Val Gielgud
British writer
Val Gielgud
Val Henry Gielgud was an English actor, writer, director and broadcaster. He was a pioneer of radio drama for the BBC, and also directed the first ever drama to be produced in the newer medium of television. Val Gielgud was born in London, into a theatrical family, being the brother of Sir John Gielgud (who appeared in several of his productions) and a great-nephew of the Victorian actress Ellen Terry.
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  • 1981
    Age 80
    Died in 1981.
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  • 1957
    Age 56
    He published his autobiography in 1957, and died in London in 1981 at the age of eighty-one.
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  • 1952
    Age 51
    In 1952, he left the television service, being replaced by the experienced producer Michael Barry.
    More Details Hide Details In the 1950s, Gielgud was involved in directing a run of Sherlock Holmes radio plays starring his brother John as the lead character, with Ralph Richardson as Dr Watson and Gielgud himself once appearing as Mycroft Holmes. These were broadcast on the BBC's Light Programme. By this time Gielgud was in conflict with junior colleagues in the drama department; unlike them he was unable to appreciate the work of playwrights such as Harold Pinter.
  • 1946
    Age 45
    Gielgud returned to radio for the duration of the Second World War, but shortly after the return of the television service in 1946, he moved across on a more permanent basis to become the Head of BBC television drama.
    More Details Hide Details Although the BBC hoped he would have the same impact on shaping the genre in the new medium as he had done in radio, his time in charge was not regarded as a success, as many of the producers working under him felt he had no great liking for television or appreciation for what it could achieve that radio could not.
  • 1939
    Age 38
    On secondment from his radio job, he produced one short play called Ending It, an adaptation of one of his own short stories starring John Robinson and Joan Marion, transmitted on 25 August 1939.
    More Details Hide Details However, a full-length play he was due to direct, and which had even been rehearsed, was cancelled from its planned slot on the evening of 1 September due to the television service having been suspended earlier that day in anticipation of the declaration of war.
    Gielgud remained in radio for the rest of the decade, also working occasionally in film, adapting his thriller Death at Broadcasting House, in which he also appeared in a small acting role. In 1939 he returned to television for a time on a secondment to the BBC Television Service at Alexandra Palace, which was now a full-fledged, high-definition television network broadcasting to the London area.
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  • 1930
    Age 29
    In July 1930, Gielgud was invited in his position as the senior drama producer at BBC radio to oversee the experimental transmission of a short play on the new medium of television.
    More Details Hide Details The play, The Man With the Flower in His Mouth by Italian playwright Luigi Pirandello, was chosen because of its confined setting, small cast of characters and short length of around half an hour. Transmitted live on the evening of 14 July, the primitive state of television technology at the time allowed for only tiny 30-line pictures with one actor visible at a time, but the experiment was nonetheless judged to have been a success, and was even watched by the then Prime Minister, Ramsay MacDonald.
  • 1929
    Age 28
    In January 1929, Gielgud was appointed Head of Productions at the BBC, responsible for all radio drama, when he had never previously directed a single radio play.
    More Details Hide Details He succeeded R E Jeffrey, whose output he had been so regularly criticising in his abuse of the Radio Times letters page. He proved to be highly successful in this role, remaining in it for the next twenty years and overseeing all of the radio drama produced during the period, writing many plays himself and sometimes appearing as an actor in small parts. Gielgud is often praised with inventing many of the techniques of radio drama still common in the form today. He constantly reminded those working with and under him that radio drama could employ vastly larger casts and place itself in more exotic settings than was possible with regular stage plays, and held a theory that while stage plays could show the actions of characters, in radio it was possible to get inside of their minds. He was not a fan of the soap opera genre which was rising to prominence on radio in the United States at the time – instead he preferred to concentrate on producing a variety of one-off dramas, rather than continuing series. He was not averse to producing the popular as well as the cultural, however, with various mysteries and thrillers being broadcast as well as more 'refined' productions such as Shakespeare plays.
  • 1921
    Age 20
    Gielgud was married five times, the first in 1921 while he was still an undergraduate at Oxford, where he married an eighteen year-old schoolgirl, whose name is recorded only as 'Tata', who was a student at Cheltenham Ladies College. In fact, Tata was Nathalie Mamontov (1903–1969), daughter of musician Sergei Mamontov (1877—1938) and Nathalie Sheremetievskya; her mother's third husband was Grand Duke Michael, brother of Tsar Nicholas II. This lasted for only two years, however, and they divorced in 1926.
    More Details Hide Details His following four marriages produced two sons. He was also the grandfather of choreographer Piers Gielgud.
  • 1900
    Born in 1900.
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