BBC Radio Drama History

The BBC formally started as a licensed broadcaster in 1922 with its London station called 2LO, hence 2022 being its centenary .

Scripts and sounds of what they did at this time have not survived.

But written accounts by people involved show it was a lot of fun, creatively so exciting and interesting.

This seeks to be an entertaining and informative history of BBC Radio Drama.

In the spirit of the Writing Audio Drama book I want to celebrate British radio drama’s contribution to the cultural, artistic and literary heritage of Britain as well as encourage and respect all of the contemporary audio drama writing, making and listening.

Long may it continue and please can there be more of it.

In the slideshow above, some random images from the BBC’s radio drama history: portraits of Arthur Burrows, the first Director of Programmes, John Reith, the first MD, and Cecil Lewis, an early radio drama director and writer.

The first broadcast studios at Savoy Hill where they made many of the first radio dramas, and BBC ‘Aunties’- Miss Phyllis Thomas and Miss Sophie Dixon- women writers, performers and presenters for children’s programming,

Also featured are the covers of books of radio plays, an article on writing a radio play in the 1970s, the cover of Val Gielgud’s history of BBC radio drama between 1922 and 1956, and a book on the history of BBC engineering.

Two of the key and early programme organisers, Arthur Burrows and Cecil Lewis wrote and published books about their experiences in 1924. As did the BBC’s first managing Director John C W Reith.

Early images of BBC radio drama production and performance. An illustration of BBC Savoy Hill on the embankment near the back of the Savoy Hotel by Henry Rushbury.

It was a busy and bustling place with artists, public figures and staff coming to and fro after being dropped off by taxi.

Views of the heavily draped BBC studios at Savoy Hill, and the early ‘meat-safe’ microphone on wheels. Can you spot the man sitting in one of the studio arm-chairs?

Posed pictures of actors in the productions of The Chinese Puzzle, an adaptation of a stage play by Leon M. Lion and Marion Bower, and The Grey Ash by Leonora Thornber, and a variety production with the performers all singing in the direction of the microphone.

The dynamic movement indicated was not faked. Early performances believed in giving some physicality behind the speaking of dialogue and sound action. But very quickly directors and performers appreciated that projection in the stage theatre was not needed.

The declaratory style of performance did not work. The microphone was sensitive. It was like the ear of the listener.

Intimacy could be achieved with gentle up close and personal speaking as though the microphone was the listener’s face.

Spatiality and distance in sound was achieved by drawing away and speaking sideways to the microphone’s position.

Director/producers learned by listening on headphones and shutting their eyes rather than looking at the actors.

Arthur R. Burrows

Leave a Reply