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Brooking, Dorothea (1916-1999)

Producer, Director, Screenwriter, Actor

Main image of Brooking, Dorothea (1916-1999)

A sterling pioneer of children's television in Britain during the 1950s, Dorothea Brooking is credited with introducing the first true British television-viewing generation (the 1950s) to the literary works of Edith Nesbit and Frances Hodgson Burnett and their fascinating world of Edwardian childhood.

Born into a theatrical family - her great grandfather, Charles Mayne Young, had appeared as Hamlet in Drury Lane in the early 19th century - Brooking began as an actress under the name of Daryl Wilde, studying at the Old Vic. Here she met and married fellow student John Brooking, who worked under the stage name of Franklin.

During the early 1940s, while Franklin was away in Africa, she and her young son travelled to Shanghai where she was attached to the British Embassy. There she also worked as a writer and producer for a local radio station. Managing to escape before the Japanese occupation she joined the BBC on her return to England and in 1950 was recruited for the newly formed Children's Department of the television service at Alexandra Palace.

Given the opportunity to provide programmes for the fledgling children's television slot, she was the first to realise that the novels of Edwardian writers like Nesbit and Burnett had a relevance for children of the mid 20th century.

In 1951 she produced two very successful serial adaptations of Nesbit's The Railway Children for the Children's Hour slot. This charming story of three children who share adventures around a local railway in Yorkshire was first broadcast live in 1951 (in eight parts) and proved so popular that it was restaged some four months later (BBC, 1951, in four parts); some six years later she was asked to produce yet another adaptation of the popular Nesbit story (BBC, 1957). Brooking's association with the works of Nesbit for this period was rounded out with her adaptation/production of the six-part The Treasure Seekers (BBC, 1961).

Then in 1952 Brooking followed with another children's classic, Burnett's story of a young girl who restores an abandoned garden in her uncle's eerie Victorian manor, The Secret Garden, which was serialised in eight parts by BBC TV (1952). She supervised another eight-part version of the story in 1960 and again in 1975, both for BBC TV. The role of the irrepressible maid, Martha, was played by a young Billie Whitelaw in the 1952 version, and by Prunella Scales in the 1960 version.

The popularity of these early costume serials was to set the standard for quality children's television, and Brooking went on to produce adaptations of Louisa May Alcott's Good Wives (BBC, 1958, a five-part sequel to Little Women), featuring Phyllis Calvert as Mrs March, Dickens's Great Expectations (BBC, 1959), and Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (BBC, 1960).

The early 1960s saw her well-received serialisations of The Racketty Street Gang (BBC, 1961), a happy adventure about four boys along the waterfront of Sydney Harbour (from the book by Australian writer L.H. Evers), The Six Proud Walkers (BBC, 1962), an unexpected 13-part crime thriller (as director only), and the eight-part Katy (BBC, 1962, from the Susan Coolidge What Katy Did books), the latter featuring the youthful line-up of Susan Hampshire, Michele Dotrice, Sally Geeson and Pippa Steel.

When in 1963 BBC Children's television became amalgamated with Women's Programmes under the title of Family Programmes, Brooking was transferred to the Schools department (to provide its drama inserts). Then, in the late 1960s, she decided to retire early from the BBC and went freelance.

When Monica Sims became head of the newly reformed Children's department in 1968 and re-started drama production, Brooking was brought back in a welcome return to classic serial production.

She produced John Tully's exciting adaptation of Hester Burton's Castors Away (BBC, 1968), about two children who lived at the time of the Battle of Trafalgar. It was her first collaboration (of some seven television works) with writer John Tully. Together they went on to adapt/produce Philippa Pearce's engaging fantasy Tom's Midnight Garden (BBC, 1974), Rumer Godden's story (The Diddakoi, 1972) of a young Romany girl, Kizzy (BBC, 1976), and, in a successful return to Nesbit, the eight-part serialisation of The Phoenix and the Carpet (BBC, 1977).

Although she returned to acting and writing radio plays from time to time, Brooking continued working on other children's serials - Alison Uttley's A Traveller in Time (BBC, 1978) and L.T. Meade's A Little Silver Trumpet (BBC, 1980) - until her last work in 1981, the supernatural-themed drama The Haunting of Cassie Palmer (ITV, 1982), the latter being the first children's drama from the newly-franchised Television South (TVS).

In 1980, at the Pye Colour Television Awards in London, she was recognised with a Special Award for Services to Children's Television.

Tise Vahimagi

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