David Ashton is a familiar name to lovers of radio drama, though he also works for television, writes novels, and acts. He has written a large number of radio plays for the BBC, including the well-known "McLevy", now in its eighth series, documenting the adventures of an Edinburgh police inspector around a hundred years ago. The ninth series has been commissioned. The programmes attract a million listeners.
David won the Radio Times Drama award way back in 1985 with " The Old Ladies at the Zoo,” a hilarious two-hander with Peggy Mount and Liz Smith. "The Wind Bear", another fine comedy, starring Bernard Hepton and Norman Jones, is a firm favourite with drama fans. He has adapted Sherlock Holmes stories and had plays accepted by R.T.E. in Dublin, and Norwegian and Icelandic radio. He wrote the pilot episode of a potential new series, Doctor Johnson’s Dictionary of Crime with Timothy West for Radio 4.
Television work includes very early East Enders, Casualty (Set up and main writer on series 3), The Hello Girls (Second series), Badger, Murder Rooms and Dalziel and Pascoe. His original television film, The Other Side with Richard E. Grant and Frank Finlay, was shown on BBC2. He has co-written a full length animated feature film with world wide distribution shown in 1993, " Freddie", and his other film work is Man In The Moon for HTV. and God On The Rocks with Minnie Driver and Bill Paterson, for Channel 4. He is working on a commissioned film script, Tale for Peter Chelsom, the director of Hear My Song, and Funny Bones. Projects in development include a film on Degas, The Little Dancer, starring Ben Kingsley. At the moment he has completed a film script Django, an adventure based on the life of the great gypsy jazz guitarist, Django Reinhardt. Immediate projects are REGAN, a television series for Portman Films, and DONAL Q, a film for TV starring Brian Cox and Billy Connelly for BBC Scotland.
His first novel, Shadow of the Serpent, commissioned by Birlinn/Polygon was published in May 2006 and the second, A Fall from Grace, was published in spring 2007. A third Behind the Curtain is commissioned for 2009.
David's work for the London theatre includes Passing By at the Old Red Lion, A Bright Light Shining, The Chinese Wolf at the Bush Theatre, The Mark at the Cockpit Theatre, Buried Treasure at the Lyric, Hammersmith, and has just finished a new piece, Couchsong. He has had plays performed in Belfast, Dublin, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Isle of Mull, Stratford and Skibbereen. A children’s play, The Golden Door, has been commissioned and performed at the National Theatre.
He studied at Central Drama School, London, 1964-67, and has a certificate which says he can act. He still does this when asked; his latest part was the hero’s father in Last King of Scotland. He has also played main parts in Brass, Hamish MacBeth, Waking the Dead and The Voyage of Charles Darwin.
Click here for the text of a McLevy story, A Child is Born, reproduced by permission.
UPDATE - the third McLevy novel, Trick of the Light, ISBN: 9781846970917, £9.99. Available from Amazon and most other booksellers.
BBC Radio Plays, in approx. order of broadcast:
1985 Hobgoblins, 30m, R4; producer David Johnson. With Timothy West.
1985 Waterfalls, 30m, R4, producer Gerry Jones. With David Ashton, Emma Piper.
1986 Old Ladies at the Zoo, 45m, R4, producer Jane Morgan. With Peggy Mount, Liz Smith.
c1986 Don't Cry, 45m, R4, producer Jane Morgan. With Joanna Hole, Caroline Hutchinson.
c1986 First Night Nerves, 30m, R4, producer Jane Morgan. With James Ellis, Julie Covington.
c1986 Stations, 30m, BBC Radio Scotland, producer Patrick Rayner. With Callum Mill.
1987 Shining Shining, 30m, R4; producer Jane Morgan. With Brenda Bruce.
1986 The Windbear, R4, producer Jane Morgan; with Bernard Hepton, Alex Norton.
1989 Death of a Fly, producer Patrick Rayner.
1996 The Two Sisters, producer Martin Jenkins; with Joan Sims, Barbara Jefford, Robert Glenister.
The White Hart, RTE Dublin, producer Willie Styles.
Me Dancing, RTE Dublin, producer Willie Styles.
Sherlock Holmes adaptations: THREE GARRIDEBS, BLACK PETER, THE NAVAL TREATY.
1999- 2015 McLevy, many episodes, see below. Producer Patrick Rayner. With Brian Cox, Siobhan Redmond, David Ashton. Issued on audio CDs by the BBC shop. These are excellent stories with a superb cast and immaculately produced.
2012 The Quest of Donal Q; with Billy Connolly and Brian Cox. Scheduled for 7 Jan 1400, BBC Radio Scotland, I think....
NOTES ON SOME OF THE PLAYS
22 Jan 85, 11am; thirty minute theatre. With Timothy West, Anne Jameson, Ellen McIntosh.
24 Sep 85. Thirty minute theatre, 11am. With David Ashton, Emma Piper.
Old Ladies at the Zoo*....1986
9 Sep 86, R4...Two grumpy old ladies meet at the zoo to discuss the
animals, only occasionally letting a truth or two slip
out. Repeated on BBC7. With Peggy Mount and Liz Smith; producer Jane Morgan. The play was recorded in a studio but David Greenwood, the SM, and Jane spent the day at the zoo getting the animals to make the right noises. The play won an RT award, and rightly so; it is a treat. 45m, afternoon play.
Jane Morgan: "Old Ladies at the Zoo was originally recorded in 1986. David had written it for Dandy Nicholls, of 'Till Death Us Do Part' fame, but unfortunately God booked her before we were able to and we were absolutely stuck for who to cast in her place.
The other old lady was going to be Liz Smith but we couldn't think of who was going to be her partner. Then David and I went through 'Spotlight', the Actos' Directory, and there was a photo of Peggy Mount. She just shouted out at us. Why on earth hadn't we thought of her straight off?
The only snag was that she and Liz Smith had so many stories to tell each other, and all of them so fascinating, that we hated to break up the party and get on with the play.
Brenda Bruce. 4 Aug 87. Thirty minute theatre. 11am.
The Wind Bear*....1986, rpt. 1988
R4, 30 Apr 1986, SNT. A wonderful comic detective story, with an absent-minded taxidermist as the main character. Has he murdered his wife, or hasn't he?
And is he really as dozy as he appears to be? An experienced police
inspector and his assistant (not over-endowed with brains) try to
prove him guilty - they don't have any other suspects- but as the
plot twists and turns, and the police excavate a bowl of five-year-old
buried tripe from the garden, the plot is gradually revealed.
Excellent writing and casting throughout. With Bernard Hepton and
Norman Jones. (repeated on BBC7 during Jan 2011; very well-received)
Death of a Fly*....1989
R4, 16 Dec 1989, SNT. Rather odd title of a well-written thriller.
With Alexander Morton, Siobhan Redmond, Tom Fleming, Russell Hunter.
4 Apr 96, 60m. Escaping from a jealous husband, a carpet fitter calls on two eccentric elderly sisters....
THE QUEST OF DONAL Q....2012
BBC Radio Scotland, 1400, 7 Jan 12. Based on the template of Don Quixote, The Quest of Donal Q, is the story of two rival brothers who journey through Scotland in search of a childhood sweetheart. Specially written for and starring Brian Cox and Billy Connolly. More details...
McLevy* , by David Ashton (R4, 1415, Thursdays, ending 11 Jan 01)
chronicled some cases of a Victorian police inspector from Edinburgh,
and is based on a policeman's diary from that time. There is a nice
sub-plot running through the plays: his affection for a lady who runs
the local brothel. This is a highly entertaining series....... ND, VRPCC
newsletter, Apr 01.
has found a winning formula with his entertaining tales of McLevy*,
Inspector of Crime. Another series began with A Good Walk Spoilt
(R4, 1415, 18 Jun 02), where a body is found on Leith golf links
on the eve of a major golf championship. The casting here is
excellent; Brian Cox is the indomitable McLevy, Michael Perceval-
Maxwell his sidekick Mulholland, and Siobhan Redmond the brothel-
keeper Jean Brash. The series is purportedly based on the memoirs
of a Victorian Inspector, but one sometimes wonders if his journal
was quite so full of entertaining tales.........ND, VRPCC
newsletter, Sep 02
Asterisked items known to exist in VRPCC collections.
denotes Saturday Night Theatre.
26-07-99 original play
28-11-00 The trophy club
07-12-00 The second shadow
14-12-00 The burning question
21-12-00 For unto us
Repeats 28-12-01, 04-01-01, 11-01-01, 24.5.02, 31.5.02, 7.6.02, 14.6.02.
(Issued as BBC Audio Books James McLevy Mysteries, as part of Classic Radio detective Drama: THE SECOND SHADOW, THE BURNING QUESTION.)
19-06-02 A good walk spoilt
26-06-02 Wild justice
03-07-02 The wild spark
10-07-02 Stab in the back
01-12.03 Behind the curtain
08-12-03 A voice from the grave
15-12-03 The dark shadow
22-12-03 Servant of the Crown
EPISODE NOTES SERIES 3
Behind the Curtain....2003
A death threat written in blood is found pinned to the wall
of a dressing room at the Parade Theatre. With Brian Cox,
Siobhan Redmond, David Ashton, Michael Perceval-Maxwell, Gabriel Quigley,
Alan Cox, Struan Rodger, Colette O'Neill, Simon Donaldson,
Clare McCarron. Director Patrick Rayner.
A Voice from the Grave....2003
Jean Brash has a mystery lover. Does he know anything of
the brutal murder which has been committed nearby?
With Brian Cox,
Siobhan Redmond, David Ashton, Michael Perceval-Maxwell,
Forbes Masson, Sean Scanlon, Colette O'Neill,
Tom Smith, Sandra Clark, Rovert McIntosh. Director Patrick Rayner.
The dark shadow....2003
A jewel theft brings an infamous
criminal within range of McLevy. With Brian Cox, Siobhan Redmond,
Stella Gonet, Jimmy Yuill, Tom Smith, Michael Perceval-Maxwell, David
Aston, Colette O'Neill, Kananu Kirimi, Robin Laing, Frances Thorburn.
Director Patrick Rayner.
Behind the curtain....2003
The Queen is visiting Edinburgh. But the recent
Crimean War has stirred up the political extremists. A protection
squad is needed. With Brian Cox, Siobhan Redmond, Patrick Malahide, Tom
Goodman-Hill, Michael Perceval-Maxwell, David Ashton, Colette O'Neill,
Tom Smith, Tom Cotcher; director Patrick Rayner.
Series 4, 2006
A piece of cake
The sea change
Sins of the fathers
The devil's disguise
Christmas Special (listed as 'Series 5')
Broadcast Christmas week 2006.
Broadcast Jan/Feb 2009, four episodes
1. 27.01.09 To keep him honest: a boxer takes on a local challenger
2. 03.02.09 Picture of innocence: a high court judge dies, and the widow is a suspect.
3. 10.02.09 The Chosen One: a spiritualist at the Usher Hall
4. 17.02.09 The Reckoning: wedding preparations
Note from ND....these series get better and better..... up to this point, all produced by Patrick Rayner
1. 2 Mar 11: The Firebrand; the kidnapping of an early feminist.
2. 9 Mar 11: Dead Reckoning; an investigation of grave robbing.
3. 16 Mar 11: Prince of Darkness; Jean's former lover appears.
4. 23 Mar 11: A Distant Death
Series 7 was the first produced by Bruce Young.
1. 29 Nov 11: The Blue Gown: McLevy investigates the death of a seamstress.
2. 05 Dec 11: Flesh and Blood: a student is accused of murder.
3. 12 Dec 11: A Fine Deception: a jewel is stolen from Edinburgh Castle.
4. 19 Dec 11: The Last Illusion; sequel to play no. 3.
....Actor Brian Cox stars as the Victorian detective whose adventures in nistry, gritty, sinsoaked Edinburgh have brought him much experience of criminal psychology but left him with a heart, not to mention a soft spot for Mistress Jean Brash (Siobhan Redmond), astute brothel keeper.... (.....Gillian Reynolds, DT review, 26 Nov 11)
1. 26 Nov 12: A Dangerous Remedy
2. 03 Dec 12: No Looking Back
3. 10 Dec 12: A Pearl in the Oyster
4. 19 Dec 12: The Cross-Roads
1. 18 Feb 14: Turf War
2. 25 Feb 14: The Cat's Claw
3. 04 Mar 14: A Sore Convulsion
4. 11 Mar 14: A Secret Life
.................David Ashton's Victorian police inspector, McLEVY (R4, 1415, beginning 18 Feb 14) reappeared for four more episodes. This series contained plenty of violence and thuggery and interesting plots, but there is a new element; the developing relationship between McLevy and Jean Brash. There is also a new Chief Constable, who, like so many new managers, wants to implement sweeping changes without good reason. The regulars in the cast are Brian Cox, his sidekick Mulholland (Michael Perceval-Maxwell), Jean Brash, the brothel keeper (Siobhan Redmond) and Roach (David Ashton). McLevy started as a one-off episode in 1999, and ten series have been commissioned since that broadcast. The producer is Bruce Young, who took over from Patrick Rayner in 2011.
('Diversity' radio review, April 2014)
Series 7, rpt
18 Feb 15: The Firebrand
2. 25 Feb 15: Dead Reckoning
3. 4 Mar 15: Prince of Darkness
4. 1 Mar 15: A Distant Death
Series 10 ended with the suicide of Spencer, a man revealed to be a homosexual: scandalous and illegal in Victorian Edinburgh. Listen for how often his name crops up. His sad fate has no connection to the investigation in episode 1 - a supposedly open-and-shut case of a wife shooting her brutal husband, but it has an effect on Jean Brash's attitude towards McLevy. (Summary of Jane Anderson's remarks in RT - ND. ) Producer: Bruce Young.
1. 15 Dec 15 A Price to Pay
2. 22 Dec 15 The Seventh Veil
3. 29 Dec 15 The Night Walker
4. 5 Jan 16 The Devil Makes A Move
Series 12, 2016
10 Oct: McLevy, 1
A new series of four episodes, by David Ashton. (RT said three episodes but actually published details of all four). Detective drama set in Edinburgh in Victorian times. In this episode (title A Matter Of Balance) a circus visits the city. McLevy: Brian Cox, Jean: Siobhan Redmond, Mulholland: Michael Perceval-Maxwell, Roach: David Ashton, Ballantyne:Alasdair Hankinson, Maria: Anita Vettesse, Billy Sangster: Steven McNicoll, Callum: Ron Donachie, Josie Spence: Samuel Keefe, Sim Burnside: Ben Clifford, Annie Mills: Charlene Boyd, Hannah: Colette O'Neill, Craddock: Paul Young, Lady Jane: Melody Grove, Louis Smith: Grant O'Rourke, Spencer: Kenny Blyth, Lord Holland: Jimmy Chisholm, Seth Brandon: Simon Donaldson, Cathy Brandon: Helen Mackay. Producer: Bruce Young.
11 Oct: McLevy, 2
Episode title: A Man of Honour. The inspector's relationship with Jean turns frosty, but he doesn't understand why. Mulholland chases a man with a knife across the rooftops of Leith harbour; there is a tussle; the man falls to his death... the consequences are serious. Cast and production details- see Monday.
12 Oct: McLevy, 3
Episode title: He Who Waits. McLevy is pining for decent coffee and Jean's company but he's out of favour with her and with Chief Constable Craddock. Meanwhile, saboteurs have ideas about the grand opening of the new docks in Leith. For cast and production details, see notes for Monday.
13 Oct: McLevy, 4
Episode title: The Last Goodbye. A saboteur at the docks has been shot, and McLevy is under suspicion. In disgrace with his superiors and still being cold-shouldered by Jean, he continues with his investigation. But after the opening of the docks, nothing will ever be the same again. Cast and production details- see Monday.
ND comment - this was the last-ever series of McLevy. It was also the best; I was sufficiently moved to write to David Ashton and tell him so.
Nigel Deacon / Diversity Website
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