BBC Radio 3, 25 July 2010
Sir Oliver Lodge (1851-1940) was a British physicist and writer involved
in the key developments in wireless telegraphy. His "syntonic" tuner patent allowed the frequency of transmitter and receiver
to be "verified with ease and certainty." This was a basic patent in the nascent radio industry, which was purchased
and used by the Marconi Company. Lodge is also remembered for his studies of life after death. Throughout
his life - but especially after the death of his son Raymond in World War I - Lodge visited several mediums and wrote about
his experiences, in a never-ending attempt to prove scientifically that human beings could communicate with the dead.
In Adrian Bean and David Hendy's biodrama, Lodge (Owen Teale) came across as an obsessive
- someone so preoccupied with his researches into life after death that he neglected his work on electromagnetics (which is
what he is chiefly remembered for). Lodge was prepared to sacrifice everything - even his family - to prove he could communicate
with the dead. Hence the three mediums he worked with, Mesdames Kennedy, Lawrence and Piper (all played by Caroline Strong)
assumed more significance in his life than his wife Mary (Amanda Root). In the end Mary became so isolated that she told her
husband that, even if he had managed to communicate with Raymond (Sandy Grierson), he had never once said that he loved
him. Oliver was purely interested in the scientific basis of his research; his wife, on the other hand, was more concerned
with her family, and how they might respond both to the trauma of Raymond's death, and the possibility that they could
still talk to him across the life/death divide.
When Oliver passed away himself,
he understood the futility of his life's work. Despite the help offered by mediums - fake or genuine - no one
could ever verify for sure whether they could commnicate with the dead, or whether they were doing anything useful by trying
to do so. Perhaps it was better just to come to terms with the fact of death. In this sense, Between Two Worlds
was a tragic study of futility, of a brilliant man sidetracked from his life's work by an obsession.
And yet, as I listened, I couldn't help thinking of Noel Coward's comedy Blithe
Spirit (1941), where the subject-matter is roughly similar. Instead of Mrs. Kennedy, we have Madame Arcati, whose control
("Little Tommy Tucker") keeps refusing to appear in spite of her best efforts. Coward makes fun of the idea of being able
to communicate between the worlds of life and death, as Charles Condomine's two ex-wives Elvira and Ruth - both of whom are
dead - make Charles' life a misery, and eventually conspire to have him killed in a car-crash. Charles' experiences are roughly
similar to those of Oliver's, only Coward deals with them in a far more humorous manner.