The Campbell Playhouse

Campbell Playhouse Promo

The Campbell Playhouse (1938–40) was a CBS radio drama series directed by and starring Orson Welles. Produced by John Houseman, it was a sponsored continuation of the Mercury Theatre on the Air. The series offered 60-minute adaptations of classic plays and novels, plus some adaptations of popular motion pictures. As a direct result of the front-page headlines Orson Welles generated with his 1938 Halloween production War of the Worlds, Campbell’s Soup signed on as his sponsor.

The Mercury Theatre of the Air made its last broadcast December 4, 1938, and The Campbell Playhouse began December 9, 1938. The series made its debut with Welles’ adaptation of Rebecca, with guest stars Margaret Sullavan and Mildred Natwick. Bernard Herrmann composed and conducted the imaginative score, and later used much of it for the film Jane Eyre.

Daphne du Maurier wrote Rebecca

The radio drama was the first adaptation of the 1938 novel by Daphne Du Maurier; the author was interviewed live from London at the conclusion of the broadcast. The same creative staff stayed on, but the show had a different flavor under sponsorship. This was partially due to a guest star policy which relegated the Mercury Players to supporting roles. There was a growing schism between Welles, still reaping the rewards of his Halloween night notoriety, and Houseman, who became more like an employee than a partner.

Campbell Playhouse, 9th December 1938 – Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier


The primary writer, as during the end of the unsponsored run, was Howard Koch. Productions included The Citadel (with Geraldine Fitzgerald), A Christmas Carol (broadcast once with Lionel Barrymore as Scrooge, and once with Orson Welles himself in the role), a non-musical version of Show Boat (with Margaret Sullavan as Magnolia, Orson Welles played Cap’n Andy, Helen Morgan as Julie, and author Edna Ferber herself as Parthy).

Campbell Playhouse, 15th October 1939 – Escape


A Farewell to Arms (with Katharine Hepburn), Mutiny on the Bounty, Arrowsmith (with Helen Hayes), Les Misérables (with Walter Huston), Our Town, Ah, Wilderness, Dodsworth, Lost Horizon (with Ronald Colman), Dinner at Eight (with Hedda Hopper and Lucille Ball), Liliom (with Orson Welles in the title role and Helen Hayes as Julie), and Huckleberry Finn (with Jackie Cooper).

Orson Welles left the series in 1940

When Welles left the series in 1940, Houseman stayed to write scripts for the final season, which was initially produced by Diana Bourbon, one of the few women directors in network radio. Houseman wrote a script every other week, alternating with veteran radio writer Wyllis Cooper (he and Campbell announcer Ernest Chappell would go on to create Quiet, Please) . Later in the season, scripts by others were used, including one each by Norman Corwin and Ellery Queen. Reduced to a half hour, the series’ focus shifted away from heavy play and novel adaptations to lighter, more popular fare, still with casts drawn from the ranks of film actors. Listenership increased—ratings were actually higher than the Welles-hosted seasons—but the series was expensive and the sponsor canceled it in June 1941.

Look out for episodes of the Campbell Playhouse on the Drama & Western Channel from the ROKiT Classic Radio Old Time Radio Network!


Horatio Hornblower on the Drama & Western Channel

Poster from the film version starring Gregory Peck

The production Horatio Hornblower was broadcast by Radio Luxumbourg.  Horatio Hornblower was a 30 minute historical adventure & action radio series which first aired in 1952 and was produced by Harry Towers and starred Michael Redgrave.

Horatio Hornblower – Horatio Captures A Ship (1953-01-02)

Horatio Hornblower 1953-01-02 Horatio Captures A Ship

Redgrave played the part of  Hornblower, a captain in the British Royal Navy during the Napoleonic era. The radio series was based on twelve Horatio Hornblower novels written by C.S. Forester. These novels were, and still are, well liked due to their realistic tone and historical accuracy in telling the tales of Naval life in the late 1700s through the mid 1800s. C.S. Forester was well known for his novels about military and naval life, including such fine titles as The African Queen, The General. The Gun and the The Barbary Pirates.

Hornblower is iconic in the Age of Sail traditional naval fiction, and any writer in the genre must deal with comparisons to Forester. There are many parallels between Hornblower and

Author Cecil Scott Forester

real naval officers of the period, especially Thomas Cochrane and Horatio Nelson. The name “Horatio” was inspired by the character in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet and chosen also because of its association with contemporary figures such as Nelson.

Horatio Hornblower – Rejoining The Fleet (1953-01-09)

Horatio Hornblower 1953-01-09 Rejoining The Fleet

Even though the series was transcribed in England for the BBC, they were not interested in broadcasting Hornblower so it was aired in the U.S. on CBS, then again on ABC in 1954 and Mutual in 1957.


Sir Michael Scudamore Redgrave, CBE (20 March 1908 – 21 March 1985) was an English stage and film actor, director, manager and author.

Redgrave twice (1958 and 1963) won Best Actor trophies in the Evening Standard Awards and twice received the Variety Club of Great Britain ‘Actor of the Year’ Award.
He was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1952 and was knighted in 1959. He was also appointed Commander of the Order of the Dannebrog, Denmark in 1955. The Redgrave Theatre in Farnham, Surrey, 1974–1998, was named in his honour.

Michael Redgrave played Horatio Hornblower

Listen to the Adventures of Horation Hornblower on the Drama & Western Channel from the ROKiT Classic Radio Old Time Radio Network!


Theater Royal

Sir Laurence Olivier

New to the Adventure, Drama and Western Channel from the ROKiT Classic Radio Old Time Radio Network, Theater Royal!

The undertaking was tenuous, since the schedules of its projected stars were still in flux at the time the series aired its first broadcast from London. As the series ultimately developed it broke down into three distinct sub-runs: Season One hosted by Sir Laurence Olivier, Season Two hosted by Sir Ralph Richardson and a six-program ‘Command Performance’ series of rebroadcasts.

Season One — Sir Laurence Olivier Hosts

As it turned out, Sir Laurence was able to host only twenty-six of the scheduled thirty-nine programs before having to return with his bride to Great Britain. Sir Laurence’s great friend and thespian, Sir Ralph Richardson generously agreed to complete the remaining commitment, hosting and performing in many of the thirteen more programs, in various starring and supporting roles.

A network-sustained production, NBC spared no expense ensuring that both Sir Laurence and Sir Ralph had the finest support they could require to mount their 39-drama anthology.

NBC inaugurated the series in extraordinary fashion with Orson Welles starring in Alexander Pushkin’s ‘Queen of Spades’ with Laurence Olivier introducing the series from London’s Haymarket Theatre.

Haymarket Theater London

Sir Laurence continued to introduce the first six weeks of program selections until Week #7, when Sir Laurence himself was finally able to appear in one of his own series’ productions–in this instance, The Purse.

Sir Laurence continued to occasionally appear in his own hosted Theatre Royal programs until Episode #26, The Snow Goose, which Sir Laurence announced as “the last in this series. . . .” Though giving every impression that this was indeed the end of the series, NBC quickly and seamlessly recovered the series by the following week.

Season Two — Sir Ralph Richardson Hosts

Sir Ralph Richardson inaugurated Season Two with his own performance of Colonel Peregrine in The Colonel’s Lady.

Sir Ralph Richardson

Sir Ralph appeared in most of the Theatre Royal, Season Two broadcasts he hosted. The transition from Sir Laurence’s hosted Season One to Sir Ralph’s Season Two was fairly seamless for the most part. Though clearly not what NBC had originally envisioned for the series, the long-standing professional and personal relationship between Laurence Olivier, Ralph Richardson and John Gielgud served the series well.

The combination of the above mentioned personal and professional relationships made for a wonderful breadth and depth of the dramatic offerings from Theatre Royal for all thirty-nine original productions from both Seasons One and Two.

The Six Theatre Royal ‘Command Performances’

Upon the departure of both of the hosts of Theatre Royal, the producers arrived at the notion of airing six ‘Command Performances’ to complete the scheduled series of broadcasts. The ‘Command Performances’ were:

  • Queen of Spades with Orson Welles
  • The Overcoat with Michael Redgrave
  • The Happy Hypocrite with Sir John Gielgud
  • The Sire de Maletroit’s Door with Robert Donat and Renee Asherson
  • The Judgement with Trevor Howard
  • The Country of the Blind with Sir Laurence Oliver

The six ‘Command Performance’ episodes were separate and distinct from the two hosted runs of Theatre Royal. The way to determine if you have one–or all– of the six Command Performance recordings is from the introduction, which states: “This is the First [Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth, or Last] in this important series of Command Performances . . .”.


The Last Command Performance broadcast marked the end of the Theatre Royal series. The combination of the above mentioned personal and professional relationships made for a wonderful breadth and depth of the dramatic offerings from Theatre Royal for all thirty-nine original productions from both Seasons One and Two.

This was an historic anthology by any measure. The famous ‘four knights’ of the English Stage–Sir Ralph Richardson, Sir Laurence Olivier, Sir John Gielgud and Sir Alec Guiness–were four of the most influential actors on the world stage, let alone the English stage. These four amazing actors were also four of America’s most loved actors. The opportunity to hear thirty-nine broadcasts, specifically devoted to these four great actors and their friends and associates was a remarkable opportunity–moreso since it arrived so late in The Golden Age of Radio.

Listen to Dr Jekyl & Mr. Hyde from Theater Royal, first broadcast on the 30th January 1954: Click Here To Listen

Happy Listening 🙂