Back in September of 1943, BBC Radio 4 broadcast the first 30 minute episode from the initial series of the ‘Appointment With Fear’ radio drama, each one presented by Valentine Dyall as ‘The Man In Back’.  The weekly series quickly became a hugely popular success and ran for a total of ten series’ between 1943 and 1955.  This double CD presentation is reportedly the only remaining recordings of this one-time classic radio horror series.

The audio presentation contains the following four chilling episodes:

Edgar Allan Poe - The Pit And The Pendulum [first broadcast 18 September 1943]
Following his trial during the Spanish Inquisition, the prisoner is cast into a pitch black cell where he is to await his long drawn-out fate.  Exploring his prison by touch and hearing alone, he discovers that in the very centre of the cell, the stone floor suddenly drops away into the horrifying depths of a deep well.  However, the real tortures begin with the gradual decent of a vast pendulum sporting a viciously sharp blade at its end.  A pendulum which slowly lowers towards the prone body of the prisoner.  With his sanity on the verge of collapse, there seems no escape from the evil tortures…

Poe’s classic tale of haunting claustrophobia and nail-biting tension works so very well as a radio adaptation.  The complete and utter darkness that consumes a vast proportion of the story is masterfully brought to the surface by our protagonist and narrator.  The slight reverb on the voices gives a hint of echo, encapsulating the atmosphere of a cold and empty cell.  Dyall’s dramatic performance is nothing short of truly superb, with a constant sullen tone that is so very befitting to the story.  An altogether hauntingly dark and atmospheric production. 

John Dickson Carr - The Speaking Clock [first broadcast 13 April 1944]
When an antique shop owner attempts to blackmail both a young women and the man whose heart she has captured for equally vast amounts of money, things soon begin to spiral out of control.  Trapped and helpless to the blackmailer’s perhaps never-ending greed, the two contemplate one final and desperate option to take…murder.  But people aren't always who they seem…

More murder-mystery than horror, Carr’s tale plays with the grinding agony of entrapment; delightfully playing the characters off each other to set the scene, tell the tale, and ultimately bring the radio play to its final twist-ending conclusion.  Dyall clearly relishes in his role, layering on the sinister tones to create the creepy atmosphere that really makes this tale work so very well on radio.

John Dickson Carr – The Clock Strikes Eight [first broadcast 18 May 1944]
Waking up in a strange cell to find herself suffering from acute amnesia, Ms Helen Barton is informed that she now awaits the fulfilment of her sentence – that of her hanging.  Only she remembers nothing of her crime.  Dr Gideon Fell (who narrates the tale) suspects foul play and enquires into the poor woman’s crime.  For she has been sentenced to hang that very day when the clock strikes eight, for cold-bloodedly shooting her lover Philip Gale through the heart.  Time is quickly running out for Dr Fell and indeed Ms Barton...

Carr’s second tale is another ‘who dunnit’, head scratcher of a murder mystery.  Once again the atmosphere created by the performances is superb.  Although the dramatic twist ending is monumentally predictable, this somehow doesn’t really detract from the enjoyment of the story.  Richard George’s brilliantly exaggerated and adrenaline fuelled performance as Dr Fell is one of the overriding factors that makes this tale work so well.

Monckton Hoffe – And The Deep Shuddered [first broadcast 20 November 1945]
Ever since the horrific maritime disaster, Adela Madilon has been living out the rest of her days in a mental asylum.  The shock of the calamity that took so many lives will forever haunt the poor woman.  For surviving the experience has left her mentally scarred.  But there was so much more mental anguish that happened that fateful night to Adela Madilon than just the sinking of the ship and the subsequent death of her husband...

Hoffe’s intriguing and atmospheric tale of inevitable disaster plays out like a sliced-and-diced ‘Titanic’ meets ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest’.  Indeed, the premise is almost a carbon copy of the Titanic disaster, with Adela Madilon’s broken marriage slung in for good measure.  The story itself is delivered in a speedy concoction of brief snippets of storyline, creating an overall picture of the heart-shattering night that threw the poor woman into insanity.  The tale ends somewhat abruptly, after delivering what is not much more than a single-sided and quite simplistic storyline.  That said, once again the joy of the production is almost entirely with the cast and their sterling performances.  Another thoroughly entertaining and enjoyable presentation.

Each 30 minute episode is split into either 5 or 6 chapters.  The double-CD presentation also contains a short three page fold-out inlay with a brief but thorough introduction and history of the ‘Appointment With Fear’ series.  All in all, this is a beautifully presented and lovingly restored collection to a classic and inspirational 1940’s radio series.

 © DLS Reviews

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