The Black Museum Radio Series

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Opening in 1875, the Crime Museum at Scotland Yard is the oldest museum in the world purely for recording crime. The name “Black Museum” was coined in 1877 by a reporter from “The Observer”, a London newspaper, although the museum is still referred to as the Crime Museum. It is this museum that inspired The Black Museum radio series, produced in London by Harry Alan Towers.

From Jay Hickerson’s “The Ultimate History of Network Radio Programming and Guide To All Circulating Shows”, the earliest US broadcast date was January 1, 1952. Thirty nine shows, from the full syndication of fifty two shows, aired over Mutual stations from January 1, 1952 through June 24, 1952 and September 30, 1952 through December 30, 1952.

This may be the earliest broadcast of the series worldwide. It was later broadcast over Radio Luxembourg starting May 7, 1953. Radio Luxembourg broadcast sponsored programs at night to England (the BBC was state-owned and had no commercials). The shows were sponsored by Dreft and Mirro (cleaning products).

The series continued to be offered in syndication and was heard on AFRTS broadcasts and in the US on NPR stations through the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s. Some shows were broadcast by the BBC in England in 1994.

This murder mystery series was based on true life cases from Scotland Yard’s files. Each episode was based on an item or items of evidence in the museum.

Orson Welles hosted and narrated the shows. Mr. Welles opened each show slightly differently but followed a standard format. For example, the show, “The Bathtub”, open as follows:

“This is Orson Welles speaking from London.” (Big Ben starts himing in the background). “The Black Museum, repository of death… Here, in this grim stone structure on the Thames which houses Scotland Yard, is a warehouse of homocide, where everyday objects, a piece of wire, a chemist’s flask, a silver shilling, all are touched by murder.” (dramatic music)

Following the opening, Mr. Welles would introduce the museum’s item or items of evidence that was central to the case, leading into the dramatization. He also provided narration during the show and ended each show with his characteristic closing from the days of his Mercury Theater of the Air, remaining “obediently yours”.

Harry Alan Towers produced the series from scripts written by Ira Marion. Music was composed and conducted by Sidney Torch.

The museum was not open to the general public. It’s purpose was then, and still is, for police training, although it did receive a considerable number of famous people, including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It is currently used as a lecture theater for the police and like bodies in various subjects of Criminology. But, thanks to Mr. Towers and Mr. Welles, we can still get a glimpse of what secrets are housed in The Black Museum.

Listen to The Black Museum of ROK Classic Radio OTR!

(From the Old Time Radio Researcher’s Group)

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Steptoe & Son Radio Series

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Steptoe and Son is a British sitcom written by Ray Galton and Alan Simpson about two rag and bone men living in Oil Drum Lane, a fictional street in Shepherd’s Bush, London. Four series were broadcast by the BBC from 1962 to 1965, followed by a second run from 1970 to 1974. Its theme tune, “Old Ned”, was composed by Ron Grainer. The series was voted 15th in a 2004 BBC poll to find Britain’s Best Sitcom of all time. It was remade in the US as Sanford and Son.

 

Characters

The father, Albert Edward Ladysmith Steptoe (portrayed by Wilfrid Brambell), was born on 26 September 1899 (father not known but believed to be a local muffin man, now dead; the portrait he keeps of his father is in fact William Gladstone), though he always let on that he had been born in 1901.

He appears to have joined the army underage at the start of the First World War, and is seen wearing the Mons Star medals to prove it. He served with the British Expeditionary Force to Archangel, White Russia, in 1919. Steptoe Senior is lazy, stubborn, narrow-minded, foul-mouthed, and has revolting personal habits. Albert is content with his place in the world, utterly unpretentious and downright cynical. He can be extremely vindictive and does everything he can to prevent Harold, his son, improving himself—especially if it means him leaving home. He is normally unshaven and wears a very old pair of false teeth, discoloured and with teeth missing. His wife died in 1936. He mentioned in one episode that he was one of fourteen children.

Harold Albert Kitchener Steptoe (played by Harry H. Corbett), born 1925 (Corbett’s birth date) for the 1960s series (or born 1932 for the 1970s series) and educated at Scrubb’s Lane Elementary School is also obstinate, though prone to moments of enthusiasm about an idea.

He wants to move up in the world—most of all to escape from the family home and his stifling relationship with his father which was the subject of the first episode, “The Offer”. Harold has aspirations. He likes to see his business as being in antiques rather than junk. He bitterly regrets leaving the army, in which his service took him to Malaya and he achieved the rank of Corporal, and he nearly always wears a workman’s belt adorned with army cap badges. During the 1960s series he had been a veteran of the second World War but as he was ‘de-aged’ during the 1970s series this was never mentioned again. He is a dreamer and idealist. Politically, Harold is a Labour supporter who is appalled at his father who is a Conservative Party supporter. He aims to improve his mind and his social circle but always fails, often thanks to Albert’s deliberate put-downs or sabotage. Harold’s exasperation and disgust at his father’s behaviour often results in his repeating the catchphrase “You dirty old man.”

Situation

The episodes often revolve around (sometimes violent) disagreements between the two men, Harold’s attempts to bed women and momentary interest over things found on his round. As with many of the best examples of British comedy, much of the humour derives from the pathos of the protagonists’ situation, especially Harold’s continually-thwarted (usually by the elder Steptoe) attempts to “better himself” and the unresolvable love/hate relationship that exists between the pair.

A common theme is that Albert almost always comes out on top. Despite his lack of effort Albert routinely and easily proves himself superior to his son whenever they come into competition, such as in their frequent game-playing, e.g., the Scrabble and badminton games from the 1972 series. Harold takes them desperately seriously and sees them as symbols of his desire to improve himself, but they come to nothing every time. His father’s success is partly down to superior talent but aided by cynical gamesmanship and undermining of his son’s confidence. In addition, Albert habitually has better judgement than his son, who blunders into all sorts of con-tricks and blind alleys as a result of his unrealistic, straw-clutching ideas. Occasionally the tables are turned, but overall the old man is the winner, albeit in a graceless fashion.

Harold is infuriated by these persistent frustrations and defeats, even going to the extent in “Divided We Stand” (1972) of partitioning the house in two so he doesn’t have to share with his selfish, uncultured and negative father. Predictably, his plan ends in failure and ultimately he can see no way out. However, for all the bitterness there is an essential bond between the pair.

 

 

Radio Series

The Steptoe radio series started on 3 July 1966, when the very first episode “The Offer” was broadcast. There were six series in all.

All of the radio episodes were reworking’s of the original television programmes, therefore some of the more visual episodes were not considered for radio. While it is possible for a radio audience to use their imagination to create almost any circumstance, the amount of additional dialogue required to re-create an episode like “Divided We Stand”, where the entire house is split in two, would either mean that the episode would overrun or most likely lose some of it’s impact.

The radio episodes have been broadcast continuously since they were made and can still be heard from time to time on BBC7, the BBC’s spoken word digital radio service and now all of the radio episodes including the Christmas specials can be heard on ROK Classic Radio OTR!

Steptoe & Son on Wikipedia

Albert & Harold Tribute Site

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Dad’s Army Radio Show

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“Dad’s Army” was a long running British comedy series created and written by Jimmy Perry and David Croft. The idea of a series came to Jimmy Perry when he realised that many people had forgotten about the contribution the Home Guard had made to the British Home Front during the years of the Second World War.

Commencing in 1968, “Dad’s Army” ran on BBC Television for 9 years with over eighty episodes spread within 10 series. The series is set in a small fictional seaside town called Walmington-on-Sea somewhere on the South Coast of England.

“Dad’s Army” is also remembered for its first class actors which starred amongst its credits, Arthur Lowe as Captain Mainwaring, John Le Mesurier as Sergeant Arthur Wilson and Clive Dunn as Lance Corporal Jack Jones.

67 of Jimmy Perry and David Croft’s Television Scripts for “Dad’s Army” were adapted for BBC Radio by Harold Snoad and Michael Knowles between 1973 and 1975. They were recorded at The Playhouse Theatre, Northumberland Avenue, London and at The Paris Studios, Lower Regent Street, London.

All episodes were recorded in Mono and exist on Magnetic Tape in the BBC Sound Archive.

The Radio Series began on Monday 24th January 1974 and ran for three series with its final episode been broadcast on 7th September 1976. The Series was generally given two air periods a week on BBC Radio 4, the second of which would be a repeat.



The show’s main characters were:

Supporting characters included:

  • Mrs. Mavis Pike (Janet Davies)—Pike’s mother and Sergeant Wilson’s lover.
  • Reverend Timothy Farthing (Frank Williams)—The effete vicar of St. Aldhelm’s Church, he shares his church hall and office with Mainwaring’s platoon.
  • Maurice Yeatman (Edward Sinclair)—Mr. Yeatman was the verger at St. Aldhelm’s Church and head of the Sea Scouts group, and was often hostile to the platoon.
  • Private Sponge (Colin Bean)—Private Sponge had the job of representing those members of the platoon not in Corporal Jones’ first section.
  • Private Cheeseman (Talfryn Thomas)—a Welshman who joined the Walmington-on-Sea platoon during the seventh series to compensate for the death of James Beck who played Private Walker.

All 67 episodes are being aired on ROK Classic Radio, listen out for them during the UK and UK & US Comedy Blocks on ROK Classic Radio OTR 🙂

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