Tag: Modern radio drama

Audio Drama Review: Imagination Theatre: The Investigators

The late Jim French is best remembered for his greatest creation Seattle-based, modern private eye Harry Nile. However, French produced many detective and crime shows during his remarkable four-decades plus in radio.  Imagination Theatre: The Investigators from Radio Spirits is a sampler pack of nine different crime shows that French produced over the years as part of his imagination theatre.

The set kicks off with three episodes of Harry Nile. These shows come from 1999, towards the tail end of run of Phil Harper (the original actor to play Harry Nile.) We’ve reviewed this series extensively before, but for those who haven’t heard of it, Harry Nile is a period piece set in the late 1939 through the late 1950s. Initially, he worked out of Los Angeles, but then he moved to Seattle where French’s research and attention to detail really shine. The episodes are superb. They’re tailored to provide a complete, compelling mystery in just about 20 minutes.

Next is three episodes of The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes which isn’t to be confused with the BBC Radio series of the same name.  This stars John Patrick Lowrie as Holmes and Lawrence Albert as Watson. I’d listened to one of these before and hadn’t thought much of it. However, I did enjoy these. While they’re not the greatest Holmes’ pastiches and a few of the British accents are a bit iffy, the stories do have a Doylesque feel to them. While I wouldn’t consider them in the same league as Big Finish’s or the BBC interpretations, it’s better than 1947-49 radio version with John Stanley. If you enjoyed that take, you’ll enjoy this one as well. 

Following that, we’re treated to two episodes of The Adventures of Dameron which I was happy about.  Dameron was French’s first radio detective. The episodes in this set aired in 1972 and were set in contemporary times. Dameron (Robert E. Lee Hardwick) is a freelance troubleshooter who takes on all sorts of cases. He’s like a 1970s Frank Race, though generally with better production quality. There’s a dearth of 1970s radio detectives, so the two in this set are a definite treat.  We also get to hear actress Pat French who later played the role of Harry’ Nile’s secretary and partner Murphy.

We further get two episodes of Mr. Darnborough Investigates starring David Natalie. These are cozy mysteries made in 2005 and 2015 but they could have been done in the golden age of radio or over the BBC in the 1940s. Darnsborough is a gentleman detective who calls to mind Campion and Lord Peter Wimsey. If you enjoy those characters, you’ll like Darnsborough.

Then we get a couple episodes of Kerides the Thinker. This series has a different setting for a mystery series: Third Century BC Alexandria, Egypt. Kerides (Ulrick Dihle) is a travelling Greek student who goes around solving mysteries, accompanied by Adria, a former slave girl (Sarah Schenkkhan) who was freed after Kerides revealed her former master is a murderer. On one hand, I love the idea for the setting and it’s clear the writers did their homework. On the other hand, the mysteries are so-so and the way Adria is written makes her seem insufferably whiny and unpleasant. Instead of being grateful for her freedom, she’s upset she has lost her place in the world and has no idea what to do. It’s an interesting concept, but the way it’s realized doesn’t quite work for me.

Next up are three episodes of Kincaid, the Strange Seeker starring Terry Rose. This one is a series about a TV reporter who investigates mysteries that always have a supernatural cause such as bank robberies that turned out to be done by ghosts. I’m not a fan of supernatural mysteries, and I also wasn’t sure how to feel about these episodes. They weren’t scary and don’t have a Twilight Zone twist. The stories seemed off the wall more than anything else. In addition, I was bothered by how Kincaid got hit with unwarranted skepticism despite a solid track record. Other than that, the production values were still good. This just wasn’t my thing.

Following this, we’re given three episodes of Raffles, the Gentleman Thief starring John Armstrong. These are based on the character of A.J. Raffles, a brilliant gentleman thief created by E.W. Hornung.  These were popular in their time but have faded from public consciousness.  The adaptation does a good job of capturing the spirit of the original stories with good acting and good effects. The first two episodes are adaptations of Hornung’s original stories and the third is a solid pastiche. I’m not a huge fan of Raffles, but I could appreciate the way they handled the character. My only complaint is that Raffles, particularly as portrayed in these stories, isn’t an investigator of any sort, but plenty of people who enjoy detective fiction love Raffles. If you do, you will enjoy these stories.

Then we have the Hilary Caine Mysteries which is my second favorite thing that Jim French Productions put out. It features Australian Actress Karen Heaven as Hilary Caine, an on-staff “girl detective” for the British Tittle-Tattle Magazine. The series was set in the 1930s and finds Hilary stumbling into a crime scene being investigated by Inspector Finn (Randy Hoffmeyer). At first, she seems to be a bit silly, but ultimately she shows her cunning in solving the case. These are fun, light mysteries and Heaven is wonderful in the role of Hilary Caine.

The collection rounds up with two episodes (including one double length episode) of the Anthony Rathe Chronicles which is a modern British drama that follows the career of a guilt-ridden attorney who solves crimes to atone for a case he got wrong. It definitely has a modern BBC feel. It’s a bit soapy for my tastes, but the mysteries are well-written.

Overall, this was a fun mix of programs. While I liked some more than others, it was interesting to hear or re-listen to such a variety of detectives. It’s great to have a chance to appreciate all the audio dramas Jim French put out over nearly half a century, when most people thought audio drama was a thing of the past. I also think the success of this set may help Radio Spirits determine whether they release larger sets for Jim French series outside of the quite popular Harry Nile and Sherlock Holmes series.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

This post contains affiliate links, which means that items purchased from these links may result in a commission being paid to the author of this post at no extra cost to the purchase

Audio Drama Review: Lord Peter Wimsey: BBC Radio Drama Collection Volume 1

The BBC has begun release its adaptations of Dorothy Sayers novels featuring Lord Peter Wimsey. The series originally aired between 1973-1983 with one story being recorded in 1993. All feature Ian Carmichael as Lord Peter.  The first collection features radio adaptations of Wimsey’s first three novels.

The collection begins with the first novel Whose Body. It opens with his mother calling him when a dead man is found in an architect’s bathtub and the dead man is wearing nothing but a pair of pince-nez glasses.

The story does a good job of establishing Wimsey as a detective as well as much of the supporting cast. The story has a light tone. One big exception is when Lord Peter has an episode of what we would now call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder related to his service in World War I. His servant Bunter (Peter Jones) served with him in the war and has to bring him out of it.

Overall, Whose Body is delightful and at five parts, it moves at a quicker pace than the other stories in the set. It’s a well-done and pleasant puzzle mystery.

Next up is Cloud of Witnesses in which Lord Peter returns from abroad to find his sister’s fiancé has been murdered and his brother is suspected of the crime.

This is an eight-part adaptation, and the mystery is much more involved and complicated. It works and it gives some insights into Lord Peter’s family and their relationships to one another.

The final story in this collection is the seven-part adaptation of Unnatural Death which has Lord Peter investigating the death of an elderly woman three years previously that was apparently from cancer. Her heir was her great niece who had served as her nurse. A doctor became suspicious of the true cause of the death and was pushed out of the town because of it.

The question of motive is at the heart of the mystery. Lord Peter recruits a marvelous spinster to help with the investigation.

The mystery is complicated and several elements are a bit iffy. The story also suffers from a lack of Bunter, who is absent from most of the tale. By no means is it a bad mystery, it is just not as good as the other two.

Beyond the mysteries themselves, the acting is good throughout. I also love the theme music. It fits the detective like a glove.

I have to say I was impressed by the quality of the sound and the sound effects. It was better than it was on the Poirot’s Finest Cases set that the BBC released a while back, which is odd. The Poirot adaptations came later. Whether this is due to advances in audio restoration technology or due to the Whimsey production team creating a better sound, the sound design is very impressive.

Whether you’re a long-time fan of Peter Whimsey or you like old-fashioned British detectives in general, these radio plays are a delight and I highly recommend them.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.0

This post contains affiliate links, which means that items purchased from these links may result in a commission being paid to the author of this post at no extra cost to the purchaser.

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. 

Audio Drama Review: Black Jack Justice Season 1

Black Jack Justice was produced by Decoder Ring Theatre in Canada. Like the Red Panda, it’s a period series. Black Jack Justice is set after World War II and is a detective series in the style of hard-boiled detective shows like Philip Marlowe and That Hammer Guy.

Unlike most narrated private eye series, Black Jack Justice features two detectives and each takes turns narrating the story. The series stars Christopher Mott as Jack Justice and Andrea Lyons as Trixie Dixon: Girl Detective, his partner. Writer Gregg Taylor plays their recurring police foil Lieutenant Sabien.

The format of the series works well. Both characters are hard boiled, but their styles vary. Justice’s narration tends to be a bit more world-weary and sarcastic, while Dixon is lighter and more smart alecky in her approach. It makes for interesting narration and also good banter between the characters.

There’s definition friction between them, and lots of sniping back and forth. Still, there’s a great amount of professional respect as well as a shared sense of right and wrong.

The first season features twelve episodes, unlike future seasons which would included only six. The episode titles in this first season employed many puns on Justice’s name, such as, “Justice Served Cold,” “Justice Delayed,” “Justice be Done,” and “Hammer of Justice.”

Almost every episode has a good mystery plot. The stories are intellectually engaging and often offer surprising solutions. Most have a tone and style that would fit into the golden age of radio. On some issues, particularly the role of women and domestic violence, it feels a bit more modern, but it doesn’t go overboard.

The music is great, particularly what’s used during the narration. It establishes the mood well.

The only episode that left me a bit cold was the series finale, “Justice and the Happy Ending.” The mystery was not challenging and the plot ultimately came down to how Justice would handle a temptation. However, it was somewhat predictable the way it played out.

Still, the season is overall quite strong. If you love golden age detective shows, it’s definitely worth a listen.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Season 1 of Black Jack Justice is available on the Decoder Ring Theatre website.

Radio Drama Review: Perry Mason and the Case of the Curious Bride


In The Case of the Curious Bride, awoman comes to Perry Mason for legal advice on behalf of “a friend” and aska a series questions.  The questions revolve around the ins and outs of what happens when a husband is declared legally dead and the legality of a subsequent marriage if the presumed dead spouse returns.

Mason clearly sees that: 1) these are questions that can’t be answered with generalities and 2) that the woman calling on him is asking for herself. When Perry calls the woman on, she leaves the office. Perry feels almost instantaneous regret for pushing too hard and seeks to find out who the woman is and what her problem is.

After some investigating, Perry finds the truth: the woman was married, her husband presumed dead, but in reality, he’s alive and blackmailing her after her second marriage to a weakling son of a wealthy man. Perry gets her to promise to think things over and not do anything until talking to him in the morning.

However, Perry wakes up the next day to find her first husband has been murdered and its only a matter of time before the police put their finger on her. Perry has to clear his client and represent her interests against non only prosecutors but a resentful father-in-law.

In this installment in the Perry Mason series, Mason is less crime-solver than troubleshooter. His goal is not to catch the killer, but to get his client off, whatever it takes. In The Case of the Curious Bride, Mason is reminiscent of what Jim Rockford would be like had he ever been admitted to the bar than the 1950s respectable Perry Mason that had evolved from later books. Mason cons his way through his initial investigation and then tricks the prosecuting attorney into shooting himself in the foot. In addition, Mason makes a rare foray into family law to achieve justice for his client.

Colonial Radio Theater has really gotten into the rhythym of these early Mason stories and they once again have a great period feel to them, even working in a good vintage radio pun when Perry Mason is telling Paul Drake about someone who was following his client.

Mason: Then there’s this matter of the shadow.
Drake: Lamont Cranston?

Jerry Robbins turns an another dynamic performance as the fast-talking Perry Mason. 

Overall, with great sound quality and dogged dedication to the original story, Perry Mason and the Curious Bride makes a great buy for fans of classic mysteries.

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.

 Note: The Author of this piece received a review digital copy of this drama.

This post contains affiliate links, which means that items purchased from these links may result in a commission being paid to the author of this post at no extra cost to the purchaser

Audio Drama Review: Perry Mason and the Case of the Howling Dog

In the Case of the Howling Dog, a man approaches Perry Mason with two seemingly unrelated requests. First, he has questions about the requirements for drafting a will including whether the will would be valid if he were executed for murder. Then he complains about his neighbor’s howling dog which is keeping him up at night.

Mason takes action on the howling dog, contacting the district attorney’s office. The neighbor insists there’s no problem and that Perry’s client is mentally unstable. Then Mason’s client disappears with the neighbor’s wife and later on, the neighbor himself is found murdered. Mason has to unravel the sordid affairs of the dead man, find the client he’s supposed to represent, and unmask the real killer.

The Case of the Howling Dog is the best installment yet of the Colonial Radio Theatre’s Perry Mason series. The mystery is incredibly complex and engaging with an amazing amount of twists and turns. At 78 minutes, this is  a fast paced thriller. Also, this is only the second of the four to feature actual courtroom scenes (The other being “The Case of the Sulky Girl.”) CRT did a much better job with the courtroom drama than in The Case of the Sulky Girl as the court scenes in The Case of the Howling Dog were more vibrant and engaging. Fans of legal dramas will appreciate Mason’s brilliant legal manuvering in the program’s climax.

Throughout the episode, as has been the usual case in these shows, Mason walks a thin line ethically. When confronted over this by Paul Drake, he expresses contempt for lawyers who wouldn’t skate on thin ice for a client. Certainly, the CRT’s Perry Mason series wouldn’t be nearly as entertaining if he didn’t.’

Rating: 5.0 out of 5.0 Stars

Note: If you are an Audible Member, the digital download of these programs are only $2.95 each which is a fantastic price for these great productions.

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.

This post contains affiliate links, which means that items purchased from these links may result in a commission being paid to the author of this post at no extra cost to the purchaser

Interview With a Modern Radio Star

Quick trivia question. What American radio actor  has played Allan Quartermain, Perry Mason, and John Barrymore? If you’re thinking Orson Welles, Elliot Lewis, Howard Duff, or some other golden age figure, you’re wrong.

The answer is  Jerry Robbins, who was born as the golden age of radio was ending. His Colonial Theatre on the Air has been producing radio dramas for fifteen seasons, bringing life such familiar characters as Zorro, Perry Mason, the Wizard of Oz, and Father Brown. In addition, the Western Series Powder River ran for four seasons from 2004-2007 and is coming back for a fifth.

What Colonial Theatre does is remarkable, both in longevity and quality. Most well-known radio revival efforts since 1962 have been splashes in the pan. More than their existence, they’ve rediscovered the art of radio drama. Whether you’re walking through the Noirish world of Perry Mason, travelling into darkest Africa with Allan Quartermain, or running with Jessica and Logan in Logan’s Run, the Colonial Radio Theatre (CRT) takes you there as only radio can.

Actor, Writer, and Director Jerry Robbins graciously granted my request for an interview in which we discussed Perry Mason (in which he plays the lead), the production of radio dramas and what the future may hold for the Colonial Theater:

Question: How did the Colonial Theatre get started and how long has it been in existence?

Jerry RobbinsJerry Robbins: We started as a business in 1995; although I started producing radio plays as a hobby in 1988 (a feeble attempt at A CHRISTMAS CAROL) and by 1990 I was making re-creations of the old time shows on a regular basis; shows like THE LUX RADIO THEATRE, SCREEN GUILD PLAYERS.  In those days – before home computers were commonplace and before the internet, the only way I could get a radio script was to buy an old LUX show on a cassette, then transcribe the script out on the typewriter, then recording and editing. The early shows were horrid, but after a while they were getting a lot better! By the time it was decided we would do “Colonial Radio Theatre” for commercial release in 1995, I had already done well over a hundred or so of those old time programs.  By transcribing all those old programs into scripts, I learned how to write for radio drama that training came in very handy when I wrote my first original dramatic program, BATTLE ROAD. This week we are recording out 425th production.  We are in our 16th year as an official company.

Question: You play the role of Perry Mason in four radio dramas so far. As an actor, how do you approach a role that’s been defined so much by Raymond Burr’s iconic performance? Has Perry Mason been a role you’ve always wanted to play?

JR: I’ve actually done five so far – CASE OF THE CURIOUS BRIDE will be released in December.  Approaching the role was easy – you will not believe this, but I have never seen a complete PERRY MASON episode with Raymond Burr. Just a clip here and there over the years.

The first story we did, VELVET CLAWS ,  takes place in 1933, and I was thinking of Clark Gable in the role – and that is who I have in mind when I play Perry – Clark Gable! I think he would have made a great Perry Mason if MGM had made the pictures.  I can’t say I always wanted to play Perry, but I am thrilled to be able to in these productions, you can be sure on that!

Question: Also, when you’re adapting a story like Perry Mason or Zorro that has appeared in other medias so often, do you try stick closely to the book or do you influenced by previous adaptations?

JR: On our ZORRO productions, which I adapted for audio, we stayed with the original books 100% as far as the storyline goes.  I am pretty sure that we were the first audio company to produce a modern ZORRO recording since the BBC did THE MARK OF ZORRO in the 70’s. I decided to pass on doing yet another remake of MARK OF – and thought a more obscure story that was not so legendary would be fun – thus ZORRO AND THE PIRATE RAIDERS and then ZORRO RIDES AGAIN.

The first script took seven drafts, as the Zorro people were very picky on how the role would be written (we were working off of the original book THE PIRATE RAIDERS, but they wanted Zorro portrayed more as he is today – so we went through a lot of changes to make that happen, as I was trying to stay as close to the book as possible.  I am not a Zorro fan, so I didn’t know that “Zorro doesn’t do this, Zorro doesn’t do that, Zorro’s horse is this, not that” – I was just going by the book they sent me – I was not inventing new things for Zorro to do – but they were not happy with the way Zorro was portrayed in the book, thus the re-writes. Anyway, draft seven was approved and we went into production.  Now it seems like everyone and his brother is doing a ZORRO audio production and the owners of ZORRO do not seem as picky with the stories as they were with the first one.

Our PERRY MASON programs also stay with the original books, however I know in some cases M.J. Elliott (who writes our PERRY MASON scripts) sometimes combines / condenses scenes so they will play smoother in a radio drama format – but we do not add our own ideas regarding story into the script. As far as I am concerned, these stories were wonderful long before we ever came along. Why change what already works?

Question: One thing I was kind of curious about is that I see you’ll have the third volume of Father Brown mysteries coming out soon and one of the cases is, “The Oracle of the Dog.” In the story, Father Brown solves the crime without ever going to the scene or interviewing the suspects. How did you deal with that in adapting that story?

JR: Since M. J. Elliott writes all the scripts for our FATHER BROWN series, I sent the question along to him. His response:

“It was best, in the interests of drama, that he should be there to witness events as they unfold, without making any substantial alterations to Chesterton’s excellent tale. We therefore had Father Brown visiting the house where the murder occurs in order to study its extensive library for a sermon he’s working on. He’s right in the thick of things from the start and, unknowingly, almost witnesses the murder. We had a similar problem with the classic The Invisible Man, because Father Brown appears surprisingly late in the adventure. In order to keep him at the forefront (these are, after all, The Father Brown Mysteries), we had him apparently narrate the story, although we learn at the end that all this time he’s actually been explaining his deductions to the killer.”

Question: From start to finish, how long does it take to produce a drama like Zorro or Perry Mason?

JR: Every show is different. ZORRO AND THE PIRATE RAIDERS was recorded in one day. Post production on ZORRO took three months – mainly due to the fact that the score was being written at the exact same time.  ZORRO RIDES AGAIN was recorded in a single session as well, in about four hours. Post production was just shy of three months, and the music from PIRATE RAIDERS was re-used, which also saved time. Our ZORRO productions had about 70 or so music cuts.  On the flip side, we just released our fourth production with Ray Bradbury – THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES. That one took 21 recording sessions and was edited over seven months. A half hour episode of a series episode, like POWDER RIVER can a week, or two weeks, depending on the episode. On a series, we tape three or four episodes in a single session.

A PERRY MASON production is also recorded in a single session, and editing can take about a week – sometimes a week and a half.  Seth Adam Sher is our producer on the PERRY MASON series, and he does great work. He also produced our ZORRO productions. They are not easy to edit, trust me!

Question: How many people work regularly for the Colonial Radio Theater?

JR:  We currently work with 5 Producers (post production), 4 writers, two illustrators for cover art, myself as artistic director (I oversee all productions and final release product), and Mark Vander Berg who handles the business end of things. Jeff Gage is our music composer and has been with us since day one.  From 1995 till about the middle of 2006 I edited and wrote all the productions. It wasn’t till we were into the third season of our western series, POWDER RIVER, that another editor came onboard. I haven’t edited a show since.  It gave me more time for my writing and developing the production end of the business. We have an active list of 65 actors who work with us on a regular basis.

Question: Looking back over all the programs you’ve recorded, do you have any favorites? Also, as an actor was there any role that you particularly enjoyed?

JR: I don’t know as I have any special favorite production; but I would have to say those we did with Ray Bradbury are at the top of the list, as is the production we did with Walter Koenig, BUCK ALICE AND THE ACTOR ROBOT.  I am also partial to THE PRINCE AND THE PAUPER and CAPTAIN BLOOD.   Favorite role would be Peter Blood in CAPTAIN BLOOD, and John Barrymore in William Luce’s BARRYMORE, which he adapted for audio for us from his Broadway play.

Question: Have you ever played a role over the radio that would have been hard for you to play in a movie or on television?

JR: Probably Britt MacMasters in our POWDER RIVER western series. I am not the worlds best horseman, but I sure can ride a radio horse!

Question: There are a lot of fans of Nero Wolfe in my audience. Have you given any thought to adapting Nero Wolfe stories to the radio?

JR: M.J. Elliott, who writes our PERRY MASON scripts has pitched that idea. I never looked into it, but I wouldn’t rule it out either. It’s not for lack of interest; we just have a schedule that is already into 2013.

Question: You have a very good list of many of your planned released into 2012. Outside of this list, do you have any projects that are in the planning and production stages, particularly in the detective genre?

JR: We are continuing with the FATHER BROWN series. We have 16 recorded, currently being released in sets of four from Brilliance Audio.  I am also hoping to continue the PERRY MASON series.  We talked with the folks who own the Agatha Christie works, but they did not seem very interested in getting back to us (and we were looking to do the titles not produced by the BBC – as I don’t want to step into someone elses territory).  We looked into Charlie Chan, and were a week away from recording when we were warned off because, although the book HOUSE WITHOUT A KEY is in Public Domain, the character of Chan is not. We then contacted the owner of the name to make a deal for the audio rights, but never heard back, so we put everything on the shelf. I am not going to chase anyone around, no matter who they are.  We also spoke with a very famous author / director who was interested in us producing one of his books, however we had to get clearance for it from one of Hollywood’s top studios who still held film rights (the picture had been made years ago); well, that was about four months ago and we’re still waiting for that phone call.  A reminder call to the studios law rep. was met with a ferocious growl from someone’s assistant; so if that’s how they do business, I’m not playing ball.  It would have been a fun project to work on, but we can also survive without it.

I was very excited when we went into production with PERRY MASON, and thought we could come up with a whole line of cool mysteries and detective shows, which are perfect radio listening, and trust me, the fact that we are not producing as many as I would like is not from lack of trying.

Question: Is there anything else you’d like to add for our audience?

JR: Just for them to know that radio theatre isn’t dead. Radio drama, comedy, musicals, adventure, history  – it’s still here – it never went away. Sure, we may have hit a bump or a pot hole here and there, but there are some great producers of modern mystery and detective shows still in full time, active production; Jim French for example, and his IMAGINATION THEATRE, Angelo Panetta and his RADIO REPERATORY COMPANY OF AMERICA produce some great adventures. The “Golden Age” may be long gone – but someone forgot to tell us!

Thanks for sharing. We look forward to hearing more great radio from you for years to come.

Colonial Radio Theatre programming airs on Sirius XM Book Radio Channel 80. A full schedule is available on their website.  You can follow their blog and podcast online.

Note: If you are an Audible Member, digital downloads are available at bargain prices on most Colonial Radio Theater productions.

This post contains affiliate links, which means that items purchased from these links may result in a commission being paid to the author of this post at no extra cost to the purchaser.

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