The Master Thief
by Jacob & Wilhelm Grimm

BBC Radio 3

The fifth in a series of plays drawn from the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm.

Broadcast: Tuesday 25th August 1987

An old peasant farmer and his wife are visited by a well-off gentleman in a magnificent carriage, a bit like an undertaker's hearse, with four black stallions. The couple soon discover the gentleman to be their long lost son who tells them that after he ran away as a child, he went from poverty to riches through being a thief, "The Master-Thief". When the thief inquires about his younger sister, the old couple tell him that his sister was also lost to them, as she is now a sleeping beauty.

One morning they could not wake her from her sleep. Her godfather, the Count in the Castle, took pity on her and now there are nurses taking care of her day and night in a special room in the castle that is guarded against anyone who might want to steal her beauty away. The Master-Thief wants to take care of his sister but his parents tell him that the Count wouldn't hear of it, as even now the old couple are scarely allowed to see her - never more than once a year.

The Master Thief will see his sister, whatever the Count in the Castle says, and maybe steal her away with him. It is certain he can wake her for death is the only thing that can stand against a master thief. Moreover, his badness is so extreme that it turns to goodness. So he goes to the castle to meet the Count, introducing himself as the Count's godson and recits to him a law that the Count passed: Anyone who succeeds in the three tasks specified by the Count may marry his goddaughter, with the last and additional task being to wake her.

The Count, amused, agrees and sets out the three tasks with both knowing these tests will be risky ones leading to robbery, attempted murder, and much deception, the tasks being:

1) Steal the Lord's best horse out of its stable.
2) After the Count and Countess have retired for the night, steal both the sheet from under them and the wedding ring off his wife's finger.
3) Steal the Archbishop and his Chaplain out of his church.

Dramatised for radio by Peter Redgrove from the Grimm Brother's folktale, "Der Meisterdieb (The Master-Thief)", first published in 1814.

With James Kerry [The Master-Thief], Eric Lander [The Innkeeper / The Colonel], Christine Pollon [Granny Quantro], Alan Dudley [Ian, the Old Man / The Archbishop], Jennifer Piercey [Eartha, the Old Woman], Paul Gregory [The Count, Lord Rollie / Omelette], Andrew Branch [Eclair / George Chaplin, the Chaplin], Mark Buffery [Fromage], Jonathan Tafler [Sauté], Sheila Grant [The Countess, Lady Constance], and Maryon Ellor [Sister to the Master-Thief].

Music Composed and realised by Stephen Rollings

Directed by Brian Miller in Bristol

Re-broadcast on Tuesday 25th March 1989 @ 10:15 p.m.

45 min.



The Brothers Grimm, Jacob (1785-1863) and Wilhelm (1786-1859), were born in Hanau, near Frankfurt, in the German state of Hesse.

Throughout their lives they remained close friends, and both studied law at Marburg University. Jacob was a pioneer in the study of German philology, and although Wilhelm's work was hampered by poor health the brothers collaborated in the creation of a German dictionary, not completed until a century after their deaths. But they were best (and universally) known for the collection of over two hundred folk tales they made from oral sources and published in two volumes of 'Nursery and Household Tales' in 1812 and 1814. Although their intention was to preserve such material as part of German cultural and literary history, and their collection was first published with scholarly notes and no illustration, the tales soon came into the possession of young readers. This was in part due to Edgar Taylor, who made the first English translation in 1823, selecting about fifty stories 'with the amusement of some young friends principally in view.' They have been an essential ingredient of children's reading ever since.


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