DOUGLAS CLEVERDON was a smallish bundle of dynamic energy, whose charm and smiles hid a sharp and serious mind that was extrememly focused and was always determined to get exactly what he wanted out of his actors, but most especially his writers. As Henry Reed was one of my closest adult friends, my work with Douglas Cleverdon was mostly in Henry’s Italian plays or some of Henry’s rarer Feature programmes.
Henry owed a great deal to Douglas Cleverdon’s patience and loving perseverance. Henry was quite a spoilt but brilliant “darling” of his time, but no writing came easily to him. Cleverdon was a magical coaxer! Well, he had to be when you consider “Under Milk Wood”, and the coaxing he had to do with Dylan Thomas.
Cleverdon’s great talents were at their most conspicuous with writers, not so much with actors. I have clear memories of him sitting on the studio floor surrounded by pages of script, cutting out chunks and replacing them with new ones. Any kind of laziness from members of the casts was not tolerated; his was a quick working mind and he expected actors to keep up the same pace.
This was nearly always very stimulating, but could on occasions prove an effort for some of the older actors more set in their ways. But he never bullied anyone, and acting in his productions was, if sometimes exhausting, always enjoyable. He made actors feel worthwhile.
The comment about his style of directing being filmic applied much much later in his career, after rehearsal/record came in, and repairs could be made in the editing channel. In his earlier days, recordings were made on disc and were hugely expensive to alter. But he did sonetimes rehearse scenes out of order. This was mostly because some scenes were being re-written in the producer’s box.
Douglas Cleverdon certainly earned his special place in the history of Radio.
E.J. KING-BULL, or indeed KB as he was affectionately known, remains in my memory as one of the real “gentlemen” of Radio. To me, he was always “Sir”, and although he had a kindly manner, he was always to be respected.
He was a trim, elegant man, dressed usually in what seemed like Saville Row pin stripes. I remember most working for him in a play by Walter de la Mare called (I think) “Miss Taroon.” I remember this most as we did it two or three times, and the last time it was recorded and was deservedly held in Archives.
I know this because many years later (I was an adult) it was re-transmitted and I was shocked to hear that as a child I had a very very slight sibilance and pronounced my rs with a touch of the ws. (I can’t think of the right words to express this, so it’s probably too private to be interesting).
He was not the only Radio Producer to enjoy the esoteric and the “difficult-to-understand”. Some of the great Radio Features would have made E. Nesbitt sound like Hegel, and Vice Versa.
A list of a few of David Spenser's radio plays
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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