is 'appointed' rather than applies to be 'BBC Head of Productions'
By his own admission
in Val Gielgud's autobiography published in 1947 (Years of the Locust)
'there was as little chance of my directing radio drama as of superseding
Sir John Reith himself.'
Gielgud directing 'The Man Born To Be King' by Dorothy L Sayers which
was immensely popular during the Second World War.
He had little status
from his own sphere of activity having been the editorial assistant
to Eric Maschwitz - the editor of the Radio Times.
He had none whatever
He knew nothing of
the Dramatic department.
Several members regarded
him with a mixture of suspicion and dislike.
He had assumed fake
identities in the correspondence columns of the Radio Times to indulge
in a certain amount of criticism of their policy and methods. (pp 70-72
Gielgud, V (1947) Years of the Locust, London & Brussels: Nicholson
and Watson) : In Chapter 3 of his own history of BBC Radio Drama 1922
to 1956 entitled 'Almost Too Personal' published in 1957, he confessed
'under a pseudonym
- a number of letters to the Radio Times dealing, I fear rather critically,
with certain aspects of the work of R.E. Jeffrey's department'. R.E.
Jeffrey was Gielgud's predecessor.
Alan Beck in Chapter
2 of his exhaustive and scholarly volume 1 of History of Radio Drama
in the UK 1922-28 offers speculation that letters from A.E.A of Barnstable
and R. de B.S. from Warwicks which contained expressions such as 'we
switch off', 'only a very second best affair... a hotchpotch of different
voices' were from Gielgud's pen.
It is intriguing that
significant criticisms of BBC radio drama continued to be published
in the correspondence columns from writers who gave only their initials
and a large generic location. Could it be that Gielgud continued the
artifice even after he had assumed control of a role he later confessed
to being unqualified for in order to seed debate and highlight areas
in need of reform? It is significant that correspondence on other matters
was stylistically authored with full names and even the house numbers
of specific addresses. Correspondents were informed that they had to
give real and permanent addresses for their letters to be considered
but there is no indication of the protocol by which their identities
and origin were withheld on publication.
The artifice of using
fake identities to seed debates and opinions and mask attacks on adversaries
is an exercise of cultural power which Gielgud was able to originate
and develop since his first responsibility at the Radio Times was to
be in charge of listeners' correspondence.
However, there is
another dimension to the exercise and 'abuse' of cultural power which
resides in the concept of 'cultural networking.'
Gielgud and Maschwitz
had a close creative and personal friendship which included co-writing
detective novels as well as travelling together. Not only does this
union of kindred spirits provide an explanation for the priority and
cultural respect that radio drama continued to have in the Radio Times
in 1929, but it would also explain the remarkable location for critical
and Socratic debate over radio drama's effectiveness and direction.
It is as though Gielgud had made for him a mask to perform in a Greek
amphitheatre. One moment he would be interrogated by his own characters
and then reveal his answers full face, if he had any answer at all.
This would be supported by Maschwitz who remained editor of the Radio
Times until 1933 when he was invited and sponsored by Gielgud to take
on the role of Head of Variety programming.
But the foundation
of their friendship and networking was also cultural as well as personal.
Leonard Miall writes
on page 32 of 'Inside the BBC', (1994) Eric Maschwitz, London: Weidenfeld
'Eric Maschwitz and
Val Gielgud, an elder brother of Sir John, were both descended from
Polish military families, and were collectively known in the BBC as
the Polish Corridor. Maschwitz's grandfather had emigrated to Birmingham
in the middle of the nineteenth century.'
A further link in
the cultural network which can begin to explain the power structure
within the BBC at that time is further revealed by Miall on the same
'Much of his time
at the university (Cambridge) was spent in acting and journalism. One
of his closet friends there was Lance Sieveking, the tall, good-looking
godson of G.K Chesterton.'
It could not be said
that Val Gielgud obtained his first job at the BBC as a result of meritocracy
and he admits this by implication in his autobiography 'Years of the
'It might perhaps
be more strictly true to say that two very good friends of mine were
both anxious for my welfare - and perhaps both thought that the amenities
of their work would be increased by my official society. Lance Sieveking
urged my intelligence upon Roger Eckersley, at that time Director of
Programmes. Eric Maschwitz murmured of my merits into the ear of Gladstone
Murray, Director of Public Relations.'
p 67, Gielgud, V (1947)
Years of the Locust, London, Brussels: Nicholson & Watson.
It also seems that
meritocracy was hardly the explanation for his meteoric rise to the
position of Head of Productions in January 1929 which was not a post
that had been externally advertised. Miall in his 1994 book offers an
'...Val Gielgud who
was soon promoted from the Listeners' Letters page to become Director
of Productions. This move followed Gielgud's skilful direction of a
BBC staff amateur dramatic show in which Reith gave a surprisingly comic
performance as a drunken broker's man.'
p 34 Miall, L (1994)
'Inside The BBC, British Broadcasting Characters', London: Weidenfeld
on how Gielgud successfully inveigled himself into John Reith's affections
is provided on page 71 of 'Years of the Locust':
'True, I had at the
end of 1928 produced a cast of amateurs, including Sir John Reith and
Admiral Carpendale, in Tilly of Bloomsbury at the Rudolf Steiner Hall.
It seemed to go pretty well, without most of the devastating incidents
so common to most amateur theatricals. And there were those who said
that Sir John must have considered that if I had had the nerve to tell
him what to do on a stage, I ought to be able to do likewise with actors
in a studio!'
of Bloomsbury'- B.B.C. Amateur Dramatic Society, 1928. Reith is standing
back row fourth from left. Gielgud is sitting down first row, first
on the left.
Gielgud had never
produced a radio play.
He was by his own
admission 'profoundly ignorant of the department's problems'.
He evaluated his attitude
towards broadcast drama as that of an average supercilious listener
who believed that a play 'that could only be heard must have something
basically inadequate about it. '
Alan Beck postulates
that there is considerable evidence that Gielgud had set about soundly
trashing the work and reputation of R E Jeffrey. The use of expressions
'I saw the broadcasting
of plays grow from an indifferent joke to professional maturity..' p
8, Gielgud, V (1957) British Radio Drama 1922-56, London: Harrap)
were largely those of trial and error' (p 4, Gielgud V, [10/01/1947]
London: The Radio Times
'It could not but
seem that an appointment of such a youthful "outsider" must
imply a reflection upon the department in general, and upon its older
hands in particular... R E Jeffrey and Cecil Lewis had proved that a
drama, which should be a genuine drama of the air, was a real and exciting
possibility.' (pp 71-72 Gielgud, V (1947) Years of the Locust, London
& Brussels: Nicholson and Watson)
Beck is convincing
in his research and argument that Gielgud sought to praise and elevate
the achievements of Jeffrey's second-in-command Howard Rose even to
the extent of crediting Rose with landmark developments which other
sources indicate belong to Jeffrey. These include the director's credit
for Reginald Berkeley's 'The White Chateau' and being the first to use
the dramatic mixing panel in a dramatic production.