D.G. Bridson’s The March of the ’45 was heard at the British Library on 2 October 2014 as the first in a five-part series of public listenings. Below, Professor Hugh Chignell of Bournemouth University offers some background to this work:
The March of the ’45 was first broadcast in 1936. The production heard at the British Library was broadcast on the Home Service on 13 May 1956 (9.15-10.50pm), and it was produced by Gordon Gildard and D.G. Bridson.
D.G. Bridson was one of the most important writers and producers of radio features at the BBC. He wrote The March of the ’45 in his first year there, describing it as ‘probably the most successful of all my single programmes, and certainly the most widely heard’ (Prospero and Ariel: The Rise and Fall of Radio, A Personal Recollection, London: Victor Gollancz, 1971, p. 57). It bears the hallmarks of a classic radio feature (and indeed was partly responsible for them): a factual base (the Jacobite uprising), acted sequences, a verse narrative, music and sound effects. As one of the first BBC radio features it inspired the American writer and producer Archibald MacLeish to write his own verse drama, The Fall of the City (CBS, 1937).
The 28 February 1936 production was in two parts, one produced by Scottish Region in Edinburgh, the other by E. A. ‘Archie’ Harding in the Northern Region, Manchester. The longer version we will hear at the British Library was broadcast twenty years after the first performance, by which time Bridson had become Deputy Head of Features under Laurence Gilliam.
The Radio Times billing for the 1956 programme reads,
‘A panorama in verse and song by D.G. Bridson’ in three parts, ‘1: The High Endeavour, 2: The Turn of the Tide, 3. Time’s Last Syllable’.
The programme starts when Bonnie Prince Charlie (the ‘Young Pretender’) arrives on the island of Eriskay in July 1745 to raise an army with the aim of marching south to depose King George II. He gathers an army of Scottish clansmen and marches to Perth. We hear voices from the present – a reference to another ‘army’, the unemployed of the industrial north.
The clans attack the English army at the Battle of Prestonpans and are victorious. Prince Charlie marches south and takes Carlisle. Uncertainty about the loyalty of the north makes him turn back to Scotland and Stirling Castle. The battles of Banockburn and Falkirk follow but the English have regrouped under the Duke of Cumberland who seeks victory and also revenge against the mutinous Scots. The Jacobite army is finally defeated at the Battle of Culloden (16 April 1746). The clansmen are slaughtered or scattered and the Prince flees.
Grace Wyndham Goldie writing in The Listener, 4 March 1936
The March of the ’45, which was given by the Scottish and Northern stations last Friday, was a highly coloured programme and very good fun. It was certainly somewhat of a jumble. Its curious mixture of recitation, new verse, old verse, prose dialogue, instrumental music of all kinds and effects of all sorts was sometimes rather like a Scottish village concert with ‘the Meenister’ making poetic speeches between the turns. Nevertheless this, I maintain, is the way to give us our history over the microphone. The triumphant entry into Edinburgh after Prestonpans with pipers playing and the surge of the verse description and the cheers and the shouting and the ringing of bells made me feel the intoxication of the Highland army at that moment. And I felt, too, the bitter cold over the Cheviots and the slowly growing despair of the march south. Here was experience; not a bundle of facts. This is what I want from feature programmes.
J.C. Trewin writing in The Listener, 17 May 1956 [extract]
THE MARCH OF THE ’45 is the kind of play that makes Jacobites of us all. I don’t know whether D.G. Bridson wrote it with that in mind; but on Sunday night, just as on those other nights in 1936, when the clans first streamed through Scotland, I found myself wearing the white cockade. [. . .] The triumph of The March is in its movement. We hear it in the iterated phrase, ‘The clans are coming, the clans are coming’. In the imagination Scotland is alive with marching men, the moving flash of steel, the surge and swoop of the clans. It is a lesson in the writing of narrative verse. We are unconscious of the studio, unconscious indeed of the twentieth century.
John Carey writing in The Listener, 24 April 1969 [extract]
The March of the ’45 was first broadcast in 1936. D.G. Bridson, who wrote it, introduced last week’s revival with the explanation that he had meant to show ‘an era of disillusion’ that ‘ideals were sometimes worth fighting for’. It would be good to know what ideals he had in mind. Bonny Prince Charlie’s march. Culminating in Culloden, was a matter of a few thousand serfs being variously bludgeoned and misled into fighting a few thousand proles. In modern times something an army from the Oxfam posters assaulting the queue outside a Labour exchange. [. . .] In the thirties people still believed in narrative verse, and Mr Bridson rhymed relentlessly. This had clearly been an effort. ‘In desperation / Back again the men rehasten’ was about the level of it. But in a way the doggerel, stoutly declaimed, contributed to the overall breakneck momentum, and so worked to Mr Bridson’s advantage.