|Total of play nights across all Stations:||46|
|Total of separate pieces broadcast:||71|
|Number of full-length plays:||18|
|Number of one-act plays:||43|
The B.B.C. Yearbook 1930 described 1924 as 'one of consolidation' (166). Looking back at the end of the year, P.P. Eckersley said '1924 will always be thought of as the relay station year', after the building of the main Stations in 1923 ('The Radio Times' 19 December 1924 p 574). The most important wireless drama events were the broadcasting of 'A Comedy of Danger' (15 January 1924 London 7.30-9.15), which was the first origination (4.2), and further, the start-up of the Dramatic Department on 11 August along with other Departments at Savoy Hill - under the Dramatic Director, R.E. Jeffrey. He arrived down from Aberdeen (B.B.C. Internal Document 10 September 1925).
A publicity profile for him announced:
Mr. Jeffrey is convinced of the need for the development of special Radio technique for plays, just as some years ago it was made amply clear that a special technique was necessary for the cinema. He is also confident that when advances have been made in this direction, the Radio play will take its proper place as a popular feature of broadcast programmes.
('The Radio Times' 22 August 1924 p 355)
The aim of the Dramatic Department is 'for the investigation of microphone effects and of Radio Drama generally' (ib). In November 1924, A. Whitman joined Jeffrey's staff as an 'effects man' (Briggs, 1961, 201), when Jeffrey has been given £50 to spend on 'experimental purposes in connection with the production of sound effects' (Minutes of the Control Board, 14 October 1924 and quoted in Briggs (ib.)). The 'new and larger studio' at 2LO had been completed in the autumn of 1924 ('Sound in the Studio', 'The Radio Times' 16 January 1925 p 146). The 'new and larger studio' at 2LO had been completed in the autumn of 1924; Burrows, 1924, 88-9).
I now come to the total of play productions in the first full year of broadcasting for drama and how to deal with the mass of information available in 'The Radio Times' listings. I divide the listings into four categories: the number of play nights, the total of all drama pieces, and then full-length plays and finally, one-act plays. Let me explain.
I give the number of play nights for the year across all Stations. These play nights could comprise of a single large production (Cardiff, 'Abraham Lincoln' (John Drinkwater) 4 July 1924 7.30-10), or a double bill or a triple bill. As a second category, I give the number of pieces broadcast, counting, for example, the pieces in the triple bill as three. Again this second category is not exact through 1924-8, for there can be short excerpts from Shakespeare, for example, and I do not count these separately. Another problem is that there is not always a clear division between 'legitimate' drama and a variety programme which includes sketches or a one-act play. Where the one-act play is listed, I always include it. If the sketch is given emphatic billing, I also include that. Plays longer than the one-act plays are put into the category of full length plays, whether a Shakespeare or a two-act comedy. One-act plays are a distinct genre in the theatre, and then, by adaptation, on radio.
So here are the overall figures for 1924 drama production.
|Total of play nights across all Stations:||46|
|Total of separate pieces broadcast:||71|
|Number of full-length plays:||18|
|Number of one-act plays:||43|
Another complication through 1923-8 is that the Dramatic Department was responsible for some variety material. R.E. Jeffrey directed various broadcasts and 'editions' of 'Winners', 'A Revusical Extravaganza in three acts' (for example 11 August 1925 London 8.15-9.45).
I now survey plays across the Stations in 1924. Production was slow in 2LO. There were eleven play nights, making twenty-two full-length plays, one-act plays and sketches in total. Before the arrival of R.E. Jeffrey, the guest producers were Nigel Playfair (15 January 1924 the four-item bill which included 'A Comedy of Danger'), Lewis Casson and Milton Rosmer.
Casson was responsible for two evenings:
Tuesday 19 February 1924 London 8.20-9.30
'The Tragedy of Mr Punch' (Reginald Arkell and Russell Thorndike)
Lewis Casson, Dame May Whitty as His Wife
Blind Man - Lewis Casson
Punch - Russell Thorndike
First Girl - Elizabeth Arkell
Judy - Sybil Thorndike
'Columbine' (Reginald Arkell)
This was a transposition to wireless of his productions at his season at the Little Theatre (15 December 1920 to 19 March 1921).
1 April 1924 2LO London S.B. to other stations 7.30-9.30
An evening of plays produced by Lewis Casson
'Box and Cox' (John Maddison Morton) (first performed at the Lyceum 1 November 1847)
'The Death of Tintageles' (Maeterlinck)
* 'The Man Who Sang In His Bath' (Richard Hughes)
Unfortunately the script of 'The Man Who Sang In His Bath' has not survived in Caversham and Graves does not mention it in his biography of Hughes (Graves 1974). 'The Death of Tintageles' was a serious symbolist piece and 'Cox and Box' a well-known comedy.
Archibald Haddon reviewed them in his 9 April talk:
in the transmission of 'Box and Cox' I actually experienced the contagious inclination to yawn when Box yawned, and although the utterance of Mr. Hubert Harben as Cox was exceptionally rapid, not a syllable was lost. The old farce wirelessed well, but as far as I am concerned its effectiveness may have been heightened by my previous familiarity with the dialogue.
I noticed that on the conclusion of Maeterlinck's symbolistic drama, "The Death of Tintagiles", the producer, Mr. Lewis Casson, made an acceptable innovation to indicate the falling of the curtain, the Announcer observing in impressive tones, appropriate to the situation, "The end of the play".
A radioplay of this description exercises the listener's imagination to a greater extent than it would do in ordinary stage representation, and such exercise, when the theme is spiritually uplifting, is morally and intellectually beneficial.
(Haddon, 1924, 190)
Milton Rosmer produced an evening of four one-act plays (11 April 1924 London 7.30-9.30): 'Five Birds in a Cage' (Gertrude Jennings) with Athena Seyler, 'The Rising of the Moon' (Lady Gregory) and 'Postal Orders' (Roland Pertwee). The two popular comedies were a mix with the gripping Irish play.
The casts of the following two were not listed in 'The Radio Times':
15 February 1924 London 7.30-9.15
13 May 1924 7.30-9.30 London and S.B.
'The Importance of Being Earnest' (Oscar Wilde)
performed by The Station Repertory Company
R.E. Jeffrey's first credit in 'The Radio Times' in his new Savoy Hill post is as both director and actor:
Tuesday 18 November 1924 London 7.30-9.30
London Shakespeare Night
Excerpts from 'The Taming of the Shrew'
Dramatic Director R.E. Jeffrey
Katherina - Joy Chatwynd
Hortensio / Tailor - Tarver Penna
Grumio - George Baxter
Petrucchio - R.E. Jeffrey
William Macready, Dramatic producer at the Birmingham station ('The Radio Times' 21 November 1924 p 385) presented four 'Play Nights' and seven pieces in all. Cardiff had nine play nights and like other Stations, earlier relied on guest companies (here the Gwent Players), and then by September had its own players. The triple bill of 8 September was S.B. to all Stations and directed by R.E. Jeffrey, who must have travelled down there. That makes sense, both for him to review resources and to encourage technique. He also acted the role of David in the comedy, 'The Philosopher of Butterbuggins' (B. Harold Chapin). Names to become familiar in the Cardiff Station Players were heard for the first time that evening. Jeffrey had last broadcast from Aberdeen, again as director and actor, in 'Cramond Brig and the Gudeman' (William B. Murray) 27 June 1924 Aberdeen and S.B. to Glasgow and Edinburgh 8.45-9.45.
The most demanding other productions were 'Under Two Flags' (Ouida), 27 June 1924 Birmingham 8-10, directed by William Macready, and Cardiff's Shakespeare Night - 'King Lear' presented by the Station Repertory Company (19 June 1924). Bournemouth also presented 'Leah Kleschna' (McLellard) (19 June 1924 7.35-9.30).
The B.B.C. Yearbook 1930 also said:
For approximately the first half of 1924 the programme development was a continuation of that of 1923.
That held true right through 1924. Other originations in 1924 were few and appear to be sketches rather than plays, though the scripts do not survive. I discuss the seven I have identified here. There was the first play of L(awrence) du Garde Peach (1890-1974), 'Light and Shade', 29 October 1924 London 8.55-9.10, described as 'A Short Comedy for Broadcasting' and produced by R.E. Jeffrey, with a cast of two:
Reggie Raymond Trafford
Delia Jean Sturrock
Unfortunately the script does not survive at Caversham and it is not in Broadcast Sketches, published by L. du Garde Peach later (Peach 1927). Some seven years after 'Light and Shade', du Garde Peach explained in a witty magazine article, 'Why I Write Radio Plays':
.. I have, during the short history of broadcasting, written more than an hundred radio plays ... My first radio plays were written in the days when nobody thought for a moment that it would ever be possible to broadcast the dialogue of a play in such a way that it would be understood by anybody. There was reason for their lack of faith.
The claim of 'an hundred radio plays' written was a wild overstatement, though it seems as if it is to be taken as fact. He had broadcast about eight plays and various sketches by 1931, and was about to embark on his best period for broadcasting larger pieces. Unfortunately Chothia, in her English Drama of the Early Modern Period, 18901940 says 'by 1931 [L. du Garde Peach] had written more radio plays than anyone else in England some 400 in all' (Chothia, 1996, 315).
His career up till then had been as a journalist and humorist, 'L. du G.' of 'Punch', as he was to be regularly credited in 'The Radio Times' when he gave his talks from 1925. He had been educated at Manchester Grammar School and then Gottingen University, married in 1915, and done army intelligence work during WW1. Continuing the 'Landmark' magazine article, du Garde Peach goes on to explain what listening was like in 1924, again as a humorist, and then the implications for the playwright:
In those days transmission was not good and reception was usually worse. The most persuasive voice in the world somehow managed to achieve a metamorphosis in the air, and bellowed from loud-speakers or hiccoughed hoarsely from headphones, like unto no sound ever head before. Such conditions were not conducive to radio drama.
To transmit a play with the knowledge that all the voices would approximate not only to a bronchial jackass, but to one bronchial jackass, did not satisfy the artist in either the producer or the actors.
So here is another mention of the danger of clustering the need to differentiate characters' voices clearly, along with a mocking overstatement about reception on the old crystal sets and original valve radios with their loud-speakers, from the technical heights of 1931. Now he gets round to the need to instruct the listeners:
Moreover, there was another snag. ... humanity, which for two thousand years or more had been used to looking at plays, suddenly found the idea of only listening to them utterly incomprehensible. With human adaptability we early radio dramatists tried to cope with this technical difficulty.
He then summarises 'Light and Shade':
The action of my first play took place in a room in pitch darkness; other ingenious authors wrote plays with coal mines and similar dark places for their settings. But obviously radio drama could not for ever be limited to Stygian conditions; it was when, venturing boldly, one tried to overcome the limitations of the radio play in other ways that the fun began.
This was an effective point.
Among other possible originations in 1924 was 'Disclosure' (Ivor McClure and O. Wyndham), 5 September 1924 Cardiff. 'The Radio Times' of 5 September 1924, described it as 'A play for the microphone' and gave this publicity:
There are distinct signs of the evolution of a new technique for the broadcast play and Cardiff's production of 'Disclosure' on September 5th is an interesting development. The play, written by Captain Ivor McClure D.S.O. and O. Wyndham, deals with international intrigue in an up-to-date setting and the machinations of a scientific schemer provide a thrill which is sustained till the call of 'curtain'.
But there is no assurance that 'Disclosure' was a play written originally for the microphone in 'The Radio Times' billing. 'The Man Who Saw The Future' (O. Wyndham and Ivor Herbert McLure), 19 September 1924 Bournemouth 8-10, was billed as 'A New Radio Play'. (It was performed in a double bill by Richard Hughes's Portmadoc Players.)
Halbert Tatlock broadcast four comedy sketches 'Specially written for broadcasting' from Glasgow on Saturday nights in a 'Glasgow Shopping Series', which included 'Buying a Crystal Set' (1 November 1924 Glasgow 7.40-7.55) and 'Buying Golf Clubs' (8 November 1924 Glasgow 7.35-7.50). The latter was billed as 'Specially written for broadcasting and produced by Halbert Tatlock'. No actors are listed for these 1924 pieces. Tatlock went on in 1925 to broadcast more sketches and one-act plays of his own. By a broadcast on 11 May 1925 (Glasgow 10-10.30), he had become 'Mr. Halbert Tatlock and his Dramatic Company', and then from August 1925 onwards both a producer and an actor in other plays.
The only other possible candidate for a wireless origination was 'Johnson' (Ivor Herbert McLure), broadcast in a triple bill, 5 November 1924 Cardiff 7.30-8.30. Here was the listing:
Was Guy Fawkes really Guy Fawkes or another person of the same name?
This problem is set before you in the new microphone play. To reveal the cast now would be to give away the secret
Ivor Herbert McLure was the producer and no actors were listed. So were these fifteen-minute sketches the beginnings of the new 'art form' of the radio play or just humorous sketches which made it to the wireless rather than to the stage?
Along with the beginning of comments on radio drama in 'The Radio Times' there were countervailing complaints, some against the whole enterprise. R.H. Hobbs, in an article, 'Lyrics for Listeners. Why Poetry should be Broadcast' ('The Radio Times' 28 March 1924 p 2) was all in favour of broadcasting poetry and the Elizabethan playwrights for whom 'scenery is entirely absent', but against wireless plays otherwise:
A "play" in this sense is shorn of half of its effectiveness when transmitted by wireless.
Worse was to come. Novelist Robert Keable, in his article 'A Wanderer on Wireless', ('The Radio Times' 27 June 1924 p 2) moved on from complaints about bad reception from 2LO ("Wirrh, Tap, Tap, Bang, London") to condemn, by implication, the whole 'Shakespeare series' and the 'Hamlet' (15 February 1924 London 7.30-9.15):
.. Next, I think such a thing as the reading of Shakespeare's plays a mistake also. The number of people who can't read for themselves if they want to, must be very limited, and the people who can and want to, want to read them, perhaps with a glossary handy, certainly the whole play. Or alternatively, no reading ever makes up for not seeing a play for the vast majority of us can anyway. If "2LO London" broadcasts to Central Africa where there are no libraries and no theatres and hardly any other white people to talk to, I daresay an hour with Shakespeare would be delightful; but in Great Britain the people who want to read Shakespeare can read him or see him, or join a Shakespeare society.
Yet worse was to come after that. Horace Annesley Vachell (1861-1955), the famous novelist and playwright, in 'What Do We Want?' ('The Radio Times' 21 November 1924 p 381) became the first of a succession of stage playwrights to damn the baby radio play:
There are great possibilities in duologues. We have had funny duologues, the cut and thrust of two comedians. That "gets across" up to a point, but it grows boresome... This raises the current question about plays, as "themes" for wireless. A play, however well read aloud, is rather a dismal and monotonous entertainment. Once a famous actor-manager read aloud to me a play of my own. I fell asleep. ...
Yet 'The Radio Times' did not yet publish supportive articles or statements about radio drama other than Victor Smythe's 'The Play in the Studio' (29 February 1924 p 391 - 4.3) and R.E. Jeffrey's 'Wireless Drama' (6 June 1924 pp 438-9 4.4). Then there was the acerbic Bernard Shaw's 'G.B.S. Lectures the B.B.C.' (14 November 1924 p 357 4.5). Of course the Dramatic Department was not set up till 11 August but perhaps this suggests some internal disagreement about wireless drama? There is no sign of a publicity push to support wireless drama in the weekly under the control of the B.B.C.
Another topic that got going was advice on how to listen: in the dark, not to glue your eyes to the loudspeaker, etc. In 'Listening without Distraction' ('The Radio Times' 23 May 1924), the audience is further instructed:
... We say "Come and listen to my wireless set" and we lead our friends into a room where there obtrude on the attention wires and valves and boxes and switches, and to crown all, a horn. The attention is distracted ... And then we sit with our eyes glued to the loud-speaker and come to the conclusion that the sound is metallic and unsatisfying, and that we do not like our music tinned. ... Camouflage the loud-speaker, hide it behind a screen, in a cabinet, on the top of a bookcase.
Vachell, in the article quoted above (21 November 1924 p 381) commented, in favour of ear phones:
Reception is not a matter of cost. I have listened with a cheap set, and felt that the speaker was in the same room with me, talking to me, quietly and articulately... Perhaps the greatest enemy of wireless is the loud speaker. Most loud speakers remind me of the gramophone. I have got the best results with ear clips and very soon one becomes accustomed to them.
There was quite a range of 'Radio Times' cartoons about listeners contending with oscillation, tuning in, loud-speakers and ear-phones. Here are two examples. In the village hall and on the stage in front of a restive audience, 'The curate was twiddling knobs and trying hard not to look anxious' (19 December 1924 p 585). An old couple sat side by side with ear-phones plugged into the same set: 'Grandpa: "Mine's doing Faust. What's yours doing?"'
However, Stations built up their 'Station Players' and the 'Station Radio Repertory Company'. 2LO was able to announce their own opera company too:
A light opera, 'The Dogs of Devon', performed by the B.B.C.'s own company will be broadcast from the London station on Monday evening.
('The Daily Mail' 26 January 1924)
The Manchester Station also set up a new variety company, 'The Planets', to 'produce comedy during the summer evenings' ('The Radio Times' 27 June 1924 p 3).
Three important B.B.C. books were published. Cecil Lewis's Broadcasting From Within came out in January (Lewis 1924), Reith's Broadcast Over Britain in September (Reith 1924) and Burrows's The Story of Broadcasting the next month (Burrows 1924). They each had a short section on radio drama, and of course related to the boycott. But whatever manifesto they set out for the new Dramatic Department, there was still a promise and an investment yet unfulfilled. The frustration started to build. Archibald Haddon, 'Drama Critic to the B.B.C. Talks', published a collection of essays, 'Hullo Playgoers!', which started up another prophecy or complaint that radio drama must evolve 'its own [James] Barrie, perhaps its own Shakespeare, even its own Bernard Shaw' ('The Radio Times' 4 July 1924 p 48) (Haddon 1924). Radio drama 'may become a great art'. There was danger in setting such a high-art target for wireless drama already, while not acknowledging the need for popular broadcasting. Was Haddon's a message of utopian support or a rod to beat the baby Dramatic Department?
More hopefully, a full-scale 'Hamlet' (15 February 1924 London 7.30-9.15) was broadcast and actor-director Lewis Casson was attracted to direct a double bill on 19 February 1924 (London 8.20-9.30) with Dame May Whitty and his wife Sybil Thorndike. A radio play competition was announced in June ('The Radio Times' 6 June 1924 p 439) and the winner, 'Hunt the Tiger' was broadcast (6 October 1924 2LO 9-9.30). Bernard Shaw read his play, 'O'Flaherty V.C.' on 20 November 1924, encouraged by his friendship with Cecil Lewis:
He is going to read 'O'Flaherty V.C.' and explain the situations and the dialogue in exactly the same way as he would to a company of actors who were going to undertake the play in production.
('G.B.S. Lectures the B.B.C.' 'The Radio Times' 14 November 1924 p 357)
Lewis devoted an absorbing chapter in his autobiography to meeting G.B.S. and later contacts (Lewis, 1974, 81 ff.). Victor Smythe 'of the Manchester Studio' published an article 'The Play in the Studio' ('The Radio Times' 29 February 1924 p 391), the first detailed such on radio drama technique, and its problem-solving is still extraordinary to read now (4.3). R.E. Jeffrey followed this with 'Wireless Drama' (('The Radio Times' 6 June 1924 pp 438-9) (4.4), the first of his four unsatisfactory articles.
At the end of the year, Eckersley's 'A Christmas Radio Review' was able to report that the old studio in Savoy Hill had been scrapped and that Cardiff, Newcastle and Glasgow Stations had been opened. There were technical advances to come too:
The methods of operation have largely improved in the last year and such things as the fade-in and the fade-out, the dissolving view where one sound picture merges into another, were, if not though of, at any rate impossible owing to insufficient apparatus during 1923.
('The Radio Times' 19 December 1924 p 574)
He mentions also that ' microphone equipment has been greatly improved both in design and operation'. Reith was able to claim, in October 1924, an audience of five million and a staff which had grown from 'four only, to three hundred and fifty', and that 'operations are extended to twenty cities' (Reith, 1924 [October], 406).
Reith devoted chapter 5 of his Broadcast Over Britain (Reith 1924 [September] 165-9) rather insightfully to radio drama. His main preoccupation was the boycott and its persistence, though:
Radio Drama can be developed independently, and it is a separate art in itself. Radio dramatic art is being developed, and is proving extraordinarily effective when well handled.
He rather over-states what has been broadcast:
Several plays, tragedies, comedies, and other forms of drama have already been transmitted, with notable approval and effect.
His advice is familiar by now, about clustering of characters' voices, and music, though he seems against the 'Narrator Method':
In order to avoid unnecessary explanations, the dialogue must portray the setting. Brief references must be made by the characters to the scene, and the entrances and exits similarly revealed. Other aids to the imagination, such as music, incidental sounds contingent to the situation, pauses and various dramatic devices are introduced wherever possible. Most plays written for the stage require specific adaptation for wireless presentation. With radio plays there must be a sharp contrast between all the voices of the players, and the characters should be as few in number as possible.
But the remainder is refreshingly effective, and as Manager of the Company, he sells his product well:
One of the most satisfactory discoveries in broadcasting has been the amount of realism which can be conveyed. With a little concentration imagination we perceive the scenes as vividly as theatre, and can, in spirit, participate in that which is being portrayed. The background of sound is of immense effect. This is not necessarily faked. The voices of actors in a city studio can be super-imposed on the actual sounds of the circumstances and surroundings in which they are supposed to be acting. It may be the breakers on a beach a hundred miles away. It is an immense asset to know that the sounds are real. The imagination is thrilled by this knowledge. The spirit of the listener is transported into the true regions of the drama; its effect is enhanced tenfold.
This is far more compelling and persuasive than R.E. Jeffrey's article (4.4), and he makes claims about realism which had also surfaced in Archibald Haddon's talks (3.1.17 and 'Five Birds in a Cage' and 4.2.12 on 'A Comedy of Danger'). He also plays up effects, both Spot and on gramophone records, used for atmos etc. Haddon had already commented on the 'trade secrets' of sound effects. Publicity, drawings and cartoons started emerging of the strange business of Spot in the Studio. (Hullo Boys! A Budget of Good Things by the Uncles on the Wireless illustrated the Children's Hour 'Uncles' making 'Choo! Choo!' noises for songs, and with guns and splashing in bowls of water (109-110).) The claim that wireless drama enhances the effect of listening 'tenfold' is an impressive answer to those articles in 'The Radio Times'.
Reith then trumpet the merits of wireless drama over the other media:
In this respect there is a distinct advantage over the theatre. In either theatre or cinema some wonderful combinations could be effected. It is of course understood that sooner or later in the cinema they will give us, if they care, all the actual sounds which accompanied the event which has been photographed, instead of the weird effects which are now produced.
The listener is then admonished to take wireless drama seriously, to listen attentively and not to allow domestic distractions of any kind. Radio plays have popularised Shakespeare and have the same status as those on the stage:
His imagination must be in full exercise and his attention concentrated. For the real appreciation and enjoyment of the play he should take it as seriously as he would one on an actual stage. It is undoubtedly a greater effort to concentrate on what is happening by wireless than on a stage performance in the usual way. Wireless drama, in whatever form it may be, must be taken seriously if the maximum benefit is to be derived from it.
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