John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, was born on the 3rd January 1892 in South Africa. At the age of three, he, along with his brother, were brought to England by their monther, and before they could return to South Africa, their father died of rheumatic fever. They all remained in England, and settled in an outskirt of Birmingham, where Ronald, as he was known in the family, was brought up. He always had a great imagination and would invent languages and would lead, later on, to the creation of a whole world where they were spoken, Middle Earth.

He was educated at King Edwards School in Birmingham, and then later read English Language and Literature at Exeter College, Oxford where he developed an extensive knowledge of Anglo-Saxon and Middle English. He married after leaving university and it was only to be a couple of years later before he became a Second Lieutenant with the 11th Lancashire Fusiliers in WWI. Towards the end of the war, he was returned home with trench fever, and it was then that he first began his writings with the The Book of Lost Tales - later to be known as The Silmarillion.

The Tolkiens had four children, a daughter and three sons, and if was to them that the exploits of the Hobbit, Mr Bilbo Baggins were first told, and when it proved a favourite with them, he began to write it down, with the publishers, George Allen and Unwin hearing about the story and encouraging him to finish it. This he did, and in 1937, The Hobbit (or There and Back again) was first published, and became a huge success. Naturally the publishers wanted more, and asked for a sequel, and this was when the long and erratic path to The Lord of the Rings began.

Completion was to take 12 years and pose all sorts of problems, with the creation of the complete world of Middle Earth slowly taking shape, and constant writing and re-writing being the order of the day. Many times he almost abandoned the work, and very few other authors have ever taken on such a feat of writing and creation as Tolkien did. When Tolkien died in 1973, he left behind a huge literary legacy in the form of Middle Earth, and has become one of the most read writers of the 20th Century.

Both the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings have been adapted, by the BBC, for radio, with the former being first broadcast in late 1968. Consisting of 8 episodes, and a cast including Paul Daneman as Bilbo Baggins and Heron Carvic as Gandalf, and narrations supplied bu Anthony Jackson, this told how the home-loving Hobbit is suddenly thrust into the most dramatic adventure of his life, by his friend, the wizard Gandalf. They journey to destroy the dragon Smaug and reclaim the treasure and city of the Dwarven Kings.

TitleB/cast date
An Unexpected Party29.9.68
Out of the Frying-pan into the Fire6.10.68
Riddles in the Dark13.10.68
Strange Lodgings20.10.68
Barrels out of Bond27.10.68
A Warm Welcome3.11.68
The Gathering of the Clouds10.11.68
The Clouds Burst17.11.68

It was to be over ten years before the epic Lord of the Rings was to be broadcast on the radio, and this has a special place in my memories as my Mother would serve Sunday lunch, we would all sit down, and then my Father would turn on the radio and we would listen to the next instalment whilst eating. My first real 'date' with the radio. Running for 13 weeks, starting in March 1981, this too has become a classic in its own right, having been repeated and released onto cassette and CD. The BBC have issued the entire serial as a set of 7 double cassettes, with an additional feature of the music specially composed for the series.

TitleB/cast date
The Shadow of the Past8.3.81
The Black Riders15.3.81
The Knife in the Dark22.3.81
The Ring Goes South29.3.81
The Mirror of Galadriel5.4.81
The Breaking of the Fellowship12.4.81
The King of the Golden Hall19.4.81
The Voice of Saruman26.4.81
The Two Towers3.5.81
The Choices of Master Samwise10.5.81
The Battle of Pelennor Fields17.5.81
Mount Doom24.5.81
The Grey Havens'31.5.81

This set is only 50, and has the ISBN 0563 553 309. The Hobbit is also available as a two double cassette set, and the books of the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings are ALWAYS available in various editions - the latest from Harper Collins are show to the left. Tolkien didn't stop with these two stories, and the Silmarillion was published posthumously in 1977. There are also many others available.

If this wasn't enough, with the first instalment of the film just gone, the BBC have re-edited the series into the three books and issued a set per book. With additional narrations by Ian Holm, these three form the definitive recordings and are available on tape or CD.

The Fellowship of the Ring

Ian Holm stars as Frodo, Michael Hordern as Gandalf, and Robert Stephens as Aragorn in JRR Tolkien's fantastic tale of Middle Earth. Considered to be a masterpiece of imaginative fiction, Tolkien created an epic story, which has proved timeless in its appeal. A BBC Radio 4 full-cast dramatisation which began on 8th March 1981, this magical story became an instant classic.

Brian Sibley's famous adaptation, starring Ian Holm and Michael Holdern has been divided into three corresponding parts, with newly recorded beginning and end narration by Ian Holm (who plays Frodo in this and the forthcoming feature film). Superbly dramatised and moving through countless changes of scenery and character, the listener is taken on a thrilling adventure through an enchanting world. The second instalment, The Two Towers, continues the story, and the set is completed with the volume, The Return of the King. ISBN 0563 536543, 16.99 (4 cassettes) 0563 536551, 24.99 (4 CDs) the running time is over 4 hours.

Tales from the Perilous Realm

With the advent of a new series of feature films, this is a must have for fans of Tolkien. Dragons, magic, and Hobbits abound in this superb BBC Radio 4 full cast dramatisation of Tolkien's wonderful adventures, starring Michael Hordern as Gandalf and a cast including Brian Blessed, Paul Copley, Nigel Planer, Alfred Molina, and Sorcha Cusack.

The four stories each reflect upon an aspect of what Tolkien himself called 'The Perilous Realm of Faerie'. Moving through countless changes of scenery and character, the listener is taken on a thrilling adventure through enchanting worlds. Considered to be a master of imaginative fiction, Tolkien created an epic series of stories that have proved to be timeless.

The stories are: Farmer Giles of Ham, Smith of Wootton Major, Leaf By Niggle, and The Adventures of Tom Bombadil.

Priced 9.99 on double cassette, or 15.99 on triple CD, this is a must for any Tolkien fan and compliments the Lord Of the Rings sets that are currently being issued.