Val Gielgud (1900 – 1981)

EVHGVal Henry Gielgud (born April 28, 1900 in London, England, UK; died November 30, 1981 in London, England, UK) was a English actor, writer, director and broadcaster. He was a pioneer of radio drama for the BBC, and also directed the first ever drama to be produced in the newer medium of television. Val Gielgud came of a theatrical family, being the brother of Sir John Gielgud (who appeared in several of his productions) and a great-nephew of the Victorian actress, Ellen Terry.

Following education at Oxford University, Gielgud began his career as a secretary to a Member of Parliament, before moving into writing when he took a job as the sub-editor of a comic book / magazine. It was this job that led him to work for the BBC’s own listings magazine, the Radio Times, as the assistant to the editor Eric Maschwitz. This was Gielgud’s first connection to the Corporation, and although he was not yet involved in any radio production, he often used his position at the magazine to make his thoughts on radio dramas felt: in his autobiography, he later confessed to having written several of the letters appearing on the magazine’s correspondence page, supposedly from listeners, criticising various aspects of the Corporation’s drama productions.

Maschwitz and Gielgud were close friends, and even wrote detective fiction together – Gielgud would later on go on to be responsible in whole or part for twenty-six detective / mystery novels, one short story collection, two historical novels, nineteen stage plays, four film screenplays, forty radio plays, seven non-fiction books and be the editor of a further two books.

Gielgud was married five times, the e first in 1921 while he was still an undergraduate at Oxford, where he married Nathalie Mamontov (1903–1969), daughter of Sergei Mamontov (1877—1938) and Nathalie Sheremetievskaya; her mother’s third husband was Grand Duke Michael, brother of Tsar Nicholas II. This lasted for only two years, however, and they divorced in 1926. His following three marriages, to Rita Vale, Monica Grey and Vivienne June Bailey, produced his only son, Adam Gielgud. He was the grandfather of choreographer Piers Gielgud. He published his autobiography in 1957, and died in 1981 at the age of eighty-one.

Gielgud’s series characters were Antony Havilland, Inspector Gregory Pellew, Viscount Clymping and Inspector Simon Spears. (Source: Wikipedia and Golden Age of Detection Wiki)

For a detective bibliography click here.

Gielgud and Maschwitz each enjoyed a long career in the media. . . . They wrote five novels together [Under London (1933), Death at Broadcasting House (1934), Death As An Extra (1935), Death in Budapest (1937), and The First Television Murder (1940)], and although Maschwitz is better remembered as lyricist …, Gielgud continued to write detective fiction, his final novel appearing as late as 1975. He collaborated successfully on radio plays with John Dickson Carr, collected more than sixty year after their first broadcast as 13 to the Gallows (ed. Tony Medawar, 2008). He also formed a fruitful relationship with Sayers, producing radio adaptation of her novels as well as her highly successful cycle radio plays The Man Born to Be King in 1941-2. (Martin Edwards, The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books).


(Source: Facsimile Dust Jackets LLC. Rich & Cowan (UK), 1934)

Published in the UK in 1934, Death At Broadcasting House (known as London Calling in the USA) is a British murder-mystery novel written by Val Gielgud – brother of John Gielgud and at that time the BBC’s Head of Productions – and “Holt Marvell” – actually Eric Maschwitz, a lyricist and writer for films and the BBC. The plot revolves round a live broadcast of a play, using multiple studios (as was common at the time). One actor has a scene by himself, at the end of which the script calls for him to be strangled: he plays this alone in a separate studio, but at the end of the play is discovered to have been strangled in reality. The book goes through all the usual procedures of a detective novel, tracking the motives and opportunities of the suspects. The book is of particular interest because the authors have been careful to keep it realistic: the exact layout of Broadcasting House is made use of (floor plans are provided) and the technique of radio drama is accurately represented: it does provide an intriguing glimpse into the workings of the BBC. The novel was adapted into a 1934 film directed by Reginald Denham, starring Ian Hunter, Austin Trevor, Lilian Oldland, and Val Gielgud himself as the drama producer.

Death at Broadcasting House has been reviewed, among others, at Golden Age of Detection Wiki, and ‘Do You Write Under Your Own Name?’.

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