Old Time Radio

      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).

   Not only has Old Time Radio collector and historian Randy Riddle posted an episode of Casey, Crime Photographer I’d not heard before, but it’s a locked room mystery to boot. Casey, played by Staats Cotsworth in this program, was based on the character created by mystery writer George Harmon Coxe.

   Here’s Randy, as he describes it on his podcast/blog:

    “In this post, we hear ‘Woman of Mystery,’ program 61 in the series, broadcast on the Armed Forces Radio Service as Crime Photographer and originally heard on CBS on November 9, 1950. It’s one of those ‘locked room’ mysteries, where Casey’s keen sense of observation come in handy to discover how a woman was murdered.”

   Unfortunately Casey solves the mystery only seven minutes into the program — or does he? Listen and see.

    Speaking of Michael Shayne, there were several different series of his adventures that appeared on radio. The first of these starred Wally Maher as Shayne, with Cathy Lewis featured as his secretary (and close companion) Phyllis Knight. While there was an earlier and much longer run on the West Coast Mutual-Don Lee string of stations, the series didn’t appear on the full Mutual network until 8 October 1946 and only lasting to 14 January 1947. The one I offer you here (click on the link) is generally referred to as “The Case of the Poisoned Fan,” but there is no announcement to that fact on the program itself.

    The show is very well done, even though there is nothing I can see that particularly identifies the radio version with Brett Halliday’s character — all they seem to have in common is the name. Shayne talks tough enough, pretty much as a generic PI is supposed to talk, but the puzzle aspect of this particular episode is the key element: How did the killer make sure the victim was the one who was served the poisoned coffee?


DICK BARTON STRIKES BACK. Hammer Films, 1949. Don Stannard, Sebastian Cabot, Jean Lodge, Bruce Walker. Based on the BBC Radio serial Dick Barton Special Agent, created by Geoffrey Webb and Edward J. Mason. Director: Godfrey Grayson.


   In 1947 listeners to the early evening BBC tuned in to hear the voice of the ‘Beeb’ intone, “The time is a quarter past seven. This is the BBC Light Programme …” followed by Charles Williams’s “The Devil’s Gallop” thundering over the airwaves.

   With a gasp of anticipation ten year old boys of all ages in post-Second World War England gathered to hear the daily fifteen minute edition of the adventures of ex-commando Captain Dick Barton M.C., and his pals Snowey and Jock as they made their on air debut.

   Somewhere between Jack Armstrong, All American Boy and Carleton E. Morse’s I Love an Mystery, the Dick Barton series captured the imaginations of young boys (and girls) in the dreary days of post-WWII England with tales of derring-do, adventure, and dastardly villains. Dick was played by Noel Johnson early on and later Gordon Davies and Duncan Carse.


   Dick and his pals found themselves at odd ends in Post War England, so when their ex-commander approached them to act as semi-official agents investigating matters that were too delicate for Special Branch or MI5, it seemed the perfect solution to their post war blues. So Dick Barton Special Agent was born

   Which is why the then fledgling Hammer Studios (yes, that Hammer, of Dracula fame) grabbed up the rights to the series and churned out three quick programmers starring handsome Don Stannard in the lead role. These were Dick Barton Special Agent (1948), Dick Barton Strikes Back (1949), and Dick Barton Bay (1950).

   Dick Barton Strikes Back was filmed third but released as the second in the series. Hammer intended to continue the series, but Don Stannard was killed in a car wreck in 1949. Sebastian Cabot was in the car with him but emerged without fatal injuries. Since the films had improved with each new entry, we may well have missed the definitive screen Dick Barton.


   The opening of Strikes Back could easily come from one of Nigel Kneale’s Quatermass serials or an episode of The Avengers (Patrick McNee ironically plays a British agent in the opening scenes of the film Dick Barton at Bay ). A remote English village lies silent, everyone and every thing in it lies dead. And no bird sang.

   Dick Barton and his pal Snowey are called in. Their investigation leads to a group of gypsies and the evil Alfonso Delmonte Fourcada (Sebastian Cabot), second in command of the mad scientist whose deadly sonic ray has wiped out two English villages and now is ready for the attack on London.

   Dick and Snowey battle Fourcada and his goons, escape, evade, hunt, and in general chase around in solid thriller tradition. In one particularly good sequence they are left in a snake house, and all the glass shatters with Dick and Snowey suddenly knee deep in deadly serpents.

   Will the boys escape?

   Tune in tomorrow …

   Same time same place …

   The climax is an exciting chase up the famous BBC radio tower in Blackpool where the madman plans to broadcast his sonic weapon and destroy London. Someone must have found the irony of Dick’s final film adventure ending on the very tower that broadcast his adventures all too delicious.


   While no masterpieces, the Barton films are well done programmers, with some nice noirish photography and good if hammy performances. Stannard may proclaim his lines in all capital letters, but he certainly looks like what we expect of ex-commando Dick Barton.

In 1979 Dick returned to the small screen in Dick Barton Special Agent, a series with Tony Vogel as Dick that ran four seasons. Done tongue in cheek, the series was a good deal of fun and spawned a series of paperback adventures. In recent years a series of Dick Barton plays have been a great success mixing nostalgia, camp, and theatrical thrills.

   The creators of Dick Barton, Geoffrey Webb and Edward J. Mason (creators of the long running soap The Archers) issued a collection of short illustrated never broadcast Dick Barton adventures, Dick Barton Special Agent (Contact Publicaions) for Dick’s fans. In addition the television series was featured in annual albums of comic books stories and photos from the series as well as the paperback adaptations.

   Several sites of Old Time Radio collections have the first Barton radio serial (ten episodes) available to listen to for free on your computer or download to your MP3 player. They hold up pretty well all things considered. A good example of the charms of the form.


   The Barton phenomena was popular enough that Eric Ambler sent it up in his screenplay for Roy Ward Baker’s Highly Dangerous (1951) where his heroine, Margaret Lockwood, believes she is Frances Conway Special Agent, after her nephews favorite radio serial, Francis Conway, when a blow to the head while she is on a dangerous mission behind the Iron Curtain leaves her confused.

   But if you still thrill to the William Tell Overture and the sounds of a great white horse’s hoofbeats on the vast plains of the airwaves, to the mysterious Valle Triste and a voice intoning I Love a Mystery, or ever the catchy tune of Little Orphan Annie, then you will fully understand the appeal of the “Devil’s Gallop” on ten year old boys everywhere.

   And now back to today’s episode of Dick Barton Special Agent. As you know Dick and Snowey had just entered the elevator at Professor X’s secret lair when suddenly …

JUDY CANOVA Louisiana Hayride

LOUISIANA HAYRIDE. Columbia, 1944. Judy Canova, Judy Canova, Ross Hunter, Richard Lane, George McKay, Minerva Urecal, Lloyd Bridges, Matt Willis, Hobart Cavanaugh. Director: Charles Barton.

    Let me start out by saying that is indeed a crime movie, no matter what you may have deduced to the contrary, based on the title of the film and who the leading star is.

    Judy Canova plays a country bumpkin in this movie – no surprise there, right? – who’s swindled out of her farm’s oil option money by two rambling grifters – two rambles ahead of the law – who promise her a career in Hollywood. The leading role, in fact, in a movie called — you guessed it — Louisiana Hayride.

    Little do these guys know what they’re in for. You’re probably one step ahead of me, and for that matter, I’ll let you stay there.

   Canova made an entire career of looking homely, with pigtails and Hee Haw costumes long before Hee Haw came along and gave hillbilly music a bad name. But her brand of youthful innocence, combined with a good-natured honesty and a strong sense of humor, usually at the expense of city slickers like the pair of crooks in this movie, made her a star in the 1940s, at least in small town America.

JUDY CANOVA Louisiana Hayride

   I wonder if her movies ever played in Boston or New York City. They did in Cadillac, that small town in Michigan’s upper lower peninsula where I grew up, although this particular one is almost as old as I am.

   In spite of her incessant mugging for the cameras, Canova really did have a good singing voice, which is on display to great advantage several times in Louisiana Hayride. A pair of songs I recognized immediately were “Shortnin’ Bread” and “Put Your Arms Around Me, Honey,” which probably tells you more about me than you want to know.

   Besides being a better than average belter of southern fried song hits, Judy Canova was also not quite as homely as the characters she played on the screen. I found this photo of her taken when she was older, and to me, she’s quite a handsome looking lady.

JUDY CANOVA Louisiana Hayride

   There are jokes being cracked and funny business going on continuously in this movie, in between the songs, that is, and I have to tell you I enjoyed them all, still being a small town kind of guy at heart.

PostScript. I nearly forgot to mention that Judy Canova was also a hit on radio, with her self-named series running on NBC from 1945 to 1953, which is essentially when her movie career came to a close as well.

   You can listen to four episodes online here, and with a little searching, I’m sure you can find more.

   Among the group of regulars in the cast were Hans Conreid, Mel Blanc and Sheldon Leonard. (One of these fellows came up for discussion not too long ago, as regular readers of this blog will quickly recall.)

   The following piece first appeared as a comment following my review of the A&E television production of The Doorbell Rang, in which I made some additional remarks that David follows up on too.      — Steve


   I agree the Chaykin and Hutton Nero Wolfe series is not only the best film version of Wolfe, but one of the best adaptations of a fictional sleuth to film (certainly to the small screen).

   Both Edward Arnold and Walter Connolly, who played Wolfe in early films, decided to play him as a jovial and bluff type much like the millionaires and politicians they usually played, and it didn’t help that Lionel Stander (Max on Hart to Hart) was badly miscast as Archie (much less John Qualen as Fritz).

   The sets were faithful to the books, though. (The two films were Meet Nero Wolfe, based on Fer de Lance, and The League of Frightened Men.)

   Television did much better with the pilot film Nero Wolfe (1979) that starred Thayer David and Tom Mason. Based on The Doorbell Rang, it was a superior made-for-television film, and David and Mason were both good. They even did the scene from the book where Wolfe’s client (Anne Baxter in this one) spots the portrait of Wolfe’s father (Sherlock Holmes).


   If memory serves Biff McGuire was Cramer and John Randolph played Lon Cohen. Frank Gilroy directed and scripted. The untimely death of Thayer David postponed the series, which eventually starred William Conrad and Lee Horsley, and the least said about that the better.

   Wolfe did somewhat better on radio where the role was played by Santos Ortega and Sidney Greenstreet. If you’ve never heard them they are well done, and not hard to find. But running only a half hour, the series episodes seldom adapted Stout’s material.

   As to why there is no American equivalent to Mystery or Masterpiece Theater, part of it lies in the fact the BBC is a government operation, and part the commercial nature of network and cable television. We’ll always get another version of Knightrider and seldom get a quality program like Nero Wolfe, and certainly nothing to resemble those adaptations of Lord Peter, Campion, Poirot, or Miss Marple.

   Another factor is that many British series only commit to six to eight episodes a season so budgets aren’t as restrictive, and the actors can do other work while doing a series without having to leave the series.

JIM HUTTON Ellery Queen

   That the Jim Hutton Ellery Queen, the Chaykin Wolfe, and the Spenser TV series were as good as they were and ran as long as they did are all minor miracles.

   Eventually there will be a revival of classical tec films (everything comes back to some extent), and we’ll get a new round of American-made Agatha Christie’s with some poor actress as badly cast in the part of Miss Marple as Helen Hayes was, or a Peter Ustinov struggling with diminishing budgets and scripts.

   But the sad fact is, it’s cheaper to generate material based on old series and follow trends than try to do something smart. It’s more cost effective to invent a tec series for the small screen than to buy the rights to a proven product and run afoul of fans’ preconceived ideas and the author’s desires.

   It probably doesn’t help that today’s honchos have a better understanding of comics, science fiction, fantasy, movies, and 80’s television than mystery fiction. Our only hope is that somewhere down the line another cable network decides to gamble on something like the Nero Wolfe series and produces something worthwhile instead of more reality series and tiresome comedies and dramadies. But I wouldn’t hold my breath.

   And I know I’m gilding the lily here, but there seems to have been a suggestion that Perry Mason debuted sometime around the creation of the Raymond Burr television series. Of course Mason appeared for the first time in the late 1930’s when Gardner was already a highly successful pulp author. (H. Bedford Jones officially passed the title king of the pulps onto Gardner.) Mason pushed Gardner onto the bestseller list and made him one of the most successful writers of all time.

   Warner Brothers did a series of Mason movies with Warren William, Ricardo Cortez, and Donald Woods as Mason (at least one had Allen Jenkins as Paul Drake and Errol Flynn made his American film debut as a corpse in another). There was also 15 minute radio serial based on Perry, but it was never a particular success.


   It wasn’t until television and Burr’s incarnation of the character that Perry finally conquered another market. Fans will recall a second attempt to do Perry with Monte Markham that met an early and much deserved end, and of course Burr’s return to the role in later years in a series of made for television movies.

   Although Gardner was a major success as a mystery writer without Burr, it can certainly be argued that Burr so embodied the character that he took the whole thing to another level pushing Perry to a level closer to Sherlock Holmes, Tarzan, and James Bond than the usual run of mystery icons. There is a good book, Murder in the Millions, that covers the mega sales of Gardner, Ian Fleming, and Mickey Spillane.

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