In Twenty-Six Hours (1952), Major Gregory Keen of MI-5 is dispatched to post-war Berlin. The diaries of a mentally unstable American general have been stolen by a ruthless ex-German General by the name of Manfred Von Remer who is holding them for ransom. The inflammatory nature of the diaries could set the world afire if they fall into the wrong hands and its up to Keen to get the diaries with the initial plan of connecting with Remer, paying his ransom to get the diaries. However, it’s not that simple when both the Soviet MVD led by Colonel Pavlov and a neo-Nazi group led by Heinrich Schiller want the diaries as well.
This is the third Gregory Keen serial produced by Australia’s Grace Gibson Productions (see reviews of Dossier on Demetrius and Deadly Nightshade) and far away, it is the best. For modern listeners, the serial may call to mind the TV series 24 and it bears some similarity to that, but not quite.
Like the previous two stories, 26 Hours is told over the course of 104 12-13 minute episodes. However, the previous two stories were set over the course of several weeks and in terms of story time, an episode might be set a few minutes after the previous or it might be set a day or two after the previous episode. In Dossier on Demetrius for example, there was time for a character to get critically wounded, go through weeks of recovery, and return to action. However, 26 hours is told in much more of a real time feel.
There’s no ticking time bomb of that will happen if the mission isn’t completed in 26 hours. It’s just stated from the beginning that’s how long Operation Quantro ran.
The result is quite pleasing as it creates a far more focused story. While there are a lot of characters in 26 hours, there are far less than in the previous stories and none as inconsequential as the shyster lawyer and designing legal secretary that showed up as a plot complication near the end of Deadly Nightshade.
The setting of 26 Hours in post-war pre-Wall Berlin is a fascinating and the series does a great job painting a picture of a bombed out ruined city still being rebuilt and going through the cold of winter. It’s evocative and realistic.
26 Hours is an astonishingly good spy story with all you can expect from a pre-Bond adventure with car chases, escapes through the sewer , prison breaks, daring rescues, standoffs with hand grenades, and missions behind enemy lies. The story is packed with thrills, and also suspense, as the radio drama does a great job setting up one tense situation after another. The final twenty parts or so are absolutely gripping radio.
Unlike its predecessors, 26 Hours relies far less on characters making stupid mistakes. Keen’s opponents: Remer, Pavlov, and Schiller are all solidly written intelligent characters who are very dangerous. The degree to which Keen outwits them comes from his own nerve (and boy he has nerve.)
Bruce Stewart, in his final serial as Keen, turns in a fantastic performance. In battle, Keen as tough as steel. However, away from the fray he’s a bit fragile and shell-shocked. The hours tick by and Keen keeps going. He’s haunted by the tragedy he’s seen in the prior two adventures, and this one. He’s fed up but he has a job to do.
The serial also features a solid romance with Keen falling for Remer’s accomplice Anna Hoffman. He’s determined to find someway to save her from the death that will eventually await Remer and offer her a better life than what she experienced in war-torn Berlin.
As usual, the story features a strong chemistry between Keen and his right hand man Sergeant Tommy Cutts. The strong bond of friendship between the two and conflict between friendship and duty is often quite moving.
There are things you could nitpick about 26 Hours. There are a few accents that are a bit off but not too many and some dialogue that’s a bit forced. However, that’s overwhelmed by just how good this story is. It is solidly entertaining and engaging, managing to portray realistic human emotion. The result is a true spy classic.
Rating: 4.75 out of 5.0
If you enjoyed this post, you can have new posts about Detective stories and the golden age of radio and television delivered automatically to your Kindle.