In 1939, seventy years ago, Val Gielgud wrote the foreword to the printed edition of "Money with Menaces" and "To the Public Danger" by Patrick Hamilton. I have updated the English a little and summarised it below. It contains some insights about radio drama which are still relevant today.
Mr. Hamilton was persuaded to write the two plays in this volume directly for the microphone. In doing so, he joins a band which is both select and small; a group of young authors which feels that the size of the radio audience may compensate for the absence of weekly royalties, and who realise that the radio play calls for a special approach altogether different from that of stage or screen.
A radio play needs three things, the same as any play: a story worth telling, the ability to write dialogue, and senses of construction and characterisation. But it needs other things too, and these plays show how well Mr. Hamilton has solved the problems peculiar to radio.
To begin with, he has taken account of the general character of the radio audience. Both plays have general rather than minority appeal. Both have a tremendous quality of suspense, appealing to the human instincts of curiosity and emotional tension. Both plays have small casts with the characters clearly defined. This is vital in a radio play, where we constantly have to know who is speaking; if this knowledge disappears for an instant, the plot may become unintelligible.
Both plays also make use of the peculiar advantages of radio, where time and space can be travelled without impediment. But this possibility has not been abused. Mr. Hamilton has not allowed the medium to control the play.
For too long it was believed that radio 'special effects' were the principal points of interest in a radio play. This was putting carts before horses. Recognising the limitations of the medium - the blindness of the audience, the fact that it is made up of individuals who cannot hear or see each other, and the ineffectiveness of purely physical action, he exploits its particular advantages skilfully. He also understands the possibilities of radio acting.
There are still people who think that radio actors give little more than a 'reading', since they do not have to learn their parts. Anyone who heard the performances of Mr. Thesiger and Mr. Clarke-Smith in Money with Menaces, or of Miss Hermione Baddeley and Mr. Basil Redford in To The Public Danger will know how false this idea is.
The first essential for a good acting performance is a well-written part. Mr. Hamilton supplies it. I am delighted to see these plays in print, and hope that other writers will feel inspired to emulate him in writing more good radio material.
Val Gielgud, paraphrased by ND
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