New to the Adventure, Drama and Western Channel from the ROK Classic Radio Old Time Radio Network, Theater Royal!
The undertaking was tenuous, since the schedules of its projected stars were still in flux at the time the series aired its first broadcast from London. As the series ultimately developed it broke down into three distinct sub-runs: Season One hosted by Sir Laurence Olivier, Season Two hosted by Sir Ralph Richardson and a six-program ‘Command Performance’ series of rebroadcasts.
Season One — Sir Laurence Olivier Hosts
As it turned out, Sir Laurence was able to host only twenty-six of the scheduled thirty-nine programs before having to return with his bride to Great Britain. Sir Laurence’s great friend and thespian, Sir Ralph Richardson generously agreed to complete the remaining commitment, hosting and performing in many of the thirteen more programs, in various starring and supporting roles.
A network-sustained production, NBC spared no expense ensuring that both Sir Laurence and Sir Ralph had the finest support they could require to mount their 39-drama anthology.
NBC inaugurated the series in extraordinary fashion with Orson Welles starring in Alexander Pushkin’s ‘Queen of Spades’ with Laurence Olivier introducing the series from London’s Haymarket Theatre.
Sir Laurence continued to introduce the first six weeks of program selections until Week #7, when Sir Laurence himself was finally able to appear in one of his own series’ productions–in this instance, The Purse.
Sir Laurence continued to occasionally appear in his own hosted Theatre Royal programs until Episode #26, The Snow Goose, which Sir Laurence announced as “the last in this series. . . .” Though giving every impression that this was indeed the end of the series, NBC quickly and seamlessly recovered the series by the following week.
Season Two — Sir Ralph Richardson Hosts
Sir Ralph Richardson inaugurated Season Two with his own performance of Colonel Peregrine in The Colonel’s Lady.
Sir Ralph appeared in most of the Theatre Royal, Season Two broadcasts he hosted. The transition from Sir Laurence’s hosted Season One to Sir Ralph’s Season Two was fairly seamless for the most part. Though clearly not what NBC had originally envisioned for the series, the long-standing professional and personal relationship between Laurence Olivier, Ralph Richardson and John Gielgud served the series well.
The combination of the above mentioned personal and professional relationships made for a wonderful breadth and depth of the dramatic offerings from Theatre Royal for all thirty-nine original productions from both Seasons One and Two.
The Six Theatre Royal ‘Command Performances’
Upon the departure of both of the hosts of Theatre Royal, the producers arrived at the notion of airing six ‘Command Performances’ to complete the scheduled series of broadcasts. The ‘Command Performances’ were:
- Queen of Spades with Orson Welles
- The Overcoat with Michael Redgrave
- The Happy Hypocrite with Sir John Gielgud
- The Sire de Maletroit’s Door with Robert Donat and Renee Asherson
- The Judgement with Trevor Howard
- The Country of the Blind with Sir Laurence Oliver
The six ‘Command Performance’ episodes were separate and distinct from the two hosted runs of Theatre Royal. The way to determine if you have one–or all– of the six Command Performance recordings is from the introduction, which states: “This is the First [Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth, or Last] in this important series of Command Performances . . .”.
The Last Command Performance broadcast marked the end of the Theatre Royal series. The combination of the above mentioned personal and professional relationships made for a wonderful breadth and depth of the dramatic offerings from Theatre Royal for all thirty-nine original productions from both Seasons One and Two.
This was an historic anthology by any measure. The famous ‘four knights’ of the English Stage–Sir Ralph Richardson, Sir Laurence Olivier, Sir John Gielgud and Sir Alec Guiness–were four of the most influential actors on the world stage, let alone the English stage. These four amazing actors were also four of America’s most loved actors. The opportunity to hear thirty-nine broadcasts, specifically devoted to these four great actors and their friends and associates was a remarkable opportunity–moreso since it arrived so late in The Golden Age of Radio.
Listen to Dr Jekyl & Mr. Hyde from Theater Royal, first broadcast on the 30th January 1954:
Happy Listening 🙂