Dick Barton - Special Agent was a hugely popular radio programme on the BBC Light Programme produced and directed by such titans of British radio as Raymond Raikes, Neil Tuson and Charles Lefaux. Between 7 October 1946 to 30 March 1951 it aired at 6.45 (later 6.15) each weekday evening and at its peak it had a daily audience of over 20 million listeners. Despite popular belief, it was not actually the BBC's first daily serial, nor was it broadcast all year round. However, its spectacular popularity has led to it being much better remembered than any of its ancestors.
The serial followed the adventures of ex-Commando Captain Richard Barton MC (Noel Johnson, later Duncan Carse and Gordon Davies) who, with his mates Jock Anderson (Alex McCrindle) and Snowy White (John Mann) solved all sorts of crimes, escaped from dangerous situations and saved the nation from disaster time and again.
Beginning in 1948, the Hammer film company made three Dick Barton films and, long after the radio series had been replaced by The Archers, Southern Television made a television version in 1979. Dick Barton has also been adapted into a tongue-in-cheek stage play and a spoof radio comedy. Each version has featured the original's memorable signature tune, Devil's Galop by Charles Williams.
The series was devised by producer Norman Collins. The scripts were written by Edward J. Mason and Geoffrey Webb and, listened to in the 21st century can seem very hackneyed and clichéd, almost to the point of parody. It gave rise to a popular catchphrase of the late 1940s "With one bound Dick was free!" which made light of the fact that no matter how dangerous the cliffhanging situation Dick found himself in every evening, he would always escape by the easiest - and usually most contrived - method.
Early ideas for the character's name included "Bill Barton" and "Rex Drake". However, the production team finally settled on the more dynamic Dick Barton. After the series had been on the air for some time, the BBC (conscious that the biggest audience for the programme was schoolboys) wrote a strict code of what Dick and his chums could and couldn't do, one clause famously stating "Sex plays no part in his adventures."
In 1951 The Archers was first broadcast at 11.45 am on the Light Programme (later reconstituted into the still extant BBC Radio 2). The Archers was never as popular as Dick and his friends, but conservative forces within the BBC (led by drama head Val Gielgud) had never felt comfortable with Barton's sensationalism. The Archers was viewed as far more 'suitable' fare for post-war Britain and it was allowed to take over Dick's slot in Easter 1951. When Jock Gallagher became head of the Midland Region of BBC Radio in the early 1970s, he said that he had always hated The Archers because it killed off his boyhood hero, Dick Barton. The notion that The Archers killed Dick Barton is too firmly ingrained to ever be shaken off.
In 1972 as part of the BBC's Golden Jubilee, the BBC broadcast a new, abridged, 10 episode version of the very first Barton serial - "The Secret Weapon". The cast included many members of the original cast, including Noel Johnson as Dick Barton, John Mann as Snowey White, William Fox as Colonel Gardiner, Alex McCrindle as Jock Anderson and Margaret Robertson as Jean Hunter.
In the late 1990s, BBC Radio 4 broadcast a sequel/pastiche called Richard Barton, General Practitioner, in which Dick Barton's son Richard is a country doctor caring for his apparently senile father, who retreats into fantasies based on his past adventures, believing that there are devilish enemies lurking around him. The series was written by Edward Mason's son, and featured Moray Watson as Dick Barton and Robert Bathurst as his son Richard.
In 2009, BBC Audiobooks released Dick Barton and the Mystery of the Missing Formula (ISBN 978-1408410523), a reading of a novel based on the radio serials written by Mike Dorrell and read by Toby Stephens.
Beginning in 1948, the Hammer film company made three Dick Barton films, which were intended to be the beginning of a long-running series. Don Stannard, the star, was killed in a car crash in 1949, and Hammer decided to discontinue the series after the production of only three films. Hammer shelved plans to film the next Dick Barton film, Dick Barton in Africa written by John Gilling.
Like the original, it ran in 15 minute segments and was again accompanied by the iconic theme tune, the titles playing against an animated dagger and target motif. The production was blighted by financial troubles though and some critics said it was a mistake to try to resurrect the character.
The cast of the show were Tony Vogel as Dick Barton, Anthony Heaton as Snowey White, James Cosmo as Jock Anderson, John Gantrel as Sir Richard Marley. The 32x15 minutes episodes were transmitted by most of the ITV network on Saturdays and Sundays between January and April 1979. Southern, however, screened the show across consecutive nights from Mondays through to Thursday in the radio series' original timeslot of 6.45 to 7.00pm
- Adventure One written by Clive Exton, in ten parts. Demobbed after six years in the army, old friend Sir Richard Marley asks Barton to look into the disappearance of his daughter Virginia (Fiona Fullerton) and son Rex (Kevan Sheehan). They come up against master criminal, Melganik played by John G Heller.
- Adventure Two written by Julian Bond, in eight parts. At a late night celebration at the "Blue Parrot", Barton and his colleagues rescue a young girl, Lucy Cameron (Debbie Farrington) from being attacked. She tells them that her father, George Cameron (Colin Rix) has been kidnapped by the evil Muller (Guy Deghy) who is after the deadly poison he has developed.
- Adventure Three written by Clive Exton, in six parts. Celebrating from the last adventure, Dick's Aunt Agatha (Stella Kemball) rings up and tells him that her house has vanished. A further phone call from Sir Richard Marley reveals that scientist, Harold Jenkins (Peter Godfrey) has perfected his ultimate weapon and Barton and comrades soon find themselves up against Melganik again.
- Adventure Four written by Julian Bond, in eight parts. Dandy Parkes (Terence Seward), a middle-aged playboy and Amanda Aston (Marsha Fitzalan), wife of a respected Whitehall official are threatened by the Drew Brothers (Ernie Drew by Bernard Kay).
The complete series was released on DVD in March 2009, and in 2010 reruns of Dick Barton are being shown on the British satellite television channel Film 24. Rumours have suggested that a revival starring actor Nigel Havers was being planned, but to date this has come to nothing.
A stage musical, Dick Barton Episode I, Special Agent, written by Phil Willmott, directed by Ted Craig. Musical direction was by Stefan Bednarczyk. It premièred at the Warehouse Theatre in December 1998 to great acclaim. It was revived in 1999 and productions then toured Britain between 1998 and 2001. Following its success, further "episodes" were written and performed at the Warehouse Theatre:
December 1999 was Dick Barton Episode II, The Curse Of The Pharaoh's Tomb by Phil Willmott. Musical direction was by Stefan Bednarczyk. This was commissioned by and premièred at the Warehouse Theatre.
December 2001 was Dick Barton Episode III, The Tango Of Terror by Phil Willmott. Musical direction by Stefan Bednarczyk. This was commissioned by and premièred at the Warehouse Theatre. It later toured to Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guilford & Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon.
December 2010 was Dick Barton, A Fist Full Of Barton by Kit Benjamin and Philip Ives, musical director was Stefan Bednarczyk. This was commissioned by and premièred at the Warehouse Theatre.
The BBC's 1972 remake of the very first Dick Barton serial has been available to buy on CD and tape for many years. For some time, this was the only Dick Barton radio material that was commercially available. However, this has now changed...
In February 2011, BBC Radio 4 and a number of national newspapers reported that almost 340 episodes of Dick Barton (actually 338 episodes) recorded in the late 1940s had been recovered from the NFSA [National Film and Sound Archive] in Australia; these re-recordings, using the original BBC scripts and music cues, starred Douglas Kelly as Barton with Moira Carleton, Clifford Cowley, Richard Davies, William Lloyd and Patricia Kennedy. The BBC's AudioGo company have currently released a number of these on CD.
The following Dick Barton radio serials are now available to buy on CD (or as downloads) via the BBC's AudioGo label:
1 STORY 1: 'Dick Barton and the Secret Weapon' (AKA 'Dick Barton: Special Agent) written by Edward J.Mason and originally broadcast 1946. The serial was re-recorded in November 1972 with much of the original cast. This is the 1972 version. (RELEASED: 1989) (RE-RELEASED: 2001 and 2009) http://www.amazon.co.uk/Dick-Barton-Special-Agent-Crimes/dp/1408426102/ref=pd_bxgy_b_img_c
2 STORY 2: 'Dick Barton and the Paris Adventure' (which takes place right after "The Secret Weapon") written by Edward J. Mason. This recording was originally broadcast in Australia 14 March - 14 April 1949. (RELEASED: April 2011) http://www.amazon.co.uk/Barton-Paris-Adventure-Edward-Mason/dp/140846800X/ref=pd_sim_b_1
3 STORY 3: 'Dick Barton and the Cabatolin Diamonds' (which takes place right after "The Paris Adventure") written by Geoffrey Webb. This recording was originally broadcast in Australia 18 April - 19 May 1949. (RELEASED: April 2011) http://www.amazon.co.uk/Dick-Barton-Cabatolin-Diamonds-Geoffrey/dp/1408468107/ref=pd_bxgy_b_img_c
4 STORY 6: 'Dick Barton and the Smash and Grab Raiders' written by Ronnie and Arthur Colley. This recording was originally broadcast in Australia August - September 1949. (RELEASED: 3 November 2011) http://www.amazon.co.uk/Dick-Barton-Smash-Raiders-Audio/dp/1445865114/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&qid=1320237747&sr=8-5
5 STORY 7: 'Dick Barton and the Tibetan Adventure' (which takes place right after "The Smash and Grab Raiders") written by Edward J. Mason. This recording was originally broadcast in Australia 19 September - 14 October 1949. (RELEASED: 3 November 2011) http://www.amazon.co.uk/Barton-Tibetan-Adventure-Edward-Mason/dp/1445865122/ref=pd_sim_b_1
6 STORY 9: 'Dick Barton and the Affair of the Black Panther' written by Geoffrey Webb. This recording was originally broadcast in Australia 3 November - December 1949. (RELEASED: 5 January 2012) http://www.amazon.co.uk/Dick-Barton-Vulture-Edward-Mason/dp/1445865149/ref=sr_1_7?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1326376756&sr=1-7
7 STORY 10: 'Dick Barton and the Vulture' written by Edward J. Mason. (RELEASED: 5 January 2012). This story was first broadcast (in Britain) 29 September 1947 - 24 October 1947. Australian broadcast dates are unknown. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Dick-Barton-Vulture-Edward-Mason/dp/1445865149/ref=sr_1_7?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1326376756&sr=1-7
8 STORY 13: 'Dick Barton and the Li-Chang Adventure' by Edward J. Mason. (RELEASED: 5 APRIL 2012) http://www.amazon.co.uk/Barton-Li-Chang-Adventure-Radio-Collection/dp/1445865157/ref=sr_1_10?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1326376756&sr=1-10
9 STORY 14: 'Dick Barton and the Case of Conrad Ruda' written by Basil Dawson. (RELEASED: 5 APRIL 2012) http://www.amazon.co.uk/Dick-Barton-Conrad-Radio-Collection/dp/1445865165/ref=sr_1_5?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1326376756&sr=1-5
A completely new recording of an original 1951 Dick Barton serial was announced in June 2013, starring Tim Bentinck and Terry Molloy. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-22689138
- p.59 Hearn, Marcus & Barnes, Alan The Hammer Story: The Authorised History of Hammer Films 1997 Titan Books
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