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Radio Drama:
Christmas Crackers, 2020
Harry Turnbull

CHRISTMAS CRACKERS

Tracks, Passenger List, The Archers, That Dinner of '67.



Tracks; Abyss (Series 5)
Final episode December 21 Radio 4

After five series dating back several years, the conspiracy thriller Tracks finally wrapped up. Itís been a long, old haul. This last series, Abyss, ran to another nine episodes and has been a gargantuan effort to pull off.

In truth, one or two episodes did feel like ideas were becoming a struggle but itís no surprise given the series longevity. Available on BBC Sounds for those who want to find out how it all ended.



Passenger List
(Seven episodes from December 5, Radio 4)
Created by John Scott Dryden
Script editor Mike Walker

A plane mysteriously falls out of the sky, an 'ordinary' woman turns into an extraordinary sleuth to investigate the death of a loved one and a host of conspiracy theories follow.

Sound familiar? The very concept of Tracks as it happens. Either Goldhawk Productions were inspired by Matthew Broughtonís efforts or the BBC commissioners wanted a similar thriller plot. Or maybe just plain coincidence.

To be fair, this concept that some events are wreathed in mystery and fake news, with the truth being winkled out by amateurs not journalists, is very much true to life.

The versions of news events served up by the BBC and Sky are now so reliant on officialdom that itís no wonder the maverick secret-spiller Wikileaks has spawned a generation of investigative amateurs.

In this story, flight 702 disappears off the map, leading the protagonist Caitlin to try and piece together what has happened. Her brother, a cyber hacker, was on the plane. Caitlinís extraordinary access to all the players both in the intelligence and criminal worlds is explained by a mystery mole.

Spies, cybercriminals, terror suspects...it's all wrapped up in conspiratorial aural symphony.



That Dinner of 67
December 21 BBC Radio 4
Written by Tracy Ann-Oberman
Featuring: Adrian Lester, Kenneth Branagh, David Morrisey

It was only after listening that I discovered the stellar cast list. On re-listening, Morriseyís vaguely-Scouse brogue was immediately detectable but Branagh as Spencer Tracy, not a jot.

The story revolves around the making of Guess Whoís Coming To Dinner, the last hurrah of Tracy and Hepburn in 1967. The film about inter-racial romance was controversial at the time in an American riven by race riots (whatís new?).

At the same time, Spencer Tracy was seriously ill so there was a race against time to finish. Adrian Lester stars as Sidney Pointier, the black star thrust into the spotlight.


The Archers
Many Archers listeners were less than thrilled by the Lockdown Monologues; a series of dreary episodes featuring various characters talking to themselves. This cack-handed attempt at inner reflection was hardly Proust.

I was one who seriously began considering not returning when programme-makers eventually decided the Big C didn't really have to get in the way producing full cast episodes; after all, in the last ten years I have successfully ditched Coronation Street, Facebook and cigarettes.

One thing drew me back, like a Pied Piper or the sound of the Furies - and that was Philip Moss being unmasked as an evil gangmaster. The preposterous concept was deliciously absurd. And the most interesting aspect the reaction of his moll, Kirsty, still psychologically traumatised by being left at the altar by the sausage imperator Tom Archer who has disappeared in the manner of a lost Roman legion. So, the tension mounted. How would Philip and his son Gavin be unmasked? Well, to build dramatic tension you would need to give the listener some knowledge at the same time dropfeeding hints via other characters. Maybe introduce an investigator or reporter to ramp up edginess.

Instead, Kirsty confronts Phil thinking he has another woman on the side (in itself laughable) and then comes the confession. Of course, he tried to sugar-coat having non-paid wage slaves by saying they had an X-box to play with.

The worst aspect of how this was handled was in fact Kirsty's reaction. As a journalist I have seen many family members, particularly spouses, put in very difficult positions. If unpleasant knowledge comes to light it causes agony, self examination and discussion. It does not include 'call the police' and describing one's nearest and dearest as a 'monster' and then blithely discussing what to watch on Netflix.

Also, there was a rather bizarre reference to a visit Kirsty made as a child to the Birkenhead Empire. As she is from Merseyside (albeit the posh part, Formby) you would have thought she would know itís the Liverpool Empire.



Harry Turnbull


Thanks Harry for these reviews .... ND



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