The zither music plays over old-time radio crackle and then … a gun shot … and that sonorous voice intones, “That was the shot that killed Harry Lime …”. A pleasing intro as Orson Welles, for it is he, then leads us into prequel territory for the adventures of Harry Lime before he wound up telling Holly Martins about cuckoo clocks and getting killed in the sewer for thanks.
These radio plays date from 1951-2 and were created by Harry Alan Towers when he realised that Graham Greene had not sold the radio rights when he had sold the film rights to his novel, The Third Man. Recreating the film’s atmosphere via the zither music, the intoning Wellesian narration and the rampant amorality, the first episode broadcast by Radio 4 Extra (the second recorded), was a pretty simple affair about a failed attempt to steal an emerald necklace but it still took in places of faded glory (Pompeii rather than Vienna) and people whose own motivations were forever opaque. All that in twenty radio minutes without any stark noir shadows.
Radio 4 Extra are broadcasting eight episodes. Fifty two were apparently recorded. They aren’t as timeless as The Third Man (which I now have to watch again, old man) but in their dated way they are rather charming, in a deceptively dark way.