Gertrude E Jennings- BBC’s pioneering one act playwright

Gertrude E Jennings- Pioneering one-act playwright who was the BBC’s most produced original dramatist in its first three years of broadcasting.

Gertrude Jennings was the most produced original living playwright on BBC Radio between 1923 and 1925.

Later celebrated by the Radio Times as a ‘brilliant writer’ whose one act play Five Birds In A Cage was described as “possibly the best ever written by the best-known writer of one-act plays of modern times. It sparkles with wit and draws character with a deft hand.”

This play was in fact the BBC’s first full studio production of a modern original stage play and its first broadcast on 29th November 1923 predates Danger by Richard Hughes which has been repeatedly canonised by male historians as the significant turning point in radio drama history.

Gertrude’s script originated the potential of audio drama connecting with the comedy and suspense of characters being trapped and plunged into a claustrophobic situation.  

The one-act farce featured five people trapped in a London Underground lift. 

It was originally produced at the London Haymarket Theatre for a special matinée in 1915 and continued there in the evening bill for a further 285 consecutive performances.

Writing Audio Drama by Professor Tim Crook critically analyses the significance and proper contribution of Jennings to British drama and broadcasting history, and why this play and her other one-act scripts were so popular with producers and listeners.

Her comedy writing touched on social and political tensions of her time and interesting questions arise on why the BBC may have avoided some of her plays because of their potentially controversial content. 

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