BBC Radio 4, 18-25 January 2009
This two-part classic serial approached Bennett's 1902 work as a rip-roaring
spy thriller reminiscent of John Buchan's The Thirty-Nine Steps. Theodore Racksole, a rich American philanthropist
(John Sessions) and his daughter Nella (Matti Houghton) come to London to stay in the ultra-exclusive Grand Babylon Hotel,
where the aristos have their own special entrance and the plebs are ruthlessly excluded. However all is not what it seems;
the maitresse d'hotel Miss Spencer (Fenella Woolgar) vanishes in mysterious circumstances, while the bellboy Jules
- aka Thomas Jackson (Richard Katz) - seems particularly sinister. The story unfolds at a great lick, twisting and turning
in various directions too numerous to mention: we discover that Thomas and Miss Spencer are the instigators of a plot to kill
the Grand Prince Eugen (Stephen Critchlow) and thereby plunge the whole of Europe into war. Racksole and Nella become
inextricably involved in trying to foil the plot; both endure considerable ordeals - being drugged, held at gunpoint or imprisoned
- nefore they emerge triumphant with the help of the willing aristo Aribert (Joe Kloska). The entire cast thoroughly
enjoyed themselves in a story which could only have taken place in the Edwardian period, as the old order represented by the
British, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires gradually came to an end.
Harrald also emphasized the differences between old and new
world values. The first part suggested that they were irreconcilable: the Grand Babylon Hotel staff resented Racksole's pushiness
and his unquenchable belief that money could buy anything. On the other hand the American's motives were crystal-clear;
unlike the European old world representatives, who invariably concealed their motives under a civilized veneer. As the
story progressed, our sympathies gradually inclined towards Racksole as he doggedly pursued his quest to foil the plot.
His efforts received due reward as the Grand Prince was set free and Aribert achieved his dream of marrying Nella. The old
and new worlds were joined at last; now Nella could achieve her ambition of walking through the aristos entrance at the Grand
Babylon Hotel. Racksole himself returned to America, firmly believing that he had more freedom to experiment there.
Nonetheless even he acknowledged the importance of joining the two worlds, as he fervently hoped that Nella and Aribert
would produce a grandson. In Harrald's retelling, The Grand Babylon Hotel became a propaganda piece, implying that
peace could only be maintained through lasting alliances between people of different cultural backgrounds. The producer was