Grace Gibson was responsible for producing some of Australian radios most iconic serials and amongst them were the adventures of the legendary MI5 agent Major Gregory Keen. The character was created especially for radio by Lindsay Hardy who got the idea after meeting a secret service type in England at the end of the Second World War.
Poster: Dossier on Dumetrius is now available on CD. Copyright IRS Grace Gibson Productions. Inset Photo:Bruce Stewart was the original actor to play Major Gregory Keen; he later moved to the UK and wrote for ATV programmes such as Sergeant Cork and Timeslip.
Originally played by Bruce Stewart, and later by Allan Trevor, the character soon had listeners on the edge of their seats as he pursued foreign spies and dastardly criminals to the ends of the earth.
Gregory Keen had been a major in the British army; he had served in military intelligence during the Second World War, and he was now a special agent with MI5. He was fluent in several languages, had a keen eye for the ladies, and his superior officer Colonel Fentriss knew that he was the perfect agent to protect Britain in the early Cold War period.
We first met Keen in Dossier on Dumetrius which has often been referred to as the best radio spy drama ever to be produced in Australia. The plot revolved around a nasty continental racketeer called Dumetrius, his gorgeous girlfriend Hedy Berger, and an assassin called Yottie Blum who butchered his victims just for kicks. The hunt was on for a hoard of Nazi loot, and would see Keen fall for Hedy’s ample charms. The cast included Athol Fleming, Ruth Cracknell (from Mother & Son), Dinah Shearing (from The Sullivans), Frank Waters, and Guy Doleman as Dumetrius. Guy went on to play Count Lippe in the James Bond movie Thunderball.
Poster: Deadly Nightshade saw the world facing an atomic war. Copyright IRS Grace Gibson Productions. Newspaper Promo: Listeners of 2RE in Taree joined in the chase as Major Gregory Keen battled another lunatic in Deadly Nightshade.
The next adventure was called Deadly Nightshade and involved Keen being sent to Australia where atomic scientists had been disappearing putting the top secret work of the Woomera research base in jeopardy. The game was on to prevent potentially deadly knowledge from falling into the wrong hands and would see Keen having an arm blown off by a dumdum shell as he battled the villainous Felix Huberman (Guy Doleman) who was the insane half-brother of the evil Dumetrius. Others in the cast included Moray Powell, Brenda Dunrich, Margo Lee (from The Young Doctors) and Sheila Sewell.
In Twenty Six Hours, Keen would find himself in Berlin at the height of the Cold War pitted against Communists and the remnants of the Nazi regime who were trying to build the Fourth Reich. It was Keen’s mission to recover some politically explosive diaries which had the potential to spark off another world war. This intriguing adventure starred John Tate, Harp McGuire, Grant Taylor, Lyndall Barbour, Gloria Payten, Moray Powell, Allan Trevor, Walter Sullivan, Reginald Goldsworthy, Winifred Hindle and Ivan Vander.
Poster: In Twenty Six Hours there was an onslaught from both Communists and old Nazis. Copyright IRS Grace Gibson Productions. Newspaper promo (left): Listeners of 6KY-NA in Perth tuned in religiously for Twenty Six Hours.
Two Roads to Samarra saw Major Keen, now played by Allan Trevor, heading to the Scottish Highlands for a deer stalking excursion. The holiday would be cut short when he found himself embroiled with a group of Soviet assassins who were intent on getting their hands on an oil magnate’s beautiful daughter and financial empire. The all-star cast included Ruth Cracknell, Gordon Glenwright (from Carson’s Law), June Salter (from The Restless Years), Ben Gabriel, Guy Doleman, Grant Taylor, and Coralie Neville.
The Smell of Terror was Gregory Keen’s final adventure, by this stage he was retired and was having trouble adjusting to everyday life on civvy street so an invitation to enjoy an extended holiday on an exotic Caribbean island came as a welcome distraction. Things began to get out of hand when General Mendoza, the regions despotic dictator, received word that an ex-armed forces type was in town with the intention of training revolutionaries to overthrow his regime. Keen was soon back in the thick of it with an enthralling cocktail of corruption, kidnapping, bashings and derring-do. The impressive cast included Guy Doleman, Lyndall Barbour, June Salter, Moray Powell, Richard Meikle, Gordon Glenwright, John Meillon, Owen Weingott, Harp McGuire and Diana Perryman.
Pictured: Allan Trevor took over the role of Major Gregory Keen; he later appeared on British television in Armchair Theatre. Bottom Poster: In Two Roads to Samarra, Gregory Keen would be confronted by an evil midget called Popvoff. Copyright IRS Grace Gibson Productions. Top Poster: The Smell of Terror was the final outing for Major Gregory Keen. Copyright IRS Grace Gibson Productions.
Lindsay Hardy later relocated to the UK and Major Keen was not far behind, three novels based on the radio serial were published and were translated into at least ten different languages. Hardy later sold the film rights for Dossier on Dumetrius to Butchers Film Productions in London; the movie hit cinemas in 1956, and was called Million Dollar Manhunt (aka Assignment Redhead).
If you are a Lindsay Hardy fan you might like to know that a couple of his other serials have also been released. Stranger in Paradise revolves around British writer Bill North (Guy Doleman) who is on the verge of hitting the big time in Hollywood when he is framed for murder after discovering a corpse in the boot of his car. This programme also stars Moira Redmond (of Emergency – Ward 10 and Doctor in Love fame), Allan Trevor, Grant Taylor, Lynne Murphy, Gordon Chater, Roger Climpson, Sheila Sewell, Nigel Lovell, John Saul, and Owen Weingott.
Poster: Stranger in Paradise was written by Lindsay Hardy who later wrote episodes of The Sentimental Agent for ATV and Man of the World for ITC. Copyright IRS Grace Gibson Productions. Pictured: Guy Doleman stars in Stranger in Paradise, he also appeared on British television in The Power Game for ATV and The Prisoner.
A Mask for Alexis introduces us to barrister Christopher March (James Condon) who is the confidential secretary to financier Alexis Brant (David Eadie). Christopher will end up on the run after being framed for the murder of his employer. Has he been set-up by his bosses beautiful but conniving wife (Lyndall Barbour). Whoever is behind the dirty deed he will now find himself a hunted man in a situation which is complicated further when he encounters a mysterious lady called Fay (Madi Hedd). This serial also stars Harp McGuire, Ken Wayne (from the ATV series The Plane Makers), Nigel Lovell, Max Osbiston, Richard Meikle, Dinah Shearing, and if it sounds familiar to those of you in the UK that’s because Lindsay Hardy later reworked it and it was produced as a six part series for BBC Television in 1959.
Poster: A Mask for Alexis involved an innocent man being framed for murder. Copyright IRS Grace Gibson Productions. Pictured: James Condon tops the bill in A Mask for Alexis; he later became a regular in Neighbours, The Young Doctors and Number 96.
Grace Gibson produced plenty of other thrilling sagas which had been devised by other writers of course and if you fancy hearing a gem from the early 1950s you could give I Spy a try. Each of the 100 self-contained episodes tells a different story about the men and women who risk their lives as spies in the perilous world of espionage. The serial featured a diverse range of cases set in locations all over the world; we encounter assassins, a smiling Irishman and some very strange individuals indeed.
The Macquarie Award winning actress Sheila Sewell appeared in several episodes of I Spy, she became one of Australia’s best known radio stars through her roles in serials such as Digger Hale’s Daughters, Blue Hills, Rebecca, Pathway to the Sun, Big Sister and Crossroads of Life. Unlike many of her contemporaries she didn’t make the transition to television and left the limelight after the golden age of radio came to an end which is a real pity.
Newspaper promo: Listeners of 2LF in Young were hooked on I Spy during the early 1950s. Poster: I Spy takes us into a murky world where espionage is the name of the game. Copyright IRS Grace Gibson Productions.
When Peter Philp approached her for an interview to be included in his excellent book, Drama in Silent Rooms – A History of Radio Drama in Australia, she was one of the few to politely decline. Her only comment was, “Thank you for remembering me, very kind of you sir. Just give me a favourable mention.” This was a very sad statement to give I feel but thanks to the wonderful work being done by Grace Gibson Productions with their archival CD releases we can remember Sheila and all of her colleagues from those heady days of radio drama.
You might be in need of some light relief after all of that adrenaline fuelled action, in which case you could get stuck into Pikelets which offers a selection of quirky and light-hearted stories from the mind of the comedian and writer Jim Pike. There are plenty of laughs and tall tales to be had as we learn of some of the weird and wacky things in the world.
All of these classic titles and a wealth of others are available to order by listeners worldwide exclusively from the Grace Gibson Productions website. http://gracegibsonradio.com/