Wednesday, 06 July 2022

Unsolved murder case re-opened on airwaves

AN unsolved murder that rocked Reading in the Twenties has been turned into a new radio comedy drama.

The five-part Who Killed Alfred Oliver?, produced by the RABBLE Theatre group, will premiere on BBC Radio Berkshire next week.

All episodes last 10 minutes and one will air daily at 10am from Monday to Friday with a full-length uninterrupted omnibus on Sunday.

The true story from 1929 finds tobacconist Alfred Oliver bludgeoned to death in his Cross Street store.

On the same day, actor Philip Yale Drew, the star of the box office smash hit The Monster, is spotted near the scene, and becomes the chief suspect.

The killing captured the town’s imagination but Drew won over the public with his performance in the witness box where the inquest effectively cleared him of murder.

Toby Davies, the group’s theatre director, said the play puts a spotlight on to what life was like at that time. He said: “It’s a whodunnit based on actual events that took place in Reading. Philip Yale Drew was this big American superstar and he’s seen near the scene of the crime.

“Drew was taken to court as a prime suspect but they refused to sentence him because he was so popular. It is just an incredible story that’s still unsolved today. The story is told through a narrator, Charlie Fry, and he is the stage manager of the show. It is a really nice insight into the world they were in and the chaos caused by the death.

“You get to know Charlie really well and there is also a detective, coroner and landlady that are given nice voices. The incidents are all rooted in history and each episode will leave you wondering who has done it. You feel the sense of the high drama that was around but there are elements of comedy.

“There is a great range of people and there are lots of names and places that people will recognise.”

The idea for the play came from Dani Davies, the executive director of the group, who learned the story of the murder.

It was then written by Beth Flintoff, the group’s associate writer, who worked to make sure the sights and sounds that are being described are authentic.

Toby said: “We read everything under the sun and have spoken to a number of university professors who specialise in the area to make sure we are describing it as it was in the Twenties.

“We have also used recognisable places. There is a scene that takes place on the river so we used Caversham Court Gardens but we also used the canal behind the jail, the Abbey, Forbury Gardens and Friar Street.

“While the idea of a whodunnit is not new, it is a fresh piece of writing that is fun, which is what we wanted to provide, that’s pure escapism.” Dani added: “This is a 100 per cent a made in Reading production. We are also delighted to be producing a play that has absolutely nothing to do with contagious viruses.”

The group has been itching to get back performing again, even if it’s without a live audience, after the coronavirus pandemic forced theatres to close.

Toby said: “We are delighted to be producing work in these difficult times and we’d like to thank our partners at the BBC as well as Arts Council England, Macbeths Chartered Insurance Brokers and The Head Partnership Solicitors for enabling us to continue.

“We applied to the arts council for funding and as well as giving us some money to survive they gave us some money to create a couple of projects, this being one of them.

“Actor Joe Evans, who plays Drew, was due to appear in Tina at the Aldwych Theatre and the night before having an audience in after five weeks of rehearsal, Boris closed the theatres. He’s still got things in their dressing room. Long may culture reign in Reading.”

Who Killed Alfred Oliver? can be heard on BBC Radio Berkshire daily at 10am from Monday with an omnibus edition next Sunday (September 26) also at 10am.

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