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Wednesday, 25 April 2012

So British - Dick Barton

15 million listeners at its peak, Dick Barton was a blockbuster long before the days of blockbusters. The show was created by Norman Collins who in his position as Head of Light Programming was looking for a cliffhanger type show that would bring listeners back time after time. Together with John McMillan he created Dick Barton which had its origins in Vic Samson: Special Investigator which was a show McMillan had created earlier for commercial radio.

Dick Barton was the clean cut hero - he didn't smoke, didn't drink and never carried a gun because he considered guns are for cowards.

Dick Barton was first broadcast in October 1946 and was an immediate success and by the following year the show was constantly ranking in the top ten most popular shows.

After each episode people would gather on the streets, in the pubs and in the schoolyard and talk about what they had just heard - imagination was key and one newspaper review asked - did you see the giant squid?  Amazing to think that no one saw the giant squid, nor the Nazi killer with his Lugar, nor the cad who cut the breaks on Barton's car. It was all created with sound effects and the fertile imagination of the listener.

Barton was an old fashioned man, a traditionalist, who shared many of his adventures with women but didn't really approve of them - 'I like to see a woman with children at her feet and not mixed up in all this adventure.' And whilst this may raise a smile these days it was perfect for 1940's/50's schoolboys who knew the universal truth that girls were useless when it came to adventure. And of course a chap would always have to rescue them from some deadly situation or other that they had stumbled into.

The BBC initially made five series and the final episode went out 30th March 1951. After which many of the production team and cast went to Radio Luxembourg to work on Dan Dare: Pilot of the Future, another clean cut hero who although he originated in comic books he could very much be described as Dick Barton in space.

Now the BBC were notoriously slow to realize the historical importance of their output and very few of the master recordings were kept - something that seems insane now but it was common practice to wipe and reuse tape and not just in radio but in TV too - many episodes of Doctor Who for instance were wiped or destroyed. However many of the shows were recrecorded by a number of foreign radio companies and many of these shows still exist, allowing for CD release. Many of the shows can be listened to at the Internet Archive HERE

Barton of course didn't die with the radio show - in 1948 Hammer made the first of three Dick Barton movies and in 1979 Southern Television made a TV series. Over the years there have been stage plays, novels, comic book and the odd computer game.

The character has taken his rightful place among the ranks of evergreen, iconic characters - he's up there with Sherlock Holmes, The Saint, James Bond, Tarzan, Raffles and others of that ilk, classic characters who although away from our current pop culture will never be forgotten. In fact so ingrained in our collective pop culture consciousness has Barton become that when archive recordings were discover in 2011 it made the national newspapers. The text in bold below comes from The Daily Express

BBC radio’s first daily serial, Dick Barton – Special Agent, is to make a comeback after 338 recordings have been found.
Most episodes of the hit show, broadcast between 1946 and 1951, were thought to have been lost because the BBC archived only three of the 712 original episodes.
The recordings were found in the vaults of the National Film and Sound Archive in Canberra, Australia.

They are not original Light Programme broadcasts, but accurate copies made for international distribution between 1948 and 1950.They use the original scripts and music from episodes which went out in the UK– when Dick took on the Nazis, villains and even rats.
AudioGO is to release two CDs of the long-lost episodes in April. Publishing director, Jan Paterson, said: “Listeners had almost given up asking for Dick Barton.”

Audiogo have made several of these recordings available as both downloads and CD's - they have done an especially good job of the CD's with great packaging and interesting inlay notes. I've bought them all as they've hit the shops so you can understand how good I think they are - dashed good, old boy.

All together now - let's take the devil's gallop

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