Sunday, 6 April 2014

Death at Broadcasting House (1934)

This is one of those 1930s oddities that makes the viewer wonder how it ever got to be made. Not that it's a bad film (far from it, I rather enjoyed it) but it must have been an odd meeting where this one was pitched to the producer:
"Hello, I'm a radio producer at the BBC, I've written a murder mystery set at the BBC's lovely new central London studios."
"Why would I be interested in that?"
"Well, the wireless is getting very popular these days. Think of it, I'll fill the film with all their favourite radio stars and presenters, throw in a few songs and even give them a mystery story on top."
The writer in question was Val Gielgud (brother of John Gielgud), who was working as the BBC's Head of Production at the time. The resulting film really should be available in a box set along with The Arsenal Stadium Mystery, another thirties film that offers a murder mystery filmed in a familiar location. Although the filming wasn't actually done on location, due to the size of the rooms within Broadcasting House, the sets were an accurate representation of the studios and control rooms, thus giving the viewer an idea of the workings of the BBC at the time. It's like a better dressed, better mannered, version of  reality television!  With murder.
Donald Wolfitt

Even the sound effects staff get a look-in:

Since I don't want to give away the plot, I won't say much except that an unpopular actor is actually murdered in the middle of a scene in which he is supposed to be acting his own murder. The cast and crew all fall under suspicion, revealing a murky world of  rivalry and secret relationships .... plus ca change!! 
In the studio scenes we see the BBC dancers ...

... I suppose these were the Pan's People of their day. I almost expected to see Jimmy Saville creeping around them, trying to cop a feel.
Elsewhere we are treated to stars of the period:
Elisabeth Welch

Eve Becke

Gillie Potter

Hannen Swaffer

Percival Mackey

Vernon Barlett
The Gershom Parkington Quintette
Here's a glimpse of the cast:

Bruce Lester
It's good to see BBC presenter Eric Dunstan appearing as himself, saying Goodnight to listeners as the service closes for the night:

As well as the fact that he is dressed in a dinner suit for a nightly performance that no one sees, I like the way that, as soon as he has spoken the final words of the day's broadcast, he lights up a cigarette.
Currently available from the ever-industrious people at Network DVD:

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