Radio Drama and Modernism in early 20th Century Britain

Tim Crook

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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The purpose of this thesis is to analyse the development of political audio/radio drama in the context of modernism. It seeks to make an original contribution to the knowledge of sound drama and modernism by closely studying representative texts before and during the Great War (1914-18), the 1920s and 1930s and subjecting them to discussion of the following theoretical themes: the modernist aesthetic and historicist and empirical context; Agitational contemporaneity versus Institutional containment (Macmurragh-Kavanagh, M.K.) and dramatic censorship (Tony Aldgate, & James Crighton Robertson). There are three phases that divide into the three core chapters of the thesis. Phase 1 explores the origin of the sound play in the medium of the phonograph at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries and how those foundations developed into the question of whether there were modernist dimensions to audio drama before and during the First World War. Phase 2 investigates the modernist sound playwriting during the 1920s of Great War veteran Reginald Berkeley and his political agitational contemporaneity in the context of the BBC as a media institution. Phase 3 investigates the modernist sound playwriting of D.G. Bridson and Joan Littlewood, produced by Olive Shapley, and under the editorial leadership of Archie Harding at the BBC in Manchester in the 1930s. They were involved in creating political radio dramas that also negotiated issues of institutional and cultural censorship. All three phases are framed by a broadening understanding of audiogenic and radiogenic modernism during the first three decades of the twentieth century. The contribution of new knowledge in this research is the investigative discovery of the aesthetic origination of the sound drama form as proto-audio drama before and during the Great War. The thesis analyses new censorship dimensions to Reginald Berkeley's experience as a modernist playwright writing for the BBC and makes a further contribution to new scholarship through the discovery of original modernist scripts by D.G. Bridson that were directly censored by the BBC through the banning of their broadcast while in mid-rehearsal and after Radio Times scheduling. The analysis seeks to demonstrate a modernist interrelationship between the phonograph age of sound dramatic production and expression, and that developed on the early broadcasting platform of the BBC during the 1920s and 1930s. A key imperative of the thesis is to address the question of whether the political subversion in theme combined with the origination of form can be successfully argued to be a clearly identifiable dimension of modernist sound drama.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Townsend, Christopher, Supervisor
Award date1 Jun 2020
Publication statusUnpublished - 18 Sept 2019


  • radio drama, modernism, phonograph, audio drama, Reginald Berkeley, BBC, D.G. Bridson, Olive Shapley, Russell Hunting, Joan Littlewood, A E Archie Harding, Lance Sieveking, Gordon Lea, The Great War, BBC Features, descriptive ballads,

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