During 1955 and 1956, a condensed radio dramatisation of The Lord of the Rings was broadcast in twelve episodes on BBC Radio's the Third Programme. These radio broadcasts were among the first dramatisations of The Lord of the Rings, a book by J. R. R. Tolkien, the final volume of which, The Return of the King, had been published in October 1955. No recordings of these radio broadcasts are known to have survived.
The first part of the story, The Fellowship of the Ring, was broadcast in six episodes in 1955. The final two volumes, The Two Towers and The Return of the King were covered in six episodes broadcast in 1956. Both series of broadcasts were adapted and produced by Terence Tiller, who corresponded with Tolkien for advice concerning the second series.
Radio was the dominant broadcast medium in the UK at the time, and the broadcasts helped to publicise the books. The broadcasts were discussed on the BBC programme The Critics and discussion of the broadcasts brought them to the attention of a Mr. Sam Gamgee, who subsequently wrote to Tolkien to ask about the origin of the name of the character Sam Gamgee.
The cast included the actor Norman Shelley, who played the parts of Gandalf and Tom Bombadil. The author's opinions on these broadcasts were revealed in several letters he wrote, which were published in 1981 in The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien.
Quotes from J. R. R. Tolkien
"I think the book quite unsuitable for 'dramatization', and have not enjoyed the broadcasts - though they have improved. I thought Tom Bombadil dreadful - but worse still was the announcer's preliminary remarks that Goldberry was his daughter(!), and that Willowman was an ally of Mordor(!!)." (The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, Letter 175, 30 November 1955)
"I think poorly of the broadcast adaptations. Except for a few details I think they are not well done, even granted the script and the legitimacy of the enterprise (which I do not grant), but they took some trouble with the names. I thought that the dwarf (Gloin not Gimli [...]) was not too bad, if a bit exaggerated." (The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, Letter 176, 8 December 1955)
[To Terence Tiller, concerning accents]: "I paid great attention to such linguistic differentiation as was possible: in diction, idiom and so on; and I doubt if much more can be imported, except in so far as the individual actor represents his feeling for the character in tone and style." (The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, Letter 193, 2 November 1956)
[To Terence Tiller, concerning scripts for three of the episodes]: "Here is a book very unsuitable for dramatic or semi-dramatic representation. If that is attempted, it needs more space, a lot of space. [...] Personally, I think it requires rather the older art of the reading 'mime', than the more nearly dramatic, which results in too great an emphasis on dialogue (mostly with its setting removed). [...] I feel you have had a very hard task." (The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, Letter 194, 6 November 1956)
[Replying to his publisher concerning an enquiry about the possibility of making a cartoon of The Lord of the Rings]: "I think I should find vulgarization less painful than the sillification achieved by the B.B.C." (The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, Letter 198, 19 June 1957)
- Derek Hart - Narrator
- Oliver Burt - Frodo
- Norman Shelley - Gandalf, Tom Bombadil, Old Man, Additional voices
- Victor Platt - Sam
- Godfrey Kenton - Aragorn, Mablung, Additional voices
- Michael Collins - Merry
- Basil Jones - Pippin
- Felix Felton - Bilbo, Sauron, The Black Captain, Orcs, Additional voices
- Derek Prentice - Boromir, Faramir, Beregond, Orcs, Additional voices
- Frank Duncan - Legolas, Halbarad, Additional voices
- Eric Lugg - Gimli, Additional voices
- Gerik Schjelderup - Gollum, Orcs
- Robert Farquharson - Saruman, Denethor
- Valentine Dyall - Théoden, Treebeard, Orcs
- Bernard Rebel - Wormtongue
- Garard Green - Elrond, Celeborn, Additional voices
- Nicolette Bernard - Galadriel, Goldberry
- John Baker - Orcs
- Olive Gregg - Eowyn
- David Hemmings - Bergil
- Noel Johnson - Éomer
- Prunella Scales - Ioreth
- Roger Snowdon - Orcs