A ghost story which was broadcast on BBC Radio from Belfast on Christmas Eve in 1937 is to be brought back to life “only feet away” from the studio in which it was first produced.
‘Not One Returns to Tell’ was written by Denis Johnston, who at the time was relatively new to the BBC team in Northern Ireland.
In the radio play which is presented as a live outside broadcast, Mr Johnston reports from fictional locations in north Antrim including O’Cahan’s Castle and the Nine Glens Hotel.
The listener learns that the castle has been derelict for 80 years and as the ghostly goings on are described in chilling detail it becomes clear why.
Mr Johnston’s lost script – an extremely experimental piece of work likened to his friend Orson Welles’ War Of The Worlds – was found by Reggie Chamberlain-King, who is part of a theatre group now set to recreate the 1937 play this Wednesday in BBC’s Broadcasting House.
Mr Chamberlain-King said: “The show on Wednesday will be the culmination of work I’ve been doing since 2014, when I uncovered the lost Denis Johnston script in the archives at Trinity.
“It is a ghost story presented as a real live outside broadcast, much in the way that the later War of the Worlds and Ghostwatch were executed.
“It would have been broadcast to tens of thousands of people across NI regionally on Christmas Eve 1937 with the intention of give them a good Christmas scare.”
He said: “In the script, they give the hotel a false name to avoid ‘gathering a crowd’.
“They call it The Nine Glens in Dalriada, but I think the Ballygally (which itself has a ghostly history) could be a good fit.”
In the original play, familiar radio personalities appeared as themselves, together in the castle and nearby hotel to investigate the story of a ghost that appears there every Christmas Eve – the spirit of a young girl that was hanged.
It begins in jovial fashion as those gathered await the ghost’s appearance before turning into what one reviewer described as “one of the most frightening broadcasts I’ve ever heard”.
The listing in The Radio Times in 1937 warned people who might be “prone to nervousness ... not to listen to this programme”.
After the regional broadcast in NI, the BBC head of Religious Broadcasting Rev FE Iremonger threatened not to put out a national broadcast of the play fearing backlash from the spiritualist movement which was very vocal in Britain at the time.
Wireless Mystery Theatre will be recreating the performance live in front of a studio audience.
The theatre company was founded by writer/director Aislinn Clarke in 2010, inspired by American old-time radio shows like Sorry, Wrong Number. She runs the company alongside Mr Chamberlain-King, a writer and researcher who has published two books with Blackstaff Press - Weird Belfast and Weird Dublin.
Mr Chamberlain-King said: “It will be almost 80 years to the day that it was first broadcast and only feet away from the studio booth where it was produced. It’s a fascinating hidden moment in radio and remarkable that such a strange, experimental work would be produced in Belfast at the time.”