that particular serial is known to have survived, Russell directed eighteen episodes of the programme over eleven years – including the famous serials Invasion of the Dinosaurs (1974), Pyramids of Mars (1975) and Horror of Fang Rock (1977). 

Russell worked with several Doctors, and had a prickly relationship with Tom Baker – who had a daunting reputation at the time. She told Doctor Who Magazine: “Tom Baker was easy to deal with at first, but the part went to his head completely. By the time I did Horror of Fang Rock, he was desperately difficult to work with.” Her work on Invasion of the Dinosaurs, meanwhile, required her to somehow bring dinosaurs to life in central London. You can watch Russell explain how she achieved this effect above. 

Alongside Doctor Who her work continued to encompass well-known BBC television dramas, including Little Women (1970), Fathers and Sons (1971) and The Omega Factor (1979). The latter end of the seventies, however, brought with them a move to freelance employment and a change of career direction. Russell went on to direct fifty-five episodes of Emmerdale (1976), and fifteen episodes of the game show 3-2-1 (1979) with Yorkshire Television, where she continued to train directors and work on local television until late in her career.

Paddy Russell passed away in Yorkshire on November 2, 2017 at the aged of 89. She is survived by her brother Chris. Read a full obituary at the Yorkshire Post.