Hear a Radio Drama of George Orwell’s 1984, Starring Patrick Troughton, of Doctor Who Fame (1965)

Take two of the most promi­nent Eng­lish cul­tur­al prop­er­ties of the past sev­er­al decades, bring them togeth­er, and what have you got? You’ve got Patrick Troughton, bet­ter known as the Sec­ond Doc­tor in TV’s Doc­tor Who, in a 1965 BBC Radio adap­ta­tion of George Orwell’s 1984. Troughton was not yet the Doc­tor; the hon­or would not fall to him until the fol­low­ing year when he replaced William Hart­nell (with the latter’s full approval, it seems). But he was a well-known char­ac­ter actor, the first to play Robin Hood on tele­vi­sion (in a 1953 BBC mini-series), and a fig­ure who inspired a good deal of respect in the British enter­tain­ment indus­try. Troughton was also a dec­o­rat­ed World War II vet­er­an (who, when the year 1984 final­ly arrived, suf­fered his sec­ond major heart attack).

Troughton brings to the role of every­man Win­ston Smith a grav­i­tas shared by a num­ber of actors who have inher­it­ed the role since the very first radio adap­ta­tion in 1949, star­ring David Niv­en. Of course Orwell’s sto­ry is not an ongo­ing series like Doc­tor Who, but it has remained remark­ably rel­e­vant to every gen­er­a­tion post-World War II, and like the Doctor’s char­ac­ter, has been con­stant­ly re-imag­ined in adap­ta­tions on radio, film, and tele­vi­sion. The con­di­tions of gov­ern­ment repres­sion, cen­sor­ship, and mass sur­veil­lance Orwell fore­saw have seemed immi­nent, if not ful­ly real­ized, in the decades fol­low­ing the nov­el’s 1948 pub­li­ca­tion, though the adjec­tive “Orwellian” and many of the novel’s coinages have suf­fered a good deal through overuse and mis­ap­pli­ca­tion.

Just as the first radio play of 1984 warned of a “dis­turb­ing broad­cast,” this 1965 ver­sion begins, “The fol­low­ing play is not suit­able for those of a ner­vous dis­po­si­tion.” It’s inter­est­ing that even this long after the novel’s pub­li­ca­tion, and in the midst of the swing­ing six­ties, Orwell’s dystopi­an fable still had the pow­er to shock. Or at least the pro­duc­ers of this broad­cast thought so. Per­haps we’ve been so thor­ough­ly inured to the prospects Orwell warned of that rev­e­la­tions of the NSA’s mas­sive data col­lec­tion, or of the glob­al expro­pri­a­tion dis­closed by the Pana­ma Papers, or of any num­ber of nefar­i­ous gov­ern­ment deal­ings often elic­it a cyn­i­cal shrug from the aver­age per­son. Those who do express alarm at such doc­u­ment­ed abus­es are often brand­ed… well, alarmists.

But then again, we keep return­ing to Orwell.

Con­tin­u­ing in the tra­di­tion begun by David Niv­en and car­ried for­ward by Patrick Troughton (and on film by Edmond O’Brien and John Hurt), anoth­er respect­ed British actor recent­ly took on the role of Win­ston Smith in a BBC 4 radio adap­ta­tion three years ago. This time the actor was Christo­pher Eccle­ston, who also, it turns out, once played Doc­tor Who.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Hear the Very First Adap­ta­tion of George Orwell’s 1984 in a Radio Play Star­ring David Niv­en (1949)

What “Orwellian” Real­ly Means: An Ani­mat­ed Les­son About the Use & Abuse of the Term

The Cov­er of George Orwell’s 1984 Becomes Less Cen­sored with Wear and Tear

Mon­ty Python’s John Cleese Wor­ries That Polit­i­cal Cor­rect­ness Will Lead Us into a Humor­less World, Rem­i­nis­cent of Orwell’s 1984

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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