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BBC Genome Blog


  • 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 cancellation, which would leave the title open for reuse after a decent interval elapsed.

    Top of the Pops is one of the best-known titles which had been used before. As well as being a stock phrase for records or acts which were successful, there was a Home Service radio series using the title beginning on 4 February 1952, in which “hit tunes old and new” were performed by singers Dick James, Diana Coupland, Felix King, and the Stargazers, with musical accompaniment by the Steve Race Sextet.  That series only lasted until May the same year, but in October 1956 there was another series called…

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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 collecting props for BBC programmes.

    He recalls that his first job was to deliver an important item for Noel Edmonds’ Multi-Coloured Swap Shop. "I went all the way to Biddenden Pram Museum to pick up a wooden pram. I have no idea what they did with the pram!" Multi-Coloured Swap Shop was a children’s show that filled three hours of a Saturday morning with phone-ins, celebrity guests, cartoons and music, based around the concept of children swapping their unwanted possessions.

    Being central to the movement of props and sets meant Paul got a first-hand view of some of the era’s iconic television…

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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 is little sign of puppetry itself being performed on sound radio – that may sound obvious, but it was far from unknown for the most unlikely, and seemingly visual subjects to be featured on the wireless in its early days (such as conjuring and snooker…). It was not until the advent of television, which began experimentally in 1929, that puppets began to feature in programmes properly. On 14 May 1930 the London Marionette Theatre gave the first known television puppet show (though television performers were not billed in Radio Times at that time), and further appearances by this troupe included…

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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 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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  • Choirboys Reunite?

    The young cast of Choirboys Unite! exchange words with the vicar (played by Derek Francis). Michael Coffman (front row, middle) played the lead - Harry.

    BBC Genome revisits a live Christmas TV programme with an unusual cast, with the help of one of those involved.

    Calling Michael Coffman, Reginald Smith, Trevor Bottrell, Derek Williams, John Haywood, Geoffrey Wali, John Bright, Patrick McLoughlin… David K Smith wants to know what happened to you - and so do we at Genome!

    Schoolboys in the early 1960s, these lads were completely untrained…

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  • The 13 Doctors - a Who's Who

    Andrew Martin

    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…

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  • Aquabelles - the inside story

    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…

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  • Giles Cooper - the radio dramas

    Hugh Chignell

    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…

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