BBC Dramatized Radio Broadcast of The Fellowship of the Ring

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

This is the second installment in my series on the BBC Radio dramatizations of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, which began as an accident. You can read more about the backstory here

Photo of an old radio sitting on a wooden table in front of a shelf of old books | Lydia Sanders #TwistyMustacheReviews

The complete BBC Radio Broadcast of The Lord of the Rings, written by Brian Sibley and Michael Bakewell, aired on BBC Radio 4 from March to August 1981. There were 26 half-hour episodes.

Today’s post will focus on the portion of the story considered equivalent to The Fellowship of the Ring.

2002 Rerelease

I’m listening to a 2002/2007 edition, which was tweaked for release on CD.

In this edition, the episode transitions were removed to make the listening experience less repetitive. Intros and outros from Frodo’s perspective were also added to the original broadcast to frame the individual books and ease the listener into and out of the story.

The Fellowship of the Ring dramatization is 4:35:33 and divided into 4 parts/CDs.

Everything about the sound and production in this broadcast is excellent, even better than the BBC Radio Dramatization of The Hobbit. The music and sound effects are great. I have no complaints in this realm whatsoever.


The voice-acting is also excellent. The cast list is enormous, so none of the voices had to be garbled to make them distinct.

Ian Holm (Bilbo in the LOTR films) did the voice of Frodo. I spent the whole broadcast wondering why he sounded so darn familiar.

Bill Nighy did the voice of Sam. He nailed it. This drama is worth listening to just to hear him sing The Fall of Gil-Galad.

The only strictly voice-related quibble I have is that Aragorn (Robert Stephens) had a bit of a lisp. At first it seemed really weird, but after a while, I got used to it.

The dialog was generally good, or at least unremarkable, except for expository dialog  (more on that shortly). There were a few points where the dialog dipped into extreme melodrama, but it’s hard for me to say how much of it was voice acting and how much of it was the script itself.

Story Adaptation

The exposition/info-dumping in this broadcast was pretty conspicuous. Part of the problem is that the story itself requires a fair amount of background information just to make sense. The Hobbit broadcast helped combat this problem by having Bilbo’s character interrupt the narrator and chime in with extra details, but this drama doesn’t have anything quite like that, so the writers had to either have the narrator tell the audience what they needed to know directly or else convey it in dialog. Oftentimes the result is cheesy, contrived dialog for the sake of getting information across.

Most of the weaknesses in this broadcast are related to the story adaptation itself, generally where the writers stayed true to the book when deviating would have strengthened the story. For instance, the beginning is still slow—Gandalf is still gone for years searching out the Ring’s secret and Frodo still has months to leave the Shire.

There are plenty of points where the writers altered the story to strengthen it, however. They cut out the part where Frodo passes along some of Bilbo’s possessions to other family members and the whole section with Tom Bombadil.

They also put more events from the book in chronological order. The story of Gollum’s capture and torture is shown at the very beginning of the story. Where the Tom Bombadil section used to fall in the story, it cuts over to Gandalf’s adventure, so that we don’t have to get caught up later at the Council of Elrond.

They added a segment to Gandalf’s portion of the story with Wormtongue and the Ring Wraiths, which explained some things that otherwise could seem random. This bit originates from Unfinished Tales.

The added outro from Frodo’s perspective also adds a bit of material from The Two Towers which helps to tie up this volume. It softens the otherwise abrupt end while still making it clear that this is only part of the story.

They kept most of the poetry from the book, maybe even all of it—I’m not sure. I enjoyed it. I don’t remember how much of it was plot-relevant.

Bottom Line

I love audio dramas.  Compared with film, they give me more of a blank canvas onto which I can project my imagination.  Some of the storytelling in this broadcast is a bit weaker than the film, but my mental cinematography and special effects will never be outdated, which is part of why I’m more of a book person than a movie person. Overall, I thought it was excellent. I may even like it better than the film version.

I give this broadcast 6/7 Twisty mustaches and recommend it for anyone who wants to delve into The Lord of the Rings, but is overwhelmed by the length of the books and unabridged audiobooks.

This series will be on hiatus until I get ahold of the BBC Radio Dramatization of The Two Towers, which may be a while because I am still number 18 on the hold list.

Have you listened to The LOTR radio broadcast? What did you think of it? Leave a comment below or my hairless ghost lemur will haunt your dreams.

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