Musique Discrete
by Henry Reed

Henry Reed - Musique Discrete

BBC Third Programme

Broadcast: Tuesday 27th October 1959 @ 9:50 p.m.

The Henry Reed "Hilda Tablet" plays (7 in total) were a landmark in radio satire. The casts read like a "Who's Who" of radio dramatic acting, and anyone with an interest in this subject is strongly recommended to listen to them. All were broadcast on the Third Programme, which came to be regarded as the repository of cultural, and hence, literary excellence. Writers such as Reed welcomed this segregation, as an article in the January, 1949, issue of BBC Quarterly entitled "What The Wireless Can Do For Literature" included the comment 'some listeners are fools and some are not...............we cannot wait for the fools to catch up with their betters'. However, Reed was happy to mock the pretensions of the avant-garde in radio and other arts channels in many of his plays, as we can see if we listen.

.....By arrangement with Mr. Henry Reed and Mr. Donald Swann, we present "Musique Discrète", a request programme of Music by Dame Hilda Tablet. It'll be a rather highbrow program.....

Writing in that week's "Radio Times", Reed said : "Just over 18 months ago, the Reeve-Shewin-Tablet-Gland saga, which began in 1953 with 'A Very Great Man Indeed' was brought to an unpredictably happy end in a piece called 'The Primal Scene, as it were......' It was not my original intention to carry out any later mopping-up operations, still less to indulge, like an old-time operatic soprano, in a series of obsessional farewell appearances. But somehow General Gland has been prevailed upon to provide his war memoirs, and now there is this request programme of music to celebrate Dame Hilda Tablet's appearance in a recent Honours List. It is being given on Tuesday under the title of ' Musique Discrète', and is dedicated to those listeners who feel they can just manage to put up with one more."

"Musique Discrète" is the final work in the "Hilda Tablet" satirical series / saga.

With Mary O'Farrell [Hilda Tablet], Deryck Guyler [Gabriel Hall Pollock], Derek Jacobi [Angel Bysshe], Denis Quilley [An actor from Stratford-Upon -Avon], Marjorie Westbury [Elsa Strauss], Anna Pollak [Brangwen Brangwyn], and Marion Studholme [Gwenllian Morgan Thomas].

The music sung by cast, accompanied by Donald Swann (piano) and played by the London String Quartet and Stephen Whittaker (percussion). Musique Concrete arranged by Donald Swann and compiled in the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.

Music composed by Donald Swann

Produced by Douglas Cleverdon

Anna Pollak and Marion Studholme appeared by permission of the Sadler's Wells Opera Company

Music recorded on Wednesday 9th September 1959, speech recorded on Thursday 10th September 1959 and first broadcast on the BBC Third Programme on Tuesday 27th October 1959 @ 9:50 p.m.. Repeated on Saturday 21st November 1959 @ 7:15 p.m. and on Friday 10th April 1970.

55 min.


Born 22 February, 1914

He was educated at King Edward VI Grammar School, Birmingham, specialised in Classics, and it was obvious that he was good at languages, for he was self-taught in Greek. Tutored by Louis Macneice at Birmingham University in the early 1930s., Reed obtained a First Class Degree, and an M.A. for his thesis on Thomas Hardy. Hardy was to be highly significant in Henry Reed's later career.

In 1942, during WW2, he was with the Government College & Cypher School at Bletchley where he learned the Japanese language and worked as a translator. At this time, he wrote much of his first radio play "Moby Dick", as well as many poems. In later life, he wrote "The Changeling" which was, perhaps,a disguised autobiography. Some of his plays were associated with Italy - "Return To Naples" and "Streets of Pompeii".

His decision in the early 1950s not to proceed with a projected biography of Thomas Hardy proved to be momentous. Instead, he embarked upon the "Hilda Tablet" saga, with the first play entitled "A Very Great Man Indeed". It has been said that when he spoke to people about Thomas Hardy, all they wanted to do was to talk about themselves. (Ed. - this reminds me of the definition of an egotist : "A person of low taste, more interested in himself than in me"). Certainly, very little is discovered about the "very great man" in the play. And so, his roving unwilling biographer of the plays, Herbert Reeve, was created and, perhaps the finest character of all, the composeress Hilda Tablet. More plays in the saga were to follow; the original title of "Emily Butter" was to have been "Milly Mudd", but the BBC objected.

Henry Reed undertook book reviewing and translations. Indeed, some were used on the stage. Reed had a beautiful speaking voice and could be heard on radio from time to time. He certainly was something of an eccentric - Douglas Cleverdon tells the story of the time when Reed failed to turn up for a luncheon appointment with him, and when asked about this, Reed replied "I wasn't hungry".

He died on 8 December, 1986.

Compiled from various sources; edited, added to, and tidied up by Jim.

More about Reed on the main Henry Reed listing.

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