The original radio program was reissued in an audiobook format by Heritage Media.
The original radio program was reissued in an audiobook format by Heritage Media.

The Black Museum is a radio crime-drama program produced by Harry Alan Towers, which was broadcast in the USA on the Mutual network in 1952. It was then broadcast in Europe in 1953 on Radio Luxembourg, a commercial radio station, and was not broadcast by the BBC until 1991.

Towers was based in London, but this series was recorded in Sydney, Australia. In 1946 Towers and his mother, Margaret Miller Towers, started a company called Towers of London that sold various syndicated radio shows around the world, including The Lives of Harry Lime with Orson Welles, The Secrets of Scotland Yard with Clive Brook, Horatio Hornblower with Michael Redgrave, and a series of Sherlock Holmes stories featuring John Gielgud as Holmes, Ralph Richardson as Watson and Welles as Moriarty. [1]

Towers visited Australia in the late 1940s and set up production facilities in Sydney. The Black Museum was produced in Sydney by Creswick Jenkinson on behalf of Towers of London. It had a top-line Australian cast including Joe McCormick, plus American actor Harp McGuire. Orson Welles's introductions were recorded on tape in London, then flown to Australia to be added to the locally recorded performances. This was the first series to be produced in Australia in this way.[2]

The Black Museum was based on real-life cases from the files of Scotland Yard's Black Museum. The programme was transcribed in 1951 and was broadcast in the United States in 1952 on Mutual.[3] More than 500 of the network's stations carried it.[4] Ira Marion was the scriptwriter and music for the series was composed and conducted by Sidney Torch. This same music was used for the opening credits of, and incidental music in, the 1955 film They Can't Hang Me, starring Terence Morgan.

Orson Welles was both host and narrator of stories of horror and mystery, based on Scotland Yard's collection of murder weapons and various ordinary objects once associated with historical true crime cases. The show's opening began:

This is Orson Welles, speaking from London.
(Sound of Big Ben chimes)
The Black Museum ... a repository of death. Here in the grim stone structure on the Thames which houses Scotland Yard is a warehouse of homicide, where everyday objects ... a woman’s shoe, a tiny white box, a quilted robe ... all are touched by murder.

Robert Rietti played the lead roles and Keith Pyott was often in the cast.

In 2002, Towers produced The Black Museum for television and hired director Gregory Mackenzie to be the showrunner and director for the anthology series using the original narration by Welles. The adaptation was shot on location in London in a film noir style and the pilot starred Michael York as the Scotland Yard Inspector Russell.

Programme format and themes

Walking through the museum, Welles would pause at one of the exhibits, and his description of an artifact served as a device to lead into a wryly narrated dramatised tale of a brutal murder or a vicious crime. In the closing: "Now until we meet again in the same place and I tell you another tale of the Black Museum", Welles would conclude with his signature radio phrase, "I remain, as always, obediently yours".

With the story themes deriving from objects in the collection (usually with the names of the people involved changed but the facts remaining true to history), the 51 episodes had such titles as "The Tartan Scarf" and "A Piece of Iron Chain" or "Frosted Glass Shards" and "A Khaki Handkerchief". An anomaly to the series was an episode called "The Letter" as this was the only story not about murder, but about forgery.

Broadcast history

In the United States, the series aired on the Mutual Network in 1952.[3] It was rebroadcast on KABC, Los Angeles, California, in 1963–1964[5] and on KUAC (FM) in Fairbanks, Alaska, in 1967.[6]

Beginning on 7 May, 1953, it was also broadcast over Radio Luxembourg, sponsored by the cleaning products Dreft and Mirro. Since the BBC carried no commercials, Radio Luxembourg aired sponsored programmes broadcast at night to the UK.

In the United States, there was a contemporary programme called Whitehall 1212 written and directed by Wyllis Cooper and broadcast by NBC, that was similar in scope to The Black Museum. It was hosted by Chief Superintendent John Davidson, curator of the Black Museum. It used many of the same selected cases as The Black Museum, and it nearly mirrored its broadcast run. The two shows were different in the respect that, while Whitehall 1212 told the story of a case entirely from the point of view of the police, starting from the crime scene, The Black Museum was more heavily dramatised and played out scenes of the actual murders and included scenes from the criminal's point of view.[7]


The following episodes were broadcast:[8]


Based on original research and comparisons of the episode plot with the facts of the actual case, the below-listed Metropolitan Police cases were probably used as the basis for episodes of The Black Museum:

Episodes yet to be matched with true case histories are:[original research?]

Comparisons with source material

See also


This article includes a list of general references, but it lacks sufficient corresponding inline citations. Please help to improve this article by introducing more precise citations. (February 2012) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)
  1. ^ "Harry Alan Towers obituary". September 30, 2009. Retrieved March 21, 2017.
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b Dunning 1998, p. 95.
  4. ^ Sullivan, Ed (December 17, 1951). "Little Old New York". The Morning Herald. p. 4. Retrieved May 4, 2015 – via open access
  5. ^ "Radio Drama" (PDF). Broadcasting. August 19, 1963. p. 62. Retrieved 4 May 2015.[permanent dead link]
  6. ^ "KUAC Brings Back Old Days With 'The Black Museum'". Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. January 10, 1967. p. 5. Retrieved May 4, 2015 – via open access
  7. ^ Dunning 1998, p. 721.
  8. ^ "The Black Museum – Single Episodes". 24 July 2006.