Reed, Henry. Foreword to The Streets of Pompeii and Other Plays for Radio. London: British Broadcasting Corporation, 1971.
These scripts were all written a long time ago. They were not, for the most part, written with any idea that they might appear in print. When it was suggested that they should, I was naturally delighted: it seemed to be implied that they had not entirely gone in one ear and out of the other. And though I am in no way a perfectionist, I was glad of what seemed to be a fresh opportunity of emendation, revision and improvement of the texts themselves. After all, I had seemed to manage such alterations, sometimes to the extent of large-scale rewriting, whenever the things had been given, as most of them had, completely new productions. But now, alas, at this late date, even when I have been disconsolate at what I have seen on the pages in front of me, I have found that apart from an occasional correction, deletion, restoration, or removal of thoughtless anachronism, I have not been able to do much to make them better.
It is not simply a question of distance in time; it is not that it is impossible to recapture an earlier style, for after all it is possible to do so. It is at once altogether cruder and subtler than this. Any form of dramatic writing, however magical his initial solitude may be for the dramatist, is written with the ultimate idea of collaboration; and it is perhaps most pleasant when he has clear hopes of who his eventual collaborators may be. But in radio, once the script has been acted, it is no longer entirely one's own. The actors have departed, and unconsciously taken away odd, unfinished bits of the author's self with them, in a way that can never be so in the theatre. Real plays (as I still think of plays for the theatre) are never the sole property of their original company of players: if they have in themselves any power of survival, they will be done by many other companies, and perhaps done in many different ways. With radio, however seriously one has worked on the script itself, however delightful the experience of rehearsals and presentation may have been, the thing has, as a rule, been done once for all. I am myself lucky in having been given many chances for second, or even third, thoughts. But this is by no means the same as what is offered to a play during its comparatively prolonged rehearsals, and its possible 'run', in the theatre: through these, a 'definitive' text may eventually be attained, and attained within a reasonable time. It is, for me at any rate, difficult to conceive that any work of the kind proffered here can ever achieve this. The things are neither plays nor poems (and I have never accepted the word 'features') but I am reminded of what Valery is said to have said of a poem: it can never be finished, it can only be relinquished. These are things I have, not always easily, and without the stimulus of my splendid casts at my side (to say nothing of the exemplary talent and patience of Douglas Cleverdon), at last come to relinquish.
As for the pieces themselves: all of them are about Italy, in one way or another, and that is why they have been grouped together. For what they are worth, they must constitute memorials, however ephemeral, to the love I have always felt for her. This has not excluded moments of irony: but what real and enduring love ever has? Return to Naples is wholly autobiographical; so are certain parts of The Streets of Pompeii. The other scripts, which all involve actual historical characters, may appear on the surface rather more learned: but the learning is, inevitably, the learning of others, which I have stolen, adapted, malformed, sometimes inverted, and almost invariably fantasised over. But the pieces are not offered as works of scholarship, and I have therefore not listed my 'sources'; for this might sometimes cause anger where I feel only gratitude. Readers who know my sources will be able to blame or pardon me accordingly.