Vote Dalek! – The best ever magazine cover
Doctor Who fans were delighted by the win of the Vote Dalek! issue being awarded ‘Most Iconic Cover of All Time’. In 2008 the Professional Publishers Association (PPA) produced a shortlist on which the public could vote. I imagine this choice selection of 10 iconic covers was no mean feat to produce. Nine months of online voting saw Vote Dalek! crowned winner! And just five years later, on Doctor Who’s 50th anniversary year the award was ‘upgraded’. November 21st 2013 at the Park Lane Hotel, we heard the amazing news, Vote Dalek! was now the ‘Cover of the Century’!
Let’s delve a little deeper into the story, hear from the cover designer himself and find out just why Vote Dalek! deserved the win.
The Radio Times
The Radio Times is a staple of British newsagents, the BBC’s very own weekly TV listings magazine. While less well known to our overseas friends, it has a 90 year old British pedigree. In an era of dwindling print sales the popular magazine continues to enjoy a healthy circulation of over 577,000 copies. Impressively, 270,000 of these are from paid subscriptions. Doctor Who always enjoys great coverage within its pages and I love collecting the Who themed issues.
Interestingly the origin of the Radio Times came about because newspapers of the day wouldn’t print radio listings. They feared this upstart new medium would cost them sales. So, in 1923, the BBC had to print its first ever magazine.
Within its pages, Radio Times devotes many column inches to the flagship programmes of the week. A specially staged photo or illustration make the cover pop. The subjects of the covers are awarded a framed copy of ‘their’ issue each year. Little wonder then, that there is a certain cachet for getting a series or actors onto the front page.
What is the Professional Publishers Association?
The Professional Publishers Association is an industry body you might hear about in connection to media events. The organisation examines trends and feedback in the consumer magazine sector. It’s also instrumental in accrediting university journalism and publishing courses. But, above all, what was of interest to me was their annual competition particularly seeing that Doctor Who was involved.
The Best British Magazine Cover of All Time
Up against rivals including Vogue, Time Out, Empire and New Scientist, the Radio Times had a mountain to climb. Its Vote Dalek! issue didn’t disappoint, with its double page gatefold spread announcing the long-awaited return of the Daleks. The cover’s strapline proclaimed, ‘Vote Dalek!’ something that was quite fortuitous for subliminal reasons! It was, of course, to tie in with the upcoming General Election.
Over 36,000 votes were cast and a whopping 38.5% of the ballot box catapulted Doctor Who into the top spot. Coming up second was The Beano’s 1999 Dennis the Menace cover celebrating its 75 year history. Time Out’s 1974 cover featuring Churchill’s ‘V-sign’ came third.
It’s a huge honour for Radio Times to have been voted Cover of the Century by the great British public. We were up against some very famous front covers from an incredible group of magazine brands, so we are over the moon. Radio Times and Dr Who are both iconic media brands that continue to go from strength to strength with regeneration at the heart of their success. This award exemplifies what the Radio Times brand does best – creating national conversations around the key moments in broadcasting history.
Tom Bureau, CEO at Immediate Media Co (Radio Times publisher)
The Return of the Daleks
I still find it hard to believe that back then the Daleks hadn’t been on screen for 17 years. However, it hadn’t stopped the Beeb milking and merchandising the brand during its extended absence. When Doctor Who returned in 2005, there was a lot of talk saying the Daleks wouldn’t feature because of contract disagreements with the Terry Nation estate. Luckily for Who fans everywhere a constructive outcome was reached. After all, Doctor Who and the Daleks are synonymous in most people’s eyes. No fresh return of the show would work without them.
To me the cover signalled the BBC’s rekindled love for the show, something they had been reticent to do for more years than I care to remember.
The History of the Vote Dalek! cover
What made the Vote Dalek! cover most memorable for me was how the artist re-staged a very early Radio Times Who scene from the 1964 story, The Dalek Invasion of Earth. Sixties Who was blessed with an abundance of iconic imagery and this adventure was no exception.
The original stunning shots of the Daleks on Westminster Bridge were a feat of photographic skill, organisation and logistics. However, it was no easy task to effectively close the bridge to keep the passers-by at bay. Modern sci-fi and horror shows regularly depict abandoned cities and empty landmarks to showcase apocalyptic scenes. However, Who was among the earliest shows to do it well.
Radio Times Volume 165, No 2141 dated 19th November
I love the design work on the cover, it was quite snazzy for the time. On the article photo I’m not sure why they saw fit to oddly place a Dalek centre baseline. Perhaps it was to hide the shadow of the cameraman?
Ian McKinnell, the man behind the cover
The 2005 cover posed its own unique challenges. The creator is a chap by the name of Ian McKinnell, a specialist in photorealistic illustrations and someone with a long established relationship with the Radio Times. His sporting covers are some of the best I’ve seen.
McKinnell graduated in Fine Art (BA Hons, Brighton) and began working freelance for companies worldwide as an illustrator and photographer. To date he’s created 1,000 magazine and book covers, collaborating professionally with famous tech names like Logitech, Apple and Microsoft.
Creating the Vote Dalek! Cover
Ian McKinnell’s recollections of the process are very entertaining and informative. How many times has a fortuitous event improved on the creative process for example?
It was raining when the shot was taken and I was worried that the lights I had set up would blow if wet, so the balustrade of the bridge was lit by the headlights of my car. This worked better than the lighting I had planned!
Aside from the poor weather conditions, McKinnell had other problems to deal with. The big one being how can you do a photo shoot without your models? After all, the new Daleks weren’t allowed on-site because they were a new hush-hush redesign…
The ‘Bronze’ Time War Dalek
Showrunner, Russell T Davies wanted the new Daleks to be more tank-like and aggressive-looking. Working alongside Bryan Hitch (artist), Edward Thomas (production designer) and Matthew Savage (assistant designer) they realised the design for the modern era. Enter, the bronze Dalek!
The new Daleks were the first to bear unique name badges. If you look closely you will see the plate on the head just beneath the eye stalk. This would be the first time the TV Daleks were given individual names since prior to this each was just referred to by a rank or position.
We live in a world where images and news are shared worldwide within seconds thanks to mobile communication and the internet. Couple this with a bunch of super fans and media journalists, it’s all but impossible to keep a secret. I admit my first thought on seeing the cover was that they opted for Photoshopping the Daleks because it was easy. How wrong could I be? Knowing now that they couldn’t risk taking the new Daleks on location meant that McKinnell had to set up the old props on site and use them as a guide for later. He then posed and photographed the three new Daleks in a studio taking care to get the lighting right. I love how he’s gone for an angle where the Daleks tower above the photographer as this really adds to their threatening aspect.
What’s in a name (badge)?
On the day, one of the three Daleks wasn’t working properly so McKinnell resorted to using one Dalek twice. Then he copied the correct name plate across during compositing. Whether the audience would be able to tell the difference between the name badges on the cover I’m not so sure but we designers are a fussy breed!
Even the starry sky posed its own problems. There wasn’t one because of the inclement weather. He added this too during touchup. As McKinnell recalls:
The starry sky was drawn by hand in Photoshop. Each star was individual, as it can be very obvious when you copy & paste them. My son helped me with this, much to the awe of his school friends when they found out a couple of weeks later.
Putting it all together
The completed work consists of the Westminster buildings, artificial sky and three superimposed new Daleks. I think it’s safe to say that the finished product is spectacular in composition and colour palette particularly in how it uses bronzes, brasses and browny yellows to contrast with the beautiful blues of the background.
Museum of London’s Exhibition of Radio Times covers
To celebrate 90 years of Radio Times, the Vote Dalek! cover was given pride of place at the Museum of London’s exhibition. Moreover, the display was enhanced by one of the bronze cover stars appearing in person. To see this up close was pretty special.
References and notes:
The ten contenders in full:
Woman’s Weekly (July 1916, Wartime Women)
Harper’s Bazaar (November 1941, Fashion Blitz)
Cosmopolitan (March 1972, Launch Issue)
Time Out (November 1974, Churchill V-Sign)
New Scientist (April 1987, Chernobyl)
The Beano (February 1999, Dennis The Menace)
Vogue (December 2001, A Royal Salute)
Radio Times (April 2005, Vote Dalek!)
Empire (June 2005, Breathing Vader)
MacUser (February 2012, How Evil is Apple?)
Radio Times circulation data: (abc data Jan – Jun 2018)
The Drum (article)
Immediate Media Co (article)
Weekend Notes (article)
Radio Times (article)
Ian McKinnell (design and recollections)