The Black Museum

The Black Museum

"The Black Museum" was a 1951 radio crime drama program produced by Harry Alan Towers for the BBC and based on real-life cases from the files of Scotland Yard's Black Museum. Ira Marion was the scriptwriter, and music for the series was composed and conducted by Sidney Torch.

Orson Welles was both host and narrator for 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."

Program 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 52 episodes had such titles as "The Tartan Scarf," "A Piece of Iron Chain," "Frosted Glass Shards" and "A Khaki Handkerchief.". An anomaly to the series was an episode called "The Letter"; this was the only story not about murder but about forgery.

American version

In the United States, the series aired on the Mutual Network between (January 1 and December 30, 1952). Beginning May 7, 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 programs at night to England.

In America, a program of similar scope, using many of the same picked cases as "The Black Museum", and nearly mirroring its broadcast run was broadcast by NBC called Whitehall 1212. The two shows were different in the respect that while Whitehall 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 dramatized and played out scenes of the actual murders and included scenes from the criminal's point of view.


*Two episodes, "The Car Tire" and "The Gas Receipt," were the same story with minor differences between the two. Another pair of episodes, "The Baby's Jacket" and "The Spectacles," were based on the same case, as were "The Tan Shoe" and "The Leather Bag."
*Four famous murder cases were dramatized on "The Black Museum": John George Haigh, the "Acid Bath Murderer"; George Joseph Smith, the "Brides in the Bath Murderer"; Adelaide Bartlett, whose husband died from chloroform poisoning; and Florence Maybrick, who used arsenic from fly-paper to allegedly murder her husband James Maybrick (who was recently suspected of being Jack the Ripper courtesy of the 1993 publication of "The Diary of Jack the Ripper").
*In "Open End Wrench" it`s mistakenly stated that the culprit was executed in Dartmoor. No 20th century executions were carried out in Dartmoor. Built during the Napoleonic Wars to contain French and American POWs, it was, after lying idle from 1815 to 1850, later commissioned as a convict gaol and used for dangerous long-term prisoners only.

*The below-listed actual cases were used as the basis for episodes of "The Black Museum":

:Thomas Henry Allaway - "Telegram" :Major Herbert Rowse Armstrong - "The Champagne Glass" :Elvira Dolores Barney - "The .22 Caliber Pistol" :Adelaide Bartlett - "4 Small Bottles" :Frederick Browne & Pat Kennedy - "The Car Tire":James Camb - "Spotted Bedsheet" :George Chapman - "Straight Razor":Christopher Craig & Derek Bentley -"Two Bullets":John Alexander Dickman - "Tan Shoe"/"Leather Bag":Samuel Herbert Dougal - "Lady's Shoe" :Miles Giffard - "The Service Card":Harold Greenwood - "Weed Killer" :John George Haigh - "The Jar of Acid" :Neville Heath - "The Powder Puff" :Harold Hill - "The Khaki Handkerchief" :Karl Hulton & Elizabeth Jones - "The Jack Handle" :Charles Jenkins, Christopher Geraghty & Terence Rolt - "The .32 :Caliber Bullet" :Patrick Mahon - "The Gladstone Bag" :Tony Mancini - "Hammerhead" :Florence Maybrick - "Meat Juice" :William Henry Podmore - "The Receipt":Dr Edward Pritchard - "Walking Stick" :Florence Ransom - "The Glove" :John Robinson - "The Trunk" :Alfred Arthur Rouse - "Mallet":Edith Thompson and Frederick Bywaters - "The Sheath Knife":August Sangret - "Brass Button" :James Townsend Saward (alias "Jim the Penman") - "Letter" :Henry Daniel Seymour - "The Claw Hammer" :George Joseph Smith - "The Bath Tub":Madeleine Smith - "Small White Boxes" :Frederick Stewart - "The Frosted Glass Shards" :George Stoner - "Brickbat":Norman Thorne - "The Wool Jacket" & "The Spectacles" :Pierre Vaquier - "The Dictionary":Nurse Dorothea Waddingham - "Prescripton":William Wallace - "Raincoat" :Robert Wood - "The Postcard"

* Episodes yet to be matched with true case histories are:

:Canvas Bag:Door Key:Iron Chain:Mandolin String:Notes - Kilroy was Here:Open End Wrench:Sash Cord:Shilling:Shopping Bag:Silencer:Tartan Scarf.

=Listen to=
*InternetArchiveOTR|id=OTRR_Black_Museum_Singles|title=The Black Museum



External links

* [ Thrilling Days of Yesteryear]

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