Main content

Stars of Genome: Maggie Philbin

Maggie Philbin first found fame as a member of the Swap Shop presenting team

Maggie Philbin first appeared on our screens in the late 1970s as part of the team that presented Saturday morning children's show Multi-Coloured Swap Shop.

She went on to present science programme Tomorrow's World. In recent years she has been seen on Bang Goes The Theory, and led a task force to establish ways of encouraging young people's digital skills.

Maggie, who currently has 755 mentions in the Genome database, looks back at her memorable moments in broadcasting and a listings regular - including being a Radio Times cover star.

What was your first job in radio or television? I joined Swap Shop straight out of University – so I had the rather bizarre experience of doing a series of interviews and auditions during my finals. I never dreamt for a minute they would trust me with three hours of live telly but the producer took a very big gamble and was incredibly supportive.

Do you remember the first time your name appeared in the Radio Times? Yes, it was very strange to see it there. But also a big relief. I’d been given the job in June and asked not to let anyone know until the show went on air in September. I was very literal about this and didn’t tell a soul outside of my family and best mate – so it was such a relief to be able to tell people what I was up to.

How did you feel when your photo was first published in the magazine? Slightly embarrassed as I’d had a haircut and didn’t really like it. I also used to be very self-conscious about stills photography.

Have you been honoured with an appearance on the cover and how was it for you? I am very proud to have had a cover – when I did a programme called Tomorrow’s World At Large – a 30 minute special about drag-racing. It was without doubt one of the most terrifying periods of my life – I drove a Ford Fiesta at the time and the programme editor had an insane idea that we would build a car to break world records. I did get my international racing licence and did some good runs but it was very obvious records would never be broken with me at the wheel. The wonderful bloke who’d be coaching me took over but the tyres exploded and the car spiralled out of control. Had that been me I and anyone on that course would have been dead.

Maggie became well known as a science and technology presenter, here on Tomorrow's World

Can you tell us your memories of the following programmes?

Multi-Coloured Swap Shop Swap Shop was a gift of a programme and a very happy introduction to the BBC. My fellow presenters and the whole production team were wonderful to work with and I learnt a huge amount.

Tomorrow’s World This was the show where I really felt like I’d come home. It was such a privilege to meet so many brilliant and innovative people from every area of science and technology. At the time I simply enjoyed sharing the insight and understanding with an audience who seemed very appreciative. Now I realise that the impact of the show was huge and again, it’s a privilege to meet so many young scientists and engineers who say it was TW which put them on their career pathways.

Playground This was an early show on Saturday mornings and was my first experience of Radio One. I did all the pre-recced interviews for the show along with Keith Chegwin. It was interesting to see how the friendliness of pop stars was in direct relation to their fame. Some of the rudest people we ever met were people we’d never heard of and who no-one ever heard of again. My dentist was opposite the BBC where we pre-recced those shows and sometimes I misjudged the time needed for my mouth to unfreeze after having a filling.

Star Turn This was where I discovered I wasn’t as fit as I thought I was.

Maggie's position as a science broadcaster has continued with Bang Goes The Theory

Which co-stars have made the biggest impact on you over the years? I’ve been lucky to work with a huge variety of people – all talented in different ways. Noel and Keith taught me that it really doesn’t matter if things don’t go according to plan as that often provides the best moments of telly – a tip I found very helpful when I went on to do all those live Tomorrow's World studios with malfunctioning tech. I made some of my closest friends on TW – Judith, Kieran, Peter and Howard became incredibly close friends.

Are there any people working behind the scenes who have made an impression on your career? I owe everything to Rosemary Gill who gave me that wonderful opportunity with Swap Shop. She was a gifted, funny and incredibly clever woman. We named our daughter after her.

How important do you think it is to preserve the history of TV and radio listings? It’s a very powerful social record – you can see how tastes and interests change. It’s also useful to see how much braver TV was in an era of fewer channels.

Have you ever searched for your own name in the Genome database? I haven’t – but I will!

Maggie had the honour of her own Radio Times cover in 1983

More Posts


The Sunday Post: Vera Lynn


The Sunday Post: Shakespearean Spin-Offs