The first experiments in radio drama have already been discussed - those of 2 September 1922 (Marconi House) and 17 October 1922 (Eckersley at Writtle) (2.2). Fortunately, the B.B.C.'s own record, the B.B.C. Programme Records 1922-1926, can be supplemented by 'The Times' and The B.B.C. Year-Book 1930, up to the start-up of 'The Radio Times' on 28 September 1923. There were four broadcasting artists listed in November-December 1922: Billy Beer, Helen Mar, Helena Millais and A. Stainer, and their acts must have been monologues, though Stainer's act is recorded as 'stories'. (In these early months of the B.B.C., I also investigate variety artists.) Here are the listings with some of the titles of their pieces:
Thursday 16 November 1922 7-8 2LO
First recorded entertainer - Billy Beer: I knew there was a catch in it; The Parish Magazine (B.B.C. Programme Records 1922-1926, 2)
Friday 17 November 1922 6.30-7
Second Recorded Entertainer - Helen Mar (raconteuse) (B.B.C. Programme Records 1922-1926, 2)
Tuesday 21 November 1922
Third Recorded Entertainer - Helena Millais (Briggs, 1961, 286; B.B.C. Programme Records 1922-1926, 2)
Friday 1 December 1922
A. Stainer The Gardener's Story or The Worm that turned Stories (B.B.C. Programme Records 1922-1926, 2)
Billy Beer, Helen Mar and A Stainer are not recorded in Parker, 1939 nor in Wearing, 1984. (Wearing covers variety artists in London productions.)
Helena Millais is listed in Wearing ((Wearing, 1984, Vol 1, 1600). She was born in 1887 and played in the following London theatres: Biddy in 'Joan of Memories' (Maurice Willson Disher) at the Shaftesbury Theatre (18-19 January 1920), producer Lewis Casson; as Natalia in 'The Three Sisters' (Chekhov) at the Court (7-8 March 1920), in a cast which included Harcourt Williams and Felix Aylmer; as Dame Overdoo in 'Bartholomew Fair' (Ben Johnson) at the New Oxford (26-7 June 1921) with Ernest Thesiger and Howard Rose (who played Quarlous).
So this connection with Howard Rose and there is another below - is slightly intriguing, though in fact, Helena Millais had only two other radio credits. She was the landlady Mrs. McMull in the comic and popular sketch 'A Sister to Assist 'Er' (26 June 1925 2LO London London 9-9.30) and in a variety programme in Birmingham (27 June 1927 Birmingham 7.45-9) where she is billed as the 'Actress-Entertainer'. (Rose, then an actor, was involved in possibly the first experiment in radio drama (2 September 1922 see Gielgud, 1957, 17 and 2.2).)
Millais also appeared as Bromia in 'Amphitryon' (John Dryden) at Daly's Theatre (28, 30 May 1922), as Mrs. Swindells in 'The Stop-Gap' (Florence Atack) at the Aldwych (7 June 1922); as Rich Lady in 'Thirty Minutes In A Street' (Beatrice Mayor) at the Palace for one star-studded charity performance (27 June 1922) with Lewis Casson, Ernest Milton, Sybil Thorndike, Gladys Cooper and Gertrude Lawrence; and as Katharine in 'The Jew of Malta' (Marlowe) at Daly's (5-6 November 1922), again with Howard Rose, and with Frank Vosper and Ernest Thesiger. So her credits show a wide range, including comic roles, but also the classics (Ben Jonson, John Dryden, Christopher Marlowe).
Among the firsts The B.B.C. Year-Book 1930 records for 23 December 1922, is the appearance of Miss José Collins, singing 'The Mirror Song' from 'The Last Waltz' at Daly's Theatre, and so the first star ('celebrated actor or actress') from a current London production at the microphone (187). This musical by Oscar Straus (with English version by Robert Evett and Reginald Arkell) ran at the Gaiety from 7 October 1922 to 9 June 1923 (283 performances) and was described in 'The Radio Times' of 24 February 1923 as 'London's greatest musical comedy success'. Excerpts were relayed four times (24 February 1923, Act 1; 8 March 1923, Act 2; 9 April 1923, Act 3; 18 April 1923, Act 3). The producer was Sir Charles Hawtrey (wickedly portrayed at just this time by Ben Travers later in his autobiography (Travers 1957).) It was this link between a London management and the B.B.C. which was to provoke the boycott.
Saturday 23 December 1922 was also the first Children's Hour (B.B.C. Programme Records 1922-1926, 3; The B.B.C. Year-Book 1930, 187). Christmas Eve could be counted as the first official broadcast of a radio drama, for 'The Radio Times' of 25 January 1929 noted that it was the 'first play which was specially written for broadcasting', and was titled 'The Truth About Father Christmas', and also that 'Arthur Burrows, then in charge of the programmes, played the part of Father Christmas' (189). Burrows was the first Director of Programmes at the B.B.C. and 'Uncle Arthur' (Briggs, 1961, 79, 82). He had started as a young journalist and wireless enthusiast, and had been in charge of the original experimental transmissions from Marconi House, the first 2LO station, from May 1922 (Eckersley, 1998, 39). He later played the Captain in Shakespeare's 'Twelfth Night' on 28 May 1923, the first full-length play performed. Interestingly, The B.B.C. Year-Book 1930, so keen to mark off firsts, does not list 'The Truth About Father Christmas' as another such. It gives that honour to the 16 February 1923, the 'Shakespeare'. Gielgud does not mention the Children's Hour play either.
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