David Spenser Radio Memories :
Mary O'Farrell & James McKechnie

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MARY O’FARRELL was the first Radio personality to have a helpful influence on me. This was mostly, I suppose because she often played my mother, not only in those first few broadcasts, but also later in long running series like “Said the Cat to the Dog.” It was she who first helped me to hold a script without making a noise turning the pages.

In those days the paper was helpfully soft and turned without too much rustling, but later (probably because of expense) the scripts were much crisper, and even years later when I was a director I spent hours in editing channels nipping out distracting script rustles.

Mary taught me to hold my script in my right hand held to the right of the microphone at eye level, with the relevant page over one’s thumb so that it was easy to turn, and then gently to slide one’s thumb under the next page, etc.

She had an extremely warm and outgoing personality, and was, I remember, very popular with everyone. She exuded a kindness that was never assumed. She could also be quite firm and strict with me if I tried to get above myself. It was not easy for a youngster to keep his feet on the ground in the middle of adult compliments, so Mary’s insistence on my not having my head turned was a necessary influence.

JAMES McKECHNIE was a fascinating actor to watch at the microphone. He appeared to do nothing at all. He was always nice to everyone, never temperamental, almost withdrawn in his personality. He dressed typically in tweed jacket and flannel trousers, removing his jacket if the scene was very dramatic, and when he was narrating he took off his jacket and rolled up his shirt sleeves.

I was particularly struck that he did not look as young as the parts he sometimes played (though that impression was probably due to my being so young myself) and also he could look quite impassive while performing at a high dramatic pitch. I always felt awed by him, precisely because behind his charming smile and constant politeness there was something reserved, something private, and something almost cold.

I must not give the impression of someone constantly serious and humourless; he laughed and cracked jokes as much as anyone else, but he was not by any means an extrovert. I remember being impressed by his natural intelligence and his relish of classical drama as well as his skills in contemporary drama.


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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