Reginald Cheyne Berkeley (1890 – 1935) is one of the BBC’s most significant early radio playwrights.
He was awarded a Military Cross during his service as an infantry officer during the First World War, worked as a propagandist for the League of Nations, and then entered politics in Britain where he was the Liberal MP for Nottingham. He was a qualified barrister and successful stage playwright, screenplay writer and novelist.
He was invited to write ‘plays for the microphone’ by the BBC’s first Director of Drama Productions, R E Jeffrey. His credits were The Dweller in the Darkness, The White Château, and The Quest of Elizabeth.
The White Château broadcast on Armistice night 1925 was the first full length original play commission from a major playwright specially written for the BBC, the first such play to be published in book form and the first anti-war play broadcast and presented to such a wide audience of radio listeners- probably at least a million.
But Berkeley would be frequently engaged in censorship rows with BBC which was anxious to avoid broadcasting politically controversial material.
The political and emotional dimension to his writing often led to clashes with authority and certainly the BBC’s Managing Director John Reith.
The clash over the political content in his commissioned play Machines was public and embarrassing for the BBC. It would not be broadcast, though Berkeley published the script with the angry correspondence exchanged with the BBC over it, and it was produced in London Theatre Club venues.
Berkeley moved to Hollywood because of his demand as a screenplay writer, but sadly died in Los Angeles from pneumonia after an operation in 1935 at the age of 45.