In the 1940s and 1950s Dick Barton - Special Agent rode the BBC radio airwaves triumphantly. In every instalment ex-Commando Dick faced peril and menace in the name of crime solving. In 2013, Dick Barton returned for a one-off show at Leicester's Y Theatre. This is a recording of a Special Agent's very special event.
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. Noel 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. Noel 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!