The War of the Worlds


Broadcast on:
October 30, 1938
Based on:
"The War of the Worlds" by H. G. Wells (1898)
War of the Worlds

"We interrupt our program of dance music to bring you a special bulletin..."

Far and away the most famous of these broadcasts, if not of all radio broadcasts, this masterclass in dramatic realism caused outrage when credulous listeners, believing the Martian attack to be real, fled from their homes. It is easy to see why, the performances are utterly convincing, and the long, empty pauses, the sudden cuts and technical breakdowns are all done with sly authenticity. Somebody, that Halloween, had refused to give Orson Welles his candy and this was his trick.

Perhaps the audience never expected such a thing, to be fooled into mistaking drama for reality. Certainly Welles was humbled into apologising and the scandal made front page news the following day. Amidst all the intrigue it is easy to forget that this 57-minute broadcast signalled a revolution in what might be done to an audience, and does so with sublime brilliance. From the Blair Witch Project to the BBC's Ghostwatch scandal, the broadcast sent ripples through popular culture which continue to this day. The original script can be read here.


The Novel

Welles’s seminal novel of an alien invasion was well known at the time of the broadcast, the book has never been out of print, and like many of the other books Welles adapted, is a genre-defining work. Few have captured the blind panic of an invasion as effectively as Welles, and the book has been seen as a commentary on British Imperialism, Social Darwinism and much else besides. Welles’s eerie ability to predict the future is in evidence as he anticipates chemical weapons, lasers and even the Blitzkrieg of the Second World War. Though discarded in the broadcast, the book is also a work of romance, the hero separated from his wife at the outset, and desperate to find her...

Full Cast

Orson Welles (producer, director, host, performer: Professor Richard Pierson), Dan Seymour (announcer), Paul Stewart (associate producer, adaptor, performer: Studio announcer, Third Studio Announcer), Frank Readick (Reporter Carl Phillips, Radio operator 2X2L), Kenny Delmar (Policeman at farm, Captain Lansing, Secretary of the Interior, Bayonne radio operator), Ray Collins (Farmer Wilmuth, Harry McDonald the radio VP, Rooftop radio announcer), Carl Frank (Second studio announcer, Fascist stranger), Richard Wilson (Brig. General Montgomery Smith, Officer 22nd Field Artillery, Langham Field), William Alland (Meridian room announcer, Field artillery gunner), Stefan Schnabel (Field artillery observer), William Herz (Newark radio operator, Radio operator 8X3R), Howard Smith (Bomber Lt. Voght).

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Mercury Theatre

All eighteen surviving broadcasts from the Mercury Theatre on the Air, free to listen to and download.

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Les Miserables

Welles's interpretation of Hugo's epic tale, which inspired CBS to commission the Mercury Theatre.

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Original scripts, other Welles recordings, further reading and lots more besides.

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"We're born alone, we live alone, we die alone. Only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we're not alone."

Orson Welles