Many models were also made for Museums. The London Science Museum which commissioned a model of a Napier Deltic engine. The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum commissioned, in 1967, a 1:6 scale model of Vostok 1, which carried Yuri Gagarin into orbit around the Earth. Shawcraft Models based their model on photographs of an earlier Russian model that had been on display in Paris, in 1966. The Shawcraft version is still owned by the Smithsonian but is not always on display.

Other Shawcraft models currently held at museums include a scale Britannia locomotive replica and a 1/24th scale British Railways Mark 1 railway carriage, built around 1960. The master patterns for small gauge rolling stock such as this were built by Shawcraft employee and master model maker Les Ward. The Britannia locomotive is currently part of a collection of railway related models on display at the National Railway Museum, York, UK. 

In 1963 Shawcraft were commissioned to make the wooden master moulds for nine weapons including a Lee Enfield rifle, an Arab cavalry sword and a Webley and Beretta pistol. These patterns were used by P B Cow (Li-Lo) Products of Slough, to make production moulds, from which were produced 4,500 GRP weapons for the epic film Lawrence of Arabia.

They also made the wooden master for the first glass-fibre two-seat body of the Lotus Elan sports car. A similar master was made for the single seat GRP body for the Lotus 40 race car, made for Ian Walker Racing in West London. During this period, 1964-73 Shawcraft also sectioned stationary diesel engines and made collapsible exhibition plinths for use overseas.

Shawcraft model of Vostok 1 at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum.

It was at around this time that the company began making props for the BBC and most notably for Doctor Who, though it must be noted that they also worked on other shows such as Dad’s Army, (a show with subject matter which lent itself perfectly to Shawcraft’s skills).

The team worked with early vacuum-forming processes and the shaping of polystyrene blocks to form ship and aircraft parts. These means of model construction are now commonplace, but at the time, Shawcraft were pioneers in the field.

In 1963 the BBC did not have the facilities required to produce the volume of props required for a weekly sci-fi show. The in house visual effects department was small and staffed by only two people – Bernard Wilkie and Jack Kine. When they were approached to create the props for Doctor Who, they requested extra workshop space (4000sq ft) and four extra staff. This request was rejected and alternative arrangements were sought.

The construction crew working on the show had previous experience of Shawcraft and recommended them as ideal candidates for taking on the work. The most important aspect of this arrangement was the ability to create good props, scenery and effects on-budget. Bill Roberts was always full of ideas on how effects could be achieved and props built cheaply, without compromising the look. The tight schedules enforced by the show’s weekly slot often required the Shawcraft team to work long into the night.

One of their first commissions for the show was the TARDIS console, complete with motor and working switches/lights on the control panels.

It was their later involvement with constructing the Dalek props which has given Shawcraft their place in history. The Dalek design was created by Raymond P Cusick – the designer working on the show at the time. He took his concept along to a meeting with Bill Roberts, explaining exactly what was required of the props. Roberts then made some suggestions of his own and, with Cusick’s approval, used his discretion for much of the Dalek detailing. He worked out how to build a set of four good-looking Dalek props within the allotted budget.

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.

By March 1967, the BBC were looking to cut costs, which prompted Innes Lloyd (visual effects organiser for Doctor Who) to send a memo referring to problems experienced during the production of The Faceless Ones and that the Macra (Terror) prop had cost over £500 to build.

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. The desire to cut costs meant that the BBC stopped using Shawcraft on a regular basis. Their last major involvement being on the story The Evil Of The Daleks, in 1967. No further Dalek props were supplied to the BBC by Shawcraft, though they did continue to repair and maintain the existing props well into the 1970s.

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.


Original Dalek prop wanted for cash

Project Dalek: The Definitive Dalek Building Resource

We use cookies on our website. Some of them are essential for the operation of the site, while others help us to improve this site and the user experience (tracking cookies). You can decide for yourself whether you want to allow cookies or not. Please note that if you reject them, you may not be able to use all the functionalities of the site.