Saturday, April 11, 2009

Basil Rathbone and radio

"Radio is unquestionably a superior medium to television because it makes us use our imaginations. . . . In the days of radio, The Theatre Guild of the Air . . . was ever striving for quality, intelligence, and good taste. I have played many times for them and every time I was invited it was a worthwhile experience."

Basil Rathbone

Before I tell you anything in this subject - listen to this. I have listened to it so many times that I know it in and out by now.
Broadcasted in 1939, Vivien Leigh and Basil Rathbone read love poems to each others, here.

Listened? Okay. If you can be interested in anything else after that, you may go ahead:

Basil Rathbone worked a lot with radio broadcasts during his career. In those days it was common to do radio adaptions of popular films (often with the same actors as in the film), and so did Rathbone. For example he, Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland appeared in a radio play of Captain Blood (1935), broadcasted in February 22nd, 1937 (listen to it on YouTube here), and in May 1938 Rathbone narrated a radio adaption of The Adventures of Robin Hood, the same year the film was released.

During the same years the Sherlock Holmes films were made, 1939-1946, Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce aired a lot of radio plays of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's short stories about the famous detective (them being more true to the originals than the film adaption!).
I have included an example of a radio play below.

"I have been told by literally hundreds of people that when we were doing the Sherlock Holmes series they would turn out the lights or if they had a fire sit round it and let their imaginations go fancy free."
- Basil Rathbone

Radio broadcast from January 28th, 1946. Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce play their usual roles of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson in this radio play of "Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber". (Does someone get the hickups during the ending?)

Since Rathbone by the time of the Second World War was too old for combat (47 years old), he contributed by making radio broadcasts, encouraging the people in war and making political statements.

Wartime radio broadcast by NBC with British stars Greer Garson, Leslie Howard, Vivien Leigh, Brian Aherne, Ronald Colman and Basil Rathbone.

But the radio wasn't an entirely serious business. Basil Rathbone made comical guest appearances in, among others, The Bob Hope Show and The Jack Benny Show. I have a fine example of Basil Rathbone finding Jack Benny behind a bush in November, 1941, here. (The entire program is included below.)
In 1939 Rathbone was on the panel of an intellectual quiz program called "Information Please". Listen to him answering a series of Shakespeare questions correctly here. Quite amusing!

Here follows a Jack Benny Program from 1941 with Basil Rathbone as a guest star, very funny! (But quite silly, too!) Rathbone appears in part three, but I included the whole program (just because). Jack Benny harasses Rathbone at his house. But he conceals himself as Charles Boyer, so it's cool.


Peteski said...

Just listened to a radio play featuring BR playing himself - was pretty cool.

Thanks for posting this stuff.

Christopher said...

I enjoyed that reading by Vivien Leigh and Basil...I love Jack Benny..and Basil Rathbone..what a fun pairing..Old Radio is fun to listen to in bed at night..Like so many used to do..very relaxing..

VP81955 said...

Not many people are aware that Rathbone also appeared with my all-time favorite actress, Carole Lombard, in a LuxRadio Theater adaptation of "That Certain Woman," with Lombard and Rathbone taking the roles Bette Davis and Henry Fonda performed on screen. It aired on Oct. 31, 1938 on CBS, some 25 hours after a youngster named Welles caused a ruckus on that CBS network with his adaptation of a certain H.G. Wells book.

I'd link you to a broadcast of "That Certain Woman," but I couldn't find one on the Web (it is available at many places on mp3 discs for a nominal price). For more on Hollywood and radio, specifically Lombard's involvement in it, go to and

Elizabeth said...

Oh I love Basil Rathbone on the radio (I listen to a LOT of old time radio). My favorite of his guest appearance was on the Bob Hope Show in 1941 I think it was?

I really like him in "Tales of Fatima", where he plays himself (an actor), but he solves mysteries!

Lolita said...

Maybe it was Tales of Fatima, that Elizabeth mentions here?

I agree with you! There aren't any radio shows like that today, huh?

Thanks a lot for the information and links! I will surely look them up!

I'm really glad that so many people react on this post! I find it very thrilling. But I find it rather hard to find these radio shows, du you have any tips? I found a little extract from mentioned Tales of Fatima, where Basil finds a strange woman in the back seat of his car, and another one where he makes bad jokes, haha.

Elizabeth said...

Lolita: My next blog post will be about where to find old radio shows, and hopefully you'll be able to find something good!

Keith said...

That is fantastic. I love listening to old radio programs. There was something so magical about them.

Peteski said...

Thanks, yep that was it. Will listen to the rest tonite. Can't wait ...

Lolita said...

You're blog post was gold! Thank you :)

Many radio lovers here! Yes, they are very cosy to listen too, also!

Good for you!

Anonymous said...

Hey, I just wanna add that I really love Basil Rathbone! To me he symbolises the perfect Sherlock Homes. The other versions were cheesy, gay or pervertic. Basil is perfect!

I'm glad to see that I'm not the only one in love with a dead actor!