First, two winners: E.V.Crowe won the 2014 Imison Award (best script by a newcomer) with her play about army life viewed through the eyes of a young girl, "How To Say Goodbye Properly", broadcast in August last year and the Award presented on 1 Feb 2015. The Tinniswood Award for best radio drama script (also shortlisted for the Imison) went to Morwenna Banks with her play "Goodbye", about a young mother with breast cancer, favourably reviewed by Jane Anderson in RT.
COCKTAIL STICKS (R4, 3 Jan 15) by Alan Bennett was an autobiographical play, where the writer looked back at his early life. When he was young, he and his mother had thought that the lives of others were somehow richer and better than their own. Now he's older, it's clear, looking back, that this was quite untrue. The material of the play is drawn from his memoirs, adapted by Gordon House from a production by Nicholas Hytner which was on at the National Theatre in 2012. Alan narrated and he also appears as a character within the play. We hear from the teenager, the middle-aged man, and the elderly, respected writer. The two Alans (AB himself and Alex Jennings) are uncannily alike, separated by half a lifetime. Mum was played by Gabrielle Lloyd, Dad and Neville Coghill (the Chaucer man) by Jeff Rawle and other parts were played by Sue Wallace and Derek Hutchinson. There was also a mention of Russell Harty, who was taught History by a person I used to work with ... it's a small world.
The play received a long and favourable write-up by Gillian Reynolds in the Daily Telegraph, 7 Jan 15. Here's my summary of part of it:
...Gordon House always brings out Alan Bennett's words in exactly the right way, higlighting the tune in the words and the careful arrangement of voices. In this play, with Bennett as narrator, it worked well, turning the trio of Alan, Mam and Dad into a quartet. Bennett's own, grown-older voice balanced the harmony perfectly.
When radio sounds right, the inner eye can see every detail in the scenes. I saw the kitchen cupboard in Mam's empty house at the start of the play, with its dried-up crystallised cherries; the tube of cocktail sticks hidden behind the dessicated coconut.
During his narration, Bennett said that you don't put yourself into what you write; you find yourself there.
A few days later we had a repeat of OPERATION BLACK BUCK (R4, 1415, 9 Jan 15), by Robin Glendenning, highlighting an episode in the Falklands War, when the RAF staged the world's longest-ever bombing run, in an attempt to damage the runway at Port Stanley. Using ageing Vulcan bombers, crews flew a round trip of 8000 miles from Ascension Island to the South Atlantic. Such a journey required not just in-flight refuelling, but re-fuelling of the refuelling planes; a hazardous undertaking which had never before been attempted. Not only were the raids themselves difficult to pull off; getting the elderly aircraft ready for the flights was a major task. Aviation museums across the world were raided for spares, and key parts obtained from junkyards. One wonders what would happen now if Argentina suddenly invaded the Falklands, bearing in mind that the British Royal Navy does not have a single aircraft carrier. The cast included Stephen Perring, Russell Boulter, Mark Meadows and John Mackay; production was by Jolyon Jenkins.
A second series of THE CORRUPTED, by G.F.Newman (R4, 1415, beginning 19 Jan 15) was broadcast on ten successive weekdays. It was set in the sixites, and before every episode there was a rather stilted 'health warning' explaining that the story was politically incorrect; it reflected the values and attitudes prevalent at the time (....is this not the case with all plays? - Ed.). Presumably it was a way of telling us that the 'language gestapo' had not been allowed to bowdlerise it. Series 2 covered the years 1961-1970 and describes a family's history against the backdrop of a revolution in crime. Joey, the man in the family blessed with the gift of making money, sees his fortunes expand as he negotiates deals with people operating on both sides of the law. Other members of his clan are involved in criminal activity as well, some of it violent; we have punch-ups between rival gangs, gambling, dubious bank deals, dodgy parties involving young boys and senior politicans, and so on. Toby Jones played Joey, Denise Gough was his wife, with Joe Armstrong, Jasmine Hyde and Luke Allen-Gale as key family members. The narrator was Ross Kemp and the producer was Clive Brill, for his company 'Brill Productions'.
Hugh Costello has made a speciality of writing plays concerned with religion and with politics. In THE CROSSING (R4, 1415, 4 Feb 15) he imagines a UK in 2019 which has left the European Union and which now has to find a way of sealing its borders, including the one between Northern ireland and Ireland. The Prime Minister arrives in Ulster to inspect new border facilities and has a secret meeting with the Taoiseach, who is alarmed at how rapidly security has been restored to its Troubles-era level. The story follows their attempt to find a middle way, against a ticking clock of potential chaos in London Belfast and Dublin. The Prime Minister was played by Rebecca Saire and the Taoiseach by Sean Campion; the producer was Eoin O'Callaghan.
BRIDGE, by Donna Franceschild (R4, 1415, 20 Feb 15) was a two-hander for Iain Robertson and Eilidh McCormack. A very depressed woman is about to jump off a bridge. The stranger sitting next to her realises what is about to happen and will say anything to stop her. This was a very effective production by Kirsty Williams.
The Classic Serial TOMORROW IN THE BATTLE THINK ON ME (R4, 1500, two episodes beginning 22 Feb 14) was an unusual story by Javier (pronounced 'Havier') Marias, adapted by Michael Butt, set in Spain. A man, Victor, is in bed with a new girlfriend; suddenly she feels extremely ill. She dies. He creeps out of the flat. He's shocked but not unduly upset; he hardly knew her, but he finds that she had some dark secrets. He starts to investigate and becomes involved with her family, who are distraught that she died alone. Victor, however, is the only person who knows that she wasn't. Victor was played by Julian Rhind-Tutt, Luisa by Emma Fielding and Tellez, the father, by John Rowe. The producer was Eoin O'Callaghan.
A recent highlight was SCENES FROM A CRIME (R4, 26 Feb 15) from Goldhawk, written by John Dryden. Goldhawk's plays have a distinctive realism; they are generally recorded on location, using local actors. This was a gritty drama set in Mumbai. The story takes place against a vivid soundscape of Indian city life. A man walks into a couple's home and says that he thinks that it's his own house. But he's confused; he is suffering from amnesia. He is befriended by a street child, but he can make very little sense of where he is or what he is doing. Everything seems to be going round in confusing circles. The story starts to make sense when the missing parts of his life are hinted at, in increasingly darker shades, until a final chilling scene where we finally realise the significance of the child. The man was played by Vivek Madan, the child by Faezeh Jalali; production was by Preetika Chawlad and the director was John Dryden.
Simon Passmore's EARWORK (R4, 11 Mar 14) was a creepy thriller which could easily be used as part of a 'Spine Chillers' series. Mia, a researcher, is given the task of producing an item for a TV show about Britain's worst film director. She goes in search of the horror film "Earworm" and the person who created it many years earlier. Rumours surround the little-known video: the cast supposedly suffered unexplained accidents; the director went into hiding after destroying all known copies of the film, and the soundtrack had sinister effects on those who heard it. With dogged persistence Mia finally manages to find a copy. Will she be able to resist playing it? Mia was played by Chloe Pirrie and Josh by Shaun Mason; the producer was Sasha Yevtushenko.
Another 'Indian' story, A FINE BALANCE (R4, 1500, beginning 22 Mar 15), was broadcast in three episodes as the Classic Serial. The novel is by Rohinton Mistry, and it was adapted by Ayeesha Menon and Kewel Karim. The story is about India's underclass in the 1990s, and the inhuman way in which members of it had to earn their living. In a remote Indian village, horrific violence erupts against a few individuals, and to get away from it, an uncle and nephew move away and begin working as tailors in the city. Meanwhile an older woman who has also suffered barbaric treatment in the past rents out a room to a student. These four people form an unlikely bond to survive one of India's most turbulent recent periods. The four were played by Shernaz Patel, Kenneth Desai, Ananad Tiwari and Neil Bhoopalam. Music was by Sacha Puttnam, and the producers were Nadir Khan and John Dryden, for Goldhawk Essential.
The astronomer Patrick Moore was commemmorated in FAR SIDE OF THE MOORE (R4, 1415, 30 Mar 15), a play by Sean Grundy about the early life of Patrick Moore, the astronomer, and the events surrounding the origins of the programme "The Sky At Night", which he presented for fifty-five years. This received very good reviews from many quarters, including the Daily Telegraph's Gillian Reynolds, the website of "The Sky At Night", and the British Astronomical Society website.
It's set in 1957, and the little-known Patrick is living with his mother in East Grinstead. He studies the heavens and writes popular factual works on astronomy, and science fiction under a pseudonym. When his latest book Suns, Myths And Men gets a bad review from the academic Henry King, Patrick is in despair and, when the phone rings, he expects more bad news. Martin Mobberley said that although the play is fiction, loosely based on facts, they had gone to great lengths to get the certain details right; for example, they recorded one of Patrick's typewriters to get the Woodstock typewriter key-pounding correct. Essentially, this was the story of how a self-taught astronomer and eccentric became the presenter of The Sky At Night. It also talks about Patrick's lost love, who died in a german air raid when he was still a young man. Overall it is a story of triumph against the odds; he would never have been hired without producer Paul Johnstone (Daniel Weyman) having faith in his scientific expertise and natural gift for communication.
Patrick was played by Tom Hollander and his mother by Patricia Hodge. Felicity played Lorna, Daniel Weyman was Paul Johnstone, and Anton Lesser was Dr. Henry King, the jealous academic. Dirk Maggs directed, for Indie producer Perfectly Normal Productions.
THE MOONFLASK, by Paul Sellar (R4, 1430, 4 Apr 15) was an old-fashioned thriller with an excellent plot, broadcast as the Saturday drama. It beginsslowly, and we meet the people on a back-to-work course. None of them seem to have much initiative, but they are all specialists of one sort or another. Then a Ming vase, stolen generations ago, turns up at an auction house. They read about it. One of them realises that, between them, they may have the necessary skills to return it to its rightful owner. The members of the group work out an ingenious scheme to do just that. There was a strong cast including Lee Ross, Ken Bones, Sean Murray, Richie Campbell, Michael Bertenshaw and other well-known radio names; the producer was Sally Avens.
Neil Brand's latest play, A YEAR AT THE RACES (R4, 1415, 6 Apr 15) looked at fictional episodes in the later life of Groucho Marx, as viewed by a young female fan. Groucho in his personal life was rather melancholic; nothing like the ebullient character projected in his stage act. Selma meets him whilst a young schoolgirl; as their lives progress, their paths cross several times and they become significant in each other's lives. She tries to take his career in hand. Groucho was played by Toby Jones, with Jenna Augen, Tracy-Ann Oberman and Ewan Bailey; the producer was Helen Perry.
Meredith Hooper has lived and worked in the Antarctic, and his play BEYOND ENDURANCE (R4, 1415, 8 Apr 15) was about Ernest Shackleton's expedition (1914-17) across that frozen conotinent. The story is told using the words of the chacters themselves, taken from their diaries, journals and other accounts. It was a trip requiring great endurance, and Shackleton was determined not to lose a single man. Shackleton was played by Dominic WEst and Thomas Orde-Lees by Jamie Glover. The producer was Justine Willett.
Jonathan Holloway's new play THE CARTER MYSTERIES - INCIDENT OF THE RUSSIAN VISITORS (R4, 1415, 17 Apr 15) was interesting. The Carter warehouse is one which used to study items which people want to put into long-term storage. We're talking decades. It holds items which were put there before the first world war, and the second ... and have never been reclaimed. Perhaps some of the people who deposited them are dead; no-one knows. So the warehouse is crammed with history. Then two Russians appear, looking for a long-lost table. They are upfront with Phil, the owner of the warehouse; if he doesn't sell it to them, they will steal it anyway, and probably beat him up into the bargain; the choice is his. He has just a few days to decide. Lisa was played by Jeany Spark and Phil by Stephen Greif. The producer was David Hunter.
Finally, a mention of a repeat of the play by David Lemon and Mark Ecclestone: THE THIRD EYE AND THE PRIVATE EYE (R4, 1415, 28 Apr 14). This was a story based on real events; a private detective is hired to look into the background of writer T. Lopsang Rampa, who claimed to have been born into Tibetan aristocracy in a former life where he chose as a boy to become a lama. His autobiography "The Third Eye' (which I have recently read) describes that life. It is a fascinating book, if slightly patchy, describing in great detail the upbringing and training of a lama, but is it fact or fiction? Rampa (real name Cyril Hoskin ) was quizzed repeatedly by the media; on one occasion he said that one of his books was dictated to him telepathically by his cat, Miss Fifi Greywhiskers. Nevertheless every attempt to mock him in the newspapers resulted in an increase in his popularity. Lobsang Rampa's books are still in print and have sold millions of copies; there is also a flourishing website run by his fans. Warburg was played by David Haig, Rampa by Don Gilet, with Patrick Brennan and Christine Absalom; Marc Beeby was the producer.
Nigel Deacon / 29 Apr 2015
RADIO DRAMA REVIEW Sept 2015
It's been a while since the last review, and a lot has been broadcast since April, with excellent plays from Ayeesha Menon, Christopher Lee, Paul Sellar and Nick Warburton, and many other good offerings including a new Bond play from Jarvis & Ayres and the return of Bradley Shoreham, the ex-wargames writer engaged by companies to test their emergency procedures.
TRIPLE WORD SCORE, by Ben Tagoe (R4 1415 12 Jun 15) was set in the very competitive world of Nigerian Competitive Scrabble. A young man passionate about the game travels from Scotland to his father's homeland to try out for the Nigerian team. He meets people there who are as equally gifted but more focused, and rapidly learns that there is more to winning a competition than talent. The Scottish Nigerian was played by Tunji Kasim and Amira, the girl he meets when he arrives, by Adura Onashile; the producer was Gaynor Macfarlane.
AIR FORCE ONE, by Christopher Lee (R4 1415 18 Jul 15), repeated from Nov 2013, was about the events following the assassination in 1963 in Dallas of John Kennedy, US President. It was a docudrama by Indie production company Jarvis and Ayres. The play and the theories which it explores are based on Federal, classified and academic research and the diaries and recollections of those who were in Dallas that afternoon and aboard the Presidential jet, including Kennedy's widow. According to the introduction, some of the names were changed and some of the conversations imagined. It was amazing to learn that within the day, another President was installed in the White House. The narrator was Josh Stamberg; Lyndon Johnson was played by Stacy Keach, Jackie Kennedy by Glenne Headly, and Lady Bird Johnson by Susan Sullivan. The producer was Rosalind Ayres and the director Martin Jarvis.
An excellent two-part thriller, THE GOLD KILLING, by Paul Sellar (R4, 1415, 20-21 Jul 15) went out on successive days. A retired boxer has become an entrepreneur and is gradually climbing up the social ladder. Then he has the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to invest in a gold mine on Ghana's gold coast. The project begins smoothly, but gradually it becomes clear that not everything at the mine is as it should be. Then there is a series of murders. The play starred Robert Glenister as the entrepreneur, with Pip Torrens, David Houslow, Amelia Lowdell, Obi Abili and Alex Tregear. The producer was Sally Avens.
Another James Bond story by Ian Fleming, DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER (R4, 1430, Saturday Play 25 Jul 15) went out as a feature-length (90m) play. Bond investigates a New York crime syndicate's plot to smuggles diamonds out of British mines in Africa. This was a very entertaining tale, well produced and full of vivid scenes. Bond was played (as in previous productions by Jarvis and Ayres) by Toby Stephens, "M" was John Standing, along with Nigel Havers, Alan Shearman, Lisa Dillon and Alex Jennings. The adaptation from the novel was by Archie Scotney, production was by Rosalind Ayres, and the director, who also played Ian Fleming, was Martin Jarvis.
A PACT OF SILENCE, by Penny Woolcock (R4, 1415, 28 Jul 15) told us about grim events in Argentina forty years ago. In 1976 the ruling dictatorship tortured and killed about 30,000 people. Pregnant women were kept alive until they gave birth and their babies were given away to childless military families. This is the story of one of those babies who finds out about her origins. Jane Anderson commented in Radio Times that she didn't know if the play was based on a true story, but that this didn't matter; the pain which the central character went through when she discovered the truth about the people she thought were her parents was all too real. Cast: Mariana: Emily Berrington, Roberto: John Sessions, Anita: Juliet Stevenson, Grandmother Ines: Stephanie Cole, Grandmother Elena: Jenny Agutter, with Linda Robson, Chloe Pirrie, Enzo Clienti and Skye Degruttola. Produced by Penny Woolcock.
IRONGATE, by Nick Warburton (R4, 1415, 31 Jul 15) was a two-hander about love and loss. A woman's annual walk along the Thames from Kew to Tower Bridge takes an unexpected turn when she meets a stranger. She begins to reveal the purpose of her journey. Laura was played by Emma Fielding and Teal by James Fleet. Peter Kavanagh produced.
SILK: THE CLERK'S ROOM (R4, 3 episodes, beginning 3 Aug 15) was an interesting drama about a legal practice. Apparently it was a spin-off from a TV series. The practice is in financial difficulty, which means that the head legal clerk, Billy Lamb, has to accept work from clients he would rather not deal with. The play investigates the tensions between the lawyers and the clerks who see the legal work and the clients from very different points of view. The drama was broadcast on successive days. Billy was played by Neil Stuke, Bethany by Amy Wren, Jake by Theo Barklem-Biggs and Rose by Alex Tregear, along with Mark Edel-Hunt and David Houslow. The producer was Sasha Yevtushenko.
Geraldine Aron's play MY BRILLIANT DIVORCE (R4, 1415, 14 Aug 15) was a little gem; full of wry observations about divorce and loneliness and the heartache associated with breakup, made all the more memorable by its humorous treatment. When Angela's husband leaves her for another woman she is initially cheerful about her freedom, but it doesn't last. It's not really a spoiler to say that there was a happy ending. Caroline Quentin played Angela and James Lance was Max; the producer was Liz Anstee.
Another excellent Indian story from Goldhawk went out in mid-August: UNDERCOVER MUMBAI, by Ayeesha Menon (R4, 1415, 18-19 Aug 15). As is usual for Goldhawk it was recorded on location using local actors. This produces a distinctive sound: the acting is invariably excellent but there are no familiar voices. The background effects are more realistically described as 'foreground effects'; a little more prominent than in other productions and when this is kept up over the length of the play it produces a rather menacing atmosphere. As for the story, a disgraced policewoman, Alia Khan, is released from prison and looks for work at a run-down Mumbai hotel. A short time after she has joined the hotal staff a murder takes place. In spite of no longer being a police officer, her astute powers of observation cause her to be drawn into the case, to the disapproval of the person nominally in charge of it; a woman with career ambition but considerably less talent. Then things get very unpleasant; further killings take place. Alia is the only person capable of sorting out the mess. Alia was played by Prerna Chawla, Ratna by Shivani Tanksale, Jamal by Kenny Desai and Yamraj by Abhey Mahajan. The play was produced by Nadir Khan and directed by John Dryden.
Another series of THE INTERROGATION, by Roy Williams began in September. (R4, 1415, three episodes beginning 2 Sep 15) This is becoming an impressive set of crime stories, with Kenneth Cranham and Alex Lanipekun delivering excellent performances as DS Matthews and DC Armitage. The last series left us with Matthews and Armitage being held hostage at gunpoint; then we heard a gunshot. It seems that Armitage took the bullet, but now after several months in hospital he's back. For some reason, however, he's not at all happy at seeing his boss again. Their relationship seems to be in a very poor state until they conduct an interrogation together. Production of the series is by Mary Peate.
THE TOFFEE TIP (R4, 1415, 3 Sep 15), an amusing play by Johnny Vegas was described in RT as semi-autobiographical. It is set in the Pennington household where young Johnny is feeling the pinch. His favourite soft drink has been replaced with 'council pop' (water). But when he hears of the Toffee Tip, where the sweet shop's shop-soiled confectionary gets dumped, life seems to get a lot better. With his pal Ian and a few others he begins to search for it. They have to deal with baffling bus routes, a travellers' camp, a gang of bullies and other obstacles. For me, the play conjured up a wealth of childhood memories. The cast included Joshua Moodie, Michael Pennington, Ethan Coughlin, Joe Gaffney, Jimmy Metcalfe and Johnny Vegas, who also produced the play.
Alan Polluck's play MAY THERE ALWAYS BE SUNSHINE (R4, 1415, 7 Sep 15) was set in a Soviet Pioneer Camp in 1968. It is not generally known in England that Russian children were required to attend Pioneer Camps regularly during the Cold War. These were essentially military training camps for the young though they were portrayed in the West as little more than Scout Camps. In the play, two teenagers from Manchester travel (in 1968) to a Pioneer Camp and are more than a little surprised by what takes place. Simon was played by James Pearson, Bruce by Stewart Campbell, and Anna, the girl they befriend, by Vasso Georgiadou. The producer was David Ian Neville.
THE MAN WHO BIT MARY MAGDALENE (R4, 1415, 8 Sep 15) was a very curious play by Colin Bytheway based on a true story. When an earthquake strikes Lincoln Cathedral, the bishop starts hunting for relics in order to attract visitors and money. As well as carrying out repairs, he intends to build the tallest spire in the world. And strange as it may seem, he does what it says in the play's title. David Jason played Bishop Hugh and Patsy Kensit was Mary Magdalene. The historical adviser was Sue Scott and the producer was Celia de Wolff, for Indie company Pier Productions.
I am ignorant about Rugby football, but Gary Owen's play STUPID MEN (R4, 1415, 17 Sep 15) went some way to persuading me that it might be a fascinating game to follow. A semi-professional rugby player approaching the end of his playing days gets a chance to make a difference in an important match, and perhaps to earn serious money for a year or two. This could have important consequences for his family. Ryan was played by Matthew Gravelle and Kerry by Eve Myles; Helen Perry produced.
DEAD GIRLS TELL NO TALES (R4, 1415, Saturday Play 19 Sep 15) should have had the title WHY GRACE ARCHER HAD TO DIE. This was a look at why the most popular actress in The Archers, way back in the fifties, had to disappear, suddenly, from the cast. The play is still available on listen-again so I'm not giving any clues, but it showed how radio drama operated sixty years ago, and Ysanne Churchman, who played Grace Archer all those years ago, spoke for a couple of minutes at the end, verifying its truthfulness. A 'must' for all fans of the programme. Lex Shrapnel played Norman Painting (Phil Archer) and the producer was Sean O'Connor.
QUILL, by Tony Jones (R4, 1415, 23 Sep 15) was a very amusing light comedy. It is Hunslet Fair in 1851 and Edward Quill, who once had a production at Drury Lane, has been asked to write a play by the actor-manager at the theatre. It has contain a ghost, a hero, a heroine, a storm and a dog. Edward sets to work, but the characters he invents start talking to him and each other. There's also a dalliance with a married woman and a play within the play. Edward Quill was played by Daniel Weyman, Wragg and Sir Jasper by Edward Max, Mrs. Wragg by Susan Brown and the unfortunate Susannah by Jasmine Hyde. Production was by Clive Brill, for Indie company Brill Productions.
Finally a late reminder to writers who intend to enter for the Imison / Tinniswood Awards: Please apply with all supporting materials before 29 Sept 2015.
ND / 25 Sep 2015
RADIO DRAMA REVIEW Dec 2015
There have been some large projects from the Drama department since the last review: a series of plays about the Oil industry, an extended Zola adaptation, and a ten-part epic from Goldhawk currently being broadcast and set in ancient Egypt. There have been a number of shorter items, too, which have been good listening.
THE PRICE OF OIL was the collective title of a series of 7 plays about Oil and the way it has affected our lives.The series was devised by Nick Kent and the authors taking part were Jonathan Myerson (3 plays), Nigel Williams, Rex Obano, Joy Wilkinson and Tamsin Oglesby. The dramas were broadcast between 26 Sep and 3 Oct.
The first play, by Jonathan Myerson ( Saturday Play, R4, 26 Sep 15, 1430) STAND FIRM, YOU CADS was about the way British Oil was thrown out of Iran in 1951, which led to riots, demonstrations and a shipping blockade. Events were shown as seen through the eyes of the expats on the island of Abadan. Iran's oil had been discovered forty years earlier by the British and at the time of the events in the play, oil in Iran was controlled by the British-owned Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC).
Iranian discontent with the AIOC began in the 1940s: a growing number of the public and some politicians saw the company as exploitative and a central tool of continued British imperialism. The AIOC was unwilling to allow Iranian authorities to audit its accounts or to renegotiate the terms of its own rights of access to the country's oil. The discontent grew, and in 1951, Iran's petroleum industry was nationalized in a bill introduced by Mossadeq, the Iranian P.M. In response, Britain instigated a worldwide boycott of Iranian oil to pressurise Iran economically. The cast included Anna Maxwell-Martin and Danny Rahim, with Luke Treadaway, Raad Rawi and Paul Chahidi. The producers were Jonquil Panting and Nick Kent.
In LOOKING FOR BILLY (28 Sep) by Nigel Williams, a private detective investigates protests about the Alaskan oil pipeline.
THE WEAPON, by Jonathan Myerson (29 Sep) told the true story of Carlos the Jackal and the OPEC oil siege in 1975.
BABY OIL, also by Jonathan Myerson (30 Sep) was set during the first Gulf War. Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990 sent shockwaves around the world. Not only were the oil-rich states of the Persian Gulf important to the world economy; President Bush (sr) also saw the invasion as a direct threat to international stability. Bush, a World War II veteran, condemned the aggression and spoke of it in terms of good and evil, often comparing Iraqi president Saddam Hussein to Adolf Hitler. He believed that the only possible response to Saddam's invasion was firm military action.
A fact-based play SOMEONE'S MAKING A KILLING IN NIGERIA (1 Oct) by Rex Obano, told us about the Ogoni people's campaign against environmental damage to their land caused by the oil industry.
NO TWO DAYS (2 Oct) by Joy Wilkinson, set on an oil rig, was inspired by the Deep Horizon disaster of 2010.
The last play, BLOOD FROM STONE (3 Oct) by Tamsin Oglesby, set in 2045, predicted Middle Eastern oil wells drying up and energy companies fighting for fracking rights under Lancashire. A man in the energy business wonders if he should get out of oil for good.
The play FRANKIE GOES TO FLENSBURG (R4, 1415, 5 Oct 15) by Jennifer Howarth, arose from the post-WW2 experiences of her father. Frank Howarth was a Major in the Royal Artillery and a lawyer in civilian life. He was taken out of the frontline of the invading Allied army in Holland and sent with two other soldiers to Flensburg in Northern Germany. Their task was to set up a civilian administration. This was an interesting account of a different and unexpected experience for a Major at the end of the second World War. Frank Howarth was played by Paul Popplewell, the Colonel by Mark Straker, the Brigadier by Kim Wall, and the Major by Ian Masters; the producer was Celia de Wolff.
KEMPTON AND THE DUKE (R4, 6 Oct 15) by David Spice was based on actual events; in 1961 a man stole Goya's portrait of the Duke of Wellington from the National Gallery in a protest about his TV licence. Having stolen it, he had difficulty deciding what he should do next. Kempton Bunton, who carried out the theft, was played by Kevin Whately; Hugh Fraser played Lord Robbins and Madelaine Newton was Kempton's wife. Liz Anstee was the producer.
THE MERMAID OF ZENNOR (R4, 20 Oct 2015), an evocative and moving story by Paul Dodgson based on a Cornish folk tale, had at its heart a beautiful young woman haunting the Cornish clifftop village of Zennor. A young man who has failed to do very well academically moves to Cornwall for a fresh start. He tries, with some success, to get his life under control. Then one day whilst fishing, he has a strange near-death experience. From that point, he and his family are at the mercy of a force stronger than any of them. Jack was played by Nigel Lindsay, Mary by Robin Weaver and Matt by Joe Gaminera, with Alice Hoskyns and Teresa Gallagher. The producer was Celia de Wolff and the music was written and played by Paul Dodgson.
Another run of 4 programmes about World War 1, TOMMIES, began in October. (R4, weekly, beginning 21 Oct 15), illustrating the events of a particular day exactly 100 years ago. The episodes were written by Nick Warburton, Michael Chaplin and Jonathan Ruffle (2). It is worth noting that the first episode of the previous series of Tommies, broadcast on 14 Oct 2014 and written by Nick Warburton, has reached the last 5 for the next Tinniswood Award. These stories are based on actual experiences, taken from soldiers' diaries and letters, around which the drama is constructed. They are extremely effective and show with great clarity some of the awful events of war and how front-line soldiers, most of them not regular soldiers, had to cope. There was a varied cast, but Indira Varma did the narration and appearing in most of the episodes were Neet Mohan, Chris Pavlo, Pippa Nixon, Mark Edel-Hunt and David Acton. Production was shared by Jonquil Panting, David Hunter and Jonathan Ruffle.
Orson Welles' unproduced screenplay HEART OF DARKNESS, a creepy and unusual Saturday Play, was broadcast in late October. (R4, 24 Oct 15). The story comes from a Joseph Conrad novel. A skipper is hired to take a steamship up the Congo river to find a missing company agent who trades in ivory, but when he arrives he encounters a terrifying evil. The script was written by Welles in 1939, but was rejected, and Citizen Kane was filmed instead. This adaptation for radio is by Jamie Lloyd and Laurence Bowen. The story involves some of those frightening artefacts from the jungle which you can see in the Pitt-Rivers Museum in Oxford: shrunken heads made by savages, poison arrows, and so on. Marlow was played by James McAvoy, Kurtz by Jonathan Slinger and Elsa by Phoebe Fox. The production was by Laurence Bowen and the director was Jamie Lloyd; music was supplied by Ben and Max Ringham.
Julian Simpson's play FUGUE STATE (R4, 29 Oct) was another drama from this fine writer where sound recordings have a key part in the story; this also occurs in BAD MEMORIES (2011) and FRAGMENTS (2006).
A man in hospital in a fugue state holds the key to strange events which have occurred in a remote village. Fugue state is a type of reversible amnesia; onset is sudden, usually following severe psychological stress. Can sound recordings prompt his brain into remembering what has happened? The amnesiac is played by Steven Mackintosh, with Nicola Walker as Doctor Fallon, Tim McInnerney as Johnson and Ferdinand Kingsley as Simon. The play was produced by Karen Rose for Indie company Sweet Talk.
THE EXUBERANT by Geoff Young (R4, 30 Oct 15), repeated from 2013, attracted my interest partly because it coincided with the 50th anniversary of the Barwell Meteorite, the largest to land in Britain, which happened with an enormous bang three miles from where I am sitting on Christmas Eve, 1965. A hot fragment the size of a Christmas turkey went through the roof of a local factory and another piece burned a hole in the road outside. The curious may find "Barwell Meteorite" worthy of an internet search. In the radio play, a pleasant light comedy, a man fascinated by meteorites is on a mission to find one which has landed near Aberystwyth, but his female arch rival is determined to get there first. The cast included Adeel Akhtar, Victoria Elliott and Eiry Thomas; the producer was James Robinson for BBC Wales.
"1977" was the title of the latest radio play by Sarah Wooley (R4, 3 Dec 15). In 1977 the novel 'Watership Down' was made into an animated film, which Sarah watched fairly recently. After the film there was an interview with the editor, Terry Rawlings and the director, Martin Rosen. They were talking about all aspects of the film and eventually got on to the subject of the score.
Malcolm Williamson had been given the job of composing the music but unfortunately when the time came to record it, it was incomplete; in fact the conductor, Marcus Dods, found that it was barely started; there were just two short sketches lasting about 7 minutes. Furthermore the rehearsal, with full orchestra booked, was only days away. Dods was desperate to find someone to supply him with a full score. He turned to his long-time friend Angela Morley and she rapidly did a beautiful job of orchestrating Williamson's fragments, assisted by Larry Ashmore. Then Dods cautiously asked if she would take over as the film's composer.
Sarah noticed at this point that the conversation between Rosen and Rawlings began to stall. Rosen said that Angela hadn’t worked in a long time out of choice...... What did he mean? Why hadn’t she worked? She was clearly brilliant.... so Sarah looked her up.
What emerged was a fascinating story, and this play.
Angela Morley was born in Leeds in 1924 as Wally Stott. Wally was a self-taught musician, joining the Oscar Rabin band in 1941 and then Geraldo’s band in 1942 as a saxophone player. Stott studied Geraldo’s orchestrations; he took harmony lessons and composition with Matyas Sieber, and studied conducting with Walter Goehr. He was soon able to give up playing to concentrate on composing and arranging. By 1953 he was appointed musical director for the British arm of Philips Records. He wrote music for the theme tune for Hancock's Half Hour, The Goon Show, and film scores.
However he was plagued with a struggle of gender identity. After the death of his first wife and marrying again, he made the difficult decision to undergo gender reassignment surgery. Wally said of Christine, his second wife, that it was only because of her love and support that he was able to deal with the trauma. He had his surgery in Switzerland in 1970 and returned to England as Angela Morley.
There is more information about the play on Sarah's page .
Angela was played by Rebecca Root, Christine by Debra Baker, Marcus Dods by William Gaminara and Terry Rawlings by Bryan Dick. Production was by Gaynor Macfarlane.
For me the other big drama event was the new ten-part epic from Goldhawk entitled TUMANBAY (R4, beginning 2 Dec 15) by John Dryden and Mike Walker. This is a historical drama set in medieval Egypt under the rule of the Mamluk slave dynasty. Reports of rebellion in Amber Province have reached the city; there are rumours of a mysterious force devouring the empire from within. There is fear and suspicion; no-one can be trusted.
In the story, Tumanbay is the capital of a vast Egyptian empire where opportunities are plentiful and life is cheap. The first scene in the city's palace, where an envoy from a rebellious province has a grim gift for the Sultan, gives a sense of what to expect: intrigue and casual ISIL-type violence. John Dryden's direction, recorded on location, gives the play an eerie realism where the listener can never fully relax; it is truly excellent. There is an enormous cast including Rufus Wright, Olivia Popica, Nabil Elouahabi, Raad Rawi and Albert Welling (remember his play 'The Lintel'?). The series producers were Emma Hearn, Nadir Khan and John Dryden. It should be noted that historically, Tumanbay was not a city; it was the name of the Sultan in the late 1400s.
Stephen Wyatt's new play on radio 3 about the composer Sibelius, FINLANDIA (R3, 8 Dec 15) provided new insights into the life of a well-known composer. It is 1945. Sibelius - national hero, then aged 80 - is about to burn his manuscripts despite the protests of his wife, Aino. He has not composed any music for 20 years. He has sketches and fragments which, conceivably, could be worked into an eighth symphony, but does he still have the necessary mental equipment and the desire for composition?
The play interweaves a conflict between husband and wife about burning the manuscripts, with scenes from The Kalevala, the national epic of Finland. Excerpts from the epic weave in and out of the drama to shine a light into the composer's mind, underscored with the music which The Kalevala inspired Sibelius to write.
The argument between Aino and Sibelius highlights parts of Sibelius' past and his attitude towards his music, towards composition, and towards his country. Tim Pigott-Smith played Sibelius and Barbara Flynn was his wife; the production was by Tracey Neale.
Other noteworthy productions have been a 9-part series of ZOLA episodes dramatised from his cycle of novels "Les Rougon-Macquart" (described very unflatteringly in RT as a mash-up and given the title BLOOD, SEX AND MONEY); a play about Upton Sinclair standing for election in California by Stephen Sheridan; a psychological thriller by Peter Whalley entitled WHEN LAST I SAW YOU, a play by Tom Wainwright called THE WAINWRIGHTS, where a farmer hears excerpts from his own life taking place on the radio, PRETTY THINGS by Jon Canter about a couple who meet up with their respective old flames, BLACK DOG, a lovely play with a missing husband and an enormous hound, and three very good INSPECTOR CHEN stories dramatised from the writings of a Chinese writer with an unpronounceable name.
I look forward in 2016 to fewer mash-ups, fewer 'dramas', and more radio plays and serials.