DONALD McWHINNIE will always remain one of the greatest names in the history of Radio Drama. Tall, quiet, almost unassuming while directing actors, he coaxed out of them a new real style of acting at the mic. He would stand nearby while a scene was being rehearsed, nod and smile or pull his eyebrows together as if he were questioning something, and scarcely ever came out with a direct comment.
When I was in Giles Cooper’s “Unman, Wittering and Zigo”, he stood over me as my cue came up, held one finger to his lips to stop me speaking, then tapped me seven times lightly on my forehead with a pencil, then gestured that I could say my line: ‘Here, sir’. Such pauses were unusual as there was an inbuilt belief that if there was a pause, listeners might think there was something wrong with their sets.
This innovation was a huge influence on me when I began to direct; I irritated many a distinguished actor by suggesting that they ‘earn that pause’. Once, a well-known actress complained to me that Donald never really said anything as a director, and I described to her how I was in Giles Cooper’s television play “Without the Grail”, and that Donald stood near, representing the camera, then he stepped nearer, then nearer, and then he whispered, ‘just the eyes!’
My performance was totally changed, and only in retrospect did I understand how he had done it – ‘just the eyes’.
Donald was a superb jazz pianist, who, with his talented wife Pauline, was a perfect host for dinner guests, without attempting chatter or jokes or anecdotes. When I was struggling with my television drama course, I asked Donald’s advice.
He told me to work out exactly what I intended to do with a scene, and then stand there, looking lost and inept, so that in desperation, someone would come up with a suggestion and it could just be better than the one you had thought of. It also helped of course that valuable sense of contribution which always helps a happy production.
RAYMOND RAIKES had the same reputation as the film director, David Lean. Raymond did not really like actors as such; they were chess pieces, receptacles, so were required to be obedient; they had problems (most of them tiresome) that had to appear to be solved; but it was the music and effects that Raymond used with such artistry that really interested him.
In spite of his three piece suits, his expensive shirts and silk ties, he was a radiophonic Cecil B.de Mille. He enjoyed spectacle; he loved the 18th century; he enjoyed the wit of rich language and challenging relationships. His favourite actors were an interesting assortment: he adored working with Norman Wooland and Denise Bryer who sometimes played boys and seemed to be in every one of Raymond’s productions.
He never seemed particularly fascinated in searching for the secrets of some difficult scene. However, there was a certain pride that Raymond conveyed about his work; he knew its worth, and this somehow made us all try to do our very best for him.Then, of course, there was the features dept., which paralleled the drama, and how lucky I was as an adolescent to work for poets like Terence Tiller, Raymond Heppenstall, and the great LOUIS MACNEICE.
David Spenser: RADIO MEMORIES
Actors & Actresses
Mary O'Farrell and James McKechnie
Gladys Young & Marjorie Westbury
Peter Coke, Rolf Lefebvre and others
Radio Producers: early days - Josephine Plummer and May Jenkins
David Davies and Uncle Mac
Howard Rose and Val Gielgud
Donald MacWhinnie and Raymond Raikes
Louis MacNeice and H.B.Fortuin
Douglas Cleverdon and E.J.King-Bull
Nigel Deacon / Diversity website
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