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This story was published in Radio Recall, the journal of the Metropolitan Washington Old-Time Radio Club, published six times per year.

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Francis WHO? Paul WHAT?
by John Abbott © 2011
(From Radio Recall, December 2011)

When you think of radio detectives with the power to last over the decades, it is easy. Just think of Rex Stout’s rotund Nero Wolfe, or S. S. Van Dine’s dapper Philo Vance. Or perhaps Dashiell Hammett’s gruff Sam Spade and socialites Nick and Nora Charles and last but not least, Raymond Chandler’s tough guy Phillip Marlowe. All of these detectives were highly popular during the golden age of radio, and are still popular today via electronic copies of the programs – but they are programs from the golden age of radio.

However, one radio detective is still going strong, but you have to travel across the Atlantic to catch Francis Durbridge’s Paul Temple. Who, you might ask, is Francis Durbridge, and who is Paul Temple? Both, it would seem, might be among the best-kept secrets in radio detective-dom.

Francis Henry Durbridge

Francis Henry Durbridge was born on November 25, 1912, in Hull. England. He was encouraged to write by an English teacher in high school, and continued to write while attending Birmingham University. After graduating in 1933, he worked for a short time as a stockbroker's clerk, before selling a radio play, called “Promotion” to the BBC at the age of 21.

In 1938, Durbridge fulfilled a personal desire to write detective fiction by creating the character Paul Temple, a crime novelist and amateur detective. For the next 30 years, Paul Temple, with the aid of his wife Louise Trent (aka “Steve”), a former Fleet Street journalist, solved crimes for Scotland Yard in the glamorous world of the leisured middle-class, first on radio, then films and novels, and in a television series.

Durbridge wrote twenty Paul Temple serials for the radio. The first was Send for Paul Temple, broadcast in eight episodes on the BBC in April of 1938. Send for Paul Temple was such a success that within a week of the serial's final installment, the BBC received 7,000 letters demanding more Paul Temple. The last serial was Paul Temple and the Alex Affair, which aired in 1968, six years after the close of the Golden Age of Radio in America.

The BBC has released CDs of the Paul Temple serials in their archives, as well as readings of Paul Temple novels by Anthony Head and Toby Stephens. Since 2006, the BBC has released several dramatized stories starring Crawford Logan and Gerda Stevenson. The first of these reproductions, “Paul Temple and the Sullivan Mystery”, used the original 1947 script, vintage sound effects, music and microphones, and carefully reproduced 1940s upper-class accents. Most recently, the BBC has released “A Case for Paul Temple” using the original script, which has not been heard since 1946, and for which no audio copy exists in the archives.

Over the entire live run of the BBC serials, Hugh Morton, Carl Bernard, Barry Morse (known in America for his role of Lt. Gerard in The Fugitive TV series), Howard Marion-Crawford and Kim Peacock played Paul Temple. However, the actor who came to epitomize Paul Temple was Peter Coke (pronounced Cook) took, who took over the part in the 1954 serial, Paul Temple and the Gilbert Case.

The actress Marjorie Westbury took over the part of Steve in 1945 and kept the part through the rest of the radio run. Peter Coke and Marjorie Westbury are the most widely identified Paul and Steve, and they did their job so well that many in England thought they were actually married in real life. Marjorie was a chameleon who could take her short “roundish” person and strident voice and transform herself into what everyone imagined was a tall willowy blonde.

Durbridge was able to develop and use a formula to write his Paul Temple stories. A critical part of the formula was the use of misdirection and red herrings. Durbridge also became the master of the cliffhanger, ending one episode just when the going got interesting, but avoiding the classic ploys of discovering a body, or having a man with a gun walk into the room. Durbridge also incorporated two vital characteristics into his writing formula for the Paul Temple serials: nothing was as it seemed, and everyone was lying. The final part of the Durbridge formula is at the end of the investigation, when Paul Temple invites all of the suspects to a cocktail party where they will meet the perpetrator of the crime.

So good was the formula that, when the Paul Temple series were broadcast in Germany, they were called “Strassenfeger” (“street-clearers”), because they would empty the cinemas and leave the streets deserted while people went to their radios to catch the latest episode.

The original Paul Temple radio serials originally used the theme music from “Scheherazade” by Rimsky-Korsakov. The opening theme was later changed to Vivian Ellis’ “Coronation Scot”, and it was this theme that came to identify Paul Temple. Durbridge died at his home in London on April 11, 1998. In Durbridge’s obituary in the London Times were these words: “To children of the 1940s and 1950s, who grew up in the Radio Age, Francis Durbridge is the sound of Coronation Scot, that most compelling of descriptive light music pieces by Vivian Ellis which invariably heralded yet another Paul Temple serial.

Just a hint of the first few bars - Der-derder-duhduhduhduhduh-der - is enough to transport anyone over the age of 50 to another world.”

Durbridge was not content to write only Paul Temple radio plays. His entire catalog of writings includes:

27 Paul Temple radio plays between 1938 and 1968
11 other radio plays and serials
22 Television series (including a televised Paul Temple series between 1968 and 1971)
8 Stage plays
4 Paul Temple movies
14 Paul Temple novels
29 other novels

Of these radio plays and novels, the BBC has released 14 dramatized serials, many from the Peter Coke - Marjorie Westbury programs. Additionally, 11 of the Paul Temple books have been released as audio books. Most of these programs are available from either Audible.com or Amazon.com. Additionally, Amazon has started releasing versions of the novels for their Kindle device. If you live “across the pond”, the available Paul Temple programs are available from the BBC Shop on the internet.

Paul Temple

So who was Paul Temple? Temple was middle-class writers, who lived in a world of luxurious Knightsbridge service flats, country estates, and fast open sports cars. In his world, all of the women were chic, svelte and elegantly appareled, and the men wore 3-piece suits, ties and overcoats, and addressed each other by their sir names. And most importantly, the police seemed to be wonderfully clueless. Temple was the son of a general, and lived a well-cultured genteel lifestyle with his wife Steve, and various valets and housekeepers.

Temple spent his time writing crime novels and plays (and even a book of poetry), and coming to the aid of Chief Commissioner Sir Graham Forbes and Inspector Vosper of Scotland Yard. Whether cruising up and down the Thames in search of “Alex”, tramping though the Scottish highlands looking for “Zed-4”, or flying to Cairo with a mysterious pair of reading glasses, Paul and Steve traveled in luxury, stayed in the best hotels, drove their Rolls or their Frazer-Nash or flew on the most current aircraft.

Paul Temple was once described as “an arch-exponent of that most gruesome of all forms of male-chauvinist-piggery, the ‘Don't-worry-your-pretty-little-head-about-it’ school of detectives”. Temple was self confident, knowledgeable, and always ready for a cigarette and cocktail, or one of Sir Graham’s fine cigars. His investigations were replete with subtle clues, misdirection and clever obfuscations and red herrings, a well placed “by Timothy” and the necessary medicinal brandy when it was needed. It was only at the end of the last episode that the culprit was exposed.

Peter Cook once related that the cast members got their copy of the week’s script well ahead of rehearsals, but NO ONE got the final episode until rehearsal on the day of the broadcast! No one, actor or listener knew “whodunit” until the last minutes of the last program.

No matter what his faults were, how transparent the story seemed or how hackneyed the clichés used in the stories, Paul Temple, and Francis Durbridge by extension, captured the imagination of the listening and reading public. Paul and Steve take the reader or listener back to an era where life was not so hectic and everyone stopped what they were doing for teatime. Perhaps that is why Paul Temple is still going strong, well after the demise of all the aforementioned detectives.


BBC Resources for Francis Durbridge and Paul Temple
London Times Obituary of Francis Durbridge
BBC Background recordings
Listening to every available Paul Temple story