Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Thursday, April 4, 2019


In Mike Nevins' column "First you Read, Then You Write" for this past Tuesday's Mystery File blog, he made reference to an old-time radio show I had never heard of, Tales of Fatima.  (The post was about writer John Roebert and mentioned some of the radio script writing he had done for radio's famous producer/director Himan Brown.  Nevins wrote:  "Among the less-successful Brown shows he worked on were TALES OF FATIMA [CBS, 1949, starring Basil Rathbone]...")  Nevins' column got me searching.

The "Fatima" in Tales of Fatima was a cigarette brand from Liggott & Meyers that was first produced in the 1880s.  "By the 1930s, L&M's Fatima brand was one one of the first cigarettes to offer both regular and 'long' sizes.  Fatima's long cigarette were actively promoted as the finest long cigarette employing a Turkish and domestic tobacco blend." *  References to the cigarette were included in the programs and Rathbone himself did the on-air commercials, as well as appearing in tie-in print ads.

Tales of Fatima ran from January 8 to October 1, 1949 for a total of 39 half-hour programs, only two of which survive**.  Rathbone played an actor named Basil Rathbone who gets involved in various -- often comic -- mysteries. A review of the first episode (and one of the 37 lost episodes), "The Strange Mr. Smith," was panned in Billboard magazine:  "Based on the first of the series, it was a hash of bad Oriental music, an all-seeing Fatima (dead 1,000 years) who hands Basil the leads needed to solve the puzzlers, a mixture of dreams (in which Basil gets such leads) and reality (featuring some second-date scripting of third-date whodunits), and many lines spoken in a wondrous, trance-like quality by Basil...Rathbone, evidently realizing the weakness of the show, laid about him a crisp British monotone, which was pure essence of armour."  Ouch!  Any changes to this formula were not enough to place it high in the pantheon of Rathbone's performances.

Recurring characters in the series were Lavender, the wardrobe mistress, played by Agnes Young
and Lieutenant Dennis "R. for Robert" Farrell, played by Francis Desalles; another occasional character was Oliver, Rathbone's chauffeur -- I have no idea who played that part.  

"A Much Expected Murder" was the 20th episode of the series.  It was directed by Harry Ingram.  Script writers for the series were Richard Connell and Gail Ingram.  The program announcer was Michael Fitzmaurice. 

Have fun with this one.

* From The Digital Deli Too website, "The Tales of Fatima Radio Program"

** The other surviving episode, titled "Time To Kill" aired the week after "A Much Expected Murder.'

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