The Search Party

1951 | United Kingdom

The Search Party, which was broadcast on BBC Television on Sunday 8 July 1951 was adapted from a short novel by George A. Birmingham, the pen name of Belfast born James Owen Hannay, an Irisih clergyman and prolific novelist.

George A. Birmingham
George A. Birmingham

The story, which was written in 1909 and is set 4 years previously, concerns itself with the village of Clonmore, on the west coast of Connaught (now Connacht) in Ireland - with the village stores - with the post office - with the Imperial Hotel - and also with the people; the young doctor heavily in debt and incurably optimistic and the ageing but incorrigibly flippant peer who inhabits Clonmore Castle (Wyndham Goldie). Into this scene come sinister foreigners. Mr Red (Paul Demmel) and his two attendants (anarchists in service of The Brotherhood) have rented Lord Manton's dower house where, unknown to His Lordship, they are making explosives. The young doctor, Lucius O’Grady (Richard Leech), a frequent guest at the Castle, strays into their clutches and is seemingly imprisoned. With O'Grady apparently having gone missing, his English fiancée, Miss Blow (Ursula Howells), comes hot-foot across the Irish sea to demand an explanation for his disappearance. She gets no help from the local Irish constabulary, and her experience of the people of Clonmore goes far beyond her worst expectations. She has made up her mind that Dr. O'Grady had been murdered; that everybody in the place knows the fact; and that, either through fear or an innate fondness for crime, no one will help to bring the murderers to justice. However, things take a turn for the worse when two (heavily satirised) visiting English M.P.s come to grief. However, nothing is as it seems on the face of it.

The Search Party 1951 BBC play
Wyndham Goldie and Richard Leech

The Search Party, broadcast live over 105 minutes was, as was customary at that time, repeated in a second live performance the following Thursday (12 July 1951). No telerecordings were made and so we can only rely on critic Austin Welland, writing in Television Weekly (edition published 13 July 1951) for a review:

The Search Party 1951 BBC play

"The Search Party fell considerably below the high standard of entertainment we have come to expect from producer Douglas Allen, mainly because the adaptor of George Birmingham's novel failed to discriminate between dramatic and literary values.

There were lines and situations that may have appeared credible when dressed up in the literary form, but which strained viewers' credulity."

The Search Party 1951 BBC play
Tony Quinn, Ursula Howells and John Kelly in a scene from 'The Search Party'

"Richard Leech was a devil-may-care penurious medico ; Wyndham Goldie a delightfully irresponsible lord of the manor ; Ursula Howells a very determined young lady ; and Tony Quinn and John Kelly a lovable pair of rascals in the real Irish tradition."

Published on April 19th, 2021. Written by Laurence Marcus (sources: Radio Times & Television Weekly) for Television Heaven.