Audio Drama Wiki

Christopher Columbus is a radio play by Louis MacNeice. It was first broadcast on BBC Radio on 12 October 1942[1]. It is MacNeice's first original play for radio.


A verse dramatization of Columbus' discovery of America.


  • Christopher Columbus - Laurence Olivier
  • Queen Isabella - Gladys Young


  • Music by William Walton[2]
  • Directed by Dallas Bower

Production History[]

The success of Louis MacNeice's first radio play, Alexander Nevsky, prompted the BBC to ask MacNeice and his producer Dallas Bower to contribute a programme to commemorate the 450th anniversary of the discovery of America. In part, this reflected a desire on the BBC's part to celebrate and strengthen ties with the United States, their ally in the ongoing war against Nazi Germany.

Bower again was able to secure a highly respected composer, William Walton, for the score, which was performed live by the BBC Orchestra. MacNeice's verse script also included songs, and is considered his most theatrical radio play.

Christopher Columbus remains one of MacNeice's most well-known radio plays. Its success within the BBC and among the critics solidified the author's reputation and position within the BBC, and also gave producer Dallas Bower the opportunity to produce his most famous work - Laurence Olivier's 1944 film version of Henry V

The BBC retains a recording of the original broadcast.

In 1992, the BBC produced a new version of the play starring Alan Howard.

Critical Reception[]

Significantly well-received at the time of broadcast. "...created a sensation in artistic circles on both sides of the Atlantic." - Asa Briggs[3]


  1. Drakakis, John (editor). British Radio Drama. Cambridge University Press 1981.
  2. Lloyd, Stephen. William Walton - Muse of Fire. The Boydell Press 2001
  3. Drakakis, John (editor). British Radio Drama. Cambridge University Press 1981.