Bob Baker obituary
The writer Bob Baker, who has died aged 82, had creative input into the screen careers of two very different, but hugely popular, canine creations: Doctor Who’s robot dog K9 and the largely silent but comically expressive Gromit in the Oscar-winning Aardman Animation films.
Baker was first paired with the animator Nick Park to co-write The Wrong Trousers (1993), the second short film featuring the clumsy, cheese-loving inventor Wallace (winningly voiced by Peter Sallis) and his more intelligent dog Gromit. Packed with comic set pieces including a wave of chaotic destruction caused by a pair of wayward robotic trousers and a hair-raising sequence on a model train commandeered by a duplicitous penguin, it won the 1994 Oscar for best animated short film and the Bafta for best animation.
Baker and Park collaborated again on A Close Shave (1995), which introduced a new character, Shaun the Sheep, and found Wallace falling for a shopkeeper, Wendolene (voiced by Anne Reid), who was secretly sheep rustling with her robot dog, Preston. Baker also co-scripted the Wallace and Gromit feature film The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005) and, back to short form again, the bakery based A Matter of Loaf and Death (2008). All three won Oscars, Baftas and much else besides.
Years earlier, in 1977, when firmly established with the long-running BBC science-fiction series Doctor Who, Baker and his writing partner Dave Martin conceived – as a one-off character – the mobile computer K9, a repository of knowledge with a supercilious attitude. Voiced by John Leeson (and for a short time by David Brierley), the character ultimately stayed with the series until 1981 before being given his own spin-off pilot, K9 and Company (1981), which paired him with the Doctor’s former companion Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen).
In 2006, K9 returned with Sarah Jane for an episode of Russell T Davies’ successful resurrection of Doctor Who – which led to his sporadic appearances in a second, more successful spin-off, The Sarah Jane Adventures (2007-11). Baker and the producer Paul Tams, after years of trying, got the character his own show and 26 episodes of K9 (2009-10) were made and broadcast in Australia, and distributed internationally by Disney XD, the Cartoon Network, BBC Kids and SYFY USA, among others.
Baker was born in St George, Bristol, the younger son of Roma (nee Coleman) and Stanley Baker. His father was a signwriter who spent Bob’s early wartime childhood posted abroad repairing damaged aeroplanes. Bob was educated at Air Balloon Hill secondary modern school but left at 15 without passing any O-levels. He became an apprentice monumental mason at the Co-op in Bristol, carving inscriptions on gravestones (“so I was always a writer,” he quipped).
He played in a jazz band with John Fortune, made a couple of short 16mm films, and in 1959 enrolled at the West of England College of Art in Bristol studying painting, with animation and film as a subsidiary. After helping Clive Donner to scout Bristol locations for the film Some People (1962) and a collaboration with the film-maker John Boorman, which ultimately came to nothing, he did various jobs including restoring old houses, one of which he turned into a small shop.
Manning the till, he got to know Martin, a regular late-night customer who was an advertising copywriter, and they decided to try writing together. “Dave said it’s a bit like a marriage without the sex,” recalled Baker of their fruitful relationship, which involved keen, if contrasting, senses of humour and an instinctive anticipation of what the other was thinking.
A productive collaboration with the producer Patrick Dromgoole at HTV generated a number of projects including their first television play and two dramas, Thick as Thieves (1971) and Machinegunner (1976), both with Leonard Rossiter. Dromgoole also produced their children’s drama serials Sky (1975), about a group of kids trying to help a time travelling youth with special powers, and King of the Castle (1977), the story of a troubled boy who uses fantasy to escape from his difficult home and school life. This dark, disturbing and surreal series remained one of their favourite engagements and was nominated for a Bafta.
Meanwhile, they had sent a script to the BBC based on the antics, during military service, of Bob’s good friend Keith Floyd (the future TV chef), and this resulted in their first commission for Doctor Who, The Claws of Axos (1971), which found Jon Pertwee’s Time Lord up against an alien race trying to take advantage of mankind’s greed.
It was the first of seven adventures that they wrote for the series including The Mutants (1972), a clever satire on colonialism in which an alien planet’s natural evolution is hampered by the interference of a futuristic representation of the British empire, and The Three Doctors (1972-73) which united Pertwee with his predecessors Patrick Troughton and William Hartnell (whose failing health necessitated a hasty rewrite).
The Invisible Enemy (1977) debuted K9 and featured a miniaturised Doctor (by now Tom Baker) injected into his own body in order to fight an alien virus. Baker also contributed a solo effort – Nightmare of Eden (1979) – an ambitious story in which two spaceships fuse together after a hyperspace jump and get caught up in intergalactic drug smuggling.
Other collaborations with Martin included Z-Cars (1974), Hunter’s Walk (1974-76) and the tough police series Target (1977-78) and although they parted ways professionally they remained firm friends until Martin’s death in 2007.
Baker script-edited and wrote episodes for Shoestring (1979) and Call Me Mister (1986), conceived and script-edited Into the Labyrinth (1982, another fantastical show with time travel elements) and wrote the 1992 TV film The Jazz Detective. An autobiography – K9 Stole My Trousers – came out in 2013 and when he died he was developing a number of projects, some K9 related.
Two marriages ended in divorce. Baker is survived by his third wife, Marie (nee Hum), whom he married in 1991, and her children, Jo, Clare, Rachael and Sarah Jane; a daughter, Cathy, and a son, Martin, from his first marriage, to Vicki Hollis; a son, Andy, and a stepdaughter, Laura, from his second marriage, to Angela Wynne; and seven grandchildren. A son, Paul, from his first marriage, died in 2020.
• Robert John Baker, writer, born 26 July 1939; died 3 November 2021