On this day in history….23rd November 1963

On this day in history : 23rd November 1963 – The very first episode of the science fiction series Dr. Who is shown by the BBC….

‘An Unearthly Child’ was shown in four weekly parts and introduced William Hartnell as the first Doctor….with Carole Ann Ford as his granddaughter and companion….

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William Hartnell as the first Doctor – BBC – Fair use

The first episode centres on school teachers Barbara Wright and Ian Chesterton (played by Susan Foreman – with Jacqueline Hall and William Russell) discovering the Doctor and his TARDIS…. The rest of the story takes place in the Stone Age and follows the plot of warring tribes who have lost the knowledge of how to make fire….

On this day in history….20th October 1946

On this day in history : 20th October 1946 – Muffin the Mule appears on BBC Children’s Television for the first time….

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Muffin the Muke puppet toy, Museum of Childhood, Edinburgh – Image credit : Chemical Engineer CC BY-SA 4.0

Muffin was already 12-years-old before debuting on TV…. Hogarth Puppets, run by puppeteers Jan Bussell and his wife Ann Hogarth, were used as an experimental medium during the pioneering days of television in the 1930s…. The mule, which at that point remained nameless, was made by Fred Tickner (who also created Punch and Judy) and was added to the Hogarth collection in November 1934….

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Ann Hogarth – Fair use

It was in 1946 that Annette Mills, older sister of actor John Mills, joined the BBC…. Annette had been an accomplished and up and coming dancer – but her dancing days ended when she suffered a broken leg…. In a career change she took on the role as presenter of a show to entertain children by singing and telling stories….using the top of her grand piano as a ‘stage’ for the characters in her stories….

Annette and her colleague, producer Andrew Miller Jones, approached Jan Bussell and Ann Hogarth – and together as a team they devised the ‘Muffin the Mule Show’ using the mule puppet Fred Tickner had created….

Usually the show went out on air at Sunday teatime and ran on the BBC until Annette’s death in 1955…. Each 15 minute episode began with Annette singing the theme tune ~ “We want Muffin, Muffin the Mule…. Dear old Muffin, playing the fool” …. Ann Hogarth would operate the puppet, so that it would be dancing on the piano top, from behind a screen…. A story would then be told by Annette, usually featuring other puppet characters, such as Sally the Seal, Poppy the Parrot, Peregrine the Penguin and Katy the Kangaroo….

Muffin was one of the first stars of British television – and one of the first examples of character merchandise….including toys, books, playing cards, clothing and games, such as ‘Pin the Tail on Muffin’…. The puppet featured as a regular comic strip in the 1950s publication ‘T.V. Comic’ and there was even a Muffin the Mule Club to join….

On this day in history….9th July 1955

On this day in history : 9th July 1955 – Dixon of Dock Green is shown on British television for the first time…. With Jack Warner playing the part of George Dixon the series ran for 21 years….

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Image credit : Leonard Bentley via Flickr

The programme, created by Ted Willis, ran on the BBC between 1955 and 1976 for 22 series with 367 episodes….and centred on everyday life in an East End of London police station…. It dealt with petty crime in a reasonable and human way….

Jack Warner had been a comedian on the radio and continued to play comic characters in his early film career…. However, in the early 1940s he began to extend his range, becoming a character actor….displaying warmth and maturity…. ‘George Dixon’ made his first appearance in the film ‘The Blue Lamp’ in 1950….

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Jack Warner – Fair use

As a TV programme Dixon of Dock Green aired at 6.30pm on a Saturday evening….and always started with one of its famous lines….”Evening, all”…. In 1961 it was voted the second most popular TV show, with an estimated 13.85 million viewers…. Dixon was popular among the police themselves; Warner was made an honorary member of both the Margate and Ramsgate police forces…. On a visit to the studios, where the series was made, HM The Queen said she thought Dixon of Dock Green had become part of the British way of life….

However, towards the end of the 1960s ratings had begun to decline – faster paced cop shows, such as Z Cars and then later The Sweeney, were becoming increasingly popular…. Loyal fans stuck with Dixon though; in one episode when the character was shot over 4,000 letters were received by the BBC inquiring of his well-being…. An announcement had to be made on TV to say he was alright….

But by the mid 1970s Jack Warner’s own health was beginning to suffer….he was looking frail and no longer looked the part in a police uniform…. The series came to an end with the last episode being shown on the 1st of May 1976…. “Goodnight, all”….

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Fair use

On this day in history….10th November 1998

On this day in history : 10th November 1998 – The death of English actress and singer Mary Millar – who played Rose in the highly successful BBC TV comedy series Keeping Up Appearances….

Mary Millar as Rose in ‘Keeping Up Appearances’ – Fair use

Mary was born on the 26th of July 1936 in Doncaster, Yorkshire, to music hall singers Horace and Irene Weston…. Her parents had an act, Sweethearts in Harmony and as a child Mary would go on tour with them…. At first she had her heart set on becoming a stable hand – but changed her mind and began singing arias on stage at the age of 14….

In 1953, aged 17, Mary made her first TV appearance in Those Were the Days…. She went on to appear in The Dick Emery Show and The Stanley Baxter Show…. But she is probably best remembered as Rose, the youngest sister of Hyacinth Bucket in Keeping Up Appearances…. Rose, with her eye for the men (especially married ones) and her love of skimpy clothes, who brought shame to her social climbing snobbish elder sister….

The cast of ‘Keeping up Appearances’ – Fair use

In 1962 Mary made her acting stage debut in Lock Up Your Daughters; in the same year she married Rafael D Frame and the couple had a daughter in 1972…. Mary had a busy and constant theatrical career and was in the original cast of Phantom of the Opera…. Her final performance was in 1998 as Mrs Potts in the West End production Beauty and the Beast…. She left the production in February 1998 as her health was deteriorating – she had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer the previous month…. Mary lost her battle with her illness in the November of 1998, dying in Brockley, London, with her husband and daughter at her bedside….

On this day in history….21st January 1924

On this day in history : 24th January 1924 – The birth of Alfred Hawthorne Hill – better known to us as the slapstick comedian and actor Benny Hill….

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Waxwork of Benny Hill in character as Fred Scuttle on The Benny Hill Show – Ricardo Liberato via Wikimedia Commons

Hill was born in Southampton – both his father and grandfather before him had been circus clowns…. Hill had a variety of jobs after leaving school…. He worked in Woolworth’s, did a spell as a milkman, was a driver, a bridge operator and even a drummer – before finally becoming assistant stage manager for a touring theatre company….

In 1942 he was called up – and served as a truck driver, mechanic and search light operator in Normandy, France…. However, his talent to entertain did not go unnoticed and he was eventually transferred to Combined Services Entertainment – the division which provided entertainment to the British Armed Forces…. It was at this time he changed his name to Benny – after his favourite comedian Jack Benny….

After the War he performed on radio – and made his TV debut in 1950…. He pursued a film career, with credits including ‘Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines’, ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ and ‘The Italian Job’ – amongst others….

But his real glory came from his long running TV series ‘The Benny Hill Show’…. With its sketches of slapstick, parody, mime and double entendre the show ran in one form or another from January 1955 to May 1989 – and aired in over 140 countries…. In 1971 audience in the UK peaked at more than 21 million viewers…. However, declining numbers meant that in 1989 the show was axed….

Hill never married, although he proposed to at least two women – he had no children…. By the late 1980s his health had begun to decline – and in February 1992 he was advised to have a heart bypass after a mild heart attack…. He declined….a week later he was also diagnosed with kidney failure…. Benny Hill died alone, in his armchair in front of the TV, in April 1992….

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Portrait of Benny Hill, from Press Kit – Fair use