When considering dramatisations of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, people often think of the BBC Radio adaptation . However it was not the first. An earlier version was made and broadcast in 1979 on US National Public Radio broadcast radio. It was produced by “The Mind’s Eye” theatre company, who at the time were responsible for numerous adaptations of classic literature for radio. The script, written by Bernard Mayes, was an abridged version of the book. Its eleven hour running time focused significantly on the dialogue, with much of the back history and expositionary narration removed.
The production was very low budget, drawing upon local amateur actors and friends of the producer. There was extensive use of library music and home made sound effects. Due to scheduling issues the cast often recorded their dialogue separately which leads to some somewhat stilted exchanges of dialogue in key scenes. The actors also had to provide multiple voices and their own accents are at times apparent. It is also clear that the production was not driven by a Tolkien scholar. The pronunciation of many names and places is often incorrect and some aspects of the plot have been reduced so excessively it leaves many questions unanswered to those unfamiliar with the story.
However despite these flaws, this production was popular at the time of its broadcast. It’s simplicity is actually quite a benefit, making it more accessible for a younger audience or those with only a passing interest in Tolkien’s work. It should also be noted that this production does not omit Tom Bombadil and presents his part of the story in quite an effective fashion. The production has been distributed by several audio book companies over the years and can even be found on “You Tube”. Although purists may eschew it for it’s obvious faults, there is still much to enjoy from this drama if it is approached in the right fashion.