TAKE an actor from Emergency-Ward 10, an actress
from the Third Programme and three children all aged 13
and a half, and what have you got? Well, if you're
Dorothea Brooking of BBC Children's TV, you've got . . .
The Thompson Family.
You'll be seeing the Thompsons for the first time on
Saturday, in Part One of a ten-part serial. Remembering
the Armstrongs, the Groves, and the Appleyards, I asked
Dorothea if she thought there was house-room for yet
another family series. Her answer was straight to the
point: "I don't see why not. They're always popular.
. . and anyway this one's going to be different."
How? Well, unlike The Appleyards, The Thompson Family
will be in serial form, with each episode carrying on
from the last, There'll be less comedy and more emphasis
on the everyday happenings of family life.
Dorothea is anxious that the story shouldn't be given
away. Briefly, it centres round the friendship between
Susan Thompson, the elder daughter, and Guy James, the
boy-next-door. Guy's father is involved in some
mysterious activities which have aroused the suspicions
of the neighbours. At first the boy is sullen and
unfriendly. Then gradually he begins to take Susan into
That's all I can tell. But it doesn't really matter, for
the story-line is only a peg on which will be strung a
series of family incidents designed to make young viewers
say: "Why... that's just like us !"
"Dad," for instance, is typical of a million
dads all over the country: solid, pipe-smoking . . . a
kind of Jack Hawkins out of uniform. Playing him is John
Paul, himself the father of three
youngsters--"though they're hardly out of the
rompers stage yet."
Unlike many actors, John doesn't fear the scene-stealing
antics of so many child performers. "I love playing
with kids," he says. "They've got so much
enthusiasm it's infectious."
Quite an enthusiastic type himself is John. Just the man
to play Mr. Thompson - described in the script as
"an ex-RAF officer turned architect." Though
John's own war experiences were less happy.
"I spent much of it behind bars--in a POW camp. It
was there I first became interested in the stage, After
my release, I went into rep and I've been acting up and
down the country ever since."
Which is a typically modest way of describing a career
that's on the up-and-up. ITV viewers will already know
him as the "R.S.O." in the Emergency-Ward 10
Playing 14-year-old Susan is Diana Beevers, actually aged
13 and a half. She's delighted to be adding six months to
her age: "I can't wait to get older, and sink my
teeth in some real grown-up parts,"
"What kind of girl is Susan Thompson ?"
Diana wrinkled her nose in thought. "Well . . . I
suppose you'd say she's the studious one in the family--a
bit of a swot. She's always bossing the other two
Obviously the prospect of doing this filled Diana with
pleasure. Not so the "other two"--Andrew (Nigel
Lambert) and Caroline (Sandra Michaels) who were standing
nearby. Noticing the sly grins on their faces, I couldn't
help feeling that "Susan" was going to have
quite a lot of trouble with her "brother" and
"sister" when the serial got under way.
In fact, young Sandra Michaels---who bears a striking
resemblance to the younger Janette Scott --confessed that
her new part gives her an opportunity she's longed for.
'Im the one who's always in hot water," she
confided. "It makes everyone's life a misery -
especially poor Mum..."
"Poor Mum," as played by Marion Jennings, will
be absent-minded, lovable and a fervent fan of those
big-money competitions in the papers. Of course she never
wins much, but the fact that she keeps tryng is good for
laughs right through the serial.
Marion is looking forward to the part--a big break from
her succession of "heavy" roles on the Third
"And it shouldn't be too difficult,'' she says.
"I really am absent-minded."
Not so absent-minded, though, as the stage-hand
responsible for her most embarrassing moment as an
actress. "It was my very first show. I was playing a
maid in one of those gaslit Victorian dramas, and I had
to sweep on in my long skirts and announce someone. Well,
I swept on all right, but the whole audience immediately
burst into a roar of laughter. It was the kind of thing
one dreams of in a nightmare. Then I felt something
pulling at my skirt, and looking round I saw that a
stage-hand had put down an artificial tree on it by
mistake. As I walked on, the tree had followed. I've
never been so mortified... !"
In the serial, the family will be seen living at
"No. 10, Pond Street'--an imaginary address, but not
an imaginary house. True, the interiors will be built in
the studios in the usual way, but exterior shots are to
be pre-filmed outside a real house in South London.
How did they find it? "We knew the kind of house we
wanted," said Dorothea Brooking. "So we started
a systematic search all over London. We must have driven
hundreds of miles. Finally we found the perfect place. We
wrote to the owner and got permission to film the front
of the house, and also the permission of the next-door
neighbours, whose house will appear in the story as No.
12 Pond Street--the home of Guy, the boy-next-door.
Everyone was very sweet and most cooperative."
Will they return?
Will the Thompsons make a return after their first ten
weeks of television fame? Dorothea wasn't sure. . .
"It depends on how well the viewers like them. If
they're a tremendous hit, then obviously we'd think about
doing a second serial. But I must emphasise that this is
a serial rather like a more up-to-date version of The
Railway Children--and not one of those
complete-in-every-episode kind of programmes."
So it all depends on the viewers--the younger viewers,
that is. But it's my bet that "No. 10, Pond
Street" will become as familiar to many thousands of
youngsters over the next ten weeks as their own home--and
just as loved.
The above article is reproduced from TV
Mirror - Nov 23rd. 1957