Lance Sieveking

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Lance Sieveking (19 March 1896 – 6 January 1972) was an English writer and pioneer BBC radio and television producer. He was married three times, and was father to archaeologist Gale Sieveking (1925-2007) and Fortean-writer Paul Sieveking (1949-).[1]


Lancelot De Giberne Sieveking, D.S.C was born on 19 March 1896 in Harrow, Middlesex,[2] and was a very creative child, writing from the age of six, and starting a novel aged 13 which would ultimately see print when he was 26. In-between, he "actively support[ed] the Suffragette movement" before war broke out.[1]

World War I[edit]

Sieveking (as well as his brother, Valentine Edgar Sieveking) served during World War I. Lance signed up with the Artists Rifles[3] before "join[ing] the Royal Navy Air Service, [and winning] the D.F.C" before being "shot down over the Rhine" in 1917 and held as a German prisoner-of-war.[1][4]

Upon his return to England, he attended St Catharine's College, Cambridge, and was close friends with fellow-Cambridge student Eric Maschwitz.[5] The two were (with others) both editors on The new Cambridge chap book between 1920 and 1921.[6]


He made his name with the BBC, starting out as assistant to the Director of Education, before "he went on to introduce the first running commentaries and adapt numerous classics for radio drama... it has been argued that the production of the first television play springs from his ingenuity". He was drama script editor for ten years (1940–50) before retiring "six years later in 1956".[1]

He wrote The Stuff of Radio (1934), and his radio dramatisation of C. S. Lewis' first (chronologically) Chronicles of Narnia title The Magician's Nephew was approved by Lewis personally.[7][8] In 1927, he designed "an eight-squared drawing meant to assist BBC radio's football commentators," (as well as listeners at home, who could get a copy of the same chart in the Radio Times. According to one BBC commentator, the chart is considered a possible origin of the phrase "back to square one".[7][9] (although the OED credits the origin to the children's game of hopscotch) [10]

Another early BBC radio drama producer, Val Gielgud, said of the "not altogether fortunate" Sieveking:

"He was perhaps over much influenced during his most impressionable years by G. K. Chesterton,[11] and by the theory of that master of paradox that because some things were better looked at inside out or upside down such a viewpoint should invariably be adopted. Talented and imaginative beyond the ordinary, his eyes gazing towards distant horizons, he was liable to neglect what lay immediately before his feet."[7]

Harry Heuser interprets Gielgud's words in the following way:

"Sieveking was an audio-visionary, a trier of radiogenic techniques at whom actors and colleagues would "gaze with a certain dumb bewilderment" as he "exhorted them to play 'in a deep-green mood,' or spoke with fluent enthusiasm of 'playing the dramatic-control panel, as one plays an organ." There was not much use for such a one in radio. As Gielgud put it, even British radio broadcasting, "provided him with no laboratory in which experiments could be carried out." "[7]

In 1930, while radio drama was still relatively new, Sieveking found in the still-newer medium of television a place in which he could experiment with new ideas. To that end, (in collaboration with Gielgud) he brought an adaptation of Luigi Pirandello's short play L'uomo dal fiore in bocca (1923) to television as "The Man with the Flower in His Mouth", airing on 14 July 1930 - the first British television play. Very little of Sieveking's work survives in whole or in part (aside from some scripts - see below), but the short opening lines of this early work - narrated by Sieveking - have been saved for posterity and can be heard here.[7] In 1967, "The Man.." was re-made, "authentically re-produced and presented by the original producer, Lance Sieveking, supported by the original art-work (by C R Nevinson) and music recording".[12]


His papers (and those of his ancestors, dating from 1724-1971) are housed in the Lilly Library, and consist of "correspondence, radio plays, manuscripts for short stories, for novels, and for nonfiction works, diaries, drawings, and photographs"[13] as well as "many photographs from the World War I period showing airplanes, North Africa and from Lance's captivity as a German prisoner-of-war."[14]

Bibliography and filmography[edit]


Radio Plays[15][edit]


    • "North American Binocular" (No date)
    • "The Woman She Was" (1934)
    • "Eye of the Beholder" (1957)
    • Airborne : scenes from the life of Lance Sieveking; pilot, writer & broadcasting pioneer, ed. and ann. by Paul Sieveking. With an Introduction by David Hendy, London : Strange Attractor Press, 2013, ISBN 978-1-907222-26-9


  1. ^ a b c d Diversity Website - Lance Sieveking Radio Plays. Accessed 6 March 2008
  2. ^ a b Lance Sieveking at the IMDb. Accessed 10 March 2008
  3. ^ Barry Gregory. A History of the Artists Rifles 1859-1947. Pen & Sword, Barnsley. 2006. page 263
  4. ^ Lilly Library Manuscript Collections. Accessed 6 March 2008
  5. ^ Independent Radio Drama Productions: Val Gielgud and the BBC. Accessed 6 March 2008
  6. ^ University of Melbourne Library: Catalogue of Books on Cambridge. Accessed 6 March 2008
  7. ^ a b c d e Harry Heuser's Broadcastellan: ...keeping up with the out-of-date Blog: "Many Happy Reruns: Lance Sieveking, 'The Man with the Flower in His Mouth'", 19 March 2007. Accessed 6 March 2008
  8. ^ Owen Gibson (29 November 2005). "CS Lewis feared film would ruin Narnia". The Guardian. Retrieved 6 March 2008.
  9. ^ "Radio football down the years", Audrey Adams,
  10. ^ "Extract revised for OED Online". Oxford English Dictionary.
  11. ^ G. K. Chesterton was Sieveking's god-father. Independent Radio Drama Productions: Val Gielgud and the BBC. Accessed 6 March 2008
  12. ^ 'The First British Television Play - "The Man With the Flower in his Mouth"'. Accessed 6 March 2008
  13. ^ Lilly Library Manuscript Collections: Sieveking MSS. Accessed 6 March 2008
  14. ^ Lilly Library Manuscript Collections: World War I-era Collections. Accessed 6 March 2008
  15. ^ a b Diversity Website - Lance Sieveking Radio Plays. Accessed 9 March 2008

External links[edit]