• U.S.

John Brown in Britain

2 minute read

“Then something broke the peace; like wind it was, the flutter of rising wind.”

The sharp voice of a Yankee was unmistakable. It was followed by the drawl of a Southern Negro: “Some Yankee named Ol’ John Brown, he raised de debil back in Virginny and freed de niggers all over town; how he want to kick up such dizziness! Nigger business ain’t white-folks’ business.”

For the first time, John Brown’s Body was broadcast in England last week. The dramatization of Stephen Vincent Benét’s Pulitzer-prize poem filled an hour and a half over the BBC, but it was worth it. Britons heard an eloquent adaptation by an American: Joel O’Brien, former assistant to Norman Corwin. In the background was a remarkable musical score by 24-year-old British Composer Arthur Oldham. Even his original Negro spirituals, set to Benét’s words and inspired by listening to Hall Johnson records, sounded authentic. To Britons it all was more than a broadcast; it was a lesson in U.S. history.

This courageous presentation of John Brown was BBC’s latest effort to develop high radio art. Contrary to U.S. radio’s belief, the BBC has found that audiences like it, when they get it. Classical and modern dramas play to as many as 12,000,000 listeners, some rating second only to Tommy Handley, the British Jack Benny (TIME, Oct. 22).

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