the Violet
The BBC Third Programme Radio Adaptation of A Voyage to Arcturus
Illustration from the Radio Times
Illustration for E H Visiak's article for the adaptation, by (Dorothea?) Braby

On Sunday the 24th of June 1956, the BBC presented a radio dramatisation of A Voyage to Arcturus, on its "highbrow" Third Programme service. Starting at 8:10pm and finishing at 10:55pm, with a fifteen-minute interval roughly halfway through (during which a recording of Telemann's Suite in D for wind instruments was played), the programme was recorded and re-broadcast the following Saturday (30th June), from 6pm to 8:45pm (this time, the interval music was Dittersdorf's Partita in D).

Although Bernard Sellin describes it as "the reading of extracts", it is obvious from the cast list that it was much more than that, as it required 16 actors (one doubling up to play two parts), and had incidental music composed for it. Among the actors were Stephen Murray (later to achieve fame as Commander Murray in the radio comedy, The Navy Lark) as Nightspore, Howard Marion-Crawford (grandson of the writer F Marion Crawford) as Maskull, and Jill Balcon (daughter of the British film producer Michael Balcon, and, later, mother to Daniel Day-Lewis) as Sullenbode. Heron Carvic, playing Panawe, later went on to play Gandalf in a 1968 radio adaptation of The Hobbit, while Jeffrey Segal, as Sature/Catice, would appear on TV in Rentaghost and Fawlty Towers. It is interesting to note that the creature of the "third sex", Leehallfae, is played by a woman

The complete cast list and details from the Radio Times (June 22, 1956) are as follows (I've provided links to more information about the people involved where possible):


by David Lindsay but a shadow on the face of Muspel

Dramatic script and production by E J King Bull

Incidental music composed by John Buckland

Conducted by John Hollingsworth (BBC recording)

Characters in order of speaking:
NightsporeStephen Murray
KragAnthony Jacobs
MaskullHoward Marion-Crawford
JoiwindJoan Matheson
PanaweHeron Carvic
OceaxeMary Wimbush
CrimtyphonDenis Goacher
SatureJeffrey Segal
TydominOlive Gregg
SpadevilRobert Farquharson
CaticeJeffrey Segal
PolecrabPatrick Boxill
Gleameg [presumably Gleameil]Kathleen Michael
EarthridOlaf Pooley
LeehallfaeMarjorie Westbury
CorpangDenys Blakelock
SullenbodeJill Balcon

There is a brief remembrance of adaptor/producer, E J King-Bull here. According to the BBC Genome Project, he was also involved in Third Programme adaptations of The Fisher King, Marlowe's Doctor Faustus, Lucky Jim, The Turn of the Screw, and others. The BBC Genome Project entries for this adaptation of A Voyage to Arcturus: 24th June 1956, 30th June 1956, 10th March 1957.

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In the same issue of the Radio Times, E H Visiak provided a short article on the "Introducing Radio Plays of the Week..." page. Rather confusingly written, I can't see how it can have aided anyone's appreciation of either the play, or of The Haunted Woman, whose plot summary Visiak mangles by stating that the mysterious musician seen at the end "is Crystalman". You can read it here. Far more interesting is the small illustration that went with the article (see top of this page). Signed Braby, it must be by Dorothea Braby, an illustrator of the day who often worked in wood engraving.

The adaptation was repeated the following year, on Sunday 10th March, at 3pm — presumably from the same recording. (And does that recording still exist?)

© Murray Ewing 2019