Sarah Greene – Women in Entertainment Season

 So far within this series, we’ve celebrated the incredible rise of the working actress from being overlooked for major theatrical parts to women finding their own voice. However, of course there remains another significant demographic of female performers who can’t hide behind a character or respond to a set of prescriptive words on a page. These are the brave, talented and strong individuals who thrive on the thrill of live broadcasting and knowing that they may sometimes be addressing tens of millions of viewers at once. Ironically the iconic writer and broadcaster Sarah Greene began her career as an actress, appearing in a whole host of television and theatre productions including the children’s drama The Swish Of The Curtain surrounding a group of young people and their plight to open their own theatre company. Playing the role of Sandra Fayne, a schoolgirl who was in the theatrical group of young trendsetters, Sarah found herself as a television actress.

Press play, below, to listen to the interview



Or watch the unedited zoom call on youtube


The success of Swishing The Curtain generated interest from all areas of the BBC and a guest spot on the corporation’s flagship children’s entertainment programme Blue Peter was assured. At this stage Sarah had no idea what lay in store for her association with the show and being a jobbing actress with no experience of broadcasting, she never even saw it as an option. Growing up with the ITV series Magpie, she had no great affinity with the show and so came to the role with fresh eyes. The only thing that she could shape her role around was her immediate predecessor Tina Heath because that’s the only inspiration she was able to draw from. For the first few weeks of her Blue Peter tenure, Sarah was playing the part of Heath like an actress playing a role. It was only spending time with the legendary editor and producer Biddy Baxter that Sarah realised that she no longer needed to be Tina Heath, she could find Sarah Greene.


In the male dominated world of 1960’s and 1970’s senior television management, it’s extremely seldom to find a pioneering female who was allowed to reach her potential. Yet Baxter was a visionary, a broadcasting pioneer and one of the sharpest minds to ever walk through those famous double doors of Television Centre. The fact that she was female remained absolutely irrelevant throughout her twenty-five year reign as editor of Blue Peter as her passion, drive and infectious enthusiasm was what set her apart from her contemporaries at the corporation. She cared deeply for every child and every family member who was watching the show and worked tirelessly to ensure the needs of the audience were upheld at all costs. This wasn’t some tie wearing pen pusher from the upper echelons of the corporation, Biddy was on the studio floor every day, striving for perfection on behalf of the audience. For Sarah, this was a vital lesson in the responsibility of programme-making which has remained with her throughout her career.


After Blue Peter, Sarah graduated to the slightly looser and more showbiz world of Saturday Superstore alongside Mike Read, John Craven and Keith Chegwin. Joining Saturday Superstore in 1983, Sarah brought her “big sister” image to Saturday mornings and unbeknown to all involved, this was where she remained for a whole decade. Joining a previously all male cast, she cultivated an edgy, relatable style which aptly fitted the wants and desires of the teenage audience. Whether it was introducing Duran Duran, interviewing Margaret Thatcher or playing games in the studio, Saturday Superstore maintained its freshness right to the end and Sarah was always right at the very heart of it.


In 1987 Saturday Superstore morphed into the more interactive Going Live which pitted Sarah alongside TV newcomer Philip Schofield and the squeaky Gordon The Gopher. With a mutual passion for television, it didn’t take long for Sarah and Philip to cultivate an unrivaled on air chemistry as they both absolutely loved what they were doing. This enthusiasm transcended the screen and created an atmosphere that people wanted to be part of and this became the hub on which all the other elements could grow. Whether it was Trevor and Simon being highly irreverent or the latest episode of a highly anticipated cartoon, it all came back to the connection between Sarah and Philip which gave Going Live its legs. Thirty five years later, the feats of broadcasting which the show achieved are still alive and this makes Sarah extremely proud.


Her rising popularity and status as one of Britain’s most popular and respected broadcasters made Sarah the obvious choice to front many shows for the BBC throughout the eighties and nineties. Pebble Mill At One showcased her innate talent for the showbiz interview and the vast array of guests occasionally posed a challenge. However Sarah’s calm exterior, generosity of spirit and humility could always charm the most difficult opponent and more often than not, had them eating out the palm of her hand. Hosting a lunchtime chat show can be a daunting task for any broadcaster when they have little idea of the behaviour of the guest. Yet with her preparation and enthusiasm for television, Sarah never let the audience down.


Despite being a theatrically trained actress, Sarah had by chance cultivated a reputation as one of Britain’s best broadcasters but still had the desire to tread the boards. Yet in 1992 by a bizarre coincidence, she unexpectedly was given the opportunity to combine the two alongside her late husband Mike Smith. Written by award winning dramatist Stephen Volk, Ghostwatch started life as a play with actors playing it like any other drama. As actors, Sarah and Mike relished the concept and instantly embraced the role, assuming that it would be like any other. Casting the legendary journalist and broadcaster Michael Parkinson as the anchor of the programme offered the piece a touch of false authenticity required to elongate this elaborate spoof to the maximum. This legitimacy forced a large section of the viewing audience to believe that it was a real life show in real time which sadly has prevented it from being repeated in succeeding years.


As a female presenter at such a pivotal time for the BBC, Sarah presided over an unprecedented amount of live television at a very wealthy period for the corporation as it had the resources to be experimental with the output it made. Appearing live never phased the woman who had now been on our screens for two decades and was extremely confident and comfortable doing so. By doing this, she was subconsciously cultivating the footprint for the modern television presenter because wherever it was and whatever live broadcast it was, Sarah Greene would be there with a fury microphone ready to present it. Nowadays, outside broadcasts are a staple of television but throughout the eighties it was seen as cutting edge and Sarah was part of the generation that made it happen.


So to the Hollys, Fearnes, Davinas and Gabys of the world, every revolution needed a role model to tread the path for others to walk. The accessible, friendly, independent, intelligent broadcasters who remain a staple of British television today, who now are role models for thousands of women throughout Britain, owe some respect to the contributions of the legendary Sarah Greene. A celebration of women in entertainment wouldn’t be complete without my own heroine of broadcasting so it was an absolute privilege to welcome her back to the podcast as the climax of a fascinating series. They say “don’t meet your heroes” but mine happens to be the loveliest person in the whole of broadcasting and I’m already looking forward to the next time!