A.J.Alan's short stories

Although A.J.Alan wrote no radio plays, he is well-known among radio play enthusiasts, which is why he is included here.

A. J. Alan, or L.H.Lambert, son of Thomas Harrison Lambert and his wife Kate, was born in Nottingham in 1883. He went to Rugby School before training to be a surveyor. He then learned to be a magician and became a successful member of The Magic Circle, performing especially at society events. From about 1909 he joined the Foreign Office and little is known of his civil service activities before World War II. At that time he was part of the Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park and had become a senior official in naval military intelligence. At Bletchley he was a cryptographer. He was known to R.V. Jones who said that in contrast to his extremely unconventional stories, he led his life on a monotonously regular timetable.

Lambert married but had no children. He lived at Holland Park, London and had a second home at Potter Heigham for sailing his boat on the Norfolk Broads. In his spare time he was a radioham and an authority on food and wine.

Lambert contacted a member of the British Broadcasting Company to suggest he might tell one of his own short stories on the radio. This was accepted and so, as A. J. Alan, he broadcast My Adventure in Jermyn Street, on 31 January 1924. Following his immediate success, he quickly became one of the most popular broadcasting personalities of the time. He went to considerable trouble over the writing of each story, taking a couple of months over each one, and only broadcasting about five times a year. He carefully constructed a very accessible conversational style making his stories seem like anecdotes concerning strange events which had happened to him. The endings were whimsical and unexpected and influenced a number of later writers. R.D.Wingfield admired the twists at the end of A.J.Alan's tales and adopted the same technique in many of his radio plays.

Lambert took a lot of care over his broadcasts, all of which were live. He used cards rather than papers to avoid rustling noises being picked up by the microphone. Before he began reading he lit a candle, in case the lights failed. He wore a dinner jacket, and Stuart Hibberd described him as "a neat figure in perfectly cut evening dress, with eye glass and a slim black brief case". It was known that "A. J. Alan" was not his true name but only once, in 1933, was his identity guessed when an old school friend living in Jamaica recognised his voice. Many of his stories were subsequently printed in newspapers and magazines and were included in anthologies of short stories. Three collections of his stories have been published.

From 1937 his health was not so good and he reduced his radio work. He made his last broadcast in 1940 and died in 1941.

Most of his broadcasts were made well before the era of affordable tape recorders and disc cutters; none were captured by amateurs. A very small number of recordings of A.J.Alan exists. Other readers have recorded some of his tales, including Basil Boothroyd (1960s), Nigel Davenport (1990s), Peter Tuddenham and Ian Carmichael.


    MY ADVENTURE IN NORFOLK (Nigel Davenport, 1995)
    After being given the go-ahead by the Landlord to spend the night, Alan arrives at possibly the most desolate spot on earth - during a snowstorm - a good five miles outside the small train station of Potter Heigham in Norfolk, where Alan will be checking on a bungalow that he and his wife will be renting as their holiday home come August.

    Being February (Mrs. Alan believes in planning ahead), it's snowbound. During his first night there, a young woman's car breaks down outside the bungalow and he, being gallant, goes to her assistance. Rather than being grateful, the girl is surly and uncommunicative, even when a lorry driver loaded with milk cans stops and agrees to give her a lift to Norwich. After agreeing to come back for her car in the morning, the two leave after the lorry driver and Alan push the car into the garage about 15 yards from the bungalow.

    After they left, Alan begins to wonder where the girl came from, driving in the middle of the night on a little-used road - a road one would use if one wanted to avoid people - as if she were driving a stolen car. This idea thrilled Alan so he decides to go back to the garage to check up on the car to see if can find any more information....

    THE STORY OF A.J.ALAN ....1977
    Feature by Tony Bilbow, Tx 22.8.1977

    A FOGGY EVENING (Peter Tuddenham, 1971)
    Broadcast 15 Oct 71.

    THE SUITCASE (Peter Tuddenham, 1971)
    Broadcast 14 Oct 71.

    THE WHITE BUNGALOW (Basil Boothroyd, 1965)
    Whilst on holiday, Alan hears a telephone ringing as he walks past a bungalow. No-one answers it, and it keeps ringing, so he knocks on the door and goes inside. There's an emergency not far away. He heads for the beach....

    PERCY THE PRAWN (A.J.Alan, 1930s)
    Whilst on holiday in Devon, Alan has two encounters with a remarkable prawn...

    Other broadcasts; transmission dates not known:
    'A Joy Ride' (read by Ian Carmichael)
    'A Talk On The Train' (read by Peter Tuddenham)
    'Fifty To One' (read by Peter Tuddenham)
    'Henry' (read by Peter Tuddenham)
    'My Adventure in Norfolk' (read by Ian Carmichael)
    'The Visitors' Book' (read by Ian Carmichael)
    'Two Zoo Tickets' (read by Ian Carmichael)
    'Two Zoo Tickets' (read by Peter Tuddenham)
    'Wottie' (read by Ian Carmichael)
    'The Hat' (read by Peter Tuddenham)
    'The Visitors' Book' (read by Ian Carmichael)
    'The Photograph' (unknown reader)
    'Wotty' (unknown reader)

    Sources: Wikipedia for biographical details, conversations with R.D.Wingfield and Jerry Davis; Roger Wilmut's website (which contains two recordings) and VRPCC.

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