The Lord of the Rings (1981 radio series)

From Tolkien Gateway
The name The Lord of the Rings refers to more than one character, item or concept. For a list of other meanings, see The Lord of the Rings (disambiguation).
Michael Hordern, John Le Mesurier and Ian Holm, as Gandalf, Bilbo and Frodo.

In 1981 BBC Radio 4 broadcast a dramatisation of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings in 26 half-hour stereo instalments.

It followed a previous 12-part BBC Radio version from 1955 and 1956, of which no recordings are known to have survived.

Broadcast history

Each of the original 26 episodes received two broadcasts per week - standard practice for many BBC radio serials even today. The first broadcast of Episode 2 was blacked out across a large part of south east England because of a transmitter failure (a very rare occurrence even then).

The 26-part series was subsequently edited into 13 hour-long episodes, restoring some dialogue originally cut for timing (since each hour-long episode is actually around 57 minutes, as opposed to 54 minutes for two half-hour episodes), rearranging some scenes for dramatic impact and adding linking narration and music cues. It was broadcast in 13 episodes in 1982.

The re-edited version was released on both cassette tape and CD sets which also included the soundtrack album (noticeably taken from a vinyl copy).

A soundtrack album featuring a completely re-recorded and in some cases expanded, suite of Stephen Oliver's music was released in 1981.

1981 broadcast

  1. "The Long Awaited Party", March 8
  2. "The Shadow Of The Past", March 15
  3. "The Black Riders", March 22
  4. "Trouble At The Prancing Pony", March 29
  5. "The Knife In The Dark", April 5
  6. "The Council Of Elrond", April 12
  7. "The Fellowship Of The Ring", April 19
  8. "The Mines Of Moria", April 26
  9. "The Mirror Of Galadriel", May 3
  10. "The Breaking Of The Fellowship", May 10
  11. "The Riders Of Rohan", May 17
  12. "Treebeard Of Fangorn", "May 24
  13. "The King Of The Golden Hall", May 31
  14. "Helm's Deep", June 7
  15. "The Voice Of Saruman", June 14
  16. "The Black Gate Is Closed", June 21
  17. "The Window On The West", June 28
  18. "Minas Tirith", July 5
  19. "Shelob's Lair", July 12
  20. "The Siege Of Gondor", July 19
  21. "The Battle Of Pelennor Fields", July 26
  22. "The Houses Of Healing", August 2
  23. "Mount Doom", August 9
  24. "The Return Of The King", August 16
  25. "Homeward Bound", August 23
  26. "The Grey Havens", August 30

1982 broadcast

  1. "The Shadow Of The Past", July 17
  2. "The Black Riders", July 24
  3. "The Knife In The Dark", July 31
  4. "The Ring Goes South", August 7
  5. "The Mirror Of Galadriel", August 14
  6. "The Breaking Of The Fellowship", August 21
  7. "The King Of The Golden Hall", August 28
  8. "The Voice Of Saruman", September 4
  9. "The Two Towers", September 11
  10. "The Choices Of Master Samwise", September 18
  11. "The Battle Of Pelennor Fields", September 25
  12. "Mount Doom", October 2
  13. "The Grey Havens", October 9

Differences from the book

Vinyl with the soundtrack by Stephen Oliver

The script by Brian Sibley and Michael Bakewell attempts to be as faithful as possible to the original books, but there are some errors and alterations. They include:

  • At one point, Minas Anor and Minas Tirith are referred to as though they were separate cities; these are merely alternate names for the same city.
  • Part of the Battle of Pelennor Fields sequence is described in song by an opera-style vocalist rather than acted, which may distance some listeners from the action. Others may find the kinship between the sequence and Eddic style of storytelling interesting.
  • Quickbeam the Ent does not appear in the story.
  • The radio serial omits the sequence in the book in which the hobbits visit with Tom Bombadil. However, in doing so, the Hobbits are never shown to receive their swords from the Barrow-downs, which are enchanted with spells that are proof against the Lord of the Nazgûl. Sibley acknowledges this later, when Merry stabs him during the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. Instead of being weakened as in the book, he merely says Merry stings like a gnat.


Role Actor
Narrator Gerard Murphy
Frodo Baggins Ian Holm
Gandalf the Grey Michael Hordern
Aragorn Robert Stephens
Samwise Gamgee William Nighy
Boromir Michael Graham Cox
Bilbo Baggins John Le Mesurier
Gollum/Sméagol Peter Woodthorpe
Gimli Douglas Livingstone
Meriadoc Brandybuck Richard O'Callaghan
Legolas David Collings
Faramir Andrew Seear
Saruman the White Peter Howell
Denethor Peter Vaughan
Lord of the Nazgûl Philip Voss
Elrond Hugh Dickson
Éomer Anthony Hyde
Éowyn Elin Jenkins
Théoden Jack May
Peregrin Took John McAndrew
Galadriel Marian Diamond
Gríma Wormtongue Paul Brooke
Odo Proudfoot Sean Arnold
Gamling Patrick Barr
Lobelia Sackville-Baggins Diana Bishop
Farmer Maggot John Bott
Ruffian John Bott
Celeborn Simon Cadell
Gaffer Gamgee John Church
The Bard Oz Clarke
Farmer Cotton Alan Dudley
Shagrat Chris Fairbank
Déagol Graham Faulkner
Bill Ferny Graham Faulkner
Daddy Twofoot Leonard Fenton
Arwen Evenstar Sonia Fraser
Radagast Donald Gee
Barliman Butterbur James Grout
Uglúk Brian Haines
Rose Cotton Kathryn Hurlbutt
The Eagle David James
Gwaihir Alexander John
Ioreth Pauline Letts
Éothain John Livesey
Otho Sackville-Baggins John Livesey
Ceorl Michael McStay
Halbarad Martyn Read
Sandyman Gordon Reid
Snaga of Isengard Gordon Reid
Snaga of Mordor Gordon Reid
The Mouth of Sauron John Rye
Beregond Christopher Scott
Gorbag David Sinclair
Háma Michael Spice
Treebeard Stephen Thorne
Glorfindel John Webb
Haldir Haydn Wood
Nob Haydn Wood

Re-release in 2002

In 2002, to coincide with the release of Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings (film series), the BBC reissued the series in three sets corresponding to the three original volumes (The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King).

This version omitted the original episode divisions, and included a new opening and closing narration for the first two sets, and an opening narration only for the last, recorded by Ian Holm in character as Frodo Baggins - Frodo's narrations deal with his efforts to write his historical account of the War of the Ring in the Red Book, as well as his own personal reflections and musings on the story's events.

The re-edited version also included some additional music cues, which had to be taken from the soundtrack album because the original master tapes for the series music had been lost.

The soundtrack, now digitally remastered, was also included with The Return of the King set, with a demo of John Le Mesurier singing Bilbo's Last Song included as a bonus track.

The 13-episode series was also rerun on Radio 4 in 2002.

External links