At first reading
there would be some justification for taking a rather sceptical approach
to the value of this article as objective evidence of the success
and importance of 'Carnival'. At no point does the Radio Times reveal
that the main scriptwriter of the production Holt Marvell is in fact
the Editor of the Radio Times Eric Maschwitz. The conceit here is
almost as disingenuous as Val Gielgud fabricating letters to represent
false opinion on BBC programmes.
Young was by no means 'a lackey' of 'The Polish Corridor' at Savoy
Hill. As Lord Asa Briggs explains in 'The Golden Age of Wireless 1927-1939'
Filson Young was the most important of the BBC's paid advisors. He
was a kind of resident consultant employed to criticise and evaluate
programmes independently of the programme making people. (p 64, Briggs,
A (1995) The Golden Age of Wireless 1927-1939 - The History of Broadcasting
in the United Kingdom, London, Oxford: Oxford University Press). Young's
grasp of the imperatives of radio drama in the 1929 Radio Times article
are prescient and modern. In fact other advice he offered BBC executives
in 1934 had considerable relevance to decision making in subsequent
BBC history. As quoted on page 69 of Briggs's volume:
that as the BBC grew in size, 'the science of administration' had
'to some extent overlaid the essentially creative side of broadcasting,
to its disadvantage'. p 69 [Young to Dawnay, 5 Mar. 1934]
studio at Savoy Hill. Picture taken 1928
Filson Young's criticism
is also markedly more helpful than that of George Bernard Shaw who
in July 1925 had informed C.A. Lewis that having installed a Burndept
four-valve wireless set and loudspeaker, his opinion of plays broadcast
by the BBC could be expressed in one word: 'damnable'. (pp 62 &
is characterised by logic and commonsense:
'the problem has
been to find a suitable medium by which to excite the imagination
of the listener and make it function in place of optical vision. In
the case of 'Lord Jim' the dramatic effect was almost entirely produced
by narrative. In the case of the Nativity Play the problem was different,
and, in a way, easy. The story was already present in the mind of
the audience; all that was necessary, therefore, was a brief, but
very carefully-worded, description of the scene, and an occasional
interpolation of a word or two directing the listener's attention
to a movement or a scene. The success of these devices was certified
by the fact that thousands (literally) of letters were received in
which the writers expressed their sense of having been present; and
quite unconsciously and artlessly used phrases that had been used
in introducing the play - phrases so purposely intended to sow ideas
and pictures in the mind of the audience that they literally adopted
them as their own, and showed that they had been duly innoculated
with the desired impression.'
1 at BBC Savoy Hill
observation about the importance of cultural memory cueing and 'seeding'
of imagery or association through introduction and contextualisation
is supported by pp 53-69 Crook, T (1999) Radio Drama- Theory &
Practice, London, New York: Routledge, and the conclusions of Pear,
T. H (1931) Voice and Personality.
Young makes the
following detailed evaluation of Carnival:
'In Carnival all
these developments were used with a skill on the part of the producer
which revealed the extent of the progress made at Savoy Hill during
the last four years. The production of Carnival was the result of
a combination of good brains, infinite enthusiasm, imagination, and
great skill. Something like genius inspired the selection of the forty-eight
scenes in the text. Sometimes these 'scenes' lasted less than a minute;
they never went on a moment after the listener had grasped their significance
on the development of the story. The change was sometimes as rapid
as that in a cinematograph, and infinitely more artistic. We all know
the awful boredom of having to look at, say, a caption on the screen
for the time it would take the most illiterate person in the audience
to spell it out twice over letter by letter. We also know the irritation
of a beautiful scene - say, a picture of breaking waves - being whisked
away from our vision, when the eye would like to dwell on it. No such
feeling was discernible in Carnival, and the restlessness produced
by the effect of so many kaleidoscopic scenes was averted by the rest
and refreshment to the imagination afforded by the charming narrative
interludes read by the author himself.'
3 at BBC Savoy Hill
Young makes a significant
contribution to the theory of radio drama in an article that has not
been referenced by any existing literature on the subject:
'You can sit down
by the fireside and think over the memory of a lifetime. It will all
pass before you, or rather not all, but only the essential part of
it; a year may be passed over in a second; or a minute may be dwelt
upon for half-an-hour. The difference between that and the actual
enactment of the scenes of a lifetime is equivalent to the difference
between the functioning of memory and the reading over of an elaborate
and meticulous diary in which every event has been recorded. The diary
gives equal emphasis to everything, the significant and insignificant;
the memory retains only the essentials, and blurs or eliminates all
the rest. Thus the development of radio drama up to the moment may
be said to have been in the direction of a technique which functions
like the human memory - not attempting to represent life, but to telescope
the memories and impressions of a life or a story into the dream vision
of an hour or two.'
5 at BBC Savoy Hill
A more modern reference
to the significance of 'Carnival' is to be found in the potted biography
of its dramatiser Eric Maschwitz or Holt Marvell:
'One of his first
ventures, at Gielgud's behest, was to convert Compton Mackenzie's
novel Carnival into a complicated radio play with a hundred scenes.
It ran for over two hours, involved two orchestras, and used all the
Savoy Hill studios linked together. Carnival was very popular and
rebroadcast many times. In 1932 Gielgud wanted to mount a radio operetta
using the same techniques.' (p 36 Miall, L (1994) Inside the BBC-
British Broadcasting Characters, London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson.)
This would be the
hugely successful 'Good Night Vienna' that was to become the first
British musical talkie film starring Maschwitz's first wife Anna Neagle
and Jack Buchanon. Maschwitz was to enjoy great success with the composition
of popular songs such as 'A Nightengale Sang in Berkeley Square' and
scriptwriting in Hollywood which included a significant writing credit
for 'Goodbye, Mr Chips'.
The Radio Times
'What The Other Listener Thinks' column for January 18th 1929 published
the following letter which because of its initials 'F.H.A, Northampton'
may have been an apocryphal rather than genuine reaction to the broadcast:
'The Triumph of
is over. The hour is late. But it has set memory and emotion tingling.
I do not know how it was contrived. I do not know how that fast moving
shuttle of voice and music wove the pattern gay and sombre and complete.
The pitiful little history of Jenny, now in sun and now in shade,
came before us as a living thing and moved to its climax as inexorably
as Greek tragedy. "Carnival" is a tale for many of us of
our own age, and our thanks must go to this very virile present for
their delicate art in bringing the past before us once again.'
It is impossible
to authenticate this letter, but it could be argued to have an articulacy
and hyperbole which is beyond what could be expected from an unsolicited
'Carnival' and Compton
Mackenzie are the 2 symbols or factors which frame and structure the
first 'Radio Drama Number' of the Radio Times published on March 1st
1929. There have been few times when a high selling magazine has been
committed to a celebration and debate about Radio Drama as an instrinsic
art form and force of storytelling and 'popular culture'.
art-deco design references the titles of what were clearly regarded
as key productions in the relatively short history of BBC Radio Drama
and include: Mr Wu, The White Chateau, Peer Gynt, The Kaleidoscope,
Speed, Lord Jim, R.U.R., Way of an Eagle, Prunella, The Wandering
Jew and Rampa. This intricate design by Eric Fraser is described as
'based upon the mechanics of Radio Play production as explained in
an article on page 498. It shows seven studios in use, controlled
bythe producer at the Dramatic Control Panel!'
Mackenzie is given 'the front page' as it were with the first article
on 'The Future of the Broadcast Play'. It is editorial and advert
and brimming with confidence, hope and a tendency to chauvinism and
early as the first paragraph George Bernard Shaw was likely to burst
a blood vessel when he contemplated the bold opinion that his plays
'are not great plays' and that on three occasions Compton Mackenzie
had fallen asleep in the box when seeing them acted. Whereas Ibsen
requires the theatre and his 'plays are almost unreadable, and the
marvellous way they come to life when interpreted, as they so often
are, by inferior actors and actresses, is the most convincing proof
of his supreme dramatic genius.'
Mackenzie the beginning of the 20th century was the age of the novel
and he argues convincingly of the link and dramatic potential of fusing
the force of effective novelistic storytelling with the new art of
radio drama although this link is articulate through a vicarious channel
of personal experience. Chauvinism manifests itself with the assertion
that British Broadcasting is superior to that of any other country
and probably of all other countries put together. The usual swipe
and condemnation of the print media for neglecting radio drama - the
new art form:
one or two honourable exceptions, not a single London newspaper has
condescended to criticize these experiments with as much attention
as it will devote to some trumpery film...'
makes a point previously made and subsequently echoed up until the
future of broadcast drama lies with authors who are prepared to write
directly for the microphone.'
condemns contemporary productions of Shakespeare as failures largely
because 'We are paying now for the Irving and Tree mistake of presenting
Shakespeare too exclusively for the eyes and not the ears of an audience.'
makes a point about the integrity of purpose in writing and performance
which has survived through to the present day:
believe that if one word be sought to state one permanently indispensable
necessity for Radio Drama, that word will be "sincerity".'
and emotional purpose should rule over style and artifice:
ingenious the effects, however neat the construction, however well
written the dialogue, no Radio Drama which diverges into mere cleverness
without the fullest inspiration of life will ever get across to that
immense audience - that so much greater audience than any dramatist
has ever had to face before, even in the mighty fifth century B.C.'
also pointed up an essential similarity between the Ancient Greek
dramatic tradition and that of modernist electro-magnetic radio drama.
The mass appeal of the ancient Greeks was secured through the voices
of the players speaking through megaphones 'with their faces hidden
by tragic masks and their stature raised to more than mortal size
by buskins so that they must have appeared to the audience as inhuman
as our loud-speakers of today.'
Maschwitz somewhat disingenuously offers an analysis of the lessons
of the success of 'Carnival' and the centre of the text is marked
by a page from the production script: 'On the left will be seen notes
in the producer's handwriting of the various 'fades' between studios
demanded in the space of one page alone, though it must be admitted
that the page was a more than usually complicated one being descriptive
of the vague reminiscent thoughts which drifted through the heroine's
mind at a critical moment in her brief life.'
article is disingenuous because it is authored as 'Holt Marvell' -
the declared adaptor of 'Carnival' - but nowhere are the readers informed
that Holt Marvell is also the editor of the Radio Times himself -
aka Holt Marvell makes the following points:
The fact that the microphone cannot enable its audiences to see is
its only one limitation.
One should look to the novelist for the microphone play because it
is the ideal medium for an unshackled form of drama.
The Dramatic Control Panel with its mechanical potential to mix and
cross fade scenes has liberated drama of the last cramping limitations
of stage form. He is in a sense talking about the topography, environment
or geography of dramatic imagination which has been expanded and extended
by the ability to fade from one scene to another, superimpose one
body of sound upon another, introduce music and sound effects for
He defines the contribution of the Control Panel as introducing 'Expressionism'
to radio drama. The radio playwright can use sound as the film producer
It is important to emphasise the retention of 'the human element'
and not sacrifice 'the play' to the medium.
The 'fluid quality' of sound mixing compares exactly with the novel
than with the stage play because in the novel the drama flows with
the imagination seeing it develop 'step by step, like the drama of
Maschwitz somewhat controversially advances the view that radio drama
can achieve greater realism than stage drama.
Maschwitz is optimistic about radio drama being 'a drama of large
scope, realistic in all that it implies to the imagination, picturing
as wide a section of existence as is artifically possible, discarding
the limitations of the theatre, heightening its emotions by the sparing
use of music and expressionism.'
Maschwitz recognises the emotional potential of radio as a storytelling
medium when he says 'The microphone brings its listeners very close
to the heart of the drama which is being given in the studios.
Maschwitz raises the critical question of how much should be left
to the listener's imagination which has been explored as the fifth
dimension of narrative direction in radio drama or the imaginative
spectacle in 'Radio Drama - Theory and Practice'.
'Carnival' Maschwitz claimed that he and Compton Mackenzie 'left almost
everything to the listener.. scene succeeded scene without explanation,
one drifting into another, and yet, among the letters received by
the BBC and the authors following the broadcast, there was not one
which complained that the development of the story was not sufficiently
concluded that 'each reader, or listener creates for himself his own
idea of what "So-and-so" looks like, and it rests with the
skill of the author and the producer to make these thousands of images
resemble as closely as possible the "master image" which
is in their mind.'
director of 'Carnival' who seems to have a subsidiary role in the
promotion and marketing of the production was Peter Creswell. He contributed
an article 'On Casting For Broadcasting' in the March 1st Radio Times
'Radio Drama Number'.
said the 'most important pigment' in the painting of the mental picture
of radio drama 'is the human voice'
The human voice is one of the loveliest of musical instruments.
The role of the producer is to disembody the voices he thinks of using.
He does this by listening to it with closed eyes or better still over
a loud-speaker in another room.
The radio producer has to recapture that invaluable first impression
of the listener's point of view: perhaps one should rather say 'point
Another consideration is the transmission of personality over the
ether. He discovers this when he ceases taking notes when listening
at an audition. Instead 'I heard and saw!'. Transmission of personality
is achieved when the listener instantly sees gestures, carriage, colour
of hair and eyes.
The technique of radio acting depends on understanding the extreme
sensitivity of the microphone. Theatrics have to be avoided and the
naturalistic or natural needs to be adopted. 'Character' acting on
the radio is a redundant concept and practice. Creswell advocated
a striving for realism in his appeal to actors not to come to BBC
Savoy Hill with a tendency to 'elocute'. He complained of the suffocating
experience of hearing 'a terrible unreality about their up-and-down
March 1st Radio Drama Number also offered Val Gielgud the opportunity
to make his first contribution on his thoughts about the future of
radio drama after less than 2 months in the job he later admitted
to being thoroughly unqualified for. Gielgud approached the debate
from the point of view of 'writing techniques in 'Leave The Stage
Alone - Limitations of the Theatre and Scope of the studio.' (Page
499, The Radio Times, March 1, 1929)
centre piece for his article was undoubtedly the celebration of the
writer through the photographic portraits of six men described as
'Six Famous Radio Playwrights:
Gerbardi and Ashley Dukes, well known as novelist and dramatist respectively,
whose first plays for the microphone will be heard by listeners in
the near future; Richard Hughes, author of Congo Night and Danger.
Compton Mackenzie, adapter of his own novel, 'Carnival'; Cecil Lewis,
author of Pursuit and other radio plays and adapter of 'Rampa', 'Through
The Looking Glass' etc; and Reginald Berkeley whose war-play, The
White Chateau, is a classic of radio drama.'
key point was that the biggest risk to radio drama was listeners and
writers continuing to think of radio drama as 'the Cinderella of the
Tyrone Guthrie's 'Squirrel's Cage' was a play written for the microphone
and impossible for performance on the stage because the cast is practically
can use as many voices as the studio can accommodate, or the Corporation
shifts from suburban dining-room to school, from school to office,
from office to 9.15 train, with a rapidity only paralleled on the
it covers in an hour the greater part of a man's psychological development.
Gielgud repeats points about the relative strengths and weakness of
stage and microphone plays but achieves a fine and elegant precision
with his point:
stage can show you the face. But the microphone can show you the working
of the mind behind the face.'
After replicating points about casting and acting made by Peter Creswell,
Gielgud concluded his contribution by describing radio drama being
'in its last experimental stage.' Again the tone is optimistic and
has been abundantly shown that a new field has been opened to writers,
actors, and producers, and if they are to take advantage of it they
must realize that they are dealing with a new thing and not with an
inferior substitute for an old thing. Once that is realized we can
go ahead.' (pp 499 & 502, The Radio Times, March 1, 1929)
further articles which highlighted the culture of BBC radio drama
production in 1929 was a piece by Howard Rose on 'The Seven Ages of
Radio Production' and Mary Hope Allen on 'A Shoe Shop Full of Plays
- A Word about the Ever-growing Play library at Savoy Hill' which
may or may not be of some comfort to subsequent generations of radio
drama departments who have had to cope with the BBC's popularity as
the destination of hopeful unsolicited dramatists.
Carnival was repeated
on November 4th and 6th 1929 with an additional frisson of promotion
and hyperbole that was likely to boost sales of the novel. The provision
of visual cueing - particularly for the central character Jenny would
have been risque for the time in the extent of the depiction of a
naked woman's back:
340 of Radio Times November 1st 1929
Page 331 of the same edition of the Radio Times the BBC announces
that 'Carnival' is being 'revived' at the request of many listeners
who were unable to hear it on the first occasion:
experiment of presenting the complete life-story of a character in
a play of more than two hours in length, was a daring one. That it
succeeded so admirably was mainly due to the special qualities of
Mr Mackenzie's story with its back of London bohemian life. The play
produced by Peter Creswell.'
production as in January had a first broadcast on the Monday on 5GB
in Birmingham and then on all other stations, including 2LO on the
Wednesday. Wilfred Rooke-Ley published a full page literary promotion
of the original novel on page 315 of the Radio Times edition for November
1st 1929. A consideration of the opening paragraph:
is not often that a novel - which mirrors so faithfully as "Carnival"
a particular moment of contemporary life - survives the generation
about whom and for whose delight it was written'
the final paragraph:
is a late flowering of that period whose youth and enthusiasm Mr Mackenzie
inherited. I should not wonder if Posterity takes the view so neatly
expressed by a contemporary reviewer, one of Mr Punch's Learned Clerks:
"I shall put 'Carnival' upon the small and by no means crowded
shelf that I reserve for 'keeps'"'
the flavour of admiration and fawning present throughout the article.
The fact of the matter is that 'Carnival' did not endure as a key
text of Compton Mackenzie's literary output. In the present age (2001)
he is vaguely recollected as the author of 'Whiskey Galore' - a story
whose resonance probably owes more to the film medium rather than
that of the novel. Wilfred Rooke-Ley compares the prose and characters
with those created by Dickens and Chaucer:
herself is incarnate London: the London that bred Chaucer and Dickens.
She is the latest of the long gallery of London characters, which
include Caddy Jellyby-Dickens's solitary heroine, perhaps, who is
really flesh and blood - and Sam Weller. Dickens and the creator of
Jenny have much in common: that constant, untiring awareness of character,
of all that is odd and whimsical in the world. But Mr Mackenzie's
humour never deserts him, as it sometimes deserted Dickens, and it
may be said that it is humour on the one hand and intense virility
on the other that save him from the pitfalls which the poetic treatment
of "Carnival" might have involved.'
article incredibly but predictably continues to place the author on
the same literary pedestal as the poet Keats.
1 studio BBC Savoy Hill
It is not the first
time the idea of the virile and virility has been used in respect
of 'criticism' or more appropriately 'unqualified applause' for this
novel. It was suspiciously present in the apparent letter from F.H.A
in Northampton. The language of 'virility' is a thin mask for the
sexuality of the story which is very much an Edwardian nostalgic and
masculine construction of the fin de siecle female - 'Jenny Pearl'.
This might account for the fact that the novel and story lost fashion
and cultural resonance as society became more predicated on women
authors empowering the characterisation of women's psyche.
7 at BBC Savoy Hill
1929 production and broadcast of 'Carnival' is also an interesting
model of how the early BBC set up the concept of a contemporary 'celebrity'
in the uncritical signposting of Compton Mackenzie as champion and
hero of radio drama and popular literature. For the issue of January
4th the following 'diary' item appeared on the page 'The Other Side
of the Microphone':
Spies and Scotland.
it be that anyone has got more out of life than Compton Mackenzie?
As son of the famous actor Edward Compton, he knew, as a youth, all
the famous people of the '90s. After a brilliant career at Oxford
he took to writing and astonished us, in 1910 and 1912, with 'The
Passionate Elopement' and 'Carnival' following these first books with
'Sinister Street'. After seeing service in Gallipoli, he became our
Secret Agent at Athens. His adventures in the Intelligence provided
him with enough material for a hundred novels. He has already published
one book based upon them, 'Extremes Meet'; a second, 'The Three Couriers,'
will shortly appear. His passion for islands is well known. After
living on Capri, he moved nearer home, to Jethou, in the Channel group.
Here he now dwells with the Siamese cats he told us of in a recent
talk. There are eleven of them, divided into two rival camps. Their
owner is President of the Siamese Cat Club. When not writing on Jethou,
Mackenzie is dashing up to Scotland. He is standing for Parliament
in the next election as a Scottish Nationalist. A member of the Clan
Mackenzie, he is a passionate Nationalist. If ever we see a Stuart
on the throne of Scotland, we may be sure that he has had something
to do with it. He has recently acquired two more islands off the west
coast of Scotland on one of which, he is thinking of breeding reindeer.
A fascinating personality, with his lively knowledge of the classics,
cats, music, the stage, and the demi-monde. A fascinating figure with
restless eyes, a mouth that is two sides of a triangle, and a suit
of Harris tweed the colours of which must be stolen from some sombre
northern rainbow. As perfectly a young man of 1929 as he was a young
man of 1909.'
Mackenzie - the Secret Agent. The portrait and inside page of a rare
copy of 'Greek Memories' which was actually suppressed under the Official
Secrets Act on publication in 1932. The Author himself was prosecuted
'In Camera' and fined for revealing sensitive information about British
espionage activity in Greece and the Balkans during the First World
War. Rupert Allason and Tam Dalyell have speculated that the prosecution
was largely the result of a personality clash and 'falling out' with
people in MI5 and MI6.
we have a model of the 'Richard Hannay' Buchanesque hero of the period
between the two wars. He was an Intelligence agent and adventurer
in the Greek Islands during the First World War. He is so rich he
lives as a tax exile in the Channel Islands and can buy 2 islands
off the West Coast of Scotland to embellish his identity as the romantic
modern 'Bonnie Prince Charlie'.
is the glorious aristocratic amateur adventurer of Imperialist Britain.
Standing for Parliament, classically and Oxford educated, 'Our Secret
Agent in Athens', not so much the careerist and workaholic that he
cannot be president of the Siamese Cat Club. A romantic and Byronesque
emblem of establishment culture who is also the habitue of the demi-monde
when he needs to be for King, Country, Empire and Art.
Mackenzie - very much the 'Richard Hannay' Buchanesque swashbuckling
hero of his time. 'Dashing up' to Scotland to breed reindeer and fulfil
his role as the modern Stuart of Scotland.
becomes the hero of BBC radio drama, transcending his role as writer
to be the player in his own novel and the champion of the art. When
the British Drama League Club Room organises the discussion on the
artistic value of the broadcast play on April 8th 1929, it is Compton
Mackenzie who mounts the white stallion on behalf of the BBC and radio
May 1st in the Listener it would be reported:
Compton Mackenzie made a shrewd hit when he urged that it encouraged
individualism and, therefore, intelligence in its audiences. A wireless
play must make its appeal direct to the individual listener without
any adventitious aids, either of previous criticism, hearsay or mass
suggestion. This is, indeed, a feature which is common to all the
activities of broadcasting. There is a certain artistic puritanism
here which, if it can find the right forms, is capable of that self-discipline
which breeds great art. More than this no advocate of wireless drama
world claims.' (Pate 590, column 2, 2nd paragraph, The Listener, May
debate during which Mackenzie was pitched against the woman dramatist
Naomi Royde-Smith was broadcast live by the BBC. Royde-Smith spoke
for the motion 'The Broadcast Play is an unsatisfactory Form of Art'
and she carried her resolution by a majority of three to one. She
had argued that to use H. G Wells' phrase the radio play 'teaches
us what life must be for the blind':
listen to several people speaking with intermittent distinctness an
abbreviated play when you can either go to the theatre and see a play,
or stay at home and read it in full for yourself? Not only is the
broadcast play an unsatisfactory form of art. It is a dangerous one.
It is not even good substitution. All listeners should be warned against
555, Column 1 Paragraph 5, April 24, 1929, The Listener.)
the live debate on Radio Drama on page 93 Radio Times April 12th 1929
Sides of the Microphone' authored by Eric Maschwitz reported on April
5th that Compton Mackenzie:
be heard at 8.00 p.m. from 5GB debating with Naomi Royde-Smith. Miss
Royde-Smith will maintain "That the Broadcast Play is not a satisfactory
form of art"- an assertion which Mr Mackenzie is well equipped
to combat, for his interest in radio drama is of long standing and
found practical expression in the recently-broadcast adaptation of
one of his novels. His opponent, on the other hand, is a stage playwright
of some experience - and stage writers are not usually kind to broadcasting.
In view of the present interest in radio plays and the recent transmission
of several successful experiments this debate should appeal to a large
section of our audience. The debate has been arranged by the Drama
League, and will be relayed from their premises in Adelphi Terrace.'
(Page 4, column 2, paragraph 1, Radio Times, April 5, 1929)
September Compton Mackenzie continued to spring to Radio Drama's defence
in the face of an attack by Gordon Craig which was described as 'outspoken'
by the Radio Times. In reality Craig's article was badly argued and
unevenly written with rather poor analogies:
when you ask me as to the possible future development of the drama
as affected by broadcasting, I can only say that I see no development
possible whatever, because drama is one of those eternal things which
never changes. Broadcasting can of course affect the sale of some
drama and the fashions in drama: it can even affect the spread of
bad drama but it can in no way help to develop or to retard the development
of the drama, because the drama is unaffected by whatever happens.
In fact, drama is a big thing and broadcasting only looks like a big
thing.' (first paragraph, column 1, page 666, Radio Times, September
Mackenzie's further defence of Radio Drama in the Radio Times September
27, 1929, page 667
Mackenzie argued that radio drama had advanced the interests of the
storytelling artist to a point not experienced since the age of the
epic narrators of Greek literature:
have realised that radio is going to give the artist the greatest
opportunity he has had since the days of Homer to express himself
without the mechanical barrier which the progress of human inventiveness
has raised higher and higher between the artist and his audience.'
the final paragraph of his defence introduces a personal element of
attack which introduces a patronising, superior and somewhat emotional
dimension to the debate.
Mr Gordon Craig to write in one sentence "the radio, the movie-tones,
the cinema and all these things," argues such a confusion of
mind, such a failure of imagination, and so much ill-informed prejudice
as to make it seem hardly worth while for an intelligent man to argue
with him. Nevertheless, if Mr Gordon Craig will give himself the trouble
to listen intelligently to radio for a whole year, I will debate with
him before the microphone at the end of that year, with one proviso,
which is, that there shall not sit between us and the real audience
a small visible audience ready to titter at any jokes he may make
about curates and so render serious debating an impossibility.' (column
3, paragraph 2, page 667, The Radio Times, September 27, 1929)
Man In Athens. Compton Mackenzie after visiting the French Consul-General
14/07/1917. From page 315 'Aegean Memories' published in London by
Chatto and Windus in 1940. The book also discusses the activities
of the Serbian Secret Society which was called 'The Black Hand.' It
is coincidental that John Buchan's malign enemy in 'The Thirty Nine
Steps' which threatens world peace and is involved in the assassination
of a Greek Prime Minister' Karolides' was called 'The Black Stone'.
'The Thirty Nine Steps' was originally published in 1913.
Mackenzie's Official Secrets Act prosecution was mentioned in a Hansard
debate on a new Official Secrets Act in 1989
Rupert Allason: There was very little after his revelations of the
Secret Intelligence Service's operations in the first world war until
shortly before the second world war, when Sir Compton Mackenzie was
prosecuted for revealing various desperately secret details such as
the fact that the chief of the secret intelligence service was known
by the letter "C". As was pointed out in Committee when the Security
Service Bill was being debated, the judge observed that if it was
so deadly secret that the chief of the secret intelligence service
was known as "C", why had he not changed it to "D" or "E" and had
there not been some 20 years for him to do that? The key to the Compton
Mackenzie prosecution, however, is the little-known fact that the
deputy director-general of the Security Service at that time not only
authorised publication of the book -- he was a great friend of Compton
Mackenzie -- but was himself a somewhat vain individual and was terribly
flattered by the references to himself. This was part of the reason,
I suspect, why the prosecution did not press the case very hard and
why Compton Mackenzie, although convicted, was given a very small
Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) : I may have misunderstood the hon. Gentleman
but I hope that he was not calling Compton Mackenzie a vain individual.
I knew him very well and he was not vain.
Allason : No, I was not suggesting that. The then deputy director-general
of the Security Service was a very vain individual and he was terribly
flattered by what Compton Mackenzie had written, hence his motive
in authorising this particular disclosure and hence the appalling
mess that the Government got themselves into at the time.
Dalyell : The hon. Gentleman must be a little careful in going into
this particular example because Compton Mackenzie used to hold court
in his house in Drummond Place in Edinburgh and told, at some length,
all who would listen that he felt that he was being got at on personal
grounds, and that much of the case was connected with issues of personality
rather than with the prosecution of the law.
Allason : That may be so. The fact remains that he was convicted and
and a short biography
extract of spoken word product of Whiskey Galore
page on his second hand books
on his espionage career with MI5
of Archive papers