The B.B.C. Year-Book 1930 acclaimed the opening of the new Daventry 5XX Station in July as the 'most important event in 1925' (172). Experiments began in February for drama transmission. Chief Engineer P.P. Eckersley summed it up:
Broadcasting is a friendly thing; it has to have something local, something intimate, if it is to be successful. We have our high power station of robust signal strength, unsusceptible in west districts to fading, night distortion and the other evils of short waves, not to mention the most important of all, freedom from jamming. ('The Radio Times' 7 August 1925 p 295)
Already by March, the B.B.C. was able to claim that its twenty-one Stations reached 80% of the population and that 20% of listeners were capable of receiving two Stations ('The Radio Times' 13 March 1925 p 529). This same editorial claimed:
The new technique of Radio-drama is making rapid strides.
Play production in 1925 suddenly boomed. Here are the figures, with the 1924 totals for comparison:
|Total of play nights across all Stations:||314||46|
|Total of separate pieces broadcast:||335||71|
|Number of full-length plays:||48||18|
|Number of one-act plays (adapted from the theatre):||281||43|
|Number of originations:||17||1 or 2?|
(1925 originations: two scripts surviving - 'The White Chateau' (Reginald Berkeley) and 'The War in Spain' (Richard Hughes))
So there was nearly a 500% increase in drama production. A letter in 'The Radio Times' (4 December 1925 p 489), surveying 2LO broadcasting through six weeks ending 7 November, estimated that 'Drama and Poetry Readings' amounted to 5.6% of the evening total. Music was 29.7%. Briggs give the information that '[o]ne hundred and forty-one 'plays' were broadcast between August 1924 and September 1925' (Briggs, 1961, 282). This is an understatement. The total is about 190.
Production facilities grew and Birmingham, for example, opened up a new main studio, 48 feet x 40 feet, with a capacity for 200 people ('The Times' Tuesday 9 June 1925 p 9). There was the increase in broadcasting reach through the High Power Daventry 5GB and 'Daventry Experimental', Daventry 5XX (officially from July), as mentioned above, and the impact of this on overall planning in the Dramatic Department must be appreciated as well as the added administrative burden.
There were three crucial developments in drama: simultaneous broadcasting (S.B.) between Stations, the impact of Daventry 5GB and Daventry 5XX, and the invention of multi-studio production. This moved on what had been the start-up wireless repertory system. That had been localised to the reach of Manchester 2ZY, Birmingham 5IT, etc. Transmission of plays now moved into an intermediate period of extraordinary growth and probably a lack of central planning. There was a cut-back in 1926 and in 1927, more centralised control, and Daventry 5XX became a main national Stations for play broadcasting. This was the second last year of the B.B.C. as a Company, and financial problems were in the offing.
Firstly I will look at S.B., now seen in 'The Radio Times' as, for example, 'London S.B. to all stations'. A national grid system for transmission was now in place called S.B. (simultaneous broadcasting). This was centralised at Savoy Hill and it was now possible to separate the production of a play in one Station from its transmission in another Station, or to broadcast a play from one Station to other regions. So, for example, the innovate 'Westward Ho!', an adaptation of the Charles Kingsley novel (7 April 1925 7.30-9.15) was London S.B. to all Stations directed in Savoy Hill by R.E. Jeffrey (as billed) and heard in all other Stations. The Savoy Hill studios were also the location for the production of most plays broadcast on Daventry 5GB and Daventry 5XX. Daventry's production facilities were at Savoy Hill and only the transmission aerial was in Northamptonshire.
The 'London Radio Repertory Players' as they were first billed now became a 'touring' repertory company, but still sited in Savoy Hill. This was 'touring' in the sense of S.B. They never left the Savoy Hill studios. (But see below.) They broadcast revivals of 'Christopher Columbus' (Richard Hughes) for example, to Manchester (27 May 1925 Manchester 9.15-9.40). The following day they broadcast a repeat of 'A Month Come Sunday' (Ashton Peats) to Bournemouth (28 May 1925 Bournemouth 9.15-9.45). There were four revivals of 'Christopher Columbus' in 1925, after its premiere, to various Stations and three revivals of 'A Month Come Sunday'.
It was also just possible but less likely that the London Radio Repertory Players actually travelled to other Stations on the rare occasion. But this is very unlikely. It is difficult to be certain from the crediting system in 'The Radio Times' but surely the expense of travelling would not be justified. The billing for the Birmingham transmission of 'A Month Come Sunday' (6 July 1925 Birmingham 9.15-9.45) says that the play 'is making a provincial tour and will be transmitted from Birmingham to-night'. From this I understand that the London Players were being transmitted from Savoy Hill, S.B. to Birmingham and from there to the Birmingham audience. The use of theatre terminology, 'making a provincial tour', reflects how R.E. Jeffrey was building up a central Repertory Company in London, as were others in the regional Stations, some vigorously. This is the start-up Repertory System I outlined as the first working organisation for radio drama under Jeffrey (Introduction 2, 1.5). See 6.2.6 for the strengthening impact of this on the regional stations.
S.B. also meant more complicated split-site production/transmission. As I have outlined, Jeffrey could direct a play in London, Savoy Hill, and broadcast it in any other Station as e.g., S.B. all Stations, or solely in for example, in Birmingham and not on 2LO. Daventry 5XX began modestly:
Daventry ("5XX"), although it does provide a limited amount of contract to the lower powered stations, must be regarded broadly as a country station, serving large areas where the lesser fry cannot be heard on simple sets. When Daventry was first opened, we provided three alternative programmes from it each week. Subsequently, these were dropped to one.
(Cecil Lewis, 'Building Better Programmes', 'The Radio Times' 8 January 1926 p 98)
But it was to grow again. Lewis also reflects on the volume of programming, especially as he was Chairman of the Programme Board:
When we programme builders sit down to review what we have done in the past year, we cannot help being staggered by the actual quantity of material dealt with; the terrific volubility of our organization ..
Real artists, great men, whether creative or executive, are few and far between Bernard Shaw, Paderewski, Chaliapine, Sir Harry Lauder, Sir Oliver Lodge..
Let me now give a quick survey of 1925 play production. The most important origination was:
'The White Chateau' (Reginald Berkeley), 11 November 1925 2LO London 8.30-9.30, produced by R.E. Jeffrey
There had been a previous play by Reginald Berkeley:
'The Dweller in the Darkness' (Reginald Berkeley), 14 April 1925 5XX 9.15-9.45, produced by R.E. Jeffrey (no script extant)
Richard Hughes came up with three more fifteen- to twenty-minute plays:
'Christopher Columbus' (Richard Hughes), an episode in the voyage of the Santa Maria, 3 February 1925 High-Power Station Daventry and London 7.45-8.05 (no script extant)
'Congo Night' (Richard Hughes), 23 March 1925 Newcastle 8.45-9, produced by Gordon Lea with the Station Repertory Company (no script extant)
Monday 7 December 1925 Cardiff 8.45-9.5
'The War in Spain' (Richard Hughes)
There was the first contribution, 'A short comedy', from the most important up-and-coming radio playwright:
'Light and Shade' (L. du Garde Peach Garde), 29 October 1924 London 8.55-9.10, produced by R.E. Jeffrey (no script extant)
The famous thriller writer, Edgar Wallace, contributed a twenty-five minute play, which was premiered in Cardiff:
Wednesday 6 May 1925 Cardiff 9.15-9.40 London Radio Repertory Players 'The Little Quaker' (Edgar Wallace) (no script extant)
Radio drama's first woman playwright, real name Kathleen Baker and in Birmingham, using the pseudonym John Overton for her plays and her novels, began with a two-hour 'Radio Fantasy', set in Cromwellian times:
'For a Crown' (John Overton), 1 April 1925 Birmingham 7.30-9.30 (no script extant)
The debate long plays or short plays? now started. It would never end. Here is the first policy, stated in connection with the unusually lengthy and technically challenging 'Westward Ho!' (7 April 1925 London SB to all stations 7.30-9.15):
Each of the [forthcoming] plays will last about half an hour; which is perhaps, the maximum length of time that a radio play can be fully enjoyed by the listener.
('The Radio Times' 3 April 1925 'Official News and Views')
Then there was the beginning of the perennial controversy over radio origination or stage adaptation:
It should be remarked that this departure represents a further stage in the development of the new Radio Drama. The B.B.C. desires to use fresh material in this way rather than stage plays which, however good, do not always lend themselves readily to wireless transmission. In pursuance of this policy, the company has commissioned several well-known authors to write plays having particular regard both to the conditions imposed by the microphone and those experienced by listeners. It is hoped to present plays which will give a clear picture of the story and situations as the producers desire to convey them to the listeners.
('The Radio Times' 10 April 1925 p 100)
I will first look at three new arrivals to the Dramatic Department: George Grossmith, Donald Calthrop and Howard Rose (5.2). And then survey broadcast output from 2LO, Daventry 5GB and Daventry 5XX (5.3) along with R.E. Jeffrey's article, 'The Need for a Radio Drama' (5.4).
Main Index | Chapter 5 Index | Section 5.2
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