Friday, April 27, 2012


Rose by Ben Atkinson and Helen Webster-Sudburough is a short original audio play recorded at the University of Lincoln, produced by Dreaming Tiger and available on the web from January 2012.  In the spirit of trying to listen to more non-BBC audio drama, I gave this a whirl, fully aware it was a student production.  Small-ish in scope, it was nevertheless quite a good, if bleak, little story.  The small cast are a group of fairly accomplished amateur actors; as can be imagined, the older actors playing the Consultant and the Doctor are far more comfortable in the audio medium than those playing the middle-aged couple Catherine and Michael.  The little girl playing the titular character, however, is very good. 

Rose is well-edited and quite proficient with scene transitions (most of them effected by the recurrence of the bittersweet theme tune, played on a music box or celeste).  The sound effects are extremely sharp, such as the sounds of Catherine grinding up sleeping pills in the penultimate scene, or the grating sounds of the constantly ringing home phone.  Though the frame story for Rose is that of Sleeping Beauty, its subject is a modern one.  At heart, it focuses on the devastating consequences of modern parenting, looking hauntingly at having children during middle-age and the IVF process.  Quite frankly, it’s rather talked me out of ever having kids!  

I think Dreaming Tiger should definitely continue in this vein and build upon the generally good work they have been able to achieve with Rose.

More OTR

I tried to give famous radio soap Backstage Wife a chance, but even a short episode from 1945 was too much for me.  “The caveman locked his house with a stone” was the immortal line from this particular episode! 

I also tried to give Bobby Benson and the B Bar B Riders a chance, given it was one of the longest-running of the children’s serials (and I always wondered how a kid could own and run a ranch).  I think the episode I heard, “The Ghost Rustlers,” was from early in the second run of the series, 1952, as it gave quite a long (2 minute!) introduction to Bobby, who had been adopted as a baby by a ranch owner.  His pals were cool-headed Tex Mason, the (inevitably) Irish cowhand called Irish, and a Native American sidekick named Harka (?!), as well as Windy Wales[1] (who didn’t appear in this story).  To my surprise, Bobby Benson was conceived by an immigrant Brit, Herbert Rice.  I’m not sure if the Bobby in this story was played by Ivan Cury or Herbert’s nephew Clive, but I suspect the latter, given there was something not quite right about Bobby’s accent (Clive was British).  I expect this was all fairly interesting stuff to (boys) in the early ‘50s, but for me personally, one episode was enough.  

Finally,  I tried out Calling All Detectives which was simplistic in the extreme and oozed commercial sponsors!      

[1] I thought this character was named Wendy and was a woman.  No wonder they were putting “him” in charge of the ranch!

Thursday, April 26, 2012


Gunsmoke is both the last of the radio Westerns and considered the most adult.  It ran for almost 10 years on CBS and then migrated to TV, surviving until the very last breath of US radio drama into the early 1960s. US Marshall Matt Dillon doesn’t sing to Dale Evans like Gene Autry and wouldn’t be caught dead in rhinestones.  He’s a great character, and I’ll definitely listen to more Gunsmoke.   

Gunsmoke’s first episode is from exactly 60 years ago today.  The announcer introduces Matt Dillon as “a US Marshall and gunsmoke.”  What struck me immediately was Dillon’s sarcasm and cynicism, and yet his dedication to upholding the true spirit of the law.  The writing is also crisp and concise, with a great deal of humor.  The episode begins as Dillon is dictating a “wanted” poster to a telegrapher; in Dodge City, Kansas, in the 1870s, Dillon is investigating a crime pinned on a guileless  farmer.   “I kill nobody—not since Gettysburg!” the man protests.  Dillon has to prevent half the town from lynching the man in the cells, while at the same time trying to babysit a kid with a desire for guns and fame.  The kid is very interested in the number of men Dillon has killed in his job.  “You don’t keep score, kid, you try to forget.” 

Unfortunately, Dillon is next suspected of crime; “you had him killed so you could get to her.”  Her, in this case, is an old flame of Dillon’s who is very much aware of the gossip surrounding her.  She begs Dillon to convict someone, anyone, to get the blame off her.  “Please, Matt, I have to live here.”  Although Dillon is sympathetic to his old flame’s pleas, he is not the kind of chivalrous cowboy who is going to fall to bits because a female swooned.  “I’ve sworn to uphold the law and I’ve killed men to do it.  . . . I ask you to be sensible and listen to reason.”

By the end of the story, Dillon has released that it was actually the kid who was responsible for the murders, the kid who we realize will, in about 8 years, become Billy the Kid, as his mother is Catherine Antrim, who has come looking for him.  “In my line, there’s nothing humorous about death,” but this a wonderfully knowing way to end the first episode.  

Matt Dillon is played by William Conrad.

Frontier Gentleman (1-3)

With the discovery of the wonderful, I finally get to listen to long-gone radio serials that I’ve so far only read about in books about Old Time Radio.  One of the Westerns that appealed to me (and which I will continue to listen to) was Frontier Gentleman, one of the last gasp of radio Westerns in 1958.  It only lasted about a year, but the premise intrigued, and some fairly decent writing sold me.  Frontier Gentleman is about J.B. Kendall, a correspondent for the Times (out of London) who has gone to the West to write about life there.  The situation is fraught with humor, but Kendall is a man of hidden talents:  an 1870s Renaissance man, and not, as it turns out, a ponce.  Like all radio cowboys, he deplores violence and uses it only as a last resort; his wits, charm, and ingenuity count for a lot, especially considering, like the Second Doctor, his adversaries tend to underestimate him.  The first episode saw Kendall arrive in a Montana town that had banned guns.  He eventually realized this was because the town’s sheriff was actually a baddie and that the whole place was under the thumb of the Shelton Brothers.  Kendall was amusing to listen to as he bumbled (politely) through the saloon, and everyone assumed he couldn’t use a gun.  However, as later episodes are hinting, he’s been in the British Army, so he’s not at all helpless.  Unfortunately, the end of the first episode saw Kendall waiting for his advance money so he could continue onward.  Like most of his chivalrous counterparts, he has a soft (and entirely chaste) spot for women in trouble.  

Episode three, broadcast on Feb. 9th, 1958, opened, as they all do, with a trumpet theme from the young Jerry Goldsmith, and I was impressed with the cinematic quality of the music in Frontier Gentleman.  The narrator informs us that, though he came to this country as a reporter, “as a man with a gun, [Kendall] becomes part of the West.”   This episode concerns the town of Rosebud and problems with Indians not staying on their reservations.  I was surprised at how even-handedly this episode handled the Apaches (“those Indians don’t trust white men no more”), for they are actually kept out of the action proper—therefore, no war dances, no scalping, no terrible dialogue (as this is post-Broken Arrow, I guess it’s to be expected).  At Rosebud, Kendall makes the acquaintance of a kindly matron—“it’s always nice to meet a gentleman”—and a fellow journalist, who are given a scoop when a half-Apache scout offers to take Kendall and his friend to the reservation for an exclusive.  The other journalist is apprehensive.  “Suppose he wants to take your scalp?”  “Well, that would be awkward.”  

Eventually they agree to go out into the hills.  When the other journalist offers Kendall a drink, the English gentlemen says, “Sleep for me” (like all good radio cowboys).  It’s also in this story that Kendall says he was a captain in a cavalry regiment in India.  “The tribesmen do much worse [than scalp] in India.”   Unfortunately, the other journalist’s suspicions are correct regarding the double-cross, and even Kendall’s two guns in a shoulder holster are not adequate.  The nefarious scout, however, has an amusing sense of humor, making him more than a dime-a-dozen villain. 

Kendall is played with great verve by John Dehner, and the serial is written and directed by Antony Ellis.  I’ll definitely listen to some more. 

Batman: Ace of Detectives 1-10

Batman:  Ace of Detectives 1-10 by Pendant Audio Productions

I have made a commitment to listen to more contemporary, non-BBC-produced audio drama, and it seemed easiest to start with something familiar.  Luckily for me, Pendant Audio has been producing fan serials (each between 10-20 mins; because there are no radio slots to worry about) since 2006 which merge the worlds of Batman:  The Animated Series and the comic book universe.  Listening to the first one, I admit I was slightly apprehensive, but I am happy to report that these are truly ambitious audio serials that restore my faith in audio theatre in the Noughties and beyond.  Are they as polished as a BBC production?  Of course not.  To quote from the website, “This fan work, like thousands on the internet today, was produced by fans of the character. It is provided free of charge and is NOT made for profit. No copyright infringement is intended.”  Ergo, I think all the actors, writers, composers, directors, etc, are working for free.  I have great respect for this, and even though it’s a fan production rather than original writing, idea-wise, it’s certainly on par with any BBC adaptation of a “classic” by Mike Walker et al.  Also, it’s obvious that Ace of Detectives will only get better with time; I’m starting at the beginning necessarily, but those episodes are 6 years old.  

First Sertan Saral, and then Peter Milan, are the writers/directors of Ace of Detectives.  BBC writers (except perhaps those for The Archers, though I think the days of their hack-servitude ended in the ‘70s) don’t have this kind of punishing schedule:  1 episode per week written, directed, and presumably edited by the same person.  In that sense, it’s fairly impressive—it gives events a certain unity while following a single storyline (though problems occur when a fair bit of filler creeps in; read on).  I have no idea who provides the music.  The theme, for one, sounds like it’s by Danny Elfman. I really don’t know.  However, in general it’s quite good and has been mixed into the scenes with finesse.  
Actually, scenes are the zenith of AoD’s production.  With some very simple sound effects, we instantly know when we’re in the Batcave (dripping noises), a restaurant at dinnertime (piano lounge music), on a street (honking cars and city noises), etc.  I can’t fault the acoustics and echo effects for various scenes, which see characters in the sewers, among other things (though when Tim and Gordon go to Catwoman’s house, I really couldn’t understand what was going on).  Transitions between scenes are also impressive; they neither linger nor do they draw attention to themselves.  

The opening of episode one, however, is extremely confusing (“Tim is helping Alfred to take care of some Superman defective clone”?!?).  The story arc for the first ten episodes revolves around the Riddler, his attempt to turn good for an Arkham psychiatrist named Misty, and how the Joker and Harley Quinn foul all that up.  Also, Batman has issues with Catwoman, and Commissioner Gordon has to be coaxed out of retirement.  Let me say that Seth Adam Sher as Batman is very good.  He has definitely based his Batman voice on Kevin Conroy from Batman:  The Animated Series, arguably one of the best Batmen of them all.  But he can also do the dry humor, as in the first episode, when he remarks, “Alfred, please fire Tim.” 
I’m undecided on Scott Vinnacombe as Tim Drake/Robin.  He’s surely been selected for his youthful tones, and it’s true that Robin has one of the most humorous roles in the serial so far.  “Breaking and entering, at your age?” asks Gordon in episode 8.  “It’s for the good of the city.”  (“Nice entrance,” murmurs Tim in appreciation when Catwoman finds them at her hideout.)  Yet, I think here is one actor who could benefit from a face-to-face recording and rehearsal style as is common practice at the BBC (I assume, because of pure logistics, AoD is recorded in different locations and mixed at the editing stage).  His “aw gee” style of Robin, while a legitimate interpretation, feels a bit subdued compared to the rest of the performances.  Time will tell.  Similarly, I’d better be careful what I say about Peter Milan as Gordon, given he is the director and writer!  To be honest, vocally he sounds much too young to be Gordon, especially since at the start of the story, Gordon (presumably after the events of The Killing Joke) has retired.  

I’m similarly unsure about Laura Post as Selina Kyle/Catwoman.  She’s one of the strongest actors in the serial, but her voice doesn’t really fit my conception of Catwoman.  She’s very sultry and vamp-voiced and definitely one of the best-written characters (presumably why she got her own serial, Catwoman:  Queen of Thieves).  I think perhaps she’ll grow on me.  Plain miscasting, in my opinion, is the culprit in the case of Micheal McCaskill as Edward Nigma/The Riddler.  He just doesn’t fit the way I think Riddler should sound; he sounds too normal!  Tom Stitzer is obviously not British, but he is pretty good as Alfred, who again has a very strong role in this serial.  I’m sorry, but M Sieiro Garcia as RenĂ©e Montoya just does not work for me.  At this juncture, her audio acting is timed way too slooooow.  Perhaps she improves.  

That said, Adam Bell is a gem as the Joker.  Certainly he’s following the Mark Hamill school, but he does so with great range and a good understanding of the audio medium.  To be honest, it’s a great relief that Pendant’s Batman and Joker are so good, because in this run of stories at least, they keep the story buoyant.  Robin Carlisle was also quite good as Harley Quinn, which of course pleased me.  Finally, Ara Pelodi as Misty, the psychiatrist, was adequate but I’m not sure audio’s her medium.  

Storywise, what can I say?  Serials are difficult, no matter what the length, but this certainly kept me interested, and I will of course keep listening—hopefully eventually I’ll get up to speed with the current releases.  I do think this embraces the style of several different “universes” of Batman, which in my book is a good thing.  In terms of using the audio medium, in general I think it’s quite accomplished.  For example, there is use of a speakerphone and a mic relay between Batman and Alfred; good techniques for storytelling that no doubt were inspired by cinematic conventions. 
I’ve tried a bit of their The Dixie Stenberg and the Brassy Battalion Adventure Theatre, one of their homage to OTR original stories, but I wasn’t quite as impressed.