'Death at Broadcasting House' and Val Gielgud

The film was released in November 1934. Val Gielgud was appointed Head of Productions in January 1929

 

'Death at Broadcasting House' is something of a burlesque 'fun' whodunit in which someone strangles Donald Wolfit live on the radio. It has a number of fascinating glimpses into the interior design and system of broadcasting at BH in the early 1930s, much of which were removed because the design did not accord with the necessary functionalism of a broadcasting and sound production centre.

A very good moving sequence is included in the film with Val Gielgud managing a mix on the revolutionary 'drama mixing panel'.

Some people could describe the film as a 'musty British whodunit'. The distribution in the US in 1941 was an attempt to cash in on the Hollywood-engendered popularity of its star, Ian Hunter.

 

Set in a BBC radio studio, the story gets under way when a much despised airwaves personality is murdered in the middle of a live broadcast. Scotland Yard inspector Gregory (Ian Hunter) shows up to piece together the clues and sift through the suspects. The solution to the mystery hinges on the fact that the victim insisted upon broadcasting in a private room, far removed from his fellow actors. Inspector Gregory provides this solution by coming up with a transcription of the fatal broadcast at a time when very few radio programmes were recorded for archiving.

 

'Death at Broadcasting House' has far more historial and cultural significance than a quaint mid afternoon nostalgia broadcast on BBC2 or Channel 4 television. For its time, the production values in lighting, sound and plot were rather high, but the characterisation and direction did not match up to these intrinsic strengths.

It has been claimed that elements of this film resurfaced in the 1942 Abbott & Costello comedy ' Who Done it?'

The film's director was Reginald Denham. The film does appear to attract an element of sarcasm from contemporary academic and reviewers who make the understandable and often repeated mistake of judging a cultural artefact by the standards of the present time instead of the standards of the time of origin and contemporary dissemination.

For example at the following internet site: 'RADIO ON THE SILVER SCREEN'

(This article was published in issue 1 of Radio Days)

it is stated: 'Death at Broadcasting House (1934) The powerful BBC myth is well illustrated by this murder mystery set in the most publicised lump of pre-war architecture. The overdone mystique of sound broadcasting is amply demonstrated by the studio histrionics of the genuine Head of Drama, Val (brother of John) Gielgud, who can only blame himself: he also wrote the story. Guest star glimpses of Hannen Swaffer and the Gershom Parkington Quintet.' These observations would appear to have been made by 'Denis Gifford (sadly deceased in 2000), with assistance from Alex Gleason, Grahame Newnham and Andy Emmerson.'

The film contains a number of musical performances by: Eve Becke, Elizabeth Welch, Gillie Potter, Hannen Swaffer, Percival Mackey's Band, and Ord Hamilton & his band.

 

A picture of the large vaudeville studio with a gallery published in the 1933 BBC Yearbook