playing opposite Ian Hunter from a scene in the film
The original novel
on which the film was based was co-written by noted radio producer Val
Gielgud, the brother of John Gielgud.
Val Gielgud, full
name Val Henry Gielgud (28 Apr 1900-30 Nov 1981): British author and actor,
brother of great actor Sir John Gielgud; 5 marriages (first 4 dissolved),
2 sons; secretary to a Member of Parliament; subeditor for a comic book/newspaper;
staff member London "Radio Times"; Dramatic Director, BBC; Head of Television
Drama, BBC; O.B.E. (Order of the British Empire; C.B.E. (Commander, Order
of the British Empire): * 26 mystery/detective novels with series characters
Antony Havilland, Inspector Gregory Pellew & Viscount Clymping, Inspector
Simon Spears * 1 mystery/detective story collection * 2 unrelated novels
(historical) * 19 plays (and also directed 6 plays and appeared in 6 as
actor) * 4 screenplays * 40 radio plays * 7 nonfiction books (playwriting,
autobiography) * 2 books edited.
Val Gielgud played
a key executive and creative role in the transition of radio drama production
in the BBC between 1929 and the year of the film and his steerage of
radio drama extended to the early days of television drama in the 1950s.
In fact he was responsible for directing the first ever television drama
transmitted in the UK in 1930:
image from the recording of the broadcast
"The Man with the Flower in his Mouth" was transmitted from the Baird
studios in 133 Long Acre, London, on 14th July 1930. For the first play
in Baird's modest studio, Val Gielgud, the productions director, chose
one with only three on-screen characters:
can view the archive of the first British TV drama in Real Video
The impact of his
contribution and influence over mainstream cultural storytelling in
the UK has not been properly explored by academics. Cardiff and Scannell
in the Social History of Broadcasting are somewhat weak in this area,
but perhaps the limitations of an expensive book publication militated
against a chapter on radio drama. Similarly the extent to which Val
Gielgud fought against a sense of 'cultural inferiority' that seems
present within people who practice and study radio has also been overlooked.
Val Gielgud demonstrated through praxis that radio drama was not a Cinderella
at the Drama Control Panel
It could be argued
that Gielgud helped place the resonance of radio drama centrally in
the most compelling and influential medium of entertainment of his day
and furthermore extended this resonance to the USA where the film had
a successful distribution in 1941 with not too disappointing audience
was by Basil Mason from the original novel by Val Gielgud and Holt Marvel.
Gielgud makes a long
reference to the film in his autobiography 'Years of the Locust' which
was published in 1947 by Nicholson & Watson:
something can be done about it when considerations of limited money
and time are present - was proved to me some years later, when a small
company was formed specially to make a film adaptation of Death at Broadcasting
was a detective story written in collaboration by Eric Maschwitz and
myself. As a book it had had a considerable success, and it seemed to
our untutored minds that it was from the film point of view "sure-fire".
House, if only as a new building and rather a box of tricks, was still
"news". Most people seemed curious to know what went on behind its concrete
battlements; seemed eager to enjoy any opportunity of "seeing the wheels
with comprehensible vanity, that the story, if rather on the complicated
side, was both ingenious and exciting. But, even if it were neither,
it seemed to us a copper-bottomed commercial proposition, if only because
the programmes of the B.B.C. willy-nilly (sic) gave its background daily
and nationwide publicity.
British film moguls were not to be persuaded. We tried one well-known
company after another without the least success. It was left for three
young men, anxious to break new ground on their own, to see the possibilities,
and raise what now seems the wretchedly puerile sum of £16,000 to make
the picture. I am glad to think that Hugh Perceval, Basil Mason, and
Reginald Denham were rewarded for their enterprise. Even in this present
year - 1945 - the picture crops up for showing in out-of-the-way houses.
because the money at their disposal was limited a good deal of care
was lavished on the organisation of the unit. The picture was made in
a comparatively small studio at Wembley. Scheduled for twenty-eight
days' shooting it was made in twenty-nine. I was in the studio almost
every one of those days, and on no occasion was the assistant-director
unable to let me know on my arrival whether I was safe to make arrangements
for dining in town that same evening.
add that the moment the story had been sold to Phoenix Films, the moguls,
previously disinterested, not only pricked up their ears, but became
positively plaintive, if not aggrieved. The best-known of them indeed,
on whose desk a copy of the book had reposed - probably unread - for
rather over nine months, complained bitterly to Eric Maschwitz that
we had been ridiculously over-hasty. A second, not quite so well-known,
did his best to make out that he had always intended to make the purchase,
and that a telephone conversation in the course of which he had quite
clearly said "no", ought to have been interpreted as saying "yes".
it will not be considered presumptuous to suggest that the Death at
Broadcasting House picture and its making offers lessons worth study
by those interested in small-scale films. Expenditure was very sensibly
allotted rather to the settings than to the cast, which, apart from
Mr. Ian Hunter, was made up of actors, admirable, but not "stars".
remarkable how everyone who saw the film took it as a matter of course
that it had been almost entirely "shot" inside Broadcasting House -
which even if desirable, would have been physically impossible.
the original story was very largely adhered to - and where changes were
desired the original authors were consulted as to their making. It is
true that an evil tradition added some indifferent low-comedy relief.
A good deal of the dialogue seemed to have little relation to characterisation.
But as I was playing a fairly important part in the picture, and was
therefore present at the taking of a large number of scenes, it was
not difficult for me to restore quite a good deal of the book's original
dialogue on the grounds that, as an actor, I found it easier to speak.
of a first-rate cameraman, who had learned his business in the German
UFA studios at Neubabelsburg under Fritz Lang, ensured the giving of
full value to the film's pictorial possibilities. Reginald Denham -
whose first picture-directing assignment I believe it to have been -
did not conceive it as his business to teach his experts their jobs.
And the general atmosphere during production was one of keen and business-like
cooperation, which made taking a share in it a pleasure. '
Val. 'Years of the Locust': Nicholson & Watson, London (1947) pp. 132-134]
There is evidence
that Val Gielgud (his middle name was Henry) collaborated with Holt
Marvell (pseudonym of Eric Maschwitz} in the writing of a previous novel:
Maschwitz & Val Gielgud
'Under London' in
1933 and the theme of burlesque thriller built around a murder extended
across a trilogy of books:
Death At Broadcasting
Death As An Extra
Death In Budapest
The other novels do
not appear to have been made into films.'
He also wrote the
commentary for an early British documentary: WHITE EAGLE, THE (Concanen).
Production: Derrick de Marney, for the Polish M.0.I. Direction: Eugene
Cekalski. Commentary written by Val Gielgud, and spoken by Leslie Howard.
Has it been made into
a BBC Radio Play? There appears to be evidence of a production of
"Death At Broadcasting
House" by Val Gielgud & Holt Marvell broadcast on BBC Radio 4 3/2/96
(Stereo) 90 min.
and Sunday Times Radio critic Ken Garner recalls the broadcast and was
delighted to find
a copy of the original
novel in a second hand bookshop:
'I just picked up
for £3 today in a bargain-basement, second-hand crime/fantasy bookshop
in Glasgow the following text: Gielgud, Val, and Marvell, Holt (1934).
Death At Broadcasting House. London: Rich & Cowan Ltd. [3rd reprint,
1935] This is a thinly-novelised (i.e. heavy on dialogue) version of
a drama about a murder in the then new home of the BBC. It also features
lovely Cluedo-esque maps and diagrams of the building, studios, and
recording logs for the fake drama being broadcast when the murder occurred
- "The Scarlet Highwayman". The dedication at the beginning is a peach:
"Dedicated impenitently by the authors to those critics who persistently
deny that the radio play exists, has existed, or ever can exist". I
seem to recall there was a BBC Radio 4 revival production only a year
or two ago one bank holiday afternoon.'
Garner, K, (November
Reference to Val Gielgud
in a history of the
West Country Writers' Association
The Association held
its first Congress, attended by some sixty members, in Bath, when the
Guest of Honour was Compton Mackenzie. Other venues over the years have
been Plymouth, Salisbury, Torquay, Bristol, Falmouth and Cheltenham.
Speakers have included Cecil Day Lewis, L A G Strong, Jacquetta Hawkes,
Eric Linklater, C S Forrester, Val Gielgud, Vera Brittain, J B Priestley
and Maeve Binchy.
Today, there are 280
members, who are kept in touch by newsletters and regularly up-dated
In addition, regional
meetings are held at various venues during the year.
He was chair of the
Association in 1961
1961/2 VAL GIELGUD
have copies of BBC programmes and the following is listed in a database
presumably stored on CD CD204 BBC Wild Justice by Val Gielgud eps.1-6
There is a reference
to Val Gielgud in a journal article from Canadian
Journal of Communication: Volume 16, Number 2, 1991 © Canadian Journal
of Communication National Culture:
A Contradiction in
Richard Collins Goldsmiths'
College, University of London
'The BBC purchased
35 dramas from CBC in Canada and hired the executive producer behind
them, Sydney Newman. Newman, and the dramas he had developed in Canada,
were attractive to the BBC because the competition from ITV which faced
the BBC found a model. Newman's legacy was complex but central to it
was his orientation to the popular. His assumption was that: "The
cost of art in our kind of society has to be in relation to the number
of people whose imagination it will excite'' (Newman interviewed in
Cinema Canada, no. 15, 1974).
Such priorities were
very different to those which prevailed in the BBC before it was exposed
to competition. Val Gielgud, the head of BBC TV drama from 1949-52 (and
the effective head of BBC radio drama since 1929), found the BBC's radio
soap Mrs Dale's Diary ``socially corrupting by its monstrous flattery
of the ego of the `common man' and soul destroying to the actors, authors
and producers concerned'' (cited in Briggs, 1979, p. 699).'
on British Television drama
'Réponse de la BBC
: " The Wednesday Play " et : " The Sunday Night Theater " (produit
par Val Gielgud, disciple de Reith). En 1963, Newman passe à la BBC.
et sous sa direction, " The Wednesday Play " réalise régulièrement des
audiences de 10 à 12 millions de téléspectateurs. Dominante de pièces
contemporaines, mais également quelques sujets historiques : The White
Falcon, 1956 (amours d’Henry VIII et d’Ann Boleyn) The Trial of Mary
Lafargue, 1957 (histoire d’une assassine dans le Paris de 1840) '
University has the full collection of the papers of BBC producer
Douglas Cleverdon which include some 22,000 items
information on the Cleverdon archive
It would appear to
include an obituary article he wrote on Val Gielgud's death on December
Two years after his
appointment as Productions Director in January 1929 Val Gielgud published
2 books on radio drama entitled: "The Actor and the Broadcast Play"
and 'How to Write Broadcast Plays' which contained three of his own
plays: Exiles, Red Tabs and Friday Morning. Both books were published
In 1946 he edited
and wrote the foreword for another collection of radio plays 'Radio
Theatre' with texts by Val Gielgud himself, Norman Edwards, Emery Bonett,
Margaret Gore-Brown, Ursula Bloom, Mabel Constanduros and Howard Agg.
In 1957 he wrote and
published a single volume history on BBC Radio Drama from 1922 to 1955.
in BBC Annual Report for 1933
'Steady progress then
commenced, one of the results of which was the broadcasting of the play
"The Man with the Flower in his Mouth" which was due to the united efforts
of Mr. Sydney A. Moseley, Mr. Val Gielgud, and Mr. Lance Sieveking.'
in career of PETER BRIDGE
'He began management
in 1947, presenting RAIN BEFORE SEVEN, by Diana Morgan with Ronald Ward,
Marian Spencer and Joyce Heron, DEADLOCK with Mervyn Johns, Freda Jackson
and Laurence Naismith, and later Val Gielgud's PARTY MANNERS with Michael
Hordern and Raymond Lovell.
He was also associated
with work at the Arts Theatre Club and the Winter Garden Season under
in Journal article about children's radio drama in the 1920s and 30s
'Val Gielgud, in 1930,
called for 'some sort of systematic research into the social psychology
of regular listening' (quoted in Briggs, op. cit. (1965), p. 256). McCulloch
and Robert Silvey, head of listener research, had engaged in discussion
about how to gain information about the child audience using survey
techniques in 1947. Davis, in 1957, after discussing how to approach
this audience asked 'how do we know what our audience wants' and referred
to information gained from surveys conducted by the now renamed Audience
Research Department (Davis, op. cit. (1957), BBC WAC R11/51/3).'
with film music composer James Bernard
'What was your first
Paul [Dehn] was writing
a lot of radio plays for the BBC, and it was radio, coincidentally,
that gave me my first commission. It was a play by Patric Dickinson
called The Death of Hector. He knew I was longing for a professional
assignment and asked to try me out. The producer, Val Gielgud [John's
older brother] agreed and I remember we played the music live in the
studio. Val Gielgud, who was the head of radio drama at the BBC, liked
what I'd done, so he put the word around amongst other radio producers
and I subsequently did a number of scores for the BBC.
Many of these were
quite unlike the scores I became known for later; some of them were
high comedy. But then I did a score for Webster's The Duchess of Malfi,
which is of course a kind of horror story. It had an excellent cast
- Peggy Ashcroft played the Duchess and Paul Scofield her wicked brother.
I scored the music
for strings and percussion and John Hollingsworth conducted. I'd met
John socially in my latter days in the Air Force. When I started writing
these scores for radio I naturally rang John and asked him if he would
conduct for me.'
Gielgud and Proverbs
Val Gielgud's detective
novel writing has also spawned an academic debate over the changing
of a famous proverb originally attributed to Benjamin Franklin.
UNIVERSITY OF TASMANIA,
AUSTRALIA DE PROVERBIO
An Electronic Journal
of International Proverb Studies VOLUME
1 - Number 1 - 1995 ISSN 1323-4633 URL
TO BED AND EARLY TO RISE"
In Val Gielgud's (1900-1981)
detective novel The Ruse of the Vanished Women (1934) there is
a quite similar passage that has reduced the long proverb to a mere
"early to bed", but the introductory formula identifying this mere remnant
as an "old adage" assures its recognition as proverbial wisdom: "We
drove into the village of Ilkley a little after ten o'clock. It was
evident that its few inhabitants believed firmly in the old adage of
early to bed, for it was dark and deserted".