The First Churchills

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The First Churchills
Genre History
Starring Susan Hampshire
John Neville
John Standing
James Villiers
Country of origin UK
Original language(s) English
No. of series 1
No. of episodes 12
Running time 50 minutes
Original network BBC2
Original release 27 September – 13 December 1969

The First Churchills was a BBC serial from 1969 about the life of John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough and his wife, Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough. It starred John Neville as the duke and Susan Hampshire as the duchess, was written and produced by Donald Wilson, and was directed by David Giles.

The serial presents the lives of John and Sarah Churchill from their meeting in 1673 until a time shortly before the end of the reign of Queen Anne in 1714, and illustrates, along the way, much of the context of contemporary English politics. Like many BBC serials of the era, it was made on a low budget, with sound-studio sets, and generally avoided battle and crowd scenes because unable to stage them in a convincing manner. The series is based on the Marlboroughs' famous descendant Winston Churchill's life of his ancestor the Duke, and as such presents a very favourable portrait of the Marlboroughs.

The theme for the opening titles of each episode is the "Trumpet tune (Warlike consort)" from Act V of Henry Purcell's opera King Arthur. The theme for the closing credits of each episode is the second piece, a Rondeau, of Henry Purcell's incidental music, composed about 1695, to Aphra Behn's 1676 play Abdelazer, or The Moor's Revenge, perhaps better known as the theme used by Benjamin Britten in The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra.

It is also notable as being the first programme shown on PBS's long-running Masterpiece series in the United States.


The serial depicts most of the important political figures of the day:


01 - The Chaste Nymph
02 - Bridals
03 - Plot Counter-Plot
04 - The Lion and the Unicorn
05 – Rebellion
06 - The Protestant Wind
07 - Trial of Strength
08 - The Queen Commands
09 - Reconciliation
10 - A Famous Victory
11 - Breaking the Circle
12 - Not Without Honour[1]


The serial has been released on DVD, distributed by Acorn Media UK.


External links[edit]