Brought to you by… Vincent Price
The 1970s BBC radio serial revisited
Having carved out a career as the master of the macabre and cinema’s leading scare merchant in a series of 1960s-lensed Gothic chillers, and having played a rogues gallery of villains, scoundrels and madmen on the big screen in the 1940s and 1950s, Vincent Price was ripe to get his own horror series in the 1970s – especially on radio, which had always been the perfect medium for the veteran actor’s magnificent, mellifluous voice.
A foreboding music theme, a blood-curdling scream, and Price intoning ‘Hello, there…’ welcomed listeners to The Price of Fear, BBC Radio’s late-night serial in which he brought his own elegant eeriness to a series of dramatisations that were sometimes horrific, sometimes with a macabre sense of humour, but always with an inescapable element of fear. They were guaranteed to send a shiver down the spine of the listener just before they turned out the lights.
A detached brain, medieval torture, high-street cannibalism and a bad night in a chamber of horrors were just some of the many curious incidents told by Price, and all were drawn from talented writers – both well-known and new. But just as each story had a deliciously wicked twist, so did the series, as each tale was re-written as though Price had actually experienced the chilling adventure himself. So, let us now turn the light down low, relax and enjoy every moment of it.
Three series were made in 1973, 1975 and 1983. Initially, the BBC World Service ordered five stories, which aired nightly in the first week of July 1973. These were repeated, along with five new stories, from 1 September to 17 November. In December, the original five got a further airing on BBC Radio 4. The following year, six new stories were broadcast weekly from 6 April to 11 May 1974, before being repeated on BBC Radio 4 in the summer of 1975, along with a handful of series one episodes. Nine years later, the series was resurrected for six episodes, again going out weekly from 30 May to 4 July 1983.
According to his personal agendas, Price recorded the first series over four mornings at Broadcasting House in April 1973, while also working on his final contracted horror picture, Madhouse, which was filmed over 13 weekends, starting 15 April. Whilst staying in London, Price joined the cast and crew of Theatre of Blood for the film’s Leicester Square premiere on 24 May. Price’s diaries suggest he recorded the second half of the first series over three days in the first week of July 1973 (when the first five debuted), and it’s probable he worked on the second series over three days in mid-November 1973. For the third series, Price recorded his part in either late February 1983 or, more likely, in June the previous year, whilst filming Gilbert and Sullivan operetta Ruddigore (14 June) and appearing on Wogan (21 June).
The Price of Fear was one of the most unique series of its era and has become much sought after by radio serial fans over the years since its original run, with many episodes ending up on numerous fansites. A novelisation, edited by Richard Davis, was produced in 1976, featuring eight stories from the first and second series: Fish (Rene Basilico), William and Mary (Roald Dahl), Speciality of the House (Stanley Ellin), The Squaw (Bram Stoker), The Waxwork (AM Burrage), Lot 132 (Elizabeth Morgan), Blind Man’s Buff (William Ingram) and Guy Fawkes Night (Richard Davis). Four episodes were also released on cassette in 1990, as part of the BBC’s Radio Collection. These were the first series tale, Cat‘s Cradle, and the second series stories, The Specialty of the House, Come As You Are (William Ingram) and The Ninth Removal (R Chetwynd-Hayes).
Twenty of the 22 episodes began re-transmitting in the UK on BBC Radio 7 in 2004, and again in 2011 on BBC Radio 4 Extra. Owing to rights issues, the Roald Dahl story, William and Mary, has not been aired since its 1973 debut. The first series episode, Guy Fawkes Night, was not repeated until 2013 when it debuted on BBC Radio 4 Extra with a handful of selected episodes. Missing, however, is the sixth 1974 episode, Never Gamble With A Loser, about which there is no information. It is probable this episode was never recorded.
ABOUT THE SHOW
From the 1970s to the mid-1990s, William Ingram was a prolific writer of BBC radio plays, and he was responsible for 11 of the stories that appeared in the serial, backed up by notable works from Bram Stoker, Roald Dahl, Stanley Ellin and R Chetwynd-Hayes, whose horror collection, The Monster Club, had an ill-fated screen adaptation in 1980 (with Price playing his first vampire on screen) by Amicus horror anthology maestro Milton Subotsky.
John Dyas, who also came up with the title, produced the Price of Fear. ‘It is the greatest fun producing these stories for radio, ‘ wrote Dyas in the foreword to the 1976 novelisation. The producer was also good friends with Price and Coral Browne (Price’s third wife), who features in the series one story, Soul Music, playing the wife of a famous violinist who discovers his hands have a life of their own. In 1975, Browne and Price also teamed up for the three-part BBC Radio 4 play, Night of the Wolf, written by Doctor Who scribe Victor Pemberton.
On working with Price, producer Dyas said: ‘I count myself extremely privileged to be working with someone so kind and unselfish as an individual and, in his constant search for the unattainable goal – perfection, so professional as an actor.’
PRICE ON RADIO
The anthology series gave Vincent Price the opportunity to return to his favourite medium – radio. Beginning as early as 1936 (on Rudy Vallee’s Fleishmann’s Yeast Hour), Price made over 1000 appearances on radio spanning nearly five decades – either as a guest star in a host of variety programmes or in dramatic roles in nearly every kind of genre, from adaptations of major Hollywood films like Laura (1945) and Dragonwyck (1946), playing Simon Templar in The Saint (1947-1951), or acclaimed turns on the likes of Escape and Suspense.
‘Ive had a go at most of the others: stage, cinema, television – even musical-comedy – and the lecture platform,’ says Price. ‘But all of us who have worked in radio are devoted to it for so many reasons that it’s hard to list them all,’ he said. ‘But what makes radio really exciting is the all-around creativity of it’. And what better way to bring that creativity to the fore, than by infusing it with a taste for fear, ‘for being afraid ourselves and for frightening others’, continues Price, which is at the heart of his horror anthology radio series.
On this, Price said: ‘Man can deal with the big things; but a noise in the night, the feel of something unknown coming from nowhere, the ominous presence, the unexplained. These really get through his defences and make him vulnerable: these are assailants he can’t withstand. And yet, somehow perversely, he enjoys being attacked. We seek out and welcome those who come at us armed with the weapons of make-believe terror!’
It was producer Dyas who came up with the ingenious idea of interweaving Vincent Price’s own ‘fictional’ history into each tale. ‘Merely to cast Vincent as narrator would have been all too easy, ‘ says Dyas. ‘My intention was to make the series far more personalised, to involve Vincent in the action, to make him a participant, even a helpless onlooker of the dreadful events we would concoct for him.’
As the globe-trotting star of ‘fantasies’ (which was how Price preferred to describe his ‘horror’ pictures), the veteran actor was in an ideal position to spin such tales. Recognised wherever and whenever he travelled, and being accosted by strangers who’d regale him with their own weird and incredible stories was the ‘price’ he had to pay for his fame.
Anyone who met Price on his travels will tell he was a patient listener – a little too patient, according to Dyas: ‘Vincent had a compassion for his fellow man and a deep understanding of the frailties of human nature, yet even he cannot always tell whether these unsolicited and nearly always confidential confessions are wholly or partly true or even totally imagined.’
Whatever the case may be, Dyas effectively utilised Price’s capacity as a good listener in The Price of Fear, and while the connection with the horror star was contrived for the series, his well-known interests in the visual arts and in being a bit of a gourmet foodie were drawn upon (the stories Lot 132 and Speciality of the House being prime examples). In doing this, Price ‘the horror star’ and Price ‘the person’ were merged into one persona: creating the iconic ‘scary uncle Vincent’ persona that he ‘played on’ in his many TV guest roles and talk show appearances – even in cartoons like The 13 Ghosts of Scooby Doo (1985).
‘The usually difficult task of converting a story into dramatic terms was made considerably easier for us by Vincent’s wide range of interests, ‘ continues Dyas. ‘As an internationally known film actor and lecturer, he has travelled to practically every part of the world, so it has never been necessary to change the location of a story in order to make it believable – Speciality of the House (New York), Fish (Australia), The Squaw (Bavaria).’
The first two series began with a sombre voiceover welcoming listeners to: ‘The Price -pause- of Fear. Brought to you by -pause- Vincent Price.’ To underscore the connection with the serial’s host and occasional star, the first use of Price’s name was given an intentional pause. It was a clever tongue-in-cheek touch. For the 1983 third series, however, this was dropped, as was Price’s connection to each story, where he reverted to narrator duties.
The Price of Fear is classic old-school horror with scary uncle Vincent playing the most ideal of hosts. United, they make perfect companions for curling up in front of the fire on a cold winter’s night to be scared witless. Here’s a look back at the episodes.
1) Remains To Be Seen (1/9/73)
This first tale was based on a story by American detective fiction writer Jack Ritchie (aka John George Reitci). It first appeared in the 1963 anthology, Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Stories My Mother Never Told Me. Dramatised by William Ingram, the series opener has Price recount the tale of two chess-playing, garden-loving neighbours who hatch a plot to escape their shrewish wives. It is told to Price by one of the participants in the suburban nightmare, but which one? Amongst the cast were Mervyn Jones (Dead of Night), Michael Gwynne (The Revenge of Frankenstein) and Clive Swift (Keeping Up Appearances).
2) William and Mary (8/9/73)
This was adapted by Barry Campbell from Roald Dahl’s story published in the 1960s Kiss Kiss collection. Here, Price recalls the bequest he received on the death of William, the tyrannical husband of his former university friend Mary, in which he had his brain, and one of his eyes kept alive in a basin by an enterprising surgeon. The cast included John Barron (Doomwatch) and Garard Green (The Trollenberg Terror).
On Dahl, one of his favourite writers, Price wrote in his introduction to the 1976 novelisation: ‘His leaping imagination, glittering with and dressed impeccably in a master writer’s style, makes him perfect for radio. He listens as well as he reads, and I find myself reading his stories aloud and relishing them. His characters in this story are typically strange and fascinating – a brain and its one-time wife. The frustration of being solely cerebral, especially if your wife has been frustrated physically, is beautifully conveyed in a wry little fable.’
LISTEN HERE (apologies for the poor quality, but it’s the best I could find)
3) Cat’s Cradle (15/9/73)
Dramatised by Richard Davis, was inspired by the Bram Stoker tale, The Squaw, which appeared in Dracula’s Guest And Other Weird Stories (1914). Here, Price joins a honeymoon couple and a boorish film producer (Demons of the Mind’s Kenneth J Warren) on a tour of a medieval village in Bavaria, where the accidental death of a kitten results in an act of horrifying revenge inside a torture chamber.
Price said ‘As you read this very terrifying story, you can understand that this is a perfect example of how wonderfully radio can bring this kind of story to life. Listening to it, you’ll appreciate how great the sound effects add to the terror.’
4) Meeting in Athens (22/9/73)
Dramatised by Maurice Travers, was drawn from the 1970 tale So Cold, So Pale, So Fair by horror author Charles Birkin. When twentysomething Mark (who was a second assistant on Price’s film, Theatre of Blood) goes missing in Athens one hot August summer, his girlfriend Gillian enlists Vincent’s help in tracking him down. The cast included Kate Coleridge (Blake‘s 7) and Michael Deacon (The Lord of the Rings).
5) The Man Who Hated Scenes (29/9/73)
Dramatised by William Ingram, was based on a story by American mystery writer Robert Arthur. It originally appeared in the June 1952 issue of The Mysterious Traveler, entitled The Hint. On a train bound for New York, Price hears the wealthy, but meek Harry’s story of his fitting revenge on his wife Marilyn, after he discovered she was plotting to do away with him with help of her lover.
Peter Cushing, who gives a poignant, understated performance as Harry, reunited with Price for the 1977 BBC radio drama, Aliens in the Mind. Originally intended to be a Robert Holmes-penned Doctor Who episode for Patrick Troughton’s Time Lord, the six-part drama was adapted by Rene Basilico, who also wrote the Price of Fear series one tale, Fish.
This tale was announced as the last in a series, with Price signing off: ‘My life could never be described as ”dull”. So I do hope they’ll be another opportunity soon quite soon when I can share with you these curious and macabre incidents.’ Thankfully, he was back for more…
If the closing theme sounds familiar, that’s because it was lifted from Alfred Hitchcock’s Music to Be Murder By (1958), while the opening theme is Tension Pieces I by Max Saunders (circa 1950).
6) Lot 132 (6/10/73)
This was written and dramatised by Elizabeth Morgan, a Welsh writer of some 26 BBC radio plays, and who also features amongst the cast. Drawing on his real-life passion for painting and the arts (his early days living in Baker Street and doing his masters at the Courtauld is mentioned), this standout chiller has Price turn heroic sleuth when a 19th-century portrait has fatal consequences on its new owners living in Hayward’s Heath, Surrey.
DID YOU KNOW? Price very much enjoyed this story and praised writer Morgan, a former actress who voiced Angels, Destiny and Rhapsody, in Gerry Anderson’s Captain Scarlet TV series, noting: ‘Elizabeth wrote Lot 169 especially for radio and her style is not only literary but very much the product of an actress. As you read it you will be amazed at how well it reads aloud. It’s an intriguing story, complicated but never losing your interest.’
7) The Waxwork (13/10/73)
Dramatised by Barry Campbell, this was based on a 1931 story by British author AM Burrage. Here, Price recounts the time he met a hard-up freelance writer Raymond Hewson, who dies under mysterious circumstances while spending the night in a Baker Street waxworks museum. Could it have in any way been connected with the museum’s latest exhibit: escaped French serial killer, Dr Bordet?
Price said ‘The Waxwork is a good example of a new twist on an old theme – spending a night in a cemetery or haunted house, etc. What makes Burrage’s tale more frightening is the introduction of a famous murderer. Is he really only a waxwork? The author leaves you in delightful doubt as to what killed the young writer, truth or imagination.’
DID YOU KNOW? There’s a strong Doctor Who connection among the cast, which included Peter Barkworth (The Ice Warriors, 1967), Cyril Shaps (The Androids of Tara, 1978) and Christopher Bidmead (who was a script editor and writer during the Tom Baker years).
8) Fish (20/10/73)
This was written and dramatised by BAFTA-nominated writer and director Rene Basilico. In Sydney, compulsive ‘piscivore’ Price gets caught up in a bizarre love triangle when aspiring actor Greg falls for the enigmatic Jane, a one-time actress who is now married to wealthy broker turned deep-sea fisherman Richard (played by Australian actor Bill Kerr). But when Greg decides to follow Jane to Brisbane, it proves his undoing – and the reason why Price will never eat ‘flake’ and chips ever again.
9) Soul Music (27/10/73)
Written and dramatised by William Ingram, this Paris-based tale, inspired no doubt by The Hands of Orlac, starred Coral Browne as Marianne, the wife of an acclaimed violinist who has lost his touch. But why? It’s only when Price learns the details of the post-mortem following David’s sudden death that he discovers the grisly truth. The cast in this story also included John Graham (Quatermass and the Pit).
10) Guy Fawkes Night (03/11/73)
Written and dramatised by Richard Davis, this whodunit finds Price recalling a London bonfire party in 1960, where a cruel father disappeared. With the man’s wife Helen (whom Price met and courted at art school in 1935) ending up in a mental hospital, and son David dying suddenly of a heart attack, Price pieces together a string of clues to find out what really happened to the father. It doesn’t make for a pretty story.
Price said ‘Guy Fawkes Night is, of course, a perfect setting for horrid things to happen and Richard Davis has spun a weird and very sinister web to trap a father and free a son from suppression. It has the classic purification, immolation by fire – not contrived as is often the case, but a part of the merry pranks of that lovingly celebrated day. ‘
DID YOU KNOW? Adrienne Corri, who played Helen, also appeared with Price in Madhouse, which had been filmed earlier in 1973. Interestingly, Corri’s characters in both that film and this tale have a mental illness and both suffer from unrequited love of Price’s characters. This story also gave Price the chance to playfully mock the pictures he had been making at the time. He alludes to Witchfinder General, too, and remarks that he’ll never attend another bonfire party again.
1) Come As You Are (6/4/74)
Written and dramatised by William Ingram, this spooky tale has Price reluctantly attending a champagne-fuelled costume party at the country estate of a self-made tycoon pal, Charles Vane (Pathfinders in Space’s Peter Williams), where he has a phantom encounter with a one-handed man who relates the details of his wife’s affair with a young lothario.
2) Specialty of the House (13/4/74)
This popular story by American mystery writer Stanley Ellin was first published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine in 1948. In Barry Campbell’s dramatisation, real-life passionate gourmand Price finds himself dining at Sbirros, an exclusive New York restaurant with a very rare dish on the menu – lamb Amirstan, which, suspiciously, only appears whenever one of the regulars disappears. The cast included Hugh Burden (Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb) and Francis De Wolfe (Devil Doll).
Price said, ‘Speciality of the House deals with an old fear, cannibalism, but in a very delicious way. I’ve been asked by listeners to this story whether I thought the fear was of being eaten or eating a fellow human? Of course, the main dish may have suffered a little in the preparation, but what sticks in your throat (which, incidentally, with the heart seems to be the favourite seat of fear), what gags the listener is the thought of eating flesh – I really don’t know why we’re finicky; we’re so little different (they tell me) from veal or horse meat.’
3) The Ninth Removal (20/4/74)
In Barry Campbell’s dramatisation of British fantasy author R Chetwynd-Hayes’ 1973 tale, Price visits the head of a London psychiatric clinic to do some script research. In the waiting room, he encounters the matronly, morally upright Amelia (Freda Jackson), whose story about a promiscuous office girl provides all the ingredients for a classic murder mystery. But after listening to the tale, Price decides to abandon his film script, and write a cookery book instead. Along with Freda Jackson (The Brides of Dracula), the cast also included Richard Pearson (Wind in the Willows) and Michael Segal (who played a villager in Witchfinder General).
4) An Eye for An Eye (27/4/74)
In this story by William Ingram, the old adage, ‘Every picture tells a story’, certainly comes to the fore. As Pissarro’s A Study of a Girl goes under the hammer at a St James’ Street gallery in London, Price recalls the time the Impressionist painting’s one-time owner, Count Luigi della Santa, invited the actor and art lover to a luncheon on board his boat moored in the Bay of Naples. One that involved ‘live’ seafood with a taste for revenge. The cast included Doctor Who scribe Christopher Bidmead.
5) Blind Man’s Bluff (4/5/74)
Again written and dramatised by William Ingram, this tale has Price on a train in the West Country listening to the shocking story of a blind man called Moley (Freddie Jones), about how he got his own back on a lodger who took advantage of his disability.
Price said, ‘I guess we all have our own personal fears, and one story that bothered me to read and to act was Blind Man’s Bluff. I can understand revenge – we’ve all felt that – but some of the ways people have expressed it comes closer to what in the modern vernacular is called ”sick”. As you will see. Ugh!’
1) Goody Two Shoes (30/5/83)
Price presents William Ingram’s sobering tale about a young London couple, David and Anne Fordyce, who move into a remote Devon cottage. They receive an unwelcome lodger – the vengeful spirit of its former occupant, a jilted bride turned recluse, who swore to punish anyone who dares set eyes on her. The cast included Michael Jayston (Doctor Who), and Daphne Heard (To The Manor Born).
2) To My Dear, Dear Saladin (6/6/83)
Price introduces William Ingram’s story of feline revenge. When Emily-Louise (One Foot in the Grave’s Annette Crosbie) is bequeathed her great aunt Hester’s estate, it is on the condition that she looks after her beloved cat, Saladin. But that doesn’t sit well with Emily’s money-hungry husband, Freddie (Edward Woodward), who maltreats the cat. But his cruelty is paid in kind in the great manor’s dark cellar. Interestingly, in this tale, Price sounds very much like his character Rattigan in Basil the Great Mouse Detective (1986), especially when he intones: ‘Dear, dear Saladin. ‘
3) The Family Album (13/6/83)
There’s something of the old Amicus horror anthologies in William Ingram’s dark tale about the very ordinary Arthur Goodby, who turns to photography after picking up an old album in a junk shop. But when he disappears under mysterious circumstances, his duplicitous friend Harry gets the shock of his life. Maurice Denham (Countess Dracula), Liz Fraser (Carry On Cruising) and Anthony Newlands (Scream and Scream Again) were among the cast.
4) Out of the Mouths (20/6/83)
Price narrates William Ingram’s tragic psychological drama about a brilliant research scientist Richard Atkins (Hywel Bennet), whose radical experiments on his newborn son, David, cause him to regress to a 12-year-old. Also in the cast were Elizabeth Proud (Simon and the Witch) and John Quayle (Nanny).
5) Not Wanted on the Voyage (27/6/83)
Carlos Mendoza, the trophy husband of the crippled, but dominating Henrietta Forsythe (The Mirror Crackd‘s Margaret Courtenay), starts an affair with his powerful wife’s hassled secretary Evelyn. When Henrietta sets sail to South America, she insists both Carlos and Evelyn accompany her – but to what end? William Ingram’s central themes here bear a striking similarity to Jay Bennett’s novel, Catacombs, which Gordon Hessler, who directed Price in three films, adapted for the screen in 1965.
6) Is There Anybody There? (4/7/83)
The final episode in the anthology series, and again by William Ingram, has Price recount the spooky tale of Ms Griselda Thorpe (Carry On‘s Dilys Laye), a former actress who conducts seances at her suburban London home in Arcadia Avenue, using on old pendant she once wore on stage. But secret delving by her regular Wednesday afternoon client, Henry Jolliet, soon unlocks the real truth behind the pendant and its links to Griselda’s Peruvian spirit guide, Manco Capac.
The Price of Fear, Edited by Richard Davis, Everest Books, 1976
The Price of Fear, BBC Radio Collection, 1990, ZBBC1118
The Digital Deli Online
© This article was written for The Sound of Vincent Price website, and We Belong Dead’s ’70s Monster Memories and is the sole property of the author, Peter Fuller. Any reproduction in whole or in part is forbidden.