Waris Hussein

A smiling youthful 72 year old man emerging from the door of a blue police phone box

Waris Hussein in 2011
Photo: Tarina Peterson

Waris Hussein, the gay Anglo-Indian TV and film director, was born in Lucknow in 1938 and moved to Britain in 1946. He was a pupil at Clifton College, Bristol, from 1952-57. As a border, much of Bristol was out of bounds and he remembers “Park Street seemed like a mountain“. He also remembers that there were no locks on the toilet doors at Clifton College to discourage homosexual activity which was rife. “Pretty blond boys were much in demand” he recalled.

It was during his time at Clifton College that his directing career began, working on house play competitions which were judged by actors and staff from the Bristol Old Vic. After leaving Clifton College, Hussein studied English Literature at Cambridge University where he was a contemporary of gay actors, Derek Jacobi and Sir Ian McKellen.

He joined the BBC in 1960 aged 23, as the youngest and first Indian director. He directed the first four episodes of Dr Who which began on November 23rd 1963 with An Unearthly Child. He also directed six of the seven episodes of Marco Polo, the fourth and first fully historical story of the Dr Who series which aired February-April 1964. Hussein later recalled that the scenes with handsome, square jawed Mark Eden as Marco Polo and leather clad villain Tegana (Darren Nesbitt) were the closest he got to depicting a gay fantasy on screen.

He has also said William Hartnell, the original “Dr Who”, was homophobic but said “I never allowed him to think of me as anything other than a director”. They later enjoyed a good working relationship and Hussein developed a “great affection” for Hartnell. In 2017 Hussein discussed his sexuality in an episode of Dr Who: The Fan Show.

In 1968 Hussein directed Simon Gray’s Spoiled for “The Wednesday Play” BBC TV series which dealt with a married schoolmaster who seduces a 19 year old pupil and destroys his life. Hussein recalled the boy was played by “a very pretty young man”, the late Simon Ward, and that the play was “Very dark and sad, yet funny and dealt with all sorts of things that would resonate today”. The Daily Mirror review wrote” I can’t remember a TV play that dealt so truly and touchingly with the complexities of man’s sexual conflict “.

Hussein first returned to Bristol in June 1971 to direct a programme in the TV series Search and was interviewed for the Western Daily Press. He was currently directing the cinema film version of The Six Wives of Henry VIII starring Keith Michell who had also played the Tudor monarch in the 1970 BBC TV series.

In 1987 Hussein directed the ITV drama Intimate Contact about a couple dealing with the impact of AIDS. Although he did not reveal it at the time, the subject was particularly close to him as he had lost his partner, Ian, to the disease.

Hussein went on to direct many classic drama series in the 1970s and 80s, including the historical series about the suffragettes Shoulder to Shoulder (1974), Edward and Mrs Simpson (1978) and Arch of Triumph (1984) for HTV which was partly filmed in Bristol. Hussein continues to direct in the UK, USA and his native India.

Jonathan Rowe 2024

Wikipedia: Waris Hussein
History Project interview with Waris Hussein (2013)
Western Daily Press interview 15 June 1971 (British Newspaper Archive subscription required)
BBC Programme Index (Genome)