The short intro: For those who are unfamiliar with the concept, Old Time Radio is the phrase generally used to refer to the time when radio was (mostly) live, and was full of a variety of different shows, as opposed to simply being a means for record labels to use robots to promote the top records of the day. Old Time Radio Thursdays is my chance to explore some of those old radio shows, their connections (both old and new) to movies, and hopefully to encourage some of the rest of you to take a look at a probably unfamiliar source of entertainment that I truly love. If you want more info on OTR, and some examples of the variety of shows that were made, be sure to check out this introductory post.
Of course, Orson Welles‘ most famous – or perhaps infamous – stint on radio was his Mercury Theater productions, which I wrote about here. However that was far from Mr. Welles’ only appearance on the radio, and another extremely popular show which featured him was the Harry Alan Towers produced The Black Museum.
For those who have never heard of it, The Black Museum is the nickname given to the basement where Scotland Yard houses paraphernalia connected with some of its most interesting cases. The museum came into existence around 1875 and is generally not open to the public. Instead it is used as a training site for officers and a place where those working for the Yard can study case histories of crime and criminals.
By 1951 the Museum had become fairly well known, as it had been the subject of a number of different movies and other radio shows. Harry Towers, never one to miss an opportunity to cash in on a trend, and with Welles under contract for a number of radio shows, decided to use the setting for his latest syndicated show, Welles, for his part, actually wrote and directed a number of the shows, and served as host for all of them.
The format for the show was simple. The opening found Welles walking through the museum, intoning as only he could “This is Orson Welles, speaking from London. The Black Museum… a repository of death. Here in the grim stone structure on the Thames which houses Scotland Yard is a warehouse of homicide, where everyday objects… a woman’s shoe, a tiny white box, a quilted robe… [the items mentioned in the introduction would often vary from episode to episode] all are touched by murder.” All the while, the chimes of Big Ben could be heard off in the distance.
At that point, Welles would stop and pick up a particular object, describe it, give a bit of background, and then the program would segue into a dramatization of the crime the object was involved with. Of course, since Towers and Welles both had a feel for the sensational, that crime was almost always a murder of some sort.
Once the dramatization was ended, Welles would return, giving a wrap-up of the case, and then state “Now until we meet again in the same place and I tell you another tale of the Black Museum, I remain, as always, obediently yours.”
Because of the somewhat scattershot nature of Towers’ syndication, though there were purportedly 51 or 52 episodes of the series produced, only some 38 or so are still known to exist today, though even that number has at times proven confusing, as the episodes were never given proper titles and have simply become known by the object they featured. Nonetheless, the episodes we do have are, as one would expect considering Mr. Welles’ participation, highly entertaining.
So once again, I invite you to sit back, relax, and join with me in revisiting the golden age of radio and enjoy a visit to The Black Museum.