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Clegg started out acting in the theatre before moving into film and television with roles in Emergency – Ward 10 and The Dream Maker. She then started writing scripts and in 1961 contributed seven scripts for the television soap opera Coronation Street.
After writing for several radio and television serials, including for Crossroads and a radio dramatisation of The Chrysalids, Clegg was asked to submit ideas for the science fiction television series Doctor Who in 1981. Her storyline, titled The Enlighteners, involved a space-bound race using anachronistic sailing ships. Doctor Who script editor Eric Saward decided to use Clegg's story as the last part of a trilogy of three stories, known informally as the Black Guardian Trilogy, as it involved the return of the Black Guardian.
To integrate The Enlighteners into the trilogy, portions of the story were rewritten at the request of the production team and the Black and White Guardians replaced the originally planned "Enlighteners". Since the title could no longer refer to those entities, the story was renamed Enlightenment. She was the first woman to write a serial for Doctor Who.
The serial was Barbara Clegg's only commission for Doctor Who, other story line ideas being rejected by Saward, and later Andrew Cartmel. However one of those ideas, "Point of Entry", was later written up as a full script by Marc Platt and released as part of Big Finish's series of Doctor Who: The Lost Stories. Another "The Elite", was released in 2011.
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