David Spenser Radio Memories :
Louis MacNeice & H.B.Fortuin

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I often played some arctic Prince for Louis, in one of his adaptations of snow-filled fairy tales. These were sometimes broadcast in the afternoon. I loved acting in them; there was music, an Icelandic song sung by his then wife, and simple but lovely words to speak.

But there were days when only two thirds of the script was there. ‘How does it end, sir?’ I would ask with an understandable interest. ‘You’ll find out after lunch.’ Lunch could be a long time, and the last pages were presented only minutes before transmission, but it was extraordinary how one adapted to these time zones.

Actually, I cannot remember one single time when Louis asked me to speak a line in any different way. I look back with pride and gratitude to the fact that Terence Tiller, a considerably talented and difficult poet, trusted me to read, not only some of the loveliest poetry in the English language, but many of his own. Even now I re-read his poems to myself with immense satisfaction, without understanding a great part of them.

Before I finish this section, I have to mention one more of my very favourite and revered producers:

H.B.FORTUIN. We knew him as ‘Freddie’ because he was known as F for Freddie in his wartime broadcasts. He was Dutch and had been one of the brightest talents in Hilvershum. Tall, thin, shining with a dry continental humour, he could drive his casts into paroxysms of frustration if they failed to find his wavelength.

At the time I knew him best was when he was married to a continental actress named Ernestine Costa. Ernestine’s performances were exactly like those on the old recordings of Sarah Bernhardt.

The reason for this was another very innovative technique I learned from Freddie, that no one in real life pauses at a comma or rests at a full stop; changes of thought take place in mid sentence or indeed mid paragraph, but never as written on the page, so, quicker or slower, one waffled on, until something made one stop and change direction.

I loved it, and quickly became a favourite pupil. The other thing that Freddie was famous for was the length of rehearsal days. It was at the time when Radio Drama was taken seriously enough to warrant money being spent on it. Sometimes, for a 30 minute afternoon play, Freddie would want 3 days, a shade excessive perhaps but not over indulgent.

At one Drama Meeting, Martin Esslin said: ‘But Freddie, don’t the cast die on you?’ To which Freddie replied, “Yes, but on the third day they rise again!’

Another innovation that proved transforming to a difficult production was to play the complete recording of a rehearsal back to the whole cast. Not everyone enjoyed this, but very often it made clear to us what Freddie had meant when he had said certain things about the rehearsal. It made us all, in a way, our own directors.


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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