Gielgud and How to Write Radio Plays:
Wireless Play - 6 Articles
The writing in these
articles could not be described as consistent and it should be borne
in mind that they were written by a busy productions executive marshaling
a new role as well as managing a complex and demanding centre of creativity
and live performance. Key points are extrapolated and then illustrated
by what Gielgud himself describes as key or landmark productions in
the year. Reference is also made to productions which are not necessarily
discussed by Gielgud but certainly had a significant impact.
Article 1 was published
on page 397 for the issue of May 24, 1929. It can be argued that many
of the points he makes resonate as the advice and creative cultural
imperatives for BBC Radio Drama up until the present day. The points
made throughout the series also set out the parameters of limited 'praxis'
philosophy attending radio drama as an artform. It is argued that certainly
within the United Kingdom little progress has been made understanding
and communicating the potential of irony, narratology and story telling
philosophy which might be unique to audio play.
Play - I. For The Aspiring Dramatist
a: Dramatists should
study the medium with ‘special care’.
b: Stop regarding
radio as a Cinderella Medium for writing. It is not in its experimental
stage and does not have to justify itself.
c: There are no great
financial profits for the writer, but it should be professionally remunerated.
d: As with any writing
medium you need to be practical. 50 cast members and 7 acts is unrealistic.
Do not waste time writing plays that ‘are hopelessly incapable of performance.’
e: In 1929 Productions
Department at Savoy Hill received on average 25 plays a week. Of every
100 plays received only 2 complied with ‘the special conditions for
their claims to be seriously considered for production.'
f: ‘Ignore Stage Technique’.
g: Scotch the idea
that ‘the microphone' is a poor substitute for the real theatre and
'therefore bad art’. Gielgud said: ‘The time is over for this curious
assertion that the broadcast play is the blind Cinderella of the drama’.
h: It is different.
Radio is not a nursery slope or practice run for stage, television or
i: Common ground
does exist:- the ability to write good, witty or forceful dialogue is
born, not made. Both stage and radio play need ‘the ability to write’.
j: It may be easier
to cover bad writing in the theatre with spectacle, good looks, pretty
clothes, ingenuity of production - ‘Not so with the radio play’.
k: Radio Drama has
been absolutely divorced from Stage Drama. Gone are the days when ‘a
microphone might be put into a theatre to broadcast a play from the
stage’. His prophesy here was not exactly confirmed by experience. As
recently as 1995 the BBC mistakenly thought a live stage production
could constitute credible radio drama listening. (p 255, Crook, T (1999)
Radio Drama- Theory & Practice, London, New York: Routledge.
l: Film broke away
and made its own art-form because there was no sound. In 1929 the advent
of the Talkies, there was a need to ‘break away’ from the limitations
inseparable from the stage.
Coinciding with his
first two articles were two highly critical letters published in the
'What the Other Listener Thinks' column that have all the hallmarks
of Gielgud 'faking' controversial points to generate debate and support
aspects of his policy and agenda.
May 31st 1929.
'From time to time
the BBC complain that writers do not appreciate the art of the radio
drama, that too few suitable plays are submitted to them and so on.
Setting aside the question of remuneration, let us consider what the
BBC does to encourage embryo radio dramatists. Perchance the young writer
will start with a one-act comedy, which will take at least five hours
to write out and type, in addition to time and labour involved in planning
it out. The odds are that this first born is returned with a circular,
saying that it has received careful consideration , but is not quite
suitable for broadcast purposes; not a word of advice or encouragement.
As the play has been written especially for broadcasting, it is practically
useless submitting it to any other market, and the young author’s hopes
are summarily shattered. Half a dozen words of encouragement might be
the means of discovering a Shakespeare of the ether - Yours Disgruntled.'
A reason for arguing
that Gielgud could have been the author is that it matches his concern
about the low level of remuneration for writers. He was fond of referring
to Dr Samuel Johnson's dictum that only a blockhead would write for
anything except money. (p xv Gielgud, V (1946) Radio Theatre - Plays
specially Written for Broadcasting, London: MacDonald & Co.)
June 28th 1929.
Might I make two simple
suggestions about broadcast plays? Firstly, that as the actors are not
seen, the characters should be few; otherwise the effort to distinguish
the voices destroys the pleasure of listening. This is quite different
in the theatre, where the action is seen. Secondly, that broadcast plays
should, as a rule, be short. This is not realized yet, to judge by words
quoted from The Radio Times of June 7: ‘The listening audience has not
yet acquired the automatic habit of listening to radio plays as they
have the habit of watching a play in the theatre.’ Why? The answer is
in the last three words. When we go to the theatre we take ‘time off’,
and have then nothing to do but enjoy ‘seeing’ and ‘hearing’ for two
or three hours. At home, on the contrary, we are liable to interruptions
- a caller, letters to be written, etc., children, and the hundred and
one things to be done after the ordinary work of the day. So the busy
householder likes a short play - Yours V.M.C, Newbury.
The reason for suggesting
that Gielgud may have authored this letter is that it draws attention
to his article, generates a debate and reemphasizes via another source
the need for aspiring writers to consider the special conditions of
radio drama listener. It also, like the correspondence from 'Disgruntled',
has no actual identifying feature apart from three initials and the
town of Newbury in Berkshire which even in 1929 had a sizeable population.
Radio Times illustrations of a 'Hogarthian' view of listening to radio
in the home and Broadcasting House in Manchester.(p iv, The Radio Times,
December 20, 1929)
The Wireless Play - II. Choice of Subject
pp 449 & 550 The
Radio Times 31st May 1929.
a: For radio they
must ‘appeal to an enormous audience’.
b: Radio ‘is entertainment
of modern democracy.’
c: Radio has to be
considered as appealing ‘potentially to a far greater number of people’
d: Consider the audience.
It is easy ‘for sophisticated and hyper-intelligent people to be funny
at the expense of an organisation which has to make allowances for such
an apparently demoded thing as family life.’ ‘what people are prepared
to accept as entertainment under their own roofs is not the same as
that which they are prepared to accept in a music hall or in a theatre’.
e: subjects should
be essentially popular.
f: aim at the raw
elements of human nature which are common to all of us.
g: There are two subjects
at least on which the radio dramatist cannot go wrong: The first is
a good story. The kind of story which if read in a book you could not
lay down until you had finished it. Writers of tales which take their
audience or their readers ‘away from the ordinary incidents of life
as it is lived by most of us.’ A good adventure story, convincingly
written about entertaining and simultaneously possible characters. The
second: Attractive personalities or ‘characters we can believe in’.
‘Characters who, from their essential humanity, convince the audience
of their existence and their friendliness; characters who produce a
definitely sympathetic and charming atmosphere which makes the development
of their circumstances interesting to the audience to whom they are
h: The wireless dramatist
must borrow from the novelist rather than from the playwright.
i: There is little
room for caricature in radio. You need ‘real people living a life that
is like the life of your audience’. Radio drama gives space for ‘the
play of adventure and the play of human character’.
j: The Play of Musical
Life. Music has great potential and the radio musical even more so.
‘To concentrate on listening to pure dialogue is unquestionably a strain.’
‘Mr Shaw has proved that a master of dialogue can retain our listening
attention without any difficulty, but it is without fear of contradiction
from Mr Shaw that I assert that there are few Shaws.
k: Use of Music. It
is used as background or as linking material to break up the monotony
of human voices. However, it would be more interesting to interpolate
music as a necessity of subject.
l: The time has come
for authors to write microphone plays round subjects rather than to
attach subjects rather painfully to microphone plays.
m: It is not a criterion
of excellence to ‘use as much complication in its production as possible.
‘The best radio plays are the simplest radio plays.
n: Poetic Drama. The
microphone offers great possibilities to the play which is dependent
entirely upon the beautiful speaking of beautiful words. This could
be the case with work written by poets which can never be staged owing
to their lack of any dramatic action. ‘If a new generation of Elizabethans
were to arise they would have to write for the microphone and not for
But there is no greater
pitfall for the would-be dramatist than the poetic play. Gielgud warned:
the poetic play to justify itself, and especially to justify itself
through the medium of the microphone, must be the work of a poet and
not of a "would-be" poet.
Play - III. Length And Method
pp 502 & 513 Radio
Times June 7th 1929.
1. Keynote- Be Practical!
No play, however good, stands its best chance of acceptance for the
microphone if presented in a slipshod manner. Pay attention to the requirements
of length, treatment etc.
2. Preparing the script.
Properly typed on quarto paper rather than ’written in longhand on the
backs of brown paper bags’.
3. Sound Effects.
Indicate the points at which it is necessary for sound effects to occur.
Leave it to the producer 'in cooperation with the person responsible
for the noise effects at Savoy Hill, to bring these indications to concrete
4. Question of length?
Speed of dialogue in the radio is slightly slower than that taken in
the theatre. Average timing of a minute and a half to a page is a ‘very
fair average at which to work’.
5. In 1929 Gielgud
said the ‘best practical length for a radio play is an hour and a half.
I do not mean that this will always be the best length or that it is
the ideal length.’ His predecessor R A Jeffrey thought the ideal length
of a radio play should not be more than 40 minutes. Gielgud argued that
the most important people to be considered by the radio dramatist are:
a: He explained the
listeners had not yet acquired ‘the automatic habit of listening to
radio plays as they have the automatic habit of watching a play in the
theatre’. It can be argued that in the year 2001 the same point can
be made, largely because unlike the USA in the 1930s and 40s audio drama
has never taken a foothold as a mainstream programming format.
b: Audience interest
has to be gripped and once gripped - maintained. Unusually mobile background
- continually changing scenes, much incidental music and sensationally
noisy sound effects contributed to gripping. Outstanding literary brilliance
where dialogue by itself suffices to bind listeners to their headphones
is also a key factor in maintaining audience loyalty.
6. The Simpler the
Better. Tim Crook during his workshop programme in the 2000 London Radio
Playwrights' Festival emphasised the maxim ‘There is so much nobility
in simplicity. It is apparent that Val Gielgud in 1929 emphasised the
advantages of this maxim. He wanted ‘clarity of treatment‘. Even then
there was an active debate about the function of narrative in radio
drama with two classes of thought.
a: Retention of narrative
as being essential in order to convey a clear understanding of plot
development to the audience.
b: Removing the narrative
and narrator on the ground that until clarity of plot development can
be achieved without these aids the true radio play has not been produced.
Gielgud’s position was that there is plenty of room for both classes.
He argued persuasively: ‘It is not a fact that narrative is always boring
or an inartistic excrescence upon the form of radio drama. Particularly
is this the case when a radio play is founded upon a novel. Both ‘Carnival’
and ‘Lord Jim’ owed very much of their success to the skilful insertion
of proper passages of narrative drawn from the original books.
Or take the further
example of St. Joan, where Mr Shaw’s stage directions, which were read
in full, were precisely the same thing as linking narrative.’
Gielgud went on to
observe that the adapter of ‘The Prisoner of Zenda’ - his close friend
and co-writer of crime thrillers Holt Marvell (Eric Maschwitz) had made
a mistake by deliberately avoiding the narrative form. It would have
been greatly improved by just a little carefully chosen narrative for
the sake of clarity. On the other hand Gielgud cited Tyrone Guthrie’s
‘Squirrel’s Cage’ as a play justifiably without narrative: - ‘written
straight for the microphone, and was directed immediately at the listener’s
ears without any thought for his other senses, not only did the play
no harm, but was an essential factor in its success. ‘Squirrel’s Cage’
was written in such a manner that its meaning and its aims were alive
perfectly easy to follow, although the interludes were of a symbolic
character, without any purely descriptive linking.’
Cage by Tyrone Guthrie was regarded as the most successful play written
specifically for the microphone in 1929. It would continue to be revived
and generated considerable critical coverage. Alan Bland in the Listener
for March 13th 1929 stated that it was 'not only an excellent entertainment
but also another important step in the working out of the whole problem
of dramatic broadcasting.' Thematically it engaged the issues of the
modernist age. However Bland's evaluation of the first performances
on March 4th and 6th included the criticism: 'Here and there were lines
of the kind we have come to call "theatrical", melodramatic
touches which jumped out and marred for a moment the quiet photographic
realism... the voices of the chorus were not always so happy.. sometimes
the rhythm seemed to flag... nor do I think that the device of the stroke
on the gong followed by the screaming rush of a siren, ingenious though
it was an idea, really conveyed the sensation of the rush through time
and space between scene and scene.' (p 333, The Listener, March 13,
Cage' was defined as 'a successful radio expressionist play' and on
its repeat in September. On September 6, the Radio Times published an
imaginative 'discussion on monotony' entitled 'All The World's A Cage'.
A debate ensues between Michael Murray and Robert Herring. The dialogue
is a witty and lighthearted promotion of the broadcasts on 2L0 September
12th and 5GB on September 11th.
I'm so used to freedom that I'm absolutely captivated by it.' (p 473,
Radio Times, September 6, 1929)
7. Gielgud’s advice
on narrative to writers:
a: Make up your mind
before you begin writing on whether to use it or not.
b: If you do use it
you must realise that narrative must be carefully chosen.
c: Narrative passages
must not be too long..
d: Narrative passages
must be balanced by other characteristics of the play. For example:-
if you have considerable passages of linking narrative you must balance
them with considerable changes of background, plenty of music and the
e: If you prefer to
proceed without narrative and adopt ‘the starker technique’ You must
take care that you do not become obscure and the essential factors in
the development of the plot are not left out or slurred over.
Play - IV. 'How Many Studios?'
Page 555, The Radio
Times, June 14, 1929.
In the days of Savoy
Hill and to a similar extent early Broadcasting House, the BBC used
the first 'mixing panel' to combine inputs of performance and sound
from different studios. In Germany they tended to record sound in the
same large studio. In the USA (at CBS for example) they followed the
German model and had components of the production in the same large
studio. The BBC technical mechanism was known as 'The Control Panel'.
In fact Savoy Hill could mix together input from 6 different studios
1. '...in radio drama,
as in all good art, simplicity is more effective than complication.
To use six studios merely, as it were, for the fun of the thing, when
the theme and characters of a play are simple and straightforward, is
2. Radio Dramatists
should be aware of the artistic principle of fading and cross-fading
sound which is similar to the dissolve for cinema. '
3. Cross-fading' of
parallel groups of voices is a most effective device, but it is extremely
important that the voices should be sufficiently obviously different
for there to be no confusion over the different sets of characters involved.
Whilst casting of actors is the prerogative of the directors writers
need to keep in mind the importance of writing 'effective differences'
in characters - unless similarity is used as a specific plot device.
4. Gielgud's postulate:
'To sum up: the panel (like most machinery) is a good servant but a
5. He referred to
the opening of 'Carnival' to explain the technique of writing to appreciate
the process of sound mixing.
'In one studio Mr
Compton Mackenzie was reading his opening narrative. As that reached
its end the producer, by turning the knob on the panel, which controlled
the strength of that particular studio, gradually faded the voice of
the narrator to diminishing strength. Simultaneously, by turning in
the opposite direction the knob which controlled the strength of the
studio in which a barrel-organ was placed, he faded up the sound of
the barrel-organ, which opened the first scene in the street where Jenny
is dancing. As soon as the barrel-organ had been brought up to the requisite
strength, i.e. the strength sufficient to stamp the background of the
scene, it was faded down sufficiently to be background and nothing else.
The producer then gave the 'light cue' to the actors, again in their
separate studio, by pressing a switch which turned on a green light
in the distant studio, and faded in their voices against the barrel-organ
background, bringing them up to a strength at which they could be heard
distinctly, though the barrel-organ continued to be faintly distinguished.
There you have the use of three studios in proper operation.'
To what extent has
the production of BBC Radio plays changed or transmogrified since 'turning
knobs' and flashing 'cue lights'?
Apart from recording
on location, pre-recording sequences and segueing them into live performance,
the introduction of faders, multi-tracking and digital editing, it could
be argued that the principles are roughly the same.
Wireless Play - V. June 21st 1929. People of the Play
1. Wireless dramatist
must do his utmost to enable listeners to visualise characters in the
imagination. The means at his/her disposal were:
a: strong and careful
characterisation in dialogue.
b: simplicity in
the human motives which go to make up the story.
2. Gielgud talked
about 'fixing' the physical identity of characters and their background.
Here Gielgud was laying the ground for what has been defined as the
imaginative spectacle in audio drama. ( pp 53-69, Crook, T (1999) Radio
Drama - Theory & Practice, London, New York: Routledge) He said:
'both eye and ear are merely a means by which you make an impression
on the imagination of your audience.'
3. Gielgud was dismissive
of the view that radio was an abstract medium dealing with purely abstract
sounds. He argued that sounds without any interpretative significance
were only a reductio ad absurdum of a practice. He lay down his cards
with this view about the more experimental plays of Lance Sieveking
and Tyrone Guthrie: 'How many of the people who heard 'Kaleidoscope
The Second' could describe Sylvia's appearance or recognise her more
personal characteristics? Deliberately or not, rightly or wrongly, Sylvia
was a puppet. The interest of the audience was directed to the circumstances
which swayed her life. They were, I think, completely unimpressed by
the character of Sylvia the girl. Henry, in Squirrel's Cage, was better.
At any rate, we knew that he stammered slightly. But he, too, and in
the case I am quite sure it was deliberately done, ran too true to type
to be real.'
Radio Times art-deco illustration and listing for Lance Sieveking's
'The First Second' by Peter Godfrey. Not a play in the sense that it
was described as 'A Sequence for Broadcasting'. Sieveking has been generally
panned by academics and although heavily criticised during his time
as a BBC producer should be accorded more value in terms of his courage
and experimentation. The interiority of radio personality and consciousness
lends itself to 'the subject matter of this drama - the beginning of
the end of a man's life. The action occurs during the infinitely short
space of time taken by sudden death to establish itself.'
4. Gielgud wanted
greater care and greater emphasis in 'stamping... characters and...
settings to further the easier working of the imagination of... listeners.
5. He said 'It is
well known that people as a rule are not interested in other people
that they do not know or have never met. Because you demand more of
the imagination of your listeners than a writer for the stage, so you
must provide that imagination with more material on which to work.
6. In the course of
ordinary dialogue, the little personal idiosyncrasies are slipped in,
or the most important features in a scene are underlined.
7. There is no doubt
that people like to follow the experiences of characters whom they can
understand, whom they can recognise among their friends, and at least
some of whom they can like.
8. In 1929 Gielgud
argued that Britain was 'not a cosmopolitan nation. The mentality of
the average foreigner is a closed book to us'. He used this point to
explain why the creations of Chekhov and Ibsen were regarded as 'quite
simply lunatic.' It is a sign of xenophobia that was undoubtedly central
to British culture at the time (When Britain was an Imperial/Colonial
power) which some could justifiably argue remains pervasive among some
people even today.
9: Aspiration to realism:
Gielgud stated: radio drama should be fixed in the minds of would-be
authors for the microphone as a drama of real people for real people.
Preciosity has its place, but that place is not in radio drama.'
10. Gielgud recognised
critical observations about the quality and standards of contemporary
radio drama. Feminist writer Vita Sackville-West had written an article
before stating 'it was necessary for a woman's voice to be alternated
with a man's'. Early sign on concern about sexism and patronymic domination
of the medium by male writers, directors and voices.
11. At the time Gielgud
was emphasising the need for a special approach to microphone play writing;
hence his comment: 'Except in so far that certain authors with a 'sense
of the theatre' are also authors of fine intellectual attainment with
a gift for writing dialogue and funds of ideas, their theatrical sense
is immaterial.' [That the author of a radio drama should have a sense
of the theatre is the very last thing that is necessary. A 'sense of
the theatre' implies knowledge of one set of tricks; a sense of the
microphone implies knowledge of another set of tricks.]
End' had been a successful stage play in 1928 and 1929 and by the time
of its first broadcast on Armistice day 11th November 1929 it had been
performed in six different languages. It has had many BBC revivals and
represents an excellent example of a theatre play which transfers effectively
to the radio. The key may well be the psychology, characterisation and
emotions which are highly charged and dramatised.
provides an amusing account in 'Years of the Locust' of his struggle
to persuade John Reith to permit the BBC to air 'Journey's End':
was an occasion when I found myself in his office pleading passionately
for a performance of Journey's End as an appropriate commemoration
of Armistice Day. I could not convince him. And as I remained persistent
he passed me on to the Admiral. With the latter I waxed really eloquent,
almost succeeding in reducing myself to tears in a mixture of emotion
and baffled exasperation. I must have been there about quarter of an
hour when Sir John looked in, and expressed surprise that I was still
don't understand what you want this play for," he said. "Anyone
can write an appropriate programme for Armistice Day. I could write
one - if I had the time. Of course you need a lot of guns and bells
disappeared before I could reply or comment. Again, it is only fair
to add that ultimately I was allowed my own way, and was very handsomely
congratulated for the success of the Journey's End production.
I was perhaps fortunate in the fact that in Sir John's eyes the broadcasting
of plays seemed rather a necessary evil, than a very serious branch
of broadcasting activities.'
Gielgud, V (1949) Years of the Locust, London & Brussels: Nicholason
to an entire page given to the cast of the production and producer Howard
Rose in the Radio Times included a photographic illustration of the
set in the trenches - 'The Single Scene of 'Journey's End' and an appreciation
of the play and its author by Charles Morgan.
Play- VI. A Practical Example
(pp605 & 668,
The Radio Times, June 28, 1929)
In his final article,
Gielgud courageously exposes his inchoate radio dramatic career to potential
attack by illustrating the main requirements of microphone drama with
passages from an actual play-script which would appear to be his own
script described as '"Exiles", a thrilling drama of the old
Russia which may one day be heard over the microphone.'
He realised the risk
he was taking:
'I am going to try
to do the most difficult thing possible: to exemplify theory in practice.'
During the course
of the article he exemplified the following techniques:
1: The climax of 'Exiles'
'has two good points: it keeps a 'high spot' of climax with an anticlimactic
last line for its curtain - a purely theatrical but extremely effective
2: The subject is'
radiogenique - (a term recently coined in France, which may be
translated as 'good radio'- on the analogy of 'good theatre') because
it deals with people in circumstances which are certainly dramatic and
which are not wildly improbable.'
3: The play has a
definite contest between the attitudes of two minds towards the same
problem. '...this argument which runs through the play serves in the
place of narrative to link up and form a background to the whole piece.'
4: The two main characters
bind the scenes together and lead up to them.
5: Gielgud acknowledges
the value of rhythm and pace in structure: 'The play deals with a period
which can only be reproduced by short scenes and against rapidly-changing
backgrounds. Further, these backgrounds are in themselves picturesque.'
6: By providing the
opportunity to switch scenes from the old Imperial Court, a St. Petersburg
Cafe with a tsigane (gypsy) orchestra, and a dugout on the Galician
Front, Gielgud says he is creating a production framework for introducing
music 'as a strictly natural background to different scenes without
having to force theme - or background - music purely for its own sake.'
7. 'Exiles' is a play
which is impossible to stage and therefore conforms with the demand
for drama which can only be handled through the wireless medium.
8: The script ensures
that although there are a good many characters involved, only two have
real personal significance. 'The others are mere shadows moving in a
world of memories.' The cast is therefore small.
9: Gielgud does however
acknowledge that a play which requires an orchestra, a tsigane orchestra,
a chorus, and various straightforward sound effects is complicated.
'Exiles' is going to be a Savoy Hill five studio production. He justifies
the elaboration without admitting that he is the author of the project
with these words:
'A theme has deliberately
been chosen which, to be properly exploited, requires these various
expensive and complicated agencies, and these can be provided by the
developing technique of the wireless play and could not by any other
10: Gielgud claims
that the author has done everything to serve 'clarity of treatment'
by making his dialogue short and taut.
11: Gielgud also pays
homage to influence. The scene subdivided into six sections to cover
the stupendous episode of the Russian Revolution was inspired by the
impressionistic methods of Tyrone Guthrie and Lance Sieveking. He says
that Impressionism 'is one of the practising servants of radio dramatic
technique. And the impressionist is in this case justified, because
nothing else would serve to convey what is necessary for the development
of the play by means of realism.'
12. Gielgud does not
disclose a fundamental aspect of the play's motivation which is the
special cultural and emotional knowledge and imperatives of the author.
Gielgud and his family were a part of the world explored in the play.
His relatives and his first wife were part of the 'White Russian' culture
tossed about by the storms of Revolution and Empire.
& 596, Radio Times, September 20, 1929
In the Radio Times
edition for September 20th 1929 C.R. Burns attempted to predict the
nature of Radio fifty years ahead to 1979. The justification for a somewhat
Nostradamus approach to radio writing was provided by Eric Maschwitz
with the words:
seem to be agreed upon the theory, slightly stupefying to the average
layman, that Space and Time are only figures of speech, and practically
of no account. It is therefore without fear of reproach, on the score
of improbability or fiction mania, that I add below an account flashed
instantaneously to the Editor of 'The Radio Times' from his Special
Correspondent at Geneva on August 15, 1979, for inclusion in the issue
of that date....'
The article rightly
predicted the BBC's survival in 1979 but wrongly anticipated a world
of peace until that year with a celebration in a new Cathedral to peace
at the old headquarters of the League of Nations in Geneva.
Burns rightly predicts
a diet of news and market information for radio during breakfast time.
He also correctly predicts the process of prerecorded programming which
he describes as 'the great Gramophone Fusion.'
By 1960 he says that
programmes will have been constructed, recorded, cut and edited upon
the film model. To the extent that there is convergence on multi-track
digital production techniques between the visual and audio media this
has been achieved.
His optimism for the
development of a huge library of programmes is partly fulfilled. Since
archiving was not a contemporary practice in 1929 he was right to predict
the collection of radio library examples of 'what are known as the first
"Imperfect Classics" of the microphone, such as Mr Lewis's
adaptation of Conrad's Lord Jim, Mr Berkeley's White Chateau,
Mr Marvell's Carnival, and Mr Guthrie's Squirrel's Cage.'
The original broadcasts
of these productions have not of course reached us but the Radio Drama
conference at the BBC on January 13th 2001 would suggest that it was
possible 'in the future' to experience 'revivals from what might almost
be called the Stone Age of broadcasting are of the greatest interest,
enabling listeners to compare the present with the dim and distant past.'
What was his prediction
for radio drama 50 years in the future in 1979 and to what extent was
have no space left in which to describe the latest developments in radio
drama with its twenty-five studios or the new effects room with its
electrically-controlled mechanism enabling anything from the Deluge
to the Battle of the Trafalgar or Beethoven's Ninth Symphony to be used
severally or in combination merely by the turning of one or more switches.
Nor can I enter here into the great current controversy as to whether
English is to be adopted as the international radio language, though
I am informed that this development is bound to occur in the course
of the next five years owing to the preponderating pressure of the whole
of the American group, taken together with the influence that English
traditions have maintained upon the European group.'
There is a certain
excitement in recognising that this writer had correctly imagined the
eventual advances in manipulating a multi-dimensional synthesis of sound
through digital technology. The power he describes in 1979 was available
to the radio producer in the analogue form in that year, and now that
power has been extended digitally. And the BBC certainly had access
to 25 studios in 1979 but there was no need for all to be used at the
same time for the purposes of a dramatic production. He is also correct
about the global power of English as the international media language
and he correctly links this to the likely influence and role of the
USA in world affairs. Finally it could not be ruled out that C. R. Burns
was Eric Maschwitz himself since the idea of the correspondent was fictional
and it was well known that he would fill holes in the magazine with
articles by himself which were attributed to various pseudonyms.