Thanks to the wonderful channel Talking Pictures, I've caught up with the film of a book I wrote about in The Golden Age of Murder. And what a terrific period piece it is. I can't easily recall any film from the early days of the talkies that I've enjoyed so much. The movie is Death at Broadcasting House, based on the book of the same name by Val Gielgud and Holt Marvell.
In the US,the book was called London Calling!, possibly because in its early days Broadcasting House wasn't well known on the other side of the Atlantic. I am lucky enough to have a copy of the American edition of the book, inscribed by Eric Maschwitz, who used the pen-name Holt Marvell, and is best known as the lyricist who wrote A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square. Like Val Gielgud, he was a BBC insider, and their know-how informs both the novel and the film.
Gielgud actually plays one of the main suspects, Julian Caird. He was a decent actor, if not quite in the same league as his brother Sir John. (Incidentally, when I presented the Classic Crimes course at the British Library recently, the curator Kathryn Johnson showed us Gielgud's anotated manuscripts as well as his scrapbook - quite fascinating.)
The film is, if anything, better than the book. It's a fast-paced story about a blackmailing actor who is murdered while playing the part of a murder victim in a mystery play for radio. There's a nice mix of suspects, and a good cast including Austin Trevor and the young Jack Hawkins. In one of a number of interesting cameos,the splendid Elisabeth Welch sings a song. The script is sharp, with some genuinely funny lines. But above all the film supplies a great insight into the early days of broadcasting. It's very watchable despite its age. Great fun.