BBC Genome Blog

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  • BBC Genome

    William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee in a publicity still for The Three Doctors (1972/3)

    On Sunday 7 October 2018, television history is made with the full debut of Jodie Whittaker as the first woman to play the lead in Doctor Who. Leaving aside doubles, stand-ins, spoofs, and John Hurt in 2013’s The Day of the Doctor, 13 actors will now have played the Doctor on television since the series began in 1963.

    William Hartnell was the first of these. He had a long career in films, often playing sergeants and other authority figures. He first broadcast on BBC radio in 1931, while his television debut was in 1953 in an excerpt from the stage play Seagulls Over Sorrento. His next credited BBC television appearance was a decade later, in Doctor Who. Before that his only major TV role was in ITV sitcom The Army Game, playing a sergeant-major. However, it was his role as a seedy rugby league talent scout in the film This Sporting Life that inspired producer Verity Lambert to cast him as the Doctor.

    Hartnell was succeeded by Patrick Troughton in 1966. Troughton’s long television...

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  • The billing from Radio Times that brought back fond memories for Jeanne King

    On 21 July 1955, BBC outside broadcast cameras went to visit a lively water spectacle in Bournemouth. The BBC Genome billing for the programme, The Bournemouth Aquashow, sparked a memory for one reader.

    Jeanne King was 20 years old when she spotted an advertisement in her local paper for a new type of water show. Experienced swimmers were invited to apply and attend a test at the Bournemouth Pier Baths.

    The year was 1952, and as a keen swimmer with ballet training, this seemed right up Jeanne’s street. She decided to go and audition.

    “I’d always been a swimmer,” she says. “It runs in my family. We are like fish!”

    “At my test, I realised this was an entirely new way of swimming for me. I had to put my head and neck up and grin at people – I couldn’t just plough through the water with my face down. “It was important that we were looking at the audience.”

    The complex water manoeuvres choreographed for the water-performers – or Aquabelles - owed much to classical dance, and Jeanne’s...

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  • Professor of Media History

    Giles Cooper photographed in 1946. Image courtesy of the Giles Cooper estate.

    Guest blogger Professor Hugh Chignell, director of the Centre for Media History at Bournemouth University, looks back at the work of the prolific playwright Giles Cooper.

    One of the things BBC Genome does so well is to remind us about people who made major contributions to broadcasting in the past but have now been forgotten. A good example of this neglect is the playwright, Giles Cooper, who was born 100 years ago this month.

    Giles Cooper is probably best known for his adaptations of Georges Simenon’s Maigret novels for television but he was also one of the most prolific of all BBC radio dramatists. In a career lasting from 1950 to his early death in 1966, he wrote 12 plays for the Third Programme, 31 for the Home Service and seven for the Light Programme, a total of 50 different dramas. He deserves a special place in a history of radio drama not only because of his considerable output but because he probably did more than anyone to develop the drama written specifically for...

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  • BBC Genome

    The cast of Dad's Army, pictured in 1973 - back row l-r Arnold Ridley, James Beck, John Laurie, Ian Lavender; front row l-r Clive Dunn, Arthur Lowe and John Le Mesurier

    The first episode of Dad's Army was shown 50 years ago, on Wednesday 31 July 1968. The Radio Times billing for the new series said:  "It’s back to the 1940 days of gas masks, sandbags, and tin hats for this new comedy series about the Home Guard. The cast includes Arthur Lowe and John Le Mesurier." The series was also given a full page article detailing its concept, and the background on its...

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  • BBC Genome

    Angela Down (left) as Sylvia Pankhurst and Sian Phillips (right) as Emmeline Pankhurst in 1974 costume drama Shoulder to Shoulder

    There are now more than 7,000 links in BBC Genome to the World Service archive. Here is a selection of some of our favourites, profiling important figures from history.

    As we have continued to sift through the thousands of programmes in the World Service Archive to identify more recordings that can be linked to listings in BBC Genome, the range of programmes continues to amaze. As cataloguers,...

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  • BBC Genome

    Kenneth Wolstenholme presenting coverage of West Ham United v Sheffield United in 1966

    More than 20 million UK viewers tuned in to watch the final of the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. In stark contrast there is barely a trace of the early World Cups in BBC Genome's television and radio listings.

    The first football World Cup was held in 1930. It was a humble affair, which didn’t get an outing on radio or TV in the UK. Scotland and England were invited but did not accept; a Radio...

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  • BBC Genome

    Savoy Hill, the BBC's headquarters from 1923 to 1932

    Today the main home and headquarters of the BBC is Broadcasting House on Portland Place, at the top of Regent Street in the West End of London. The BBC formally moved into that building on 15 May 1932, but for the preceding nine years, its London base had been a couple of miles away at Savoy Hill, on the north bank of the Thames between Waterloo and Hungerford Bridges.

    Unlike Broadcasting...

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  • BBC Genome

    C. H. Middleton was the first gardening superstar, and loved flowers - though the last years of his career were spent exhorting wartime Britain to plant vegetables in the Dig for Victory campaign

    The perennial Gardeners’ World returns to our screens this week, a show that has now been running for half a century. To celebrate, the BBC Genome blog looks back at some of the pioneer gardening shows on BBC radio and television.

    If you go back to the earliest mentions of gardens, gardening and horticulture in the Genome database, you will find them in the very first issue of Radio Times in...

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  • An image from the title sequence of Down to Earth: the theme tune was composed by folk musicians Ian Clark and Christopher Rowe

    Songwriter Ian Clark composed music for TV and radio programmes through the 1970s and 1980s. Here, he describes one memorable job.

    In the summer of 1972 I was singing and writing with musician Christopher Rowe and together we had recently produced two albums of songs about the city. We were working for Radio and TV in Hull in various capacities, from presenting BBC Radio Humberside’s weekly...

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  • BBC Genome

    The original title sequence for Grange Hill was a pastiche of a children's comic, and memorably features the image of a sausage with a fork stuck in it: not a scene that made it into the actual show sadly

    There’s nothing like an anniversary to make you feel old, and on 8 February 2018 it is 40 years since the first episode of Grange Hill was broadcast.

    Grange Hill was the first realistic, long-running drama about school, told from the perspective of the children. It was set in a comprehensive school, and so was closer to the actual experiences of most of its audience: many previous school...

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