David Agnew

David Agnew

"David Agnew" was a particular kind of pen name, employed exclusively on BBC television drama programmes[1] of the 1970s. It was used only as a scriptwriting credit.


Conditions of use

When the original freelance scriptwriter was unable to accommodate fundamental changes requested by the production staff, and the production staff had to perform a major, last-minute rewrite themselves, conditions were ripe for the use of "David Agnew". BBC rules prevented the production staff from taking the screen credit without a time-consuming, bureaucratic appeals process, meaning that the quickest way for the project to continue under the BBC system was to offer a "false" writer.[1] Sometimes, in fact, production staffs were directly ordered by BBC management to use the credit.[2]

Unlike the similar "Allen Smithee" credit for film directors, "Agnew" was not used in protest of the finished product. In fact, the original, freelance writer would have departed the project long before he or she could have objected to the episode as televised. Indeed, the actual writers of a "David Agnew script" — typically the producer, director and/or script editor — would ideally liked to have received credit for their work, had BBC rules permitted it.


The name seems to date to 1971,[2] when Anthony Read's script for the Play for Today episode "Hell's Angel" was broadcast under the pseudonym.[3][4] Read's work on the 1975 BBC2 Playhouse episode "Diane" was likewise credited to "David Agnew".[5]

The pseudonym entered into use on Doctor Who only after Read had become that show's script editor. Famously, Read and producer Graham Williams used the pen name hurriedly to assemble The Invasion of Time in 1978.[2] A year later the name concealed the joint work of Douglas Adams, Williams and David Fisher on City of Death.[1]

The name was also used for the episode "Blow Out" of Target. In this case, a two-hour script was pared down to one. Writer Roger Marshall quit at the pre-production stage, leaving director Douglas Camfield to, as Marshall said in an interview, "butcher" and "doctor" it.[6]

Use outside of television

While the practice of using the pseudonym on television was exclusive to the BBC of the 1970s, it has worked its way into Doctor Who fandom to a certain degree. Many years later, "David Agnew" was used for a Doctor Who book, the short story anthology Short Trips and Sidesteps, in homage to the pseudonym's use on the television series. Agnew was also the subject of a The Elusive David Agnew mockumentary directed by "Allen Smithee" on the DVD release of The Invasion of Time.

Related pseudonyms


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