Dick Barton

Created by Norman Collins

“With one bound Dick, was free!”

The beloved star of the BBC’s first daily radio serial was sometimes a private investigator, sometimes an adventurer, sometimes a “special agent”and sometimes–this is my favourite–a  “world-famous secret agent.”

But whatever his actual occupation was (it seemed to be dictated by the story), DICK BARTON was some kind of star. He appeared in a whopping 711 episodes between 1946 and 1951. With his two best mates by his side, Jock Anderson and Snowy White, and a slew of crime-busting gadgets that would make Dick Tracy envious, Dick managed to get into (and eventually out of) some pretty tight spots, much to the delight of thousands of British schoolboys (of all ages), and despite the stern disapproval of various “educationalists and clergymen” who demanded the scriptwriters follow 13 codes of conduct, such as: no sex, no booze, no bad language and all violence must be limited to “clean socks on the jaw.”

Nevertheless, the action-packed radio show was a huge success, and the former Captain Richard Barton of the Commandos became a national hero, right up there with Churchill. In post-war Britain, the fast-paced, tongue-in-cheek adventures were exactly what the doctor ordered. At his peak, over 15 million listeners tuned in to his adventures, broadcast in the early evening, right after the news.

Although Geoffrey Webb and Edward J. Mason wrote most of the radio scripts, Barton was actually created by BBC producer Norman Collins, who has visions of a “cloak and dagger soap opera” every evening.

Of course, success like that couldn’t be overlooked, and comics were produced, and three feature films were also made, as well as a slew of novels and shorts stories. But the films were strictly B, and what worked so well on radio looked awkward, and sometimes even silly on film. Although the films were moderately successful, it wasn’t enough to keep to keep the series going. Then, worst of all, the radio show itself was canned, a victim of its own success. Citing concerns over its popularity among young children, the BBC pulled the plug in 1951.

In 1979, ITV decided to revive Dick. Of course, these were modern times and no mamby-pamby codes of conduct had to be followed. And so viewers were treated to a tough-talking, no-nonsense, square-jawed private eye, complete with trench coat and fedora. The purists (and everyone else, it seemed) were not amused. The show only lasted a few months.

But such is the cult of Dick that his popularity continues, into the next millenium, with Dick, Snowy et al brought to the stage, and touring Great Britain, while collections of the old shows and live presentations and audio re-recordings of old scripts have proven quite successful with readers who remember when

   

RADIO

  • DICK BARTON
    (1946-51, BBC)
    711 15-minute episodes
    Writers: Geoffrey Webb, Edward J. Mason, Ronnie Colley, Arthur Colley
    Produced and directed by Raymond Raikes, Neil Tuson, and Charles Lefaux
    Theme: “The Devil’s Gallop,” composed by Charles Williams
    Starring Noel Johnson as DICK BARTON
    (later replaced by Duncan Carse and Gordon Davis)
    with John Mann as SNOWY
    and Alex McCrindle as JOCK
    With William Fox as Colonel Gardiner
    and Margaret Robertson as Jean Hunter

    • “Dick Barton and the Secret Weapon” (1946)
    • Dick Barton and the Paris Adventure” (1946)
    • “Dick Barton and the Cabatolin Diamonds” (1947)
    • Dick Barton and the Smash and Grab Raiders” (1947)
    • Dick Barton and the Tibetan Adventure” (1947)
    • Dick Barton and the Affair of the Black Panther” (1947)
    • Dick Barton and the Vulture” (1947)
    • Dick Barton and the Li-Chang Adventure” (1947)
    • Dick Barton and the Case of Conrad Ruda” (1948)
    • Dick Barton and the Firefly Adventure” (1950)
  • THE NIGHT OF THE TWENTY SEVENTH
    (1949, BBC)
    Christmas special
    First broadcast: December 27, 1949 on the Light Programme
    Produced by Martyn C. Webster
    Written by Edward J. Mason
    Starring Duncan Carse as DICK BARTON
    Robert Beatty as PHILIP ODELL
    Kim Peacock as PAUL TEMPLE
    and Marjorie Westbury as STEVE TEMPLE
    Brian Reece as PC 49
    Valentine Dyall as THE MAN IN BLACK
    Douglas Burbidge as DR. DALE
    Ellis Powell as MRS. DALE
    A real special, featuring the BBC’s most popular detectives of the day, gathered together in one big show, first broadcast as a Christmas special in 1949.
  • THE SECRET WEAPON
    (1972, BBC)
    Starring Noel Johnson as DICK BARTON
    with John Mann as SNOWY
    Alex McCrindle as JOCK
    William Fox as Colonel Gardiner
    and Margaret Robertson as Jean Hunter
    As part of the their Golden Jubilee, the BBC broadcast a new, abridged, 10-episode version of the very first Barton serial. The cast included most of  the original stars.
  • RICHARD BARTON: GENERAL PRACTITIONER!
    (1997-98, BBC Radio 4)
    6-part mini-series
    Written by Lol Mason
    Starring Moray Watson as DICK BARTON (father)
    and Robert Bathurst as RICHARD BARTON (son)
    With Matilda Ziegler as Sally
    Julian Dutton as young Dick Barton
    and Iain Cuthbertson as Jock Anderson
    A six-part, tongue-in-cheek sequel/pastiche/homage, in which Dick Barton’s son Richard is a country doctor, caring for his apparently senile father, who–à la The Singing Detective–retreats into the dream world of his past adventures, convinced there are still scores of nefarious villains out to get him. The series proved popular enough that it was rebroadcast  several times.

FILMS

  • DICK BARTON, SPECIAL AGENT
    (1948, Exclusive Films)
    Starring Don Stannard as DICK BARTON
  • DICK BARTON STRIKES BACK
    (1949, Exclusive Films)
    Starring Don Stannard as DICK BARTON
  • DICK BARTON AT BAY
    (1950, Exclusive Films)
    Starring Don Stannard as DICK BARTON

TELEVISION

  • DICK BARTON-SPECIAL AGENT
    (1979, ITV)
    32 15-minute episodes, colour
    Writers: Clive Exton, Julian Bond
    Directors: Jon Scoffield, Anthony Howard
    Producer: Jon Scoffield
    Executive Producers: Terence Baker, Lewis Rudd
    A Southern Television Network Production
    Starring Tony Vogel as DICK BARTON
    with Anthony Heaton as SNOWY
    and James Cosmo as JOCK

    • The Great Tobacco Conspiracy” (1979)
    • The Mystery of the Missing Formula” (1979)
    • The Case of the Vanishing House” (1979)
    • “The Gold Bullion Swindle” (1979)

BOOKS & NOVELIZATIONS

  • The Return of Dick Barton (1952; aka “The Black Panther)
  • Jail Break (1953; by Dick Barton)
  • Dick Barton – Special Agent (1977; by Elwyn Jones )
    Collects three short stories: “Dick Barton and the Secret Weapon,” “Dick Barton and the Lucifer Adventure” and “Dick Barton and the Cabatolin Diamonds”
  • The Great Tobacco Conspiracy 1978; by Mike Dorrell)
    Novelization of first episode of the television show.
  • The Mystery of the Missing Formula (1978; by Mike Dorrell)
    Novelization of second episode of the television show.
  • The Case of the Vanishing House (1978; by Alan Radnor)
    Novelization of third episode of the television show.
  • The Gold Bullion Swindle 1979; by Larry Pryce)
    Novelization of fourth episode of the television show.

SHORT STORIES

  • “All the Fun of the Fair” (1950, Dick Baron, Special Agent; by Edward J. Mason)
  • “Dick Barton Wanted for Murder” (1950, Dick Baron, Special Agent; by Edward J. Mason)
  • “The Garage Racketeers” (1950, Dick Baron, Special Agent; by Edward J. Mason; based on a radio script by Geoffrey Webb & Edward J. Mason; also 1992, The Armchair Detective)
  • “Jordan’s Folly” (1950, Dick Baron, Special Agent; by Edward J. Mason)
  • “The Man in Box Four” (1950, Dick Baron, Special Agent; by Edward J. Mason)
  • “One Foggy Day” (1950, Dick Baron, Special Agent; by Edward J. Mason)
  • “Ordeal by Fire” (1950, Dick Baron, Special Agent; by Edward J. Mason)
  • “The Unofficial Victory ” (1950, Dick Baron, Special Agent; by Edward J. Mason)
  • “The Vulture Strikes Again” (1950, Dick Baron, Special Agent; by Edward J. Mason)
  • “Dick Barton and the Secret Weapon” (1977, Dick Barton, special Agent; by Elwyn Jones)
  • “Dick Barton and the Lucifer Adventure” (1977, Dick Barton, special Agent; by Elwyn Jones)
  • “Dick Barton and the Cabatolin Diamonds” (1977, Dick Barton, special Agent; by Elwyn Jones)
  • “Danger From The Depths” (1979, Dick Barton Special Agent Annual; author unknown)
  • “Pictures of Peril” (1979, Dick Barton Special Agent Annual; author unknown)

COLLECTIONS

  • Dick Barton, Special Agent (1950; by Edward J. Mason & Geoffrey Webb) | Buy this book
    Supposedly aimed at kids, this very collectible hardcover, produced in conjunction with the BBC,  contained nine stories.
  • Dick Barton, Special Agent (1977; by Elwyn Jones)
  • Dick Barton Special Agent Annual | Buy this book
    (1978, Brown Watson)
    Hardcover tie-in with the television show, collecting numerous articles and photographs from the show, as well as two short stories and two 9-page comic adventures.

PLAYS

  • DICK BARTON SPECIAL AGENT
    World Premiere: December 11, 1998; The Warehouse Theatre, Croydon, U.K.
    Written by by Phil Willmott
    Directed by Ted Craig
    Commissioned by Warehouse Theatre Company
    Recent national tour venues:
    February 19-24, 2001, Bolton Octagon
    February 26- March 3, 2001, Jersey Opera House
    March 5-10, 2001, Gaiety Theatre, Douglas, Isle Of Mann
    March 12-17, 2001, Wimbledon Theatre
    Info: warehous@dircon.co.uk
  • DICK BARTON EPISODE 2: THE CURSE OF THE PHAROAH’S TOMB
    World Premiere: December 10, 1999; The Warehouse Theatre, Croydon, U.K.
    Written by by Phil Willmott
    Directed by Ted Craig
    Commissioned by Warehouse Theatre Company
    Recent run: February 8-17, 2001, Greenwich Theatre,
    Info: warehous@dircon.co.uk
  • DICK BARTON AND THE TRAIL OF THE ROCKET
    (2013)
    Starring Tim Bentinck as Di
    ck Barton
    with Terry Molloy as SNOWY
    A one-off show at Leicester’s Y Theatre, using a radio scrips from 1951 and period equipment in order to present a faithful recreation of a vintage studio recording. 

SCRIPTS

  • DICK BARTON SPECIAL AGENT/DICK BARTON AND THE CURSE OF THE PHARAOH’S TOMB Buy this book
    (2001, by Phil Willmott)

COMICS

  • DICK BARTON, SPECIAL AGENT COMIC
    (1952-53, Ayers & James)
    9 issues
    Colour covers, black & white interiors
    Writers: Roy Beckhouse
    Artists: J. Robey
    This Australian comic adapted scripts from the radio show.

    • “Title Unknown” (#1)
    • “The Spider’s Web” (#2)
    • “Diamond Smugglers” (#3)
    • “Title Unknown” (#4)
    • “Haunted Heights” (#5)
    • “Jewel Thieves” (#6)
    • “Tibetan Adventure” (#7)
    • “Title Unknown” (#8)
    • “The Affair of the Black Panther” (#9)
  • COMET
    (1953-54, Almagamated Press)
    Weekly
    Art by Graham Coton
    Three all-new stories, with a decidedly sci-fi bent (Ray guns! Moon landings! UFOs!), were serialized in this British comics magazine. As Denis Gifford points out in The Encyclopedia of Comic Characters, “It was all a little belated: the programme had been off the air since March 30, 1951! There were other differences: Dick was reduced to a single assistant, Snowy White, and he was reduced, too–in age. Also Dick’s first case was unlike anything he ever tackled on radio. It was entitled ‘The Flying Saucer Mystery’ and Dick soon found himself to be the first man on the moon.” 

    • “The Flying Saucer Mystery” (April 11,  #247-June 13, 1953, #256)
    • “Peril on the Moon” (June 20, #257-August 1, 1953, #263)
    • “The Grey Ghost” (August 8, 1953, #264-October 10, 1953, #273)
  • SUPER-DETECTIVE LIBRARY
    (Amalgamated Press, 1953 series)

    • “City Under the Sea” (#12; Dick Barton)
  • DICK BARTON SPECIAL AGENT ANNUAL Buy this book
    (1978, Brown Watson)
    Hardcover tie-in with the television show, included numerous articles and photographs, as well as two 9-page comic stories featuring Dick.

    • “An Explosive Situation”
    • “Murder Mansion”

FURTHER INVESTIGATION

  • The Inside Story of Dick Barton (1950; by Geoffrey Webb and Edward J. Mason)
    “A very interesting book on how the D.B. radio productions were “made.” (John Mundey)
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith. Thanks to Al and John Mundey for putting me straight on this one. They’re men who I can proudly say know Dick. And thanks to Giancarlo Malagutti for his info on Dick Barton’s comic appearances. Giancarlo’s personal site about his comic work is currently under construction.

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