Old Time Radio

by Francis M. Nevins

   During World War II John Creasey wrote dozens of thrillers set in London that were never published outside the UK — until decades later when, as a superstar of the genre, he revised them for US publication, cutting out all the vivid wartime atmosphere that made them special.


   Recently I picked up The Toff Is Back — first published in 1942 and, according to the copyright page, revised in 1971, two years before Creasey’s death — and found to my surprise that all the ambiance of a largely bombed-out London survived the revision intact.

   The Hon. Richard Rollison, a.k.a. The Toff, returns from military service in North Africa to find that a well-organized gang has been looting bombed jewelry shops on a grand scale and framing innocent residents of his beloved East End for their crimes.

   Over the years I’ve read, or rather tried to read, several revised Creaseys alongside the 1940s versions, and every time found the originals infinitely better. I’ve never seen the wartime version of this one but it reads as if it hasn’t been revised at all, for which I shout Hallelujah.

   In fact, even the occasional gaffes which are inevitable when a book is written at the rate of 10,000 words a day seem to have been preserved. The racket boss is named Barte Lee while other characters live in Bartley Square, and on page 54 we read “Very slowly and deliberately Lee leaned forward,” which reminded me of the hilarious “Everywhere a Lee Lee” song from 1776.

   Gaffes and all, I highly recommend this one to any reader who wants to be taken back, like viewers of the early seasons of the Foyle’s War series, to a London being nightly pulverized by Hitler’s Luftwaffe.


   Anyone who would like to sample Creasey’s unretouched WWII thrillers without hitting used book shops has a golden opportunity in store. His first five Roger West novels, originally published between 1942 and 1946, will be reprinted a few months from now by Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, the Canada-based publishing operation owned by George Vanderburgh, as the omnibus volume Inspector West Goes to War.

   I’ve written an introduction for the book and have just finished proofreading the computer-scanned texts of those novels. It was a tedious task with two capital T’s but there’s no other way I could have learned so much about the stylistic oddities of these chronicles of London during and immediately after the war.

JOHN CREASEY Holiday for West

   Quirks and all, the early West novels are still amazingly readable today. Unlike any other Scotland Yard series I can recall, these books are packed with vivid action scenes. One might almost be reading a series of old-time Westerns except for the fact that guns are sparingly used, both by the bad guys and the bobbies.

Pounding out those ten thousand words a day, Creasey couldn’t avoid perpetrating some Avalloneisms, but far fewer than in the works of the grand master of malapropisms, Mike Avallone himself.

   One I found while proofreading is worth preserving. In Chapter 11 of Holiday for Inspector West (1946) Roger questions a female suspect and then her father, of whom Creasey says: “Like his daughter he had become a changed man.”

   As editor of this five-volume omnibus I’ve decided to substitute “person” for the last word of that sentence.

   Blatant mistakes of this sort, grammar-wise, usage-wise or otherwise, are being corrected, but I am not Americanizing any British terms: those four rubber doughnuts that are found on motor vehicles are called tyres, and when a car has engine trouble, the driver pulls into the kerb and looks under the bonnet.

   What you will read in Inspector West Goes to War is (except for those blatant slips) precisely what Creasey wrote at white heat as that war was raging and immediately afterward.


Between late June and late August 1939, during the first ten weeks that the 60-minute Adventures of Ellery Queen radio series was broadcast on CBS, each episode featured original background music composed and conducted by the soon to be famous Bernard Herrmann.

   None of those episodes survive, and the last time anyone heard what Herrmann wrote for the EQ series was 71 years ago. But today, thanks to the wonderworld of the Web, you can see some of the pages of Herrmann’s score on your computer screen:


   First, go to the Bernard Herrmann Society website. Click on “Talking Herrmann.” Enter the box at the bottom of the first page and, among the options given, click on “Topics for the Last Year.” Near the bottom of the fourth page is a thread entitled “Adventures of Ellery Queen 1939.” [This link, if it holds up over time, should take you there directly.]

   There lies the treasure, allowing those who can read a score and have an appropriate instrument to play some of Herrmann’s EQ music in their own homes.

   I wish I were one of that number. When I was a child my mother tried to make a pianist out of me but I resisted and today, sixty years later, I can’t read a note. Damn!


   The second and final Herrmann-Queen interface took place almost a quarter century later. Among the episodes of the second season of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour on CBS-TV was “Terror in Northfield” (October 11, 1963), based on Queen’s 1956 non-series novelette about a string of violent deaths on the exact same spot. [Hulu link.]


   Harvey Hart directed from an adaptation by Leigh Brackett that dropped most of the detection in the Queen tale and stressed suspense. The puzzled deputy sheriff, the menaced local librarian and the mad farmer were played respectively by Dick York, Jacqueline Scott and R.G. Armstrong.

   Herrmann composed the score for this and several other Hitchcock Hour segments as well. May I still be alive and the owner of a decent pair of ears on the day when his scores for that series and others of the same period, like The Richard Boone Show and The Virginian, become available on CD.


JOHN DUNNING – Two O’Clock, Eastern Wartime. Scribner, hardcover, 2001. Paperback reprint: Pocket, 2002.

   In John Dunning’s 2001 thriller, Two O’Clock, Eastern Wartime, one of the characters says of radio:


    “And listen, the best that radio can do hasn’t even begun yet. Think of it in the Darwinian sense. Radio crawled out of the sea in nineteen twenty, and all this time we’ve been struggling to breathe air, not water. We haven’t even gotten our legs yet but maybe it’s time we at least begin to struggle to stand.”

   Radio — dramatic radio — in a sense is one of the characters in the book. One of the main characters, Jordan Ten Eyck, is a writer who discovers the power of dramatic radio writing while he finds himself in the midst of a cracker of a thriller involving Nazi spies, murder and mystery surrounding a fledgling radio station, WHAR, in fictional Regina Beach, New Jersey. The time is 1942.

   Dunning, as most old time radio fans know, is no stranger to radio or old-time radio. He is the author of two encyclopedias of the Golden Age of Radio: Tune in Yesterday and On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old Time Radio.

   He also was the host of a radio show, Old Time Radio, in Denver for many years. But Dunning also is a writer of mystery thrillers. This Nero Wolfe Award winner is the author of several other suspense stories, among them Booked to Die and The Bookman’s Wake.


   Two O’Clock, Eastern Wartime tells the story of Jack Dulaney, aka Jordan Ten Eyck, and Holly Carnahan. The two were in love years ago but drifted apart after the death of their friend and Jack’s rival, Tom Rooney. Now Jack wants to find Holly again, and with the help of an often-inebriated radio actor friend, Marty Kendall, he begins his trip across America to Pennsylvania, where Tom, Jack, and Holly all lived at one time and was Holly’s last known address.

   But Jack encounters only suspicious characters and death along the way and, eventually, finds himself in Regina Beach, New Jersey at radio station, WHAR, looking for work and Holly’s father, Tom Carnahan. It is there that Jordan begins his career as a radio writer and with the WHAR radio community — Rue, Pauline and Hazel, radio actresses; Livia, a sound artist; and Waldo, creator of the magnificent black program, Freedom Road.

   Woven into the story is Jordan’s journey into the discovery of the power of radio drama:


    “Now he saw what he had was the rough draft of a half-hour radio play. He felt a surge of inexplicable excitement as he took the next logical step, prose into script in the middle of the page, and again his fingers were flying and all his new awareness was there in the words. He understood demands and restrictions that had never given him a conscious thought, and he saw the story anew. The opening could not linger. Leisure was fine for depth in prose but a story for the ear must begin with the first spoken word of the encounter that will drive it.”

   Jordan discovers the power of radio and nothing, it seems, can hold back his thirst for creation as scripts and ideas continue to flood out of him. Later, he discovers that he can move beyond even that thirst by directing his own work. Dunning, through Jordan, makes the power of radio drama come alive.

   All the thrill and excitement of the production both as listener as well as participant is explored. Meanwhile, Jordan becomes absorbed in the mystery of what became of Holly’s father, who disappeared from the radio station before their arrival and of one of the radio actor’s, March Flack, who disappeared in 1936. And what about the station’s seemingly ominous owner, Mr. Harford?


   Jordan begins to write powerful and politically explosive scripts to the encouragement of the radio owner and management who hope to return the station to a glorious time before the war. His excitement begins to affect the actors and technicians as production reaches fever pitch.

    “Jordan felt the play unfolding in his mind, the cotton fields stretching across most of the known world. He moved his hand: the sun went down. He raised a finger: the new day dawned in an explosion of sound, of horses and rowdies and the unmistakable din of a railroad yard. He stood like God and the universe rolled out at his feet. If he pointed left, Livia gave him London, a different kind of clatter with steel rims on cobblestones and a British flavor to the babble. He swept that away with a thrust of his arm, and in the cross fade sat Charity, three thousand miles away… He couldn’t remember a greater moment as it grew into the evening. This was it. Live radio.”

   Surrounding this is Jordan the detective trying to find out what really happened at the station several years before. Using the power of his radio scripts, he attempts to seek out the truth from those who were there.


   Jordan and Holly both become targets and become wrapped into the intrigue endangering them. The mystery of the German Schroeder boys, George and Peter, the attempts on his life, the mystery around the radio writer, Paul Kruger and his script about the Boer war all need answers for Jordan. The book is full of wonderful characters with stories to tell, who carry their own sense of mystery with them.

   There are a number of writers who have written stories framed around early radio, but if you are both a fan of old time radio as well as a mystery thriller fan, then this book will definitely entertain.

   John Dunning is a superb writer. As a mystery writer, he is new to this reviewer, but he is certainly an author I will seek out again.

Copyright 2001, 2010 by James F. Widner.

Editorial Comment:   Jim Widner has long been involved with Old Time Radio, both as a collector and as a researcher, author and indexer. His web site is devoted to OTR in a historical context at Radio Days. For several years he has also produced a podcast called the Radio Detective Story Hour. Follow the links to each.

      Adapted from an email from David Vineyard:

   Just a heads up for hardboiled fans. BBC7 is currently reading Dashiell Hammett’s Nightmare Town and beginning Sunday will air a full length (90 minute) dramatization of The Big Sleep (Ed Bishop of UFO as Marlowe).

   A dramatic series of Father Brown with Andrew Jack is winding down and there are dramatizations of Poirot and Lord Peter (Ian Carmichael) on going. There is also a scheduled dramatization of Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday coming up.

   They recently completed two Dick Francis thrillers and a reading of Edmund Crispin’s Frequent Hearses. They are also concluding The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and about to start Casebook.

   You can still catch the Hammett reading from the beginning for the next three days.

Editorial Comment:   I used “Old Time Radio” as the category to put this post in, rather than create a new one, even though it’s not really correct. After checking out everything that’s available to listen on the BBC7 site, all I can do is wish that days were ten times longer, or if not that, perhaps I needn’t get seven or eight hours of sleep every night?


“Let’s Kill Timothy.” An episode of Peter Gunn (Season 1, Episode 17). First air date: 19 January 1959. Craig Stevens (Peter Gunn), Lola Albright (Edie Hart), Herschel Bernardi (Lieutenant Jacoby), Hope Emerson (Mother), Mel Leonard (Casper Wellington), Henry Corden (Vladimir Sokolawsky), Arthur Hanson (George Tate), Frank Richards (Tiny Walsh), Peter Brocco (Sam the drunk), David McMahon (Mike the desk sergeant). Story: Blake Edwards. Teleplay: Lewis Reed. Director: Blake Edwards.

   Timothy is a most unusual individual: modest, unassuming, reticent to a fault. He is also many things to many people.


   To Peter Gunn, Timothy is an unexpected baby sitting charge. To Lieutenant Jacoby, he’s a “thing” that indecorously invades his office.

   To Casper Wellington, Timothy is both a friend and the way to fabulous wealth, while to George Tate and Tiny Walsh he’s worth kidnapping and gutting like a fish.

   But through it all Timothy maintains his composure. He may be a little guy three feet tall and three hundred pounds — but he can fend for himself. Of course, practically no one can ward off two burly brutes intent on kidnapping; when that happens, even his foreflippers are of no avail.

   You know, if things keep going the way they have been, Timothy could soon be up on a grand theft felony charge. You have to wonder if the California penal system is capable of providing enough fish for an upwardly mobile but healthy young seal ….

   The normally drop dead serious Peter Gunn series veers into comedy with this one, and the whole thing works beautifully as director-creator-writer Blake Edwards shows he can do funny stuff with the mystery genre. Maybe this was him warming up for Inspector Clouseau.

   The best scene is at the police station, first with a drunk being booked, and then in Jacoby’s office when Gunn leads Timothy in, who immediately makes himself at home by flopping down on the couch. Gunn and Jacoby have an entire conversation without Jacoby once referring to the seal until the very end, but even then he doesn’t state the obvious a nice piece of underplaying by everybody concerned.

   When Gunn is trying to locate Casper Wellington, he goes to one of his snitches, “artist” Vladimir Sokolawsky (Henry Corden), who is as surreal as any of his “artwork.” Like Victor Buono, Corden (1920-2005) could always do over-the-top superbly, and in his one bizarre scene he nearly steals the show.

   Mother was played in 25 Peter Gunn episodes by a fine character actress, Hope Emerson (1897-1960). In this show, she gets to “sing” “Won’t You Come Home, Bill Bailey?” but the less said about that the better. (You’ve been warned.)

Note: According to the Internet Movie Database, this Peter Gunn episode was based on a Richard Diamond radio program, “Timothy the Seal” (5 February 1950).

Editorial Comments:   Click on the link provided to listen to the radio program that Mike mentions. The series, which starred Dick Powell as medium-boiled PI Richard Diamond, was on radio for several years. Many more episodes can be found here: http://www.archive.org/details/RichardDiamond2.

   The movie Gunn was reviewed here on this blog by Dan Stumpf about a month ago.

      Adapted from an email from David Vineyard:

   Don’t know how many of you care for this sort of thing, but if you check out the BBC7 site this week they are airing an eight part adaptation of the Paul Temple mystery Paul Temple and the Gilbert Case. Currently there are also adaptations of two of Agatha Christie’s Poirot’s, a new Biggles (starting Thursday), John Creasey’s The Toff and the Runaway Bride, and The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes.

   Previously they’ve done Ashenden, Bulldog Drummond, The Scarecrow, and many more. They also have original crime programs and adaptations of more recent writers’ works.

   The episodes run about thirty minutes and are full cast productions. Thought I’d give everyone a heads up.

   The Gilbert Case finds Paul and wife Steve’s holiday plans interrupted when the father of a murdered girl asks him to try and clear the young man, Howard Gilbert, convicted of murdering her and facing the death sentence. “I know you, you enjoy sticking your neck out.”

   Honestly there’s too much to listen to, but you can pick and choose the ones you really like, and they can be downloaded to an MP3 player or IPod as well.

William F. Deeck

JOHN ROEBURT – Corpse on the Town. Graphic #27, paperback original, 1950. Revised edition: The Case of the Hypnotized Virgin. Avon #730, pb, 1956. Reprinted: Belmont/Tower,1972.


   About to check in to his terminal in New York City, cab driver J. Howard Moran, better known as Jigger, agrees to take a trunk to the Railway Express Office. An unknown someone meanwhile has informed the police that the trunk in Jigger’s cab contains a corpse. Which it does, the body of a young woman whose face is battered beyond recognition.

   Apparently Jigger. a disbarred attorney in Illinois and a private eye without a license, has investigated other crimes before, though this is his first recorded case. He and his reluctant assistant, Red, “free-lance journalist and improvident writer of plays, features, fiction, columns,” try to determine the woman’s identity and find her killer.

   As the police follow Jigger closely with the thought that if they can’t convict him maybe he will be able to pin it on someone else, Jigger manages to come up with the answer.


   For his novel Tough Cop, Roeburt won an Edgar, or so the publisher of this novel claims. I have not been able to identify either the category or the year. This one is no prize winner, but it has its amusing moments.

From The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 13, No. 3, Summer 1992.

Bibliographic Data:   It is perhaps no surprise that Bill was unable to discover the category for which John Roeburt won an Edgar, as the publisher’s claim is not true, as he surmised might have been the case.

   It may be as obscure as an MWA award can get, and was apparently not for Tough Cop at all. It came in 1949, and it was for Best Radio Drama, the actual title of which I have not discovered, even with the resources available to me on the Internet. It was, however, for one of the episodes of the Inner Sanctum series. (I do not believe that it was for the entire series, but perhaps I am wrong about that.)

    Bill erred in saying that Corpse on the Town was Jigger Moran’s first recorded case. Not true; it was his third and last. The first two were published in hardcover; only Corpse was a paperback original:

       The Jigger Moran series —     [Taken from the Revised Crime Fiction IV, by Allen J. Hubin.]

    Jigger Moran (n.) Greenberg, hc, 1944.
    There Are Dead Men in Manhattan (n.) Mystery House, hc, 1946.


    Corpse on the Town (n.) Graphic, pbo, 1950.

   Old Time Radio collector and historian Randy Riddle has come up with another interesting program on his podcast/blog. It’s an Armed Forces rebroadcast episode of Hollywood Startime from 31 March 1946 entitled “Strange Triangle,” an adaptation of the noir film of the same name.

   It stars two of the three original leading players, Signe Hasso (as a truly seductive femme fatale) and John Shepperd. Replacing Preston Foster as the narrator and leading protagonist, though, is Lloyd Nolan, a fellow still known for a long list of B-movie mystery roles. Also in the radio cast is Lurene Tuttle, whose voice OTR fans will immediately recognize as that of Effie from The Adventures of Sam Spade radio program.

   The radio version of Strange Triangle suffers from being cut down in time from a 65 minute movie to only 25 minutes actual air time, but it’s still good entertainment. Give it a listen (click on the link above).

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