The MP3 above was produced on 31st October 2016 from the aluminium EKCO disc entitled “New Shakespeare Theatre” dated 23rd April 1932. This is a very early outside BBC radio broadcast of a speech made by Edward, the Prince of Wales at the opening of the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford-Upon-Avon. The signal was transmitted to BBC Broadcasting House in London on a GPO (General Post Office) land line and broadcasted “live” on the BBCs pre-war radio network. From there it was captured “off air” by my grandfather F.O.Brown using his antenna, “radiogram” and EKCO “radiocorder”.
Following F.O.Brown’s introduction, only about 2 minutes of the speech is recorded. But it is enough to show Edward’s talent for public speaking and broadcasting. Extolling both the technical virtues of the new theatre and the language of Shakespeare, Edward incites nationalist feelings of nostalgia, pride, nobility, pageantry and heroism. Referring to the overseas gifts received after the destruction of its predecessor by fire, he even cites the theatre as an international inspiration.
Yet for all the oratory, Edward cared little for theatre and even less for ceremony. Having flown to Stratford in his plane he is reported to have headed off to the airfield before the opening performance was finished. Furthermore, despite the male dominated ceremonies, the new theatre was actually the creation of a young woman.
Serious in ways Edward was not, Elisabeth Scott is considered the first woman in the country to design a building of public importance. Aged only 29 she entered and won an international competition to design the new theatre. Her sensible straight-line geometries contrasted with the previous ill-fated “Merrie England” ornamentalism. Unsurprisingly her creation was rejected by the more conservative. That included Edward Elgar, who even rejected his post as the new theatre’s music director.
But despite its early reception the theatre has endured. Those who might have hated it then, cherish it now. Grade II* listed, it is described by English Heritage as representing the “best modern municipal style of architecture comparing favourably to other brick-clad contemporary buildings such as Battersea Power Station”. Strangely the comparisons between the two buildings run deeper. For while Elisabeth was designing the theatre, her second cousin Giles was designing the pride of the London Power Company. Furthermore, both Scotts now appear in the new 2015 British passport design, alongside their iconic creations and the ubiquitous Shakespeare.
Meanwhile Edward, who became the king that was never crowned, the most photographed celebrity of his time, seems to have left nothing concrete behind ... a collection of images, his ethereal radio broadcasts and his mythical romance with Wallis. Perhaps those are the only echoes left by people who are famous for ... being famous.
Greenbank Records, Plymouth, England