903 BBC Radio Play Adaptation*

  • BBC Radio Presents The Lord of the Rings
  • The Recording of the Rings

BBC Radio

BBC Radio ~ 12 CD Set of The Lord of the Rings Radio Play

BBC Radio Presents The Lord of the Rings

This page explores the abridged, radio-script version of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, performed by multiple cast members, and with dramatization by Brian Sibley and Michael Bakewell. It first aired on BBC Radio 4, starting March 8, 1981, with 26 scripts of 30 minutes each.

Multiple sets of this adaption have been produced, including cassette tape and CD – with 12 to 14 CDs, and some sets with Brian Sibley’s special edition booklet called “The Recording of the Rings” and some without. Here are a few of the many versions:

  • Black box version (shown above) by BBC Audiobooks America features 12 CDs of the radio play plus Stephen Oliver’s complete musical score and a demo version of John Le Mesurier singing “Bilbo’s Last Song.” It also includes a copy of a Middle-earth map drawn by Christopher Tolkien. 13 hours 15 minutes. ISBN 978-1-60283-492-7. List price: $49.95.
  • 12 CD version from BBC Radio Collection. According to one source on eBay, “This edition differs from the radio transmission as there isn’t the introduction and credits for each episode, it has been re-edited so that each of the three volumes of the book is continuous with newly recorded prologues and epilogues by Ian Holm.”
  • Limited Edition of 10,000 – 13 audio cassettes in a black and gold foil box, with Brian’ Sibley’s special edition booklet on the making of the project. This was issued by BBC Radio Collection in 1992, the centennial of J.R.R. Tolkien’s birth.
  • A similar Limited CD Edition of at least 100 was produced by BBC Radio Collection (I have not been able to determine the exact number of copies in the run). It included 13 CDs of the radio play, 1 CD of the music, the map, and the booklet. The set was housed in a black cloth folder and gold-foiled slipcase. (A copy of this edition appeared on eBay UK in about May 2010 with a notation that the Recommended Retail Price was £180.00.)
  • The J.R.R. Tolkien Gift Set from BBC Radio and Random House Audio includes the radio plays of both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, plus a map.

The Recording of the Rings

If you don’t have a copy of Brian Sibley’s booklet, you’ll find details on how this adaptation was produced in his in-depth website account in The Ring Goes Ever On. He shares archive photos, including one of a much younger Ian Holm, who played the role of Frodo.

Additional history (and probable excerpts from the special edition booklet) can be found at these pages on the UK website, Fantasy Book Review:

A promotional postcard (and possibly a poster?) for the rebroadcast of the series appeared about the time The Fellowship of the Ring was released in late 2001. The text of the postcard says: “The Lord of the Rings. Return to Middle-earth. Re-live the classic adventure on BBC Radio 4. Based on the book by J.R.R. Tolkien. Hear the magical 1981 BBC Radio 4 dramatisation in 13 episodes starting on Saturday 5 Jan 2002 at 14.30.” The postcard art was adapted from a Radio Times special cover produced by “that master illustrator, Eric Fraser” (Brian Sibley’s words) to mark the first episode of the original BBC Radio 4 broadcast of LOTR on Sunday 8 March 1981.