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  • On Your Own - One-person dramas

    Andrew Martin

    BBC Genome

    Dot Branning (June Brown) records a message to husband Jim in her 2008 EastEnders solo performance

    The number of performers in a drama can vary from the cast-of-thousands to the two-hander, but one of the less frequently used forms is the solo drama or monologue, where only a single actor is present. 

    Perhaps the best known example of single character plays is the Talking Heads series by Alan Bennett, itself inspired by his 1982 play A Woman of No Importance. The two series of Talking Heads, six episodes each, were broadcast in 1988 and 1998, and the first series especially was celebrated, with particular praise going to the episode A Cream Cracker Under the Settee. Looking back on the series Bennett said "In television terms a monologue is something of a departure, but it is also the oldest form in the world: one person telling a tale."

    The success of Talking Heads inspired the Single Voices strand, which followed in 1990. In that, six different authors contributed monologues, for example Roy Clarke’s opener The Chemist, performed by David Jason, Carla Lane’s The Last Supper, with…

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  • Apollo 11: Listening to the landing

    Helen Randle

    BBC Archive

    A clip from the BBC's Moon Special radio simulcast, which began on the evening of 20 July 1969. Presenter Arthur Garratt and studio guests Professor Lionel Wilson and Eric Burnett discuss Buzz Aldrin's re-entry to the lunar module. Source: BBC and NASA.

    BBC Genome looks back at the nail-biting hours before the lunar module successfully landed on the surface of the Moon. Professor Lionel Wilson of Lancaster University was one of the broadcasters relaying the events as they happened, to a radio audience. 

    On 21 July 1969 the world was watching as US astronaut Neil Armstrong descended from the Eagle lunar module and made his “small step” onto the surface of the Moon. It was a truly global television event. But not everyone was able to watch a television set, so BBC radio reported for listeners, explaining the events as well as listening to and relaying the conversations between the astronauts and mission control.

    The Moon landing in July 1969 was the culmination of “the Space Race” between the US and the USSR. The Soviets had won the early stages, launching the first satellite in 1957, landing the first unmanned spacecraft on the surface of the Moon in 1959, and in 1961 sending the first cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin, into space. A month…

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  • Jon Pertwee at 100

    Andrew Martin

    BBC Genome

    Jon Pertwee (1919-1996) was an actor and entertainer known mostly for work on radio - until 1970 when he was cast as the third Doctor in Doctor Who - he's pictured here in 1960

    John Devon Roland Pertwee was born 100 years ago, on 7 July 1919. He was part of a dynasty who all made their mark on the British stage, screen and radio: his father Roland, his brother Michael, his cousin Bill, and his children Dariel and Sean all feature in the pages of Genome. Jon has the largest number of credits however, due to his roles in The Navy Lark and Doctor Who, as well as a host of other radio and television appearances – dating back to 1938, when he was briefly billed as John Pertwee in a handful of radio performances.

    Pertwee's first Genome credit was for a feature programme about the history of flight, Voyage to the Sun. While serving in Royal Naval Intelligence during World War Two, he was assigned to keep an eye on the Navy version of the series Merry-Go-Round. This was a variety show, originally named Mediterranean Merry-Go-Round, which alternated Army, Air Force and Navy editions. Pertwee began to contribute to the show, which starred Eric Barker, and which was…

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  • An Accompanist's Tale

    Sylvia Schulman has worked as a concert pianist and accompanist since the 1940s

    In a career spanning eight decades, pianist Sylvia Schulman has worked as a concert pianist and played in live and recorded broadcasts for networks across the world. She recalls her experiences of accompanying renowned singers for broadcasts on BBC Radio 3 50 years ago.  

    Sylvia Schulman was born in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in 1925. A talented pianist, she studied at the South Africa…

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  • The Name's the Same - Recycled Titles

    Andrew Martin

    BBC Genome

    Top of the Pops - in the most recent use of that title - became somewhere where even the most obscure one-hit-wonder band could get their 3 minutes of fame

    It’s hard to underestimate the importance of a good title in making a programme. It’s that first piece of branding that immediately tries to catch the viewer’s interest and give them some idea of what a programme is about.

    Given that fact, it’s perhaps surprising that so many series titles have been used more than once – or perhaps it isn’t:  a good title might not save a mediocre programme from…

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  • Flashback to the 1980s: Behind the scenes of BBC TV

    Paul Darrow enjoys lunch during the filming of series four of cult sci-fi series Blake's Seven. The drama, created by Terry Nation, ran from 1978 to 1981 on BBC One

    Here at BBC Genome, we love to hear stories from those who worked behind-the-scenes on BBC productions. Paul Stimson is one of those. His work in the early 1980s for a car company hired by the BBC gave him an insider’s view.

    "I worked for a company that supplied vehicles and drivers for hire. Most of the time we were sub-contracted to the BBC," says Paul. Paul began work making deliveries and…

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  • Muffin, Andy, Bill and Ben - Early TV Puppets

    Andrew Martin

    BBC Genome

    Annette Mills poses with her friend Muffin the Mule in 1947.

    The art of the puppeteer is an ancient one, so it is not surprising that this form of entertainment has a long history in broadcasting. Puppetry can be string puppets (marionettes), glove puppets, or other forms such as rod and shadow puppets. Most of those seen on television have been in the first two categories.

    Other than Punch and Judy shows and the occasional item in Children’s Hour, there…

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  • And now... the news in colour

    A Radio Times cover reflecting Newsroom's move to colour a few weeks after the event

    On 5 February 1968, BBC Two's Newsroom became the first British news programme to be broadcast in colour. A former staff member who worked in the News Stills Library at the time recalls the event. 

    Launched in April 1964, Newsroom was a 25-minute “survey” of the day’s events. It aimed to put the news in perspective, providing added context and using reporters and specialists as regular…

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  • Tanner, Tewson and Thorne - Three Ts of Character Acting

    Andrew Martin

    BBC Genome

    This month we profile three character actresses who make frequent appearances in the BBC Genome listings.

    They didn't always play lead parts, but they made unique contributions to some of the nation's favourite shows, in programmes that emerged during the "golden age" of British sitcom. 

    ANGELA THORNE

    Angela Thorne with Penelope Keith in the first episode of the third series of To the Manor Born

    Angela Thorne was born in Karachi in 1939, and celebrates her 80th birthday on 25 January…

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  • Radio Times in the 1940s - War and Peace

    Andrew Martin

    BBC Genome

    Radio Times marked the extension of broadcasting hours on the Forces Programme in February 1940 with this artwork cover

    Following the release of the 1920s and 1930s Radio Times magazines, BBC Genome is now pleased to be able to share the pages of the Radio Times from the 1940s with its readers.

    It was a traumatic decade, with World War Two spanning the first half and the start of the Cold War dominating the rest. While Radio Times reflects some aspects of these events, it is of course as ever a record of…

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