Whitehall 1212

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Overview | Significance | Background | Plot | Cast | Resources | Episodes

Overview

Whitehall 1212 (1951-1952) was a weekly OTR dramatic murder-crime anthology series written by Wyliss Cooper and told from the police point of view starting at the crime scene.

Significance

Connection to Wyllis Cooper, a highly regarded radio writer and director. Cooper was also noted for Lights Out (1934) and Quiet, Please! (1947-1948).
Takes a more intellectual approach to solving the mysteries of the crimes, rather than playing up their horrors.
Use of an all British cast, at Cooper's insistence, and its consistent narrative point of view from that of the police investigating each crime.

Background

Whitehall 1212 was one of four radio drama series focused on a collection of crime and murder artifacts held at Scotland Yard. The collection began with The Prisoners Property Act of 1869. This act empowered Scotland Yard to retain or store items of prisoners' property for training purposes. In 1874, The Central Prisoners' Property Store was established to house these exhibits. Commissioner Sir Edmund Henderson, other government dignitaries, and a few newspaper reporters visited the Crime Museum, as it came to be called, at Scotland Yard in 1877. Allegedly, turned away from the visiting party, a reporter from The Observer coined the name, "The Black Museum." The name stuck.

The museum was used for training police officers. It was never opened to the public. This sense of mystery, along with the reputation of Scotland Yard, and its growing and meticulously cataloged collection of crime items, provided a source of inspiration for popular crime novels and pulp fiction worldwide. From the 1930s through the 1950s hundreds of Scotland Yard's cases were chronicled.

The Secrets of Scotland Yard

The first was Secrets of Scotland Yard, possibly produced by Harry Allen Towers, and distributed by his company, Towers of London. During World War II, Towers repackaged and distributed radio broadcasts via electrical transcriptions (ETs; record albums) to British military forces overseas. After the war, he developed a successful career as an independent radio, television, and film producer in London. Towers saw economic opportunities in a radio series focusing on the largely unknown Black Museum collection. A syndicated (commercially sponsored) radio series, he reasoned, could give a hint of these secrets.

The Secrets of Scotland Yard was hosted and narrated by American actor Clive Brook. Percy Hoskins, a crime journalist for London's Daily Express consulted and is credited with writing most of the stories and scripts for the 110 episodes (72 survive). Hoskins later consulted with Wyliss Cooper, who wrote the Whitehall 1212 series for the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) in the United States (see below).

Distribution of Secrets of Scotland Yard was hampered by the state-owned British Broadcasting Corporation's (BBC) ban against commercial broadcasts throughout the British Empire. Towers turned to his network of ET pressing operations and broadcast outlets around the world as a way to distribute his program without violating BBC rules.

Episodes of Secrets of Scotland Yard were produced in 1947. As early as December 1948, they were broadcast by Lourenço Marques Radio (LM Radio), a "pirate" radio station located in the Portuguese colony of Mozambique. South Africa was the intended audience, and Secrets of Scotland Yard was introduced to English-speaking listeners over the next two years (if the entire series of 110 episodes was aired). More information at The Definitive Secrets of Scotland Yard website.

The Black Museum

Towers began working on a second radio dramatic series, The Black Museum, in 1948-1949. For this series, Towers contracted Orson Welles, who was in Europe to escape a listless Hollywood career and studio interference. Towers wanted to make radio drama he could sell around the world. He reasoned that Welles' creative ability, and name recognition for past successes could help. Welles wanted to make money to finance his independent film projects. A deal was struck.

Towers contracted Welles to appear in The Black Museum (fifty-two episodes; 1952-1954) and The Adventures of Harry Lime (fifty-two episodes; 1951-1952 season). Towers also produced "The Final Problem," an episode of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes with Sir John Gielgud as Holmes, Sir Ralph Richardson as Dr. Watson, and Welles as Professor Moriarty. The series aired Sundays, 2 January-5 June 1955 on BBC.

The Black Museum directly competed with Tower's Secrets of Scotland Yard which had already covered most of Scotland Yard's most famous cases. The Black Museum was forced to take a different approach. Welles' creative and acting abilities, along with dramatizations of morbid and gruesome cases, often told from the criminal's point of view, were designed to produce a sensational appeal for the series. This approach was successful and The Black Museum is much recommended over the competition.

As he had done with Secrets of Scotland Yard, Towers used broadcast outlets around the world as a way to distribute his program without violating BBC rules. Perhaps the earliest broadcast of The Black Museum was by Radio Luxembourg, a "pirate" radio station, beginning in May 1950. This provided exposure for the series in Europe and England.

Whitehall 1212

The third radio dramatic series focusing on The Black Museum was Whitehall 1212, written and directed by Wyllis Oswald Cooper (1899-1955) and broadcast by the National Broadcasting Company (NBC), 1951-1952. Percy Hoskins, a crime journalist for London's Daily Express consulted for the series. Each episode was a dramatization of a Scotland Yard case by an all British cast (at Cooper's insistence) and hosted by Chief Superintendent John Davidson, curator of the Black Museum.

Fabian of The Yard

In 1952(?), episodes of Fabian of The Yard, were offered via South African syndication(?). This was the fourth radio drama series to focus on The Black Museum.

Plot

Each episode considered a crime from the point of view of the investigating police officers.

Cast

Harvey Hayes
Patricia Courtleigh
Horace Braham
Winston Ross
Lester Fletcher

Resources

Whitehall 1212 radio logs at Jerry Haendiges Vintage Radio Logs website
Episodes at Internet Archive website
The Definitive Whitehall 1212 at Digital Deli Too website
Episodes at Old Time Radio Researchers Group Library website
Plot summaries and credits at Radio Gold Index website
Radio History of Whitehall 1212 at Radio Horror Hosts website

Episodes

Totals

Total episodes: 44
Surviving episodes: 43 (Episode 02 not available)

Timeline

8 November 1951-28 September 1952
National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC)

Inventory

Information and description for each episode of the series. Learn more.
Episodes at Old Time Radio Researchers Group Library website.

Exemplary Episodes

The first three surviving and the last three episodes from the Whitehall 1212 series.

  • Episode 1

    The Blitz Murder Case
    Episode 01, 18 November 1951
    A visit to the Black Museum and an exhibit of teacup fragments. A woman and her companion have been killed with a shotgun.

  • Episode 3

    The Mrs. Noami Fornier Case
    Episode 03, 2 December 1951
    Mrs. Noami Fornier's body is found in an old trunk at the Charing Cross railroad station baggage claim. Who killed her?

  • Episode 4

    The Murder of Duncan Frazier
    Episode 04, 9 December 1951
    Sidney Patterson's body has been found in a burning building. But, he was shot in the back! Mr. Patterson then turns out to be Duncan Frazier! The teeth tell the story.

  • Episode 42

    The Case of the Winchester Bottles
    Episode 42, 14 September 1952
    A "Winchester bottle" is associated with the murder of a four year old girl. A set of mysterious fingerprints on the bottle cannot be identified. Scotland Yard decides to fingerprint the entire town of Blackbourne!

  • Episode 43

    The Case of the Inoperative Wireless
    Episode 43, 21 September 1952
    A wireless set that was never intended to be operative is involved with the murder of a bartender by strychnine.

  • Episode 44

    The Case of the Electric Torch
    Episode 43, 21 September 1952
    A drunkard has been killed, by a man in love with his wife. An electric torch makes an excellent weapon.