“The Adventures of Harry Lime” proved popular in Britain and it’s easy to surmise why. After the hardships of World War II and rationing still in place until the mid-’50s, it offered racy escapism that must have felt so exotic and alluring to the listening public. In the ’50s, only seven percent of the population had the means or desire to holiday abroad (via Retrowow), with the rest taking their vacations on the good old British seaside or holiday parks like Butlins or Pontins. The former’s owner, Billy Butlin, offered “a week’s holiday for a week’s pay” but it was a far cry from the excitement of foreign travel — something that wouldn’t become a reality for many until the boom in package tourism in the ’60s and ’70s.
For a nation used to braving temperamental British summers while making the best of it with crowded beaches, Kiss-me-quick hats, Glamorous Granny and Knobbly Knees contests, the adventures of the disreputable but urbane and well-traveled Harry Lime must have seemed wonderfully cosmopolitan. With his extensive CV of criminal activities including extortion and bank robbery, each episode took him from Budapest to Naples, New York to Tangier, Mexico to Paris, hovering in the same twilight zone as “The Third Man” where a place was simultaneously seedy, glamorous, romantic, and dangerous.
As a guide to these far-flung locales, who could be a better companion than Orson Welles? He himself had a passion for travel, having toured Europe with his father in his teens (via “Orson Welles Over Europe”) and he was very different from the cozy stars of British radio of the time. Harry Lime was cunning, confident, quick-witted, and always one step ahead with his latest scheme. Welles could play him in his sleep, purring through each episode with that magnificently luxuriant voice of his.