Obituary: Dorothea Brooking

THE WORK of Edith Nesbit, the turn-of-the-century children's author, is known to generations of 20th- century children not only through the printed word but through television, film and video. The first British television version of her 1906 story The Railway Children was adapted and produced by Dorothea Brooking, and transmitted by the BBC as an eight-part serial in February-March 1951. Edward Barnes, former Head of Children's programmes, states that through her realisation of the books of E. Nesbit, Brooking "conjured up a world of Edwardian childhood that has never been surpassed".

Young viewers of today, accustomed to multi-channelled coloured television, would find it difficult to imagine the media in March 1950 when Brooking transferred from the BBC overseas service at Bush House to be a producer in the newly formed children's television department at Alexandra Palace. The black-and-white BBC channel was the only one available, and only to people living within range of the London and Sutton Coldfield transmitters. The July 1949 mass observation report on television had found that only one in 50 interviewees had a television set, and one in three had never seen television. Expansion came rapidly in the 1950s.

Brooking was born Dorothea Smith Wright in 1916, to a family with theatrical connections. One ancestor was the 19th-century actor Charles Mayne Young (died 1856), who performed at Drury Lane, and Dorothea's brother was also an actor. Educated at boarding school in England and finishing school in Montreux, Dorothea studied acting at the Old Vic - her stage name was Daryl Wilde - where she met and married a fellow student, John Brooking, whose stage name was Franklin.

After the birth of her son, Timothy, the family went to Shanghai where Dorothea spent two years working in Shanghai radio. Escaping before the Japanese occupation in the Second World War she joined the BBC on her return to England, one of seven producers - four women and three men - who were chosen from over 100 applicants.

The department soon left the confines of two tiny studios at Ally Pally for the larger studio reserved for children's programmes at the former film studios in Lime Grove, West London. This was hardly luxury by present- day standards as there were only three cameras, very few film facilities and a limited pool of actors with television experience, until commercial television started in 1955.

In spite of the high cost of sets, many families bought one in order to watch the coronation of Elizabeth II in 1953. By 1955 more children were watching television than listening to children's radio programmes. Everybody was expected to be versatile, and Dorothea Brooking's early programmes covered such diverse subjects as HMS Worcester and agricultural implements.

In 1951 came her adaptation of The Railway Children, with Carole Lorimer, Michael Croudson and Marian Chapman playing the children. This was transmitted live, and appealed to adults and children alike. It was followed in 1952 with another huge success, the first of Brooking's three BBC productions of another children's classic, Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden, starring Elizabeth Saunders as Mary Lennox. Also in that year, Brooking made a programme for younger children entitled Meet The Penguins, which was written by her sister Josephine. The penguins, drawn by Bill Hooper, were like animated puppets.

Brooking's talent for children's serials had by now been established, and the remaining years of the decade saw her productions of Gentle Falcon, Benbow, The Angels, The Prince and the Pauper, Black Brigand (based on a Dumas story), Little Lord Fauntleroy and Louisa May Alcott's Good Wives, with Phyllis Calvert playing Mrs March.

By 1959 television was no longer "the rich man's toy", and the term "children's television" was dropped from billings. Brooking's production of Great Expectations with Dinsdale Landen playing Pip was seen as the Sunday serial, by many who had never read Charles Dickens's novel.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer followed in seven episodes from July 1960, and the second BBC production of The Secret Garden with Prunella Scales playing Martha repeated the original success to an increased audience. Brooking then adapted The Treasure Seekers, another Nesbit novel (first published 1899) with Philip Latham. The Phoenix and the Carpet followed in 1974

Other 1960s productions included The Rackety Street Gang, Katy (based on Susan Coolidge's stories of a girl in late 19th-century America), and in 1963 Eric Ambler's Epitaph for a Spy. In 1964 the children's department amalgamated with women's programmes to form a short-lived department entitled "Family Programmes". Brooking spent some time in schools broadcasting where her notable programmes included a play about the Bronte Sisters, before returning to children's programmes.

In the late 1960s she retired early from the BBC and went freelance. Television had changed enormously in just two decades. A television set was now "part of the furniture". Commercial television had brought a second channel in 1955 and BBC2 started up in 1964.

Noel Streatfeild had long been a favourite with children. Her novel Ballet Shoes had first been heard on radio Children's Hour in 1947 and had had three subsequent sound productions. Streatfeild was a friend of Brooking, who directed an adaptation of her 1970 novel Thursday's Child, reputedly with the author playing a small part. Rumer Godden was another friend who worked professionally with Brooking. The adaptation of her 1972 Whitbread award- winning book The Diddakoi was transmitted on 27 December 1972 as Kizzy, the name of the heroine. Nineteen seventy-five saw Brooking's third adaptation and production of The Secret Garden for the BBC. The video of this production was sold not only in Britain but also in the US.

Although she worked on other serials until her last in 1981, The Haunting of Cassie Palmer by Vivienne Alcock, Dorothea Brooking will be remembered for her talent in bringing to life childrens classics.

Anna Home, in her book Into The Box of Delights (1993), a history of children's television, paid tribute to Dorothea Brooking as "one of the most influential makers of drama from the early Fifties onwards". A vision mixer from early days remembers her as "very serious but good to work with, very combatant at a time when many were not; she was outstanding in that way".

The respect and affection of those who worked with her extended to her friends and neighbours in Sussex. Dorothea Brooking acted with the Nutley local drama society (and was its president when she died) and worked for the church.

Dorothea Smith Wright, television producer and director: born Slough, Berkshire 7 December 1916; married 1936 John Brooking (died 1984; one son); died Haywards Heath, West Sussex 23 March 1999.

Arts and Entertainment

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Metallica are heading for the Main Stage at Reading and Leeds Festivals next summer

Music

Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain's daughter Frances Bean Cobain is making a new documentary about his life

Music

Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp

TV Jungle security stepped up after murder and 'suspicious death' near to camp

Arts and Entertainment
TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Look out: Broad shoulders take Idris Elba’s DCI John Luther a long way
tvIdris Elba will appear in two special episodes for the BBC next year
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tvThe two new contestants will join the 'I'm A Celebrity' camp after Gemma Collins' surprise exit
News
The late Jimmy Ruffin, pictured in 1974
people
News
Northern Uproar, pictured in 1996
people

Jeff Fletcher found fame in 1990s

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the new Paddington bear review

Review: Paddingtonfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Tony stares at the 'Daddy Big Ears' drawing his abducted son Oliver drew for him in The Missing
tvReview: But we're no closer to the truth in 'The Missing'
Arts and Entertainment
Henry Marsh said he was rather 'pleased' at the nomination
booksHenry Marsh's 'Do No Harm' takes doctors off their pedestal
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne plays Stephen Hawking in new biopic The Imitation Game

'At times I thought he was me'

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
One Direction go Fourth: The boys pose on the cover of their new album Four

Review: One Direction, Four

music
Arts and Entertainment
'Game of Thrones' writer George RR Martin

Review: The World of Ice and Fire

books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Bean will play 'extraordinary hero' Inspector John Marlott in The Frankenstein Chronicles
tvHow long before he gets killed off?
Arts and Entertainment
Some like it hot: Blaise Bellville

music
Arts and Entertainment
A costume worn by model Kate Moss for the 2013 photograph

art
Arts and Entertainment

music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
    Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

    Putin’s far-right ambition

    Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
    Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

    Escape to Moominland

    What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
    Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

    24-Hour party person

    Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
    Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

    A taste for rebellion

    US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
    Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

    Colouring books for adults

    How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
    Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

    What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

    Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
    Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

    Call me Ed Mozart

    Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
    10 best stocking fillers for foodies

    Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

    From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
    Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

    Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

    Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
    'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

    'I am a paedophile'

    Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
    How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

    How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

    Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
    Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

    From a lost deposit to victory

    Green Party on the march in Bristol
    Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

    Winter blunderlands

    Putting the grot into grotto
    'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

    'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

    London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital