Benjamin Britten and Norman Corwin

Great news that the Halle Orchestra in Manchester are going to perform the music Britten wrote for Corwin’s seminal An American in England, edited together as Britten in Wartime.  Shameful though that the October 3 premiere comes sixty-one years after Britten composed it.

An American in England was a six-part series produced by CBS but recorded and broadcast from the BBC in London.  It purports to be a documentary but is in fact scripted and acted.  The writer-narrator is the legendary Norman Corwin, writer-producer of the We Hold These Truths, broadcast the day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour simultaneously on all US networks, which unsurprisingly drew the biggest radio drama audience of all time (63 million).  An American in England was part of a block of US-UK programming designed to inform the American public about British experience of the war they had so recently joined.  Corwin’s radio drama mentor – the inspiration behind all original American radio drama – was Geoffrey Bridson, of BBC Manchester, whose March of the ’45 is almost certainly the most listened-to radio play in history, not simultaneously but over decades.  In the early 1970s Bridson believed his play had been heard by more than a hundred million people and it has been broadcast many times since.

The October 3 premiere focuses on the episode Women of England, which happens to be the episode I have on my phone.

Hopefully the Halle will issue a recording of Britten in Wartime for those of us who can’t make it to Manchester next Thursday.  If so, they can certainly put me down for a copy.


Radio Drama, June 1944

In the comments on specially written plays, it was alleged that their average quality was not high: that they were too often self-conscious and unconvincing.  As one listener wrote: ‘My experience of plays specially written for radio is that the author seems more concerned with bringing off some original technical trick than with saying anything definite which may be of interest to me […]  Few prominent authors write for radio.  Why not?  One feels they are not wanted.  There is too much emphasis on the medium and too little on content.’

From the Listener Research Report, RADIO DRAMA, Some facts about the Plays Panel and their opinions, June 23 1944 LR/2695 [BBC WAC R9/9/8]