The First Churchills

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. It is notable as being the first programme shown on PBS's long-running Masterpiece series in the United States. Wilson and Giles were fresh from their success in writing and directing The Forsyte Saga, which also starred Susan Hampshire and Margaret Tyzack.

The First Churchills
GenrePeriod Drama
StarringSusan Hampshire
John Neville
John Standing
James Villiers
Opening themeWarlike Consort: Trumpet Tune from King Arthur by Henry Purcell
Ending themeRondeau From Abdelazer Suite by Henry Purcell
Country of originUK
Original language(s)English
No. of series1
No. of episodes12
Camera setupStudio: Multi-Camera

Exteriors: Single-Camera

Running time50 minutes
Production company(s)BBC
Original networkBBC2
Picture format625-Line PAL 4:3
Audio formatMono
Original release27 September 
13 December 1969


The serial presents the lives of John and Sarah Churchill from their meeting in 1673 until a time shortly after the death of Queen Anne in 1714, and illustrates, along the way, much of the context of contemporary English politics. It gives a sympathetic portrait of the Churchills. 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 they were 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.


  • 1 - The Chaste Nymph
  • 2 - Bridals
  • 3 - Plot Counter-Plot
  • 4 - The Lion and the Unicorn
  • 5 – Rebellion
  • 6 - The Protestant Wind
  • 7 - Trial of Strength
  • 8 - The Queen Commands
  • 9 - Reconciliation
  • 10 - A Famous Victory
  • 11 - Breaking the Circle
  • 12 - Not Without Honour[1]


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


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.


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


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