B.D. Chapman

Orbiter X
  • Orbiter X

    • B.D. Chapman

    • John Carson (Read by)

    • Andrew Crawford (Read by)

    • Full Cast (Read by)

    • Barrie Gosney (Read by)

    A sensational sci-fi serial from the birth of space exploration

    First broadcast in 1959, a fortnight after the Soviet Luna 2 space probe crash-landed on the Moon, Orbiter X thrilled radio audiences with its gripping and topical story of plucky British astronauts and their bold plan to conquer space. The original recordings were presumed lost, but fortunately a set of discs made for overseas broadcast survived to be found and remastered by Radio 4 Extra in 2016. Included here are all 14 episodes of the rediscovered serial.

    The road to the stars begins with the prefabricated components of a space station being rocketed into orbit. Shaped like a giant wheel and codenamed 'Orbiter X', the platform will boast synthetic gravity, produced by the rotation around the central hub, and is designed to circle the Earth in a rapid polar orbit. Equipped with a laboratory, observatory and living accommodation for the crew, it will enable mankind to explore the solar system and perhaps even set foot on the Moon...

    But before construction can begin, the first assembly ship, Orbiter 1, loses contact with mission control following an apparent collision. A second craft, Orbiter 2, piloted by Captain Bob Britton, is sent out to rescue the first crew, but finds Orbiter 1 deserted and the ship's log missing. Orbiter 2 has been led into a trap - and before they can escape, Britton and his team find themselves under attack...

    Written by prolific dramatist BD Chapman, whose credits included Dick Barton - Special Agent, this tense, suspenseful space serial stars John Carson as Captain Bob Britton, Andrew Crawford as Captain Douglas McClelland and Barrie Gosney as Flight Engineer Hicks.

    Produced by Charles Maxwell

    Captain Bob Britton - John Carson
    Captain Douglas McClelland - Andrew Crawford
    Flight Engineer Hicks - Barrie Gosney
    Colonel Kent - Donald Bisset
    Captain Jack Bradley - John Witty
    UFO Commander - Arthur Lawrence
    Control Officer Camm - Francis Hall
    Radio Operator - John Matthews
    Gelbin - Arthur Lawrence
    Max Kramer - Gerik Schjelderup
    Greta Ravel - Irene Prador
    Sir Charles Day - Leslie Perrins
    Control Officer Brown - Peter Noel Cook
    Neasen - Ian Sadler
    Letmann - John Cazabon
    Captain Knight - John Graham

    First broadcast BBC Light Programme, 28 September-28 December 1959

Edward J. Mason (Author) The original idea for Dick Barton came from Norman Collins, Head of the Light Programme. In January 1946, he sent a memo to an assistant asking him to investigate the possibility of a daily 'cloak-and-dagger soap opera'. Matters quickly progressed and soon the fictional hero of the serial had a name - Bill Barton (later changed to Dick). Barton's history was very thoroughly researched. It was decided that he had been born on Tuesday 10 December 1912 at 5pm. The BBC went so far as to ascertain from the Town Clerk of High Wycombe and the Air Ministry exactly what the weather conditions were at the time of Barton's birth! At the time the series started, Barton was thirty-five years old. He had enjoyed a 'good' war and, in November 1945, was wondering whether he could face going back to the dutiful daily grind of the pre-war years. Having established their hero, the BBC needed to find an actor to play Barton. Noël Johnson fitted the bill perfectly: not only did he look exactly how the producers imagined Barton to be, but he was a good actor who learnt scripts accurately and quickly. However, the early days of Britain’s first daily serial were inauspicious. Within two weeks, the Daily Worker had condemned the programme as being ‘so bad as to be almost beyond criticism’. But the listeners proved the critics wrong and soon some fifteen million were tuning in to hear the adventures of Dick Barton and his pals Snowey and Jock. Although the series had been originally conceived as a fast moving cartoon strip aimed mainly at adults, the BBC soon realised that children were abandoning their homework in their thousands in order to tune in, and it was decided that all references to alcohol or girlfriends should be cut out of the script. It was still considered too exciting for some, however, as this headline from the time shows: ‘Dick Barton – Too Thrilling for Girls? Headmistress says “Yes”!’ The newly cleaned-up Barton went on to enjoy hundreds of adventures that enthralled listeners for six years. Noël Johnson left the series in 1949, largely due to money disputes, and was replaced by ex-boxer Duncan Carse. In the final year Gordon Davies played the hero. The series was written by Edward J. Mason and Geoffrey Webb. They later went on to write The Archers, which was to displace Dick Barton on the Light Programme, much to many people’s dismay – Terry Wogan has said he has never been able to enjoy the goings-on in Ambridge because they took Dick Barton away from him! B.D. Chapman (Author) B. D. Chapman was an author and radio dramatist whose writing credits included Dick Barton and the sci-fi serial Orbiter X. Ronnie Colley, Arthur Colley (Author) Ronnie Colley and Arthur Colley were writing partners who contributed scripts to the BBC serial Dick Barton - Special Agent.

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