In 1974, Argo Records released a dramatised four-record LP audio abridgement of The Hobbit.
In an interesting quirk of history, the narrator and performer of this abridgement was the legendary Scottish-born actor Nicol Williamson — who would later go on to play the role of Merlin the wizard in John Boorman’s remarkable 1981 film Excalibur.
The circular part, of course, is that in the late 70s, Boorman was involved in a collaborative attempt with United Artists to produce a film of The Lord of the Rings. The script, notorious within fan circles for the liberties it intended to take with Tolkien’s work (which you can read about here) was never produced. However, Boorman re-purposed much of his imagery and concepts in Excalibur.
Anyhow, I’m getting sidetracked. In the early 1970s, Demi Demitriou from Decca Records (the parent company of Argo) approached Williamson to see if he would undertake an authorised audio recording of The Hobbit.
According to Williamson’s official website, the actor had a keen appreciation of Tolkien’s work and paired up with audio producer and Argo managing director Harely Usill on the project. (Music nerd aside: Argo for many years successfully specialised in spoken word, audiobooks and oddities such as field recordings of steam locomotives made during the final days of steam in Britain.)
Nicol re-edited the original script for the abridgement, removing many occurrences of “he said”, “she said”, as he felt that an over-reliance on descriptive narrative would not give the desired effect.
The result is a recording of around three-and-a-half hours in length with Williamson voicing all the roles. Long out of print, copies of the LP are now quite rare and expensive. Ringer OldFan tells us of an alternative on the Internet Archive. It is listed as available under Creative Commons license — Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike.
Follow the link below to the Internet Archive to listen to the entire recording.
Bootnote: Williamson died in 2011 of esophagal cancer at the age of 73.