Many people, while enjoying old time radio, would like to hear new radio dramas produced. However, the U.S. has very few producers of new radio dramas. One of them is the Colonial Radio Theatre. The Colonial Radio Theatre in Boston has been producing new radio dramas for the past sixteen years. Recently, they’ve begun to make some of their material available through Audible, giving me an opportunity to, for the first time, sample their wares. I chose their Father Brown Mysteries Volume 1 download from Audible.
Father Brown is a challenging character to adapt for two reasons. First of all, Chesterton didn’t really write the stories to be dramatized, they were intended more as puzzles than as plays. Thus the stories often require a little bit of tweaking to even fit be suitable drama. Then, there’s a temptation to change the Father Brown character to make him more in line with current social trends, an irritating thing the BBC did with many of the episodes in its 1970s adaptation.
What the Colonial Radio Theatre managed to do in this set was to produce sold radio dramas that were faithful to Chesterton’s vision. Colonial Radio Theatre has recorded sixteen episodes, of which their first set contained four. They were:
The Blue Cross: Perhaps, one of my favorite mystery stories of all time. A French detective is on the trail of an International Thief named Flambeau. He figures out that Flambeau is attempting to steal a priceless relic from a seemingly comical priest. The story then takes several turns on the way to a conclusion that was probably quite startling for the original readers. On this one, I couldn’t help but feel the Colonial Theater drug out the ending too much and took away some of its punch. However, their ending helped me appreciate the connection between this story and the next one.
The Secret Garden: Father Brown is in the background at a dinner party, but that all changes when a headless corpse is found. This one is a very solid detective story as Chesterton wrote it, and I think the adaptation was nearly flawless. The mystery is slow starting, but is truly a mind-bender heading towards it conclusion. Keeping up with Brown and the Detective, Valentin as the identity of the murderer, and even the identity of the corpse becomes a question.
The Queer Feet: This story features another audacious crime by a master criminal and Father Brown is on the case before the crime is even discovered. This story includes a little bit social commentary by Chesterton, which the adaptors handled pretty well. This particular story gives you an idea of why William Link reportedly drew from Father Brown in creating a detective that occasionally irritates others, Lieutenant Columbo.
The Arrow of Heaven: This one was a very fine murder mystery. A millionaire is found with an arrow through his heart standing by window where no one possibly could have fired the arrow without a lot of help. This was perhaps the most entertaining adaptation on the set. Though, I admit, it may have been that unlike the other three, I hadn’t read this one before. There is plenty of wild speculations that Father Brown plays with, leading up to a solution that will have the reader slapping his head and saying, “Why didn’t I think of that?”
One thing the Colonial Radio Theatre did change, actually covered a mistake by Chesterton in writing the original story. Chesterton took a long break from writing Father Brown and when he wrote this story, he stated that Father Brown hadn’t been to America before, apparently forgetting that a short story appearing in the Wisdom of Father Brown, “The Mistake in the Machine.” The CRT was aware of the other short story and so they had Father Brown state instead that he’d only been to America as a prison chaplain.
Even knowing of Chesterton’s mistake shows the understanding and respect they have for the source material. The first set of the Father Brown Mysteries are faithful, fun, and well-done adaptations of a classic. Not only am I excited about the Colonial Radio Theater’s next Father Brown set due out in August, but I can hardly wait to listen to the Zorro and Perry Mason sets I’ve recently purchased.
The Colonial Radio Theatre of the Air offers first run programming over Sirius-XM on the Book Radio Channel. Details are available on its website.
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