‘The First Churchills’ started it all as PBS’s ‘Masterpiece’ celebrates 50 years

The First Churchills. Photo: BBC

On January 10, 2021, PBS’s Masterpiece series, the long-time anchor of the Sunday night line-up, turns 50. It was Sunday, January 10, 1971 that The First Churchills, about the life of John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough and his wife, Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough, starring John Neville and Sarah Hampshire was first broadcast. Written and produced by Donald Wilson and directed by David Giles, The First Churchills once again paired the duo of Wilson and Giles who were fresh off of their success in writing and directing The Forsyte Saga, which also starred Susan Hampshire and Margaret Tyzack.

Another notable event occurred on that same day in 1971 as it marked the start of a 22-year stint for Alistair Cooke, the British-born American writer, journalist, television personality and radio broadcaster, as as the host of PBS Masterpiece Theatre from 1971 to 1992.

Masterpiece Theatre host Alistair Cooke. Photo courtesy PBS Masterpiece

Here’s a look back at some of our most iconic shows over the past five decades, plus a few glimpses at what is yet to come! Don’t forget, Elizabeth is Missing with Glenda Jackson premieres Sunday, January 3 and the all-new, 7-part, All Creatures Great and Small begins on Sunday, January 10, 2021 at 9pET/8pCT on PBS!

PBS celebrates 50 years of Masterpiece Theater beginning January 2021!

In: Drama