6.3.7 R.E. Jeffrey 'Seeing with the Mind's Eye', 'The Radio Times' 5 November 1926 p 325
Frank Shaw, 'Secrets of the Radio Drama', 'The Radio Times' 2 April 1926
Captain Frank H. Shaw had broadcast four plays before this article appeared. They were all to do with the sea, set on a steam yacht, an old time sailing boat, etc. He was a novelist, but all his writing came from his extraordinary life as a cargo captain, defying pirates among other adventures, and in 1927, he published his autobiography, which is racy and quite extensive, Knocking Around (Shaw 1927). In WW1, he had fought on sea, as an infantryman in Flanders, as an airman, 'not an unqualified success', he admits, and then in submarines. He ends his autobiography with the following, invalided out from the War, and it gives a flavour of the man:
But occasionally the Red Gods [of the Pacific] call again ; and I begin to wonder - to wonder! Does this life hold any further surprises, or must adventure next be sought in a new dimension? It is on the knees of the Red Gods themselves. The skipper of my oil-tanker, who had seen so much that my experiences would hardly have filled a dog-watch of his life, told me the other day about New Guinea, where gold has been found according to prophecy. I wonder!(Shaw, 1927, 344)
His correspondence file in Caversham contains letters asking for further play commissions in the early 1930s, but his broadcasting career was over by 1927 and the rather clumsy 'By Virtue of a Broadcast', the only script of his which survives.
Frank H. Shaw's article in the 'Radio Times' of 2 April 1926, 'Secrets of the Radio Drama', packed more of a range of points into his 1,000 words than Gordon Lea's book (6.5). It is also clearly worded and the voice of an intelligent man, and rather matches Cecil Lewis in its journalism. This spring 1926 was also the time when the new Studio No. 2 with its effects Studio No. 2 (B) came into operation, and an added 'Echo Room' (Phase Four of Savoy Hill production). As mentioned at the beginning of this chapter, wireless drama never sounded so good. And lively personality that he was, Frank Shaw is energetic about promoting radio drama, firstly through his own genre speciality, sea scenes and effects:
Fortunately for the author, the resources of the wireless "effects" are to-day practically limitless; and I find these resources peculiarly suitable to the production of plays containing a ship as a stage. Every time I hear a sea-piece produced, I am put in mind of the Teutonic producer who, during a stage representation of thunder heard actual thunder outside, and exclaimed: "My thunder is better than that!" A heavens-hard gale, created by means of wireless "effects", almost outdoes the real thing! Yet every detail of its verisimilitude is exact - from the dull thud of a striking sea, accompanied by the crisp splash of the creast, to the creak of a halliard block. I am still awed and amazed by the possibilities of the accessory department at Savoy Hill.
Allowing for the hype, Frank Shaw is another key voice claiming that wireless drama provides an accurate representation of the Lifeworld, of elements of real-life experience. Verisimilitude is claimed through each phase of Savoy Hill production. Novelty must have gone some way to enthuse listeners and once again, the reception of salty plays like Shaw's 'Bright Gold' and 'Outward Bound' are part of 'the world we have lost'.
Shaw might seem over-optimistic about the successful broadcasting and balancing of all of these Grams and Spot effects, as these plays of the sea were to become a particular source of complaint later. Obviously, they were more demanding because they used a great many more 'noise effects', as they were called, and added dense, demanding sound textures which could obscure the dialogue, and result in a lot of bass tip-up (increase in the lower end of the scale) over the ether.
R.E. Jeffrey cited sea plays in a later internal document, 'Notes On Technique Of Playwriting for Wireless Broadcast'. This is undated, and probably went through more than one redrafting, and so I would prefer to assign it to 1928 and discuss it in chapter 8. But it is worth bringing forward here. Jeffrey's recommendation to would-be authors is to be more adventurous with fictional soundscapes, as we would call them now, and his example is of the sea:
... there is practically no limit to the scope of 'self-created' scenes, and therefore to the scenes which may be set by authors for broadcast plays. The open sea, with a ship being tossed on it, is a difficult proposition for actual stage production. It is often also much too expensive to make it a commercial proposition. But for broadcast, the imagination will find no difficulty in conjuring up such a scene.
After a search, hardly any sea plays appear outside Frank Shaw's, but the foremost is 'Westward Ho!', 'Ten Radioviews from Charles Kingsley's famous novel' (7 April 1925 London SB to all stations 7.30-9.15), which includes action on the Spanish Main. There was also 'The Tempest' (Shakespeare) (16 January 1925 London 7.30-9.30) which begins with a storm. Richard Hughes's 'The Rum Runners' (8 May 1926 2LO London 10.20-10.35), a production about which I have entered a doubt, was in the pre-production stage when Shaw's article was published (6.1.12).
The much-admired adaptation of Conrad's 'Lord Jim' (by Cecil Lewis) is later (18 February 1927) and of course L. du Garde Peach's 'The Marie Celeste' is not till 1931. Again, this is leaping out of 1926, but a grumpy newspaper reviewer sums up what could have been the feelings of some. The play in question is a thriller, 'The Bridge':
It is perhaps a pity that in so many of their successes, the B.B.C. must either chill us to the bone with pitiless gales "off" or scare us out of our wits by means of a veritable arsenal of small arms and artillery.
('The Manchester Guardian' 26 November 1929)
The realism debate was taken up sharply by Sydney A. Moseley in a 1927 'Radio Times' article, 'Does Realism Get Across?' (18 February 1927 p 361) and that will be dealt with in the next chapter. Moseley found sea effects particularly annoying:
Another and more common instance where realism is apt to be overdone in the broadcasting studio is in the simulation of the lapping of the waves of the sea. The production of the sound of the sea across the ether is a fine achievement, and on more than one occasion I have enjoyed listening to the lapping of the water on a shingly beach, but, after a while, one finds it becomes rather a nuisance, especially when it is persisted in to the point of rendering inaudible certain essential parts of the play or story.
I have rather moved too far ahead here, although Moseley must have had Franks Shaw's 1925 plays in mind. It helps to illustrate the continuous 'Does Realism Get Across?' issue and what listeners' letters would later call 'clanking' effects which obscured dialogue.
I will now relate Frank Shaw's advice, so serviceable to potential playwrights, to current terminology. Characters must be made to move, and this must be by 'dialogue' or effects:
I find in writing my wireless plays, that I am eternally handicapped by this lack of visible stage setting. Every gesture, every turn of the head, every definitive movement must, to a great extent, be suggested by the dialogue. Instead of writing stage instructions: "A moves from Centre to O.P.3," A must be heard to move, either through dialogue or through a sound effect. The tendency is, in consequence, to make the characters indulge in as few movements as possible; and yet, since the entire effect is to create the illusion that the drama is actually transpiring, many movements are necessary.
In discussing how the actor and playwright have to get that movement, effort and energy into dialogue, I talk of 'embodying the lines' (Beck, 1997, 61). In dialogue, there is the added need for 'description', that added extra in radio (84-6). Shaw must also mean what is now called 'moving on the line'. He also pays tribute to the producer:
The radio dramatist is, to an even greater extent than his brother, the straight play playwright, dependent on the producer for his success. The tinkle of a glass at precisely the right moment adds an enormous value to the spoken word - it is almost an impossibility for radio players to "gag" through a crisis. And as the larger "effects" are not always produced in the same studio where the vocal presentation is taking place, an enormous responsibility rests on the producer's shoulders as if all synchronizations of words and sounds are to be correct. I cannot remember to have been let down once.
Reference here is to the separate Effects Studio No.2 (B) and the need for actors not to depend on visual 'mugging' or exaggerated facial expressions.
A small cast is best and clustering, or too great a similarity between voices (Beck, 1997, 97), is to be avoided:
As few characters as possible should be employed; since human voices are not as prone to convey definite impressions as human personalities; and the listener, dependent only on his sense of hearing and his imagination, is apt to grow confused by many voices, unless they differ greatly from every other; the contrasting personalities should, indeed, be exaggerated to some extent, if a clear-cut impression is to be conveyed.
Plot should be 'strong and convincing', action should be 'brisk', and there should be a 'middle-climax' and then a 'taking-off' from this to the final climax and an unexpected, 'clean-cut' ending. There should not be 'any shadow of doubt' about characters as they are 'delineated clearly' and introduced 'smartly'. He recommends 'a hint of the occult and the supernatural' as 'there still remains a suggestion of the eerie and uncanny in wireless'. Dialogue must be 'snappy', 'crisp' and 'telling' as:
There is no time, when listening to a wireless play, to refer back mentally to discover the subtleties permissible on the proper stage. A radio play must be obvious in its action, however concealed its ultimate climax might be.
And as for the future:
the time is not far distant when a school of radio-dramatists will arise capable of creating such a new form of radio play as will carry the prolonged interest of a two-hour play.
So here are a dozen points and more, which make good reading today. The only pity is that in the one extant radio script, 'By Virtue of a Broadcast', Frank Shaw does attempt the 'eerie and uncanny in wireless', but plot and dialogue are turgid.
Now for R.E. Jeffrey's article, 'Seeing with the Mind's Eye' ('The Radio Times' 5 November 1926 p 325) which is a poor comparison. It was more than a year since his last ('The Need for a Radio Drama' 17 July 1925, discussed in 5.4 ). Once again, Jeffrey's 2,000 word article concentrates on listening and he is even sterner in his demands. Total concentration is needed:
those who do not enjoy broadcast drama fail to do so simply because they allow their attention to be divided It is a proven fact that dramatic action is seen in complete detail by all those who care to listen with close attention
Jeffrey also returns to his psychology of listening:
The makers and producers of radio plays are now thinking in forms, not words. We know now that words when heard are instantaneously translated into forms by the subconscious, and it is thus that we see them.
'Forms' are not defined by Jeffrey but may mean shapes rather than countering the proposition that the internal cognitive processes of the mind are totally word-dependent. Again he returns to the model of sitting in the theatre seat:
The listening should always be easy and natural, then the listener's sub-conscious mind his imagination will provide the setting for the play. Given these conditions, every listener will be able to see a broadcast play with a vividness and with a sense of the reality of character, action and scene, which are not excelled by the impression received when watching a production on the stage of a theatre.
The mind is a theatre of its own and a cinema, and in effect, each listener is in charge of the show:
Surely it is true that the mind is a greater provider of real spectacles, both intimate and vast, than the greatest of scenic artists can ever hope to be. This is where radio has an advantage over the stage or the film. It allows the listener to create types and scenes that are appropriate to his own taste and mentality.
He ends with a stern message, even a warning to desist from complaining:
Some listeners seem to take more joy in fault-finding than in being entertained. Those, however, who have carefully followed the development of radio drama within the last two or three years with the will to understand and to be entertained have found their ability to 'see' by radio enormously increased. Each detail of a scene can be instantly realized by these practised listeners. These are the listeners who ask the B.B.C. to put more and more plays into the programmes. Such listeners may be truly said to co-operate with the players and producers in such transmissions. They give their minds to be played upon by the words that are broadcast.
Main Index | Chapter 6 Index | Section 6.4