The Black Museum

The Black Museum was a radio crime-drama program produced by Harry Towers in London. It was broadcast in Europe on Radio Luxembourg, a commercial radio station, and was not broadcast by the BBC until 1991.

In 1946 Harry Towers and his mother, Margaret Miller Towers, started a company called Towers of London that sold various syndicated radio shows around the world, including The Lives of Harry Lime with Orson Welles, The Secrets of Scotland Yard with Clive Brook, Horatio Hornblower with Michael Redgrave, and a series of Sherlock Holmes stories featuring John Gielgud as Holmes, Ralph Richardson as Watson and Welles as Moriarty. [1]

The Black Museum was based on real-life cases from the files of Scotland Yard's Black Museum. The program was transcribed in 1951 and was broadcast in the United States in 1952 on Mutual.[2] More than 500 of the network's stations carried it.[3] Ira Marion was the scriptwriter, and music for the series was composed and conducted by Sidney Torch.

Orson Welles was both host and narrator for stories of horror and mystery, based on Scotland Yard's collection of murder weapons and various ordinary objects once associated with historical true crime cases. The show's opening began:

This is Orson Welles, speaking from London.
(Sound of Big Ben chimes)
The Black Museum... a repository of death. Here in the grim stone structure on the Thames which houses Scotland Yard is a warehouse of homicide, where everyday objects... a woman’s shoe, a tiny white box, a quilted robe... all are touched by murder.

In 2002, Towers produced The Black Museum for television and hired director Gregory Mackenzie to be the showrunner and director for the anthology series using the original narration by Welles. The adaptation was shot on location in London in a film noir style and the pilot stars Michael York as the Scotland Yard Inspector Russel.

Programme format and themes

Walking through the museum, Welles would pause at one of the exhibits, and his description of an artifact served as a device to lead into a wryly-narrated dramatised tale of a brutal murder or a vicious crime. In the closing: "Now until we meet again in the same place and I tell you another tale of the Black Museum", Welles would conclude with his signature radio phrase, "I remain, as always, obediently yours".

With the story themes deriving from objects in the collection (usually with the names of the people involved changed but the facts remaining true to history), the 51 episodes had such titles as "The Tartan Scarf" and "A Piece of Iron Chain" or "Frosted Glass Shards" and "A Khaki Handkerchief". An anomaly to the series was an episode called "The Letter" as this was the only story not about murder, but about forgery.

Broadcast history

In the United States, the series aired on the Mutual Network in 1952.[2] It was rebroadcast on KABC, Los Angeles, California, in 1963–1964[4] and on KUAC (FM) in Fairbanks, Alaska, in 1967.[5]

Beginning May 7, 1953, it was also broadcast over Radio Luxembourg sponsored by the cleaning products Dreft and Mirro. Since the BBC carried no commercials, Radio Luxembourg aired sponsored programs at night to England.

In the United States, there was a contemporary programme called Whitehall 1212 written and directed by Wyllis Cooper and broadcast by NBC, that was similar in scope to The Black Museum. It was hosted by Chief Superintendent John Davidson, curator of the Black Museum. It used many of the same picked cases as The Black Museum, and it nearly mirrored its broadcast run. The two shows were different in the respect that while Whitehall 1212 told the story of a case entirely from the point of view of the police starting from the crime scene, The Black Museum was more heavily dramatized and played out scenes of the actual murders and included scenes from the criminal's point of view.[6]


The following episodes were broadcast:[7]

  • Black Museum – 01 The .22 Caliber Pistol AKA Little Blue 22
  • Black Museum – 02 .32 Calibre Bullet
  • Black Museum – 03 Bath Tub
  • Black Museum – 04 The Black Gladstone Bag
  • Black Museum – 05 The Brick
  • Black Museum – 06 The Brass Button
  • Black Museum – 07 Can of Weed Killer
  • Black Museum – 08 Canvas Bag
  • Black Museum – 09 The Car Tire
  • Black Museum – 10 The Champagne Glass
  • Black Museum – 11 A Claw Hammer
  • Black Museum – 12 Door Key
  • Black Museum – 13 Faded Tartan Scarf AKA The Yellow Scarf
  • Black Museum – 14 Four Small Bottles
  • Black Museum – 15 French–English Dictionary
  • Black Museum – 16 Gas Receipt
  • Black Museum – 17 Frosted Glass Shards
  • Black Museum – 18 The Hammerhead
  • Black Museum – 19 The Jack Handle
  • Black Museum – 20 Jar of Acid
  • Black Museum – 21 The Khaki Handkerchief
  • Black Museum – 22 A Lady's Shoe
  • Black Museum – 23 The Leather Bag
  • Black Museum – 24 A Letter
  • Black Museum – 25 The Mandolin String
  • Black Museum – 26 Meat Juice
  • Black Museum – 27 The Notes
  • Black Museum – 28 The Old Wooden Mallet
  • Black Museum – 29 The Open End Wrench
  • Black Museum – 30 A Pair Of Spectacles
  • Black Museum – 31 A Piece Of Iron Chain
  • Black Museum – 32 The Pink Powderpuff
  • Black Museum – 33 Post Card With Picture Of The Rising Sun
  • Black Museum – 34 A Prescription
  • Black Museum – 35 The Raincoat
  • Black Museum – 36 Length of Sash Cord
  • Black Museum – 37 Auto Service Card
  • Black Museum – 38 The Sheath Knife
  • Black Museum – 39 The Shopping Bag
  • Black Museum – 40 Shilling
  • Black Museum – 41 A Silencer
  • Black Museum – 42 The Small White Boxes
  • Black Museum – 43 The Spotted Bedsheet
  • Black Museum – 44 The Straight Razor
  • Black Museum – 45 The Tan Shoe
  • Black Museum – 46 The Telegram
  • Black Museum – 47 The Trunk
  • Black Museum – 48 Two Bullets
  • Black Museum – 49 Walking Stick
  • Black Museum – 50 A Women's Pigskin Glove
  • Black Museum – 51 The Wool Jacket


Based on original research and comparisons of the episode plot with the facts of the actual case, the below-listed Metropolitan Police cases were probably used as the basis for episodes of The Black Museum:

Episodes yet to be matched with true case histories are:

  • The Canvas Bag
  • The Door Key
  • The Faded Tartan Scarf
  • The Iron Chain, Piece of
  • The Mandolin String
  • Notes – Kilroy was Here
  • The Open End Wrench
  • The Sash Cord, Length of
  • The Shilling
  • The Shopping Bag
  • The Silencer

Relationships and differences with source material

  • Two episodes, "The Car Tire" and "The Gas Receipt," were the same story with minor differences between the two. Another pair of episodes, "The Baby's Jacket" and "The Spectacles," were also based on the same case, as were "The Tan Shoe" and "The Leather Bag."
  • Four famous murder cases were dramatized on The Black Museum: John George Haigh, the "Acid Bath Murderer"; George Joseph Smith, the "Brides in the Bath Murderer"; Adelaide Bartlett, whose husband died from chloroform poisoning; and Florence Maybrick, who allegedly used arsenic from fly-paper to murder her husband James Maybrick (who was suspected of being Jack the Ripper due to the 1993 publication of The Diary of Jack the Ripper).
  • In "The Open End Wrench" it's mistakenly stated that the culprit was executed in Dartmoor. No twentieth-century executions were carried out in Dartmoor. Built during the Napoleonic Wars to contain French and American POWs, it was, after lying idle from 1815 to 1850, later commissioned as a convict prison and used for dangerous long-term prisoners only.
  • The dramatized story of "The Hammerhead" was changed to make the victim's sister the murderer instead of the boy friend.
  • The episode "Small White Boxes" is the only story in which the real names were used rather than pseudonyms.

See also


  1. "Harry Alan Towers obituary". September 30, 2009. Retrieved March 21, 2017.
  2. Dunning, John (1998). On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio (Revised ed.). New York, NY: Oxford University Press. p. 95. ISBN 978-0-19-507678-3. Retrieved 2019-11-04.
  3. Sullivan, Ed (December 17, 1951). "Little Old New York". The Morning Herald. p. 4. Retrieved May 4, 2015 via
  4. "Radio Drama" (PDF). Broadcasting. August 19, 1963. p. 62. Retrieved 4 May 2015.
  5. "KUAC Brings Back Old Days With 'The Black Museum'". Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. January 10, 1967. p. 5. Retrieved May 4, 2015 via
  6. Dunning 1998, p. 721.


  • Browne, Douglas; Tullett, Tom (1951), Bernard Spilsbury, Grafton Books, London, ISBN 0-586-05574-6
  • Dunning, John (1998), On the air: the encyclopedia of old-time radio (2 ed.), Oxford University Press, p. 721, ISBN 978-0-19-507678-3
  • Fido, Martin (1986), The Murder Guide to London, Grafton Books, London, ISBN 0-586-07179-2
  • Simpson, Keith (1978), Forty Years of Murder, Grafton Books, London, ISBN 0-586-05038-8
  • Tullet, Tom (1979), Murder Squad: Famous Cases of Scotland Yard's Murder Squad from Crippen to The Black Panther, Granada Publishing Ltd., London, ISBN 0-586-05218-6
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