Curator’s Blog

“Assignment in April” — A 1950s Australian Radio Thriller Hinting At Post-War Nazi Intrigue

During the “Golden Age” of radio, before the arrival of television in Australia in 1956, radio dramas were very popular. Australasian Radio Productions was a company founded circa 1945 by distinguished Australian author Morris West. ARP was a producer of radio dramas and operated a small recording studio for this purpose in Smith Street, Collingwood.[1]

Denzil Howson took over as Manager of Australasian Radio Productions around 1954 [2]:

“By the time I took over ARP (as the company was known) Morris West had departed with the lady who was to become his second wife, to the romantic shores of Tuscany to commence his career as a novelist with ‘Children of the Sun’, ‘The Devil’s Advocate’ and ‘Shoes of the Fisherman’…

“Radio dramas in those days were conceived without a great deal of attention being paid to minor details.

“When I wrote ‘Speed Car’, I knew very little about cars.

“When I wrote ‘Hitler’s Story’, I knew nothing about the Fuhrer’s private life.

“But none of the vast radio audience seemed to be concerned about such deficiencies.”

While at ARP, Denzil wrote and produced at least one pilot episode of a serial titled “Assignment in April” — a thriller set in post-war UK and Europe. His recent experience as a traveller in those parts in 1952 would have afforded him a familiarity with locations.

The drama focuses on two young Australians, played by Bob Peach and Sidney Conabere, who are in London circa 1956 and who are and planning to make a return journey to Australia via the Continent. Through a chance meeting with an attractive young German woman, they find themselves drawn into a web of intrigue. The episode finishes in Germany where they have apparently stumbled on some kind of post-war Nazi group and the suggestion that Hitler is still alive despite the official account of his suicide in the bunker in Berlin.

Maybe there were rumours to this effect circulating after the war. There are a number of contemporary researchers who claim evidence that Hitler did indeed survive the war. Whatever the case, it would certainly have been a tantalising and plausible subject for a radio thriller in the 1950s.

Comments made by one of the characters date the action to 1956, so presumably this was also the recording date — not long before Denzil Howson departed ARP to join GTV9 in that same year. Exactly why the series never went any further is not clear from Denzil’s memoirs.

The brief identification message which follows the closing music describes it as “An Australasian Radio and Television Production” — an interesting elaboration of the company name (Australasian Radio Productions). The era of television was about to begin and Denzil and his colleagues clearly meant to be a part of it.

Here are parts 1 and 2 of Episode One of “Assignment in April” as it was recorded in 1956. Enjoy this trip back in time to the pre-television era when radio drama was a popular source of entertainment.

Assignment In April Episode One — part 1

Listen Now: Click the play button on the audio player:

Download: Click here to download an mp3 (14.1mB).

Assignment In April Episode One — part 2

Listen Now: Click the play button on the audio player:

Download: Click here to download an mp3 (16mB).

Technical Notes

Denzil Howson’s tape library contained a reel-to-reel recording of the two-part pilot episode of “Assignment in April”. This was copied on a Revox B77 with azimuth adjusted for optimum highs from the original tape. Audio was captured on an Edirol digital recorder. Izotope RX was used to remove hum, clean up unwanted artefacts and add some equalisation. Gain adjustments, trimming and export to aiff and mp3 formats were done in Logic Pro X.

[1] See: “Collection of company documents found with the Lewis & Skinner documents and pertaining to Australasian Radio Productions, a radio serial production company founded and run by Morris West from 1945–1954.”

[2] “Revoir” privately published memoirs of Denzil Howson.

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