This story was published in Radio Recall, the journal of the Metropolitan Washington Old-Time Radio Club, published six times per year.
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BULLDOG DRUMMOND-A Gentleman with a Bite!
by John Abbott © 2016
(From Radio Recall, February, 2016)
The sound of a pealing clock, footsteps, a foghorn. "Out of the fog, out of the night, and into his American Adventures comes Bulldog Drummond!" Then two gunshots, a police whistle and running steps!
So begin the Bulldog Drummond radio programs, which ran between April, 1941 and March, 1949 on the Mutual Network. Bulldog Drummond was played by George Coulouris in the first episode, and then by Santos Oretega, and finally by Ned Wever after 1942.
Bulldog Drummond was a detective, described in several of the available program introductions as an "Amateur Detective, Soldier of Fortune, Champion of Lost Causes. The most celebrated adventure detective of fiction and the screen who now comes to his loyal friends thru radio with more of his baffling and intriguing mysteries".
But there are questions to be asked. For example, why the pealing of a Big Ben-like clock? What about the fog horn? What about the police whistle? The most telling question of all is, if these are his "American Adventures", were there others? An examination of Drummond's creator provides a number of answers.
The character Bulldog Drummond first saw the light of day in 1920 in The Strand Magazine. In that original story, the namesake was Captain Hugh "Bulldog" Drummond DSO, MC. He was an Englishman and a former World War I soldier who found peace rather dull. Captain Drummond, who was described as a gentleman with a private income, was a complicated man - almost as complicated as his creator.
Herman Cyril McNeile, MC (September 28, 1888 to August 14, 1937) was also a complicated man. He served with the Royal Engineers from 1907 to 1919, and while in uniform, wrote a series of stories under the pseudonym "Sapper" - a term used to describe members of the Royal Engineers. McNeile supposedly based Drummond on himself, a good friend Gerald Fairlie and the perceived image of an English gentleman.
In the original Bulldog Drummond story, Drummond places an ad in his local newspaper: "Demobilized officer finding peace incredibly tedious would welcome diversion. Legitimate if possible but crime of a humorous description no objection. Excitement essential" That ad, very much in the same vein as Box 13 some 30 years later, started Drummond on to a long career. McNeile continued to write, eventually ended up writing ten Bulldog Drummond novels between 1920 and his death in 1937. Before his death (of throat cancer probably brought on by being gassed during the war) McNeile and his family agreed that his good friend Gerald Fairlie should continue writing any future Drummond novels. Between 1938 and 1954, Fairlie wrote seven more Drummond novels. Later, Henry Reymond wrote an additional two Drummond novels.
As in the case of most detectives, Drummond needed an adversary, much as Sherlock Holmes' Professor Moriarity, or James Bond's Ernst Blofeld. In the first four novels, McNeile created the archvillain Carl Peterson, who is often accompanied by his wife Irma. Drummond eventually kills Carl, but his wife Irma Peterson appears in six of McNeile's books, and five of Gerald Fairlie's books. In 1921, McNeile adapted his first book into a stage play. It is interesting that at the same time it was playing at the Wyndam Theatre in London it was also playing in New York.
The next obvious move would be to enter the realm of motion pictures. Between 1923 and 1969, a total of 25 Drummond films were made either in England or America. In the film series, Drummond is accompanied by his butler Tenny. In a number of films, Drummond attempts to marry his fiancee Phyllis Clavering, but some sort of adventure seems to delay the nuptial until the next film. There are eight Bulldog Drummond films available on Archive.org, in the Feature Films catalog.
As noted above, Bulldog Drummond hit the American airwaves in 1941. According to John Dunning, the first several programs took place in England - hence the pealing of Big Ben, the foghorn and police whistle. After the first two months, the stories took place in the States, hence the "American Adventures" of Bulldog Drummond.
In the radio series, Drummond is unmarried, but in typical British fashion, he is accompanied by his butler, renamed to "Denny". Of the electronic versions I have located, there appear to be twenty-one unique programs based on the first line of each program. There may possibly be more, but I have been unsuccessful in finding an authoritative catalog. Jerry Haendiges' Vintage Radio Logs website lists 25 programs available, which is probably what is available.
While reviewing the files in my library, I found one that was rather interesting - not the story, but the announcer's part. In the program of September 28, 1941 titled "Hijackers", the following is read after the opening theme music: 'The music fades; your local announcer's voice superimposes itself over the theme music, just as my voice did when I started speaking. Your opening announcement would sound like this: 'Tonight the BLANK Company presents another in the exciting adventures in the life of Bulldog Drummond, amateur detective, soldier of fortune, champion of lost causes, the most celebrated adventure detective of fiction and the screen, who now comes to this loyal friends thru radio with more of his baffling and intriguing mysteries. We invite you to follow in the footsteps of Bulldog Drummond. We invite you too to try BLANK. At this point your announcer will describe your product store or service followed by forty words of selling copy."
Midway thru the program, the announcer returns and says: "The music fades and at this point in the program each week your local announcer presents a minute and a half of your selling copy. However as is customary on the premier performance of network shows, let's listen to the following suggested personal message to be read on the opening program by your local announcer or a chief executive of your company: 'Good evening ladies and gentlemen, tonight is a great one in the career of the BLANK Company. For tonight, we present for the first time the most celebrated adventure detective of fiction and the screen - Bulldog Drummond who will now be brought to you, our good friends and his loyal friends, thru radio. We've developed this program for your entertainment, to make your Sunday's more pleasant and to circle a weekly date on your calendar to get together with the BLANK Company.
The Adventures of Bulldog Drummond comes to you directly from the stage of the Mutual Playhouse just off Times Square in New York City, where every Sunday for your entertainment, we will assemble a sparkling cast of dramatic stars from Radio, Hollywood and the theater to bring you the very best, the most brilliant in mystery adventure stories, just as we at the BLANK Company always bring you the best in BLANK products.
Be sure to tune in every Sunday when Bulldog Drummond will thrill you again with another complete, pulse pounding story in his career of breathtaking adventure. Such is the program that we have arranged especially for you. And we of the BLANK Company sincerely hope that Bulldog Drummond brings you as much pleasure each week as it gives us in presenting him to you. And now, on with the show."
At the end of the program there are applauds from the audience and the announcer returns to say: "Again the music fades. Again your local announcer presents a half-minute sales message. We suggest you have your selling copy at this point feature specials, traffic items price merchandise or special promotions, strong Do-It-Today copy with plenty of sell …" Unfortunately, the program ends at this point.
The interesting aspect to this recording is that this appears to be a disc that was used to solicit potential advertisers for the series. While these types of disks are out there, they are rather rare and finding one is a treat.
All-in-all, the Bulldog Drummond stories are ar interesting listen even though Dunning labels them as Grade-B detective series. So, if you are tired of the usual fare, try a bit of Bulldog - you might like it!
Wikipedia articles on Bulldog Drummond and Herman Cyril McNeile
This England, Winter 2013, Literary Landscapes of England - Sapper (H.C. McNeile) and Bulldog Drummond