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Smith, Julia (1927-1997)

Producer, Director

Main image of Smith, Julia (1927-1997)

Television in Britain has long inserted liberal social themes into its drama programming. Like some television-age Charles Dickens (whose serialised works aroused the Victorian conscience), Julia Smith has always brought a moral element to her work, discussing social issues without artificiality and often blurring the dividing line between fiction and reality. Her ultimate achievement, EastEnders (BBC, 1985- ), conveyed the Dickens gift of combining serialised entertainment with a sense of forum drama.

She trained at RADA before learning stage management with repertory companies around the country. Her break came when the BBC asked her to stage manage Menotti's The Consul (tx. 28/5/1951) for television. She returned to the theatre, working for the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre at Stratford-upon-Avon, but was called back to BBC television in 1963 to direct her first play, 'Letter to a Soldier' (tx. 11/2/1963) for the anthology Suspense (BBC, 1962-63).

Her first taste of soap serial as director was on Compact (BBC, 1962-65), set in a women's magazine publishing house, and The Newcomers (BBC, 1965-69), about a London family who relocate to a country town. She directed multiple episodes of the popular Dr. Finlay's Casebook (BBC, 1962-71) saga, Patrick Troughton's early days as Doctor Who (BBC, 1963-89), and the BBC's popular seven-part serialisation of Edith Nesbit's The Railway Children (1968).

Working on long-running police drama Z Cars (BBC, 1962-78) in the early 1970s, she met the series' script editor, Tony Holland, beginning a long and fruitful collaboration. The pair worked together (a producer-script editor partnership) on the hospital series Angels (BBC, 1975-83) and on The District Nurse (BBC, 1984; 1987) before their joint creation of EastEnders.

Providing the BBC with its first long-running soap serial since the rather lightweight, radio-styled series of the 1960s, EastEnders reflected a modern-day social realism, with storylines focusing on such unpalatable aspects of life as Aids, cot death, drug addiction, racism, abortion and many other controversial issues rarely examined in episodic television.

The Smith-Holland team was asked to devise another BBC serial and, in 1992, they launched Eldorado, a 'Eurosoap' set on the Spanish Riviera. Unfortunately, it was a ratings disaster from the beginning and was cancelled in 1993. It seemed an unfitting close to a career remarkable for breaching the safe and the sedate with a determination to confront the real-life experience.

She won the Desmond Davis Award for Outstanding Creative contribution to Television, 1987.

Tise Vahimagi

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Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Angels (1975-83)Angels (1975-83)

Groundbreakingly realistic portrayal of the lives of NHS nurses

Thumbnail image of Compact (1962-65)Compact (1962-65)

The BBC's second soap opera, set in the world of magazine publishing

Thumbnail image of Dr Finlay's Casebook (1962-71)Dr Finlay's Casebook (1962-71)

Classic early TV medical drama set in the Scottish lowlands

Thumbnail image of EastEnders (1985- )EastEnders (1985- )

The BBC's most successful soap - a serious rival to Coronation Street

Thumbnail image of Eldorado (1992-93)Eldorado (1992-93)

Notoriously short-lived soap intended as a European EastEnders

Thumbnail image of Railway Children, The (1968)Railway Children, The (1968)

1968 BBC adaptation of the evergreen E. Nesbit story

Thumbnail image of Z Cars (1962-78)Z Cars (1962-78)

Groundbreaking cop drama introducing new grit and realism

Related collections

Thumbnail image of Doctor Who (1963-89, 2005-)Doctor Who (1963-89, 2005-)

Recently regenerated time-travelling adventures

Thumbnail image of Soap OperaSoap Opera

Unending stories of everyday life

Related people and organisations

Thumbnail image of Holland, Tony (1940-2007)Holland, Tony (1940-2007)

Writer, Script Editor, Actor