In an article 'G.B.S. Lectures the B.B.C.', Cecil Lewis outlined Bernard Shaw's refusal to broadcast when first invited, when 'Twelfth Night' was broadcast (28 May 1923), and then his interview with him. As mentioned above in 4.1.15, Shaw shortly later read his play, 'O'Flaherty V.C.' (20 November 1924) and Lewis later wrote of his meetings with G.B.S. (Lewis, 1974, 81 ff.).
Shaw gets his teeth into wireless drama:
As to broadcasting plays, I think that you are on the wrong tack about it. You want to broadcast plays; and instead of recognizing that the invisible play is a new thing, and cannot be done in the old way, you persist in asking handsome actresses - and well-known pictorial producers - to get up ordinary theatrical performances and allow the public to overhear the dialogue. That is absurd. What use are ----'s stage pictures to people who cannot see them?
This requires an explanatory note. Who are these 'handsome actresses'? If Shaw is not speaking generally, there is Cathleen Nesbitt (1889-1982) who had appeared in the 'Shakespeare series' and had eight wireless credits by now, was said to be 'the highest salaried juvenile leading lady on the stage', according to 'The Radio Times' (6 November 1925 p 292). There was Joyce Kennedy of 'A Comedy of Danger' and Sybil Thorndike, wife of Lewis Casson. And also Athena Seyler (b 1889) of the 'Five Birds in a Cage' repeat (11 April 1924 London), and Clare Greet (1871-1939) and Helena Millais (b 1887) of a double comedy bill (9 July 1924 London). The 'well-known pictorial producers' are a puzzle. The producers listed are Milton Rosmer and Lewis Casson.
But Shaw's main point is devastatingly clear and swift: 'to get up ordinary theatrical performances and allow the public to overhear the dialogue'. Wireless had brought nothing to these one-act plays and Shakespeares from Savoy Hill.
There is one other possibility. That Shaw also refers to, or only refers to, the relays from London theatres. For example, Act III of the musical 'Midsummer Madness' had been relayed from the Lyric Hammersmith, starring Marie Tempest. But this 'relay hypothesis' is less likely in view of the rest of the article. Shaw then recommends, a bit mischievously:
What the B.B.C. have to do is to set to work to form a company of good dramatic readers, regardless of their age, and appearance, and memory, but very particular as to their voices and powers of expression and characterization
This is sound advice, particularly as he must have heard via Lewis of the setting up of the Dramatic Department and had seen that wireless acting skills needed the formation of a repertory company. Shaw also jokes:
[a company] with a good uncle to read the necessary explanations and directions, and keep this company as a permanent dramatic staff. The uncle should be clever enough to study the conditions of the invisible drama, and to make the requisite suggestions to the author when some modification of the dialogue - for instance, make the characters address one another by name more frequently - is needed to supply the lack of vision.
The joke here is that the 'uncle' referring to the 'Uncles' of 'Children's Hour' is the wireless producer. And the new 'uncle' was of course R.E. Jeffrey. Cecil Lewis, all those decades later, recalled of Shaw's broadcast:
G.B.S. .. read 'O'Flaherty, V.C.' with impeccable verve and artistry.
Not one of the staff took the trouble to be there to welcome one of the greatest men of our time. Reith would never have dreamed of missing a peer or a politician, but of what account was Shaw? That didn't worry me. I had him all to myself
(Lewis, 1974, 83)
Allowing for the circumstances of this anecdote, it might suggest that R.E. Jeffrey was absent too. To return to Shaw and his advice:
A well-selected company taking advantage of its own invisibility would soon develop a special art of broadcasting and enable you to do at least one play a week better for your purpose than you will ever get it done by sending them to the theatre for a performance.
Lewis then adds the comment after this:
One would like to add that the B.B.C. has adopted these methods in attempting to develop broadcast drama.
Main Index | Chapter 4 Index | Section 5.1
Check here for
This page transported by FREE Go FTP Program