Friday, 5 July 2013

Forgotten Book - Death at Broadcasting House

My Forgotten Book for today, Death at Broadcasting House (known as London Calling in the US) was a joint effort. The authors were two men who worked for the BBC, Val Gielgud, brother of John, and Eric Maschwitz, who used the pen-name Holt Marvell. Of the two, Gielgud was the great enthusiast for the genre. He was a good friend of Dorothy L. Sayers and John Dickson Carr, and ultimately earned election to the Detection Club. This early effort, however, is perhaps his most famous.

And that is because of the use of Broadcasting House as a backdrop for a pretty ingenious murder, when an actor is killed in front of an open microphone when . The setting is described in great detail, making the novel a wonderful period piece as far as a modern reader is concerned. No fewer than three floor plans are provided, and they are quite useful for anyone who wants to take a practical approach to sleuthing, and beat the likeable Inspector Spears to the solution.

I didn't find the murder mystery deeply engrossing, but the portrayal of life in and around the BBC at that time was absolutely fascinating. The plot, with all its contrivances, I'd rate as functional, but there is a great appeal in getting the "feel" of somewhere interesting, and the BBC under the legendary Lord Reith was certainly that.

Gielgud in particular was a capable writer, and it's a shame that his crime novels are now overlooked. He wrote five with Marvell/Maschwitz, concluding in 1940 with The First Television Murder, which I haven't read, but where presumably the clue is in the title. Later, he wrote solo, and his career lasted until the mid 70s. In addition to his long and successful career at the BBC, he also found time to get married five times. A busy man.

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