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  1. Culture
3 September 2019

Terrance Dicks inspired me to write – and not to feel ashamed of my stammer

A tribute to one of the key creative figures in Doctor Who, who died last week after a short illness.

By Robert Shearman

Last week, the writer Terrance Dicks died at the age of 84. Over a career spanning nearly half a century, Dicks wrote dozens of books for both children and adults, and worked as a writer or producer on TV shows including Crossroads and Sunday Classics.

But Dicks was best known for his work on Doctor Who, on which he was a script editor between 1968 and 1974, and for which he wrote 35 episodes. His biggest contribution was in novelising more than 60 stories, making him a mainstay of school libraries for generations of children.

Yesterday another Doctor Who writer, Robert Shearman, wrote this tribute.

I met Terrance Dicks when I was 14. He was interviewed by me for a fanzine I produced with my best friend from school.

The trouble was, in my teenage years I had a horrendous stammer. And the day he’d agreed to meet us I was especially bad. I could barely drag out one word after another – probably because I was overawed to be in the company of one of my heroes.

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The thing about stammering is: it’s embarrassing. It’s embarrassing for the one who suddenly finds himself the most inarticulate person in the world. It’s just as embarrassing for the one on the other end listening to it.

And I was painfully used to embarrassing people. My teachers. My friends in class. Even my parents, who loved me very much – even they didn’t know how to react when I tried to force words out of my mouth and goggled like a goldfish.

It was mortifying that I was stammering in front of Terrance Dicks. Whose books I had read, and reread, and rereread, and adored. I wanted to impress him. I wanted him to like me.

Terrance Dicks wasn’t embarrassed by my stammer. He’d smile kindly, and wait for me to ask my question – and then answer thoughtfully as if it had taken a couple of seconds for me to get there, rather than a couple of minutes. (And I had a lot of questions. This was Terrance Dicks! I wanted to ask him about all of his books. Literally. Every. Single. One.)

And all the time – for the hours he sat with me, always that same patience. Always the kindness.

The one time he alluded to my stammer, was when I got out that I wanted to be a writer some day, just like he was. And he smiled and said, that’s the problem we writers have: that there are so many words in our heads it’s sometimes hard to get them all out.

He called me a writer! And I did become a writer. I ended up on Doctor Who, the same series that decades before he had shaped and finessed and cared for. And stammer beaten, mostly, I met him at many conventions over the years, and I never got round to telling him that as a shy 14 year old I had been so inspired by him. Not only to write, but not to feel so ashamed of my speech impediment.

I’m okay with that, though. He was a very humble man, and I’d seen the way he reacted when shambling adults like me told him how he’d been our inspiration. It happened a lot. Because he’d inspired millions of us.

I feel terribly sad today that a very kind man, who wrote lots and lots of brilliant things, and who didn’t even mind when I asked him questions about his novelisation for Arc of Infinity, has died. And lucky that I met him. And lucky that I read him.

All of Doctor Who fandom is reeling today. He was our writer, and we loved him.

Robert Shearman is a writer for TV, radio and stage. 

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