David Spenser Radio Memories :
Howard Rose & Val Gielgud

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In Grown-up broadcasting as I used to think of it, there was a ferociously dictatorial producer called HOWARD ROSE. The first play I was in for this frightening figure was Pinero’s “His House in Order”. In those days, Broadcasting House did not have its Extension for Offices, which came many years later, but there was a Mansion block called Rothwell House. It was there that the first reading of a production was held, a solemn and nerve-wracking affair.

There was a long table down the centre of the room, surrounded by extremely basic chairs. As I entered, clutching my rather heavy script, I was beckoned by Mr Rose to a chair already prepared for me by his side. I was then given some coloured pencils and told that red was for stresses, yellow was for emotion, green was for quietness, and blue for pausing for breath. He them proceeded to give me an example of my first line.

Well, I was 12 years old and totally bewildered. It got worse as rehearsals progressed. At last an elderly actor came to my rescue as I floundered around like a dying fish in a rainbow. He told me not to worry too much as Mr.Rose had to leave soon after transmission began in order to catch his last train and never reached home until the play had finished. After he left I could forget about the colours.

That was the evening that the ladies turned up in evening dress, looking extremely glamorous, and sure enough, soon after the live transmission had started, and I was standing on my box waiting for my first line, Mr Rose stood up in the Producer’s box, calmly put on his overcoat, took up his briefcase, and with a kindly smile, doffed his gentleman’s hat to us, and left.

I have never forgotten how immediately all the performances radically changed, including mine, and it was like being in a completely new play.

This was the time of The BBC Home Service and the Forces Network. It was later that the names were changed and the BBC Third Programme was born. It was an exciting time and, for a youngster, to be amongst the first performers on the Third Programme was a thrill never to be forgotten.

I don’t think it was just my young age that makes me remember the Producers of that time as fascinating individuals; they came from different walks of life, and I don’t mean social; among them were distinguished poets, scientists, teachers, people of the theatre( Val Gielgud, the Head of Drama, was a perfect example) journalists, actors, writers, and eccentrics with special interests like the Lives of White Ants.

It was VAL GIELGUD who brought the theatrical tradition of the morning dress rehearsal (the final run-through) and the afternoon off to rest and dress for the performance with its elements of a theatrical first night. Val typified the thirties theatre, with its politeness, its balance, its delight in plays of wit and manners, and of course he often worked closely with his brother John.

They were very different types: Val was the shyer of the two, was not good at theatrical camp, extremely attractive to women who relished his mixture of maleness and vulnerability, and could make anyone feel good with his particular cocktail of smile and nod and humorous twinkle. He was absolutely certain about the plays and writers that he approved of, but had the ability to allow people he respected to experiment in their own way.

Donald McWhinnie wanted to produce a play by Samuel Beckett, an esoteric dramatist known to very few at that time. Val read it and hated it – dreadful nonsense! – but if Donald believed in it so much he should produce it. Personally, I owe a great deal to Val Gielgud, who gave me so many chances and always with firm encouragement.


The Beginning
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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