The 1929 BBC Cox and Box Broadcast

Reported by Robert Morrison

CoxMartyn Green
BoxCharles Goulding
BouncerDarrell Fancourt

Wireless Orchestra
Conductor: Victor Hely-Hutchinson

Martyn Green as Cox
Martyn Green as Cox, which he played on stage from 1924–35
Darrell Fancourt as Bouncer
Darrell Fancourt as Bouncer

At the end of June in 1929 the interior of the Savoy Theatre in London was completely gutted and rebuilt to specifications by the designer Frank A. Tugwell with decorations by Basil Ionides. The D'Oyly Carte had last played G&S in the theatre in 1909 — their subsequent London revivals since 1919 had been staged at the larger Princes Theatre — and the 1929 season marked the company's return to the theatre after 20 years. The Savoy was officially re-opened on 21st October, 1929 with a performance of The Gondoliers.

The season also featured a rare radio broadcast of Cox and Box, as Martyn Green related in the following extract from his autobiography Here's a How-de-do: travelling with Gilbert and Sullivan, (London: Max Reinhardt, 1952):

The Grand Opening Season of 1929 was marked by the return to the cast, for the season only, of Derek Oldham. He had not played in Gilbert and Sullivan for several years, but had been in a number of Daly's Theatre shows, including Whirled into Happiness in which he appeared with Winnie Melville whom he eventually married; she also joined the D'Oyly Carte Company for this season. Leo Sheffield also returned to play some of his old parts.

It was a memorable season too because Rupert Carte permitted one of the Operas to be broadcast in a Christmas Day programme. It was not strictly speaking a broadcast of Gilbert and Sullivan, for the opera chosen was Cox and Box, which is by Burnand and Sullivan, though it is in the D'Oyly Carte repertoire. It was one of the first times R.D.C. had permitted any of his cast to appear on the air. I was not originally engaged to play in the broadcast, but — I was playing Cox in the theatre. When I heard that Sydney Granville was to do it on the air I took what I still think was righteous umbrage and went to see Richard Collet, our General Manager. I said that I thought if I was good enough to play the part in the theatre I was good enough to play it on the air. Collet agreed with me, but said it wasn't up to the Company, or to Carte: the B.B.C. had named the people they wanted, and one of them was Sydney Granville. He had played the part some years before, prior to relinquishing the juvenile roles and going to Australia, so there was some justification on their side, but I was still not satisfied, and, extracting the name of the person concerned in the B.B.C., I went and secured an interview. I was there told that it was nothing to do with the B.B.C. and that the choice rested with the D'Oyly Carte Office! Back I went to Collet and told him this, finishing up with, 'Anyway, either I play the role in the broadcast, or you find someone else to do it in the theatre. If I'm not good enough for the one, I can't be good enough for the other!'

That is one of the very few times I have ever successfully held my own with the D'Oyly Carte. Some people called it holding a pistol to their heads, as I knew very well that Granville either could not or would not play the role in the theatre — it would not have gone well with his 'Shadbolt' and similar roles — and I also knew that there was no understudy ready to go on.

Twenty-four hours later I was offered a contract by the B.B.C., and promptly sent it back demanding more money. I got it!

Many are the sound effects I have seen in operation since then, but that broadcast was nearly ruined by the means they adopted to simulate the noise of frying bacon. During rehearsals no one had taken much notice of the effects used, and this particular one may not even have been tried out, but at the performance proper, when the moment came to impress the listeners with the fact that Box was frying his breakfast bacon, an assistant held a glass of water up to the mike, and solemnly tipped in spoonfuls of Eno's Fruit Salts!"

The Times listed the following amongst the programme highlights and details for Christmas Day broadcasts in the edition published on Tuesday, December 24th, 1929; page 4:

Mr. Winston Churchill makes an appeal on behalf of the British Wireless for the Blind Fund at 9-20 p.m. This appeal will be followed by a performance of Cox and Box, an operetta by Burnand and Sullivan, after which Mr. Bransby Williams will be heard in "Scrooge".

LONDON — Call 2LO (830 kc.) (361.4 m.) and DAVENTRY — Call 5XX (187 kc.) (1,604.3 m.)

9-35 [PM]: — Cox and Box, by F. C. Burnand and Arthur Sullivan, with Darrell Fancourt, Martyn Green, and Charles Goulding; the Wireless Orchestra conducted by Victor Hely-Hutchinson, produced by Julian Herbage. [concluded at 10-10 PM.]