Louis MacNeice was born in Belfast in 1907. He studied Classics and
Philosophy at Oxford and got a double First. In 1930 he married, and became a lecturer in Classics at Birmingham University. In 1936 he moved to Bedford College for Women, part of London University. He joined the BBC in 1941 as a writer and producer. He was a well-known playwright and poet and a number of his plays were originally written for radio, including Christopher Columbus (1944) and The Dark Tower (1946). He lived most of his life in London but often went back to Ireland. He died of pneumonia in 1963, contracted in a most unlikely way - he caught a chill working down a mineshaft as he was checking sound effects with the BBC - probably for his play "Persons from Porlock".
A list of his radio plays is shown below, with broadcast dates. Other details are shown where known.
09.12.41 Alexander Nevsky
12.10.42 Christopher Columbus*
21.06.43 The Death of Marlow
13.03.44 The Nosebag*
28.06.44 He had a date*
16.07.44 Sunbeams in his hat
03.11.44 The Golden Ass*, dram
29.03.45 The March Hare resigns
21.01.46 The Dark Tower*
01.04.46 Salute to All Fools
20.09.46 Enter Caesar
22.10.46 The careerist
29.10.46 The Agamemnon, dram
03.12.46 The heartless giant
11.03.47 The death of Gunnar
12.03.47 The burning of Njal
27.07.47 Grettir the strong
22.12.48 Trimalchio's feast
28.03.49 The queen of air and darkness
30.10.49-Goethe's Faust, 4 eps.
09.11.52 One eye wild*
27.04.54 Prisoner's progress
01.04.55 All fools at home
27.05.57 Nuts in May
25.07.59 East of the sun and west of the moon*
08.12.59 They met on Good Friday*
10.03.61 The administrator*
09.12.61 Let's go yellow
04.04.62 The mad islands
30.08.63 Persons from Porlock*
Asterisked items known to exist in VRPCC collections.
compiled from info. supplied by Roger Bickerton, and own collection.
05.02.03 When Louis met George, by Paul Farley (LM as a character)
09.10.03 Autumn Journal
06.09.13 The Watcher on the Wall, by L.M., dram. Lucy Caldwell
Linked dramatisations based on the
film by Eisenstein. Music by Prokoffiev. Broadcast two nights after Pearl Harbour.
With Robert Donat.
Done to celebrate the 450th anniversary of the discovery of
America. Music by William Walton; BBC orchestra and chorus, cast of 32
including Margaret Rawlings and Lawrence Olivier. This is a very
theatrical production, and the text was published by Faber & Faber.
(remarks by ND - I tried to listen to this, but found the style
too stilted to enjoy and gave up after 15 minutes)
A folk-tale with a bit of magic; a little like "The Wild Ass's
Skin" by Balzac. I enjoyed this- ND.
HE HAD A DATE....1944
Enjoyed this - good pace, well acted, believable. It consists of scenes
from an ordinary man's life. It was broadcast by the BBC in 3 different
MacNeice wrote a number of war features. His normal way of compiling them was to write short pieces of dramatization. Then he would cut from one to the next, and bind the story together with some narration or verse or music. 'He had a Date' is put together in a similar way.
THE DARK TOWER....1946
This play is reckoned by those who know to be a landmark in radio drama.
Christopher Holme wrote in 1981 that it is his most demanding work.
It's about a quest - Roland is the youngest son, and all his older brothers have
gone on the same quest and never been seen again. Roland
doesn't see the point of throwing his life away like the others, but
he goes through the same indoctrination. He doesn't know whether to believe
in the Tower or the Dragon which rises from it if not opposed. His
doubts are reinforced by the coming of love. But eventually he sets
I didn't like this-tried it and gave up after 20
minutes. I thought the
style was too formal and too slow - N.D.
ONE EYE WILD....1952
Social story; good play. The action lasts one day. Roger, a sports writer
and commentator, is not getting on well
with his wife. She wants a move to the country; he's only interested in a dream
woman about whom he fantasises when alone. He gets drunk and is knocked down
by a car. All that follows are conversations between him in delirium and
The Joker, another self, until his wife (who has left him) returns to the
flat and finds him unconscious on the floor; he has discharged himself from
NUTS IN MAY....1957
A young man from a family with military background goes to Sandhurst, but he tends to mess things up.
A drunken brawl in India wrecks his plans. Eventually he gets to go on an exciting expedition.
THEY MET ON GOOD FRIDAY....1959
This is about the battle of Clontarf on Good Friday 1014, between
Norsemen and the Irish, for the control of Ireland. It is highly
stylised. (.........which is probably why I did not like it-N.D.)
Music by Tristram Cary.
EAST OF THE SUN AND WEST OF THE MOON....1959
Setting of a Norwegian fairy tale. Music by Tristram Cary,
trolls, a castle blown down by the wind, hero and heroine....(not
to my taste - N.D.)
Jerry is an atomic scientist. He faces a common dilemna - if he is
to get on in his profession, the career structure that he spends an increasing amount
of time on administration, and less on science. It also requires him to become
an agent of the misdirection of atomic energy for harmful uses. His
indecision becomes acute when a new management position becomes available, which his
wife wants him to accept.
PERSONS FROM PORLOCK...1963
Concerns an artist who can't make a living,
he turns to drink.... contains some interesting scenes
about potholing. But the final scene is not a happy one, and
the overall effect is a bit
depressing. Nevertheless it held my attention; it's a good play. W.H.Auden described it as a psychological drama.
WHEN LOUIS MET GEORGE, by Paul Farley (R4 1415 5 Feb 03) had two
archivists rummaging through the contents of a storeroom in the
basement of Broadcasting House when they find some sixty-year-old
tapes. One of them features George Orwell and Louis MacNeice, both
working for the BBC, caught in conversation, unaware they are being
recorded. The play moves between the two time-frames, 1940 and 2003,
and makes one realise that sixty years is not very long. Jon Glover
was Orwell, Dermot Crowley was MacNeice, and the younger BBC man was
played by Tom George; Rob Ketteridge directed. (VRPCC newsletter)
Read by Samuel West. Louis MacNeice's poetic masterpiece
written from August to December 1938 describes the poet's
thoughts and feelings at the time, with echoes of WW1 and the
looming shadow of WW2. It contains reportage, ethics, love poems,
and politics. Original music by Gary Yershon, performed by Anne
Wood, Julia Singleton, Dinah Beamish, Fiona Clifton Welker, Anna
Hemery and Paul Moylan. Director Susan Roberts.
THE WATCHER ON THE WALL....2013
6 Sep 2013. By Louis MacNeice, dramatized by Lucy Caldwell, former Imison winner. The play is taken from the letters between MacNeice and Eleanor Clark, an American writer, and is about their love affair and the poetry it inspired him to create. Richard Dormer as MacNeice, with Stuart Graham, Christopher Houseley, Samantha Dakin as Eleanor, Anna Clarence, Sally Orrock, Michael Bodie, Patrick Brennan and Susie Riddell. Producer Heather Larmour.
Nigel Deacon, Diversity website
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