David Pownall Radio Plays

David Pownall has been writing challenging plays for radio since 1973. To date there are sixty of them, all individual, none written to formula. You never know what you are going to get with Pownall, which means you won't like all he's done, but what you do like you'll like very much. Some of his radio plays have also been done in the theatre - e.g. Music to Murder By and Master Class - but most were written for radio and exploit the resources of the medium to the full. It is impossible to characterise Pownall, his frame of reference is so wide - but his best work is brilliant, like Butterfingers, a dangerous farce; Flos, about a medieval stonemason; Pound on Mr. Greenhill, about Ezra Pound in Rome; Master Class, about Stalin's attempt to control Prokofiev & Shostakovich; and Elgar's Third, on the symphony that didn't get written. He even wrote a play about George II for Nigel Hawthorne! (The Grapes of Roi).

- Barry Pike (written in 2002)

Length shown in minutes

05.12.72 Free Ferry, dir A. Bradley, 30
21.02.73 Free House, dir. A.Bradley, 30
24.01.77 Backstop, dir. A.Bradley, 75
02.01.74 An old New Year dir. A.Bradley, 60
25.10.76 Under the wool* dir. A.Bradley, 75
31.05.76 Fences dir. A.Bradley, 90
07.12.74 A place in the country dir. A.Bradley, 75
28.08.77 Li'le Jimmy Williamson dir. A.Bradley, 90
07.11.76 Music to murder by dir Guy Vaisen, 90
02.07.78 Richard III Part Two dir Ian Cotterell, 90
18.05.78 Motocar dir David Spenser, 90
06.12.81 The mist people dir A.Bradley, 90
10.12.79 Livingstone & Sechele dir David Spenser, 90
09.04.81 Beef dir Ian Cotterell, 90
27.07.80 Barricade dir Ian Cotterell, 90
21.09.81 Butterfingers* dir Caroline Smith, 90
1982 Later dir A.Bradley, 90
20.01.83 Flos* dir Ronald Mason, 90
17.04.87 The Bridge at Orbigo* dir Richard Imeson, 90
09.11.83 Ploughboy Monday* dir A.Bradley, 90
03.06.86 Beloved Latitudes* dir Martin Jenkins, 90
1984 Master Class* dir Martin Jenkins, 90 rpt 17.10.86
20.11.88 A matter of style* dir Ian Cotterell, 75
28.04.90 Plato not NATO* dir Martin Jenkins, 90
02.06.90 Glossomaniacs dir Martin Jenkins, 5
1991 Rousseau's Tale dir Eoin O'Callahagan, 60
30.05.92 Kitty Williamson dir Martin Jenkins, 90
1992 Bringing up Nero dir Martin Jenkins, 90
07.02.93 Dreams & Censorship dir Eoin O'Callahagan, 100
06.03.94 Elgar's Third* dir Martin Jenkins, 105m
1994 Fishing for Ghosts* dir Eoin O'Callahagn, 90
1994 Something to remember me by dir Peter Kavanagh, 75
1995 Selling the archbishop* dir Eoin O'Callahagan, 90
1995 Under the table* dir Eoin O'Callahagan, 90
1995 Grapes of Roi dir Martin Jenkins, 20
1995 A view from Genesis, dir Eoin O'Callahagan, 20
1995 Churchill's Nose, dir Martin Jenkins, 20
1995 Shamondoah dir Martin Jenkins, 20
1997 Gift from the North* dir Pater Kavanagh, 75
02.03.97 Pound on Mr. Greenhill* dir Eoin O'Callahagn, 100
1997 Brahms on a slow train dir Martin Jenkins, 100
1997 Satchelmouth* dir Martin Jenkins, 90
1998 Making love, war and peace dir Eoin O'Callahagn, 90
1998 Stolen Time dir Eoin O'Callahagn, 90
15.05.98 An Epiphanous use of the microphone* dir Martin Jenkins, 60
26.07.98 Cadenza*, dir Peter Kavanagh, 90m
28.12.98 The man without the mobile, dir Peter Kavanagh, 30m
11.02.99 Cuban Solo* (Marat) 45m
25.02.99 The virgin knife 45m
04.03.99 A mere five thousand pounds 45m
11.03.99 Sic Semper Tyrannis 45m (these 3 plays "The Assassins")
27.06.99 Byron's Fancy 90m
27.08.99 Blitzma* 60m
14.04.00 I want to go home* 60m
09.05.00 Before your very eyes* 60m
13.09.00 Fumers*
03.11.00 Bread of Heaven 60m
17.02.01 An insular motet 45m
11.09.01 Barbara Allen 45m; rpt. 15 Oct 2004
18.03.02 Facade*: about Walton & Edith Sitwell
03.04.02 The Spies*: 45m
17.05.02 Heather*
05.11.02 Curriculum Vitae*
2003 Love is an Existential Thing*: about Kierkegard
05.01.04 Dizzy Spells: about Ben Disraeli*
24.10.06 Born for War*
09.07.07 A Regent's Tale*
15.01.09 Torch no. 1*
22.08.09 Slow Boat to Leningrad*
23.04.10 Nyama*
31.07.10 Writing on Wigan Pier*
21.06.11 A Terrible Beauty*
21.10.11 Prayer Mask*
04.12.14 Tongues of Fire*
17.11.18 In Praise of Evil* 90m
05.03.22 Bed for the Night* 55m

asterisked items known to exist in VRPCC collections.


5 Mar 22: Saturday Play: Bed for the Night
By David Pownall. The aftermath of Britainís colonial past and the contentious issue of illegal immigration. The action takes place in a house located in Brighton in 2022. One evening, Daniel, now in his 80s, answers his front door and is confronted by Amos who asks him for a bed for the night. When Amos tells him that he is the grandson of someone Daniel employed when he worked in Rhodesia, Daniel invites him in. He feels deeply obligated to Amos and to the promises he made all those years ago to his grandfather. But Amos is in the country illegally. The play follows Amos' attempts to stay in the country It's produced by Martin Jenkins, who has directed over 30 plays by David Pownall. Daniel .......... Nigel Anthony, Amos .......... Stefan Adegbola, Flora .......... Sarah Badel. Other roles played by Jenny Funnell, Alan Leith and Jane Whittenshaw. Sound Design by David Thomas. Production Co-ordinator: Sarah Tombling. Indie (Pier).

David Pownall's latest radio play IN PRAISE OF EVIL (R4, 90m, 1430 17 Nov 18) imagines the consequences if Monteverdi had been summoned to Rome to appear before the Inquisition. Monteverdi has just written a stunning new opera "The Coronation of Poppea", full of sublime music. Unfortunately he has ended the work with a love duet between Nero and Poppea; the Catholic Church thinks this is heresy because evil must be punished, not celebrated. The charge is that Monteverdi has allowed blasphemy and immorality to triumph. Weak and frightened, the elderly Monteverdi is brought face to face with the highly unpredictable Pope. Can he escape the suffocating clutches of the Church? Will the Inquisition succeed in stifling his creativity? Why is the Pope so involved? Monteverdi is played by Jim Norton, Barberini by David Horovitch, Claudia by Monica Dolan and Busenello by Anton Lesser, with Michael Maloney and Carl Prekopp. The producer was Martin Jenkins, for Pier productions. (....ND, Diversity Website review, Dec 2018)

4 Dec 2014: Tongues of Fire
By David Pownall. Poet William Yeats plans to stage a play by Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore, but does not take into account the disruptive antics of Sean O'Casey, a young ambitious playwright. This is a fictional argument between the two Irishmen. William: Dermot Crowley, Rabby: Sam Dastor, Sean: Stephen Hogan, with Jane Slavin as Lady Gregory, Elaine Claxton as mother, Sam Dale as the Lord Lieutenant and David Acton as the priest. Produced by Peter Kavanagh.

    The veteran playwright David Pownall has written about seventy radio plays since 1972. His latest, TONGUES OF FIRE (R4, 1415, 4 Dec 14) had as characters the poet Bill Yeats, the playwright Sean O'Casey, and the Indian poet and Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore, on a visit to Ireland. Bill wants to stage a play by his Indian visitor, but is taken aback when he develops a friendship with O'Casey; very much an 'angry young man'. Much of the play is an imagined argument between the two Irishmen, with Rab providing occasional illumination. Yeats was played by Dermot Crowley, Rab by Sam Dastor, and O'Casey by Stephen Hogan. The producer was Peter Cavanagh.
    .......ND, Diversity Website review, Dec 2014.

Afternoon Drama - Prayer Mask ....2011
By David Pownall. 21 Oct 2011. A play about the young Lieutenant Richard Burton who in 1853 disguised himself as an Afghani pilgrim and undertook an expedition to Mecca. His aim was to explore the Holy of Holies. He chronicles this journey fraught with dangers and misadventure. But can he hide his identity from his two young guides? Lieutenant Richard Burton .... Joseph Fiennes, Mohammed.......... Akbar Kurtha, Nur......... Rasmus Hardiker, Wali........... Paul Rider, Larking.......... Roger Hammond, Kaaba official........ Inam Mirza, Surgeon......... Jonathan Tafler, Mohammed's mother ... Natasha Pyne. Producer..... Peter Kavanagh.

Afternoon Drama - A Terrible Beauty ....2011
By David Pownall. 21 Jun 2011. The poet Yeats travels to propose to legendary beauty Maud Gonne soon after her husband was executed by the British in the 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin. Music composed and performed by Max Pownall. YEATS.....JOHN KAVANAGH, MAUD.... .FIONA VICTORY, YSEULT......LYDIA WILSON, ELSIE......JANE WHITTENSHAW. Producer Peter Kavanagh.

31 Jul 10. With Adrian Scarborough, Karl Davies, Helen Longworth, Bernard Cribbins. George Orwell's visit to Wigan in 1936.

23 Apr 10. Afternoon Play by David Pownall, one of our most experienced radio playwrights. A wealthy entrepreneur (played by Vincent Ebrahim) makes a fast buck when a whale dies on a South African beach. The whale is pickled (not an easy job) and then taken from place to place for people to see - at a price. Things get complicated when the carcass gradually begins to decompose. This was an interesting tale, with an astonishing twist at the end, produced by Peter Kavanagh. Unfortunately I missed a play by Pownall later in the summer about George Orwell (R4, 1415, 31 Jul 10) entitled WRITING ON WIGAN PIER.

David Pownall's remarkable new play offers an absorbing insight into the brutal, fascinating and complex world of power politics, with an intriguing cast of characters: Stalin, Churchill, Hitler, Molotov, Chamberlain, Voroshilov and Ribbentrop. Set in 1939, this innovative black "comedy" exposes the true story of the Anglo-French miscalculation which failed to recognise that Fascists and Communists could ever sign a non-aggression pact.

On 5th August 1939, an Anglo-French military team embarks for Leningrad to negotiate with the USSR on a possible alliance against Germany. The slow journey by boat has been carefully chosen. The Soviets are to be made to wait. Stalin is to be given the impression that the Western Allies don't need him all that much.

However, when the delegation finally makes its appearance in Moscow, it is horrified to learn of the Non-Aggression Pact between Germany and the USSR. After wandering round like pariahs in a panic, knocking on doors and pleading for interviews, its members are simply fobbed off. The world of international politics has shifted on its axis. Finally, Voroshilov tells them that the swift volte-face in Soviet policy was caused by the British and French dragging their feet.

Pownall concentrates on behind-the-scenes meetings and conversations. It is an absorbing play.

Cast: Michael Jayston [Stalin], Michael Maloney [Hitler], Christian Rodska [Churchill / Voroshilov], Geoffrey Whitehead [Chamberlain / Admiral Drax], Keith Drinkel [Doumenc], Ian Masters [Burnett], Jonathan Tafler [Molotov], and Nicholas Boulton [Von Ribbentrop]. Other parts played by members of the cast. Director Martin Jenkins. (thanks to S-J, 'radiofans', for this review.)

TORCH NO. 1 ....2009
Neither a terrorist nor a fanatic, Jan Palach set fire to himself in the centre of Prague 40 years ago. David Pownall attempts to explore the reasons. With Karl Davies. Producer Martin Jenkins.

    David Crawford, in 'Radio Times', remarked: ".......David Pownall's powerful drama about Czech student Jan Palach who died in 1969 after setting fire to himself in Prague in protest at the Soviet-led invasion, may deal with a gruesome act, but it draws its strength from imagining what would have been going through Palach's mind......a deft treatment of a thought-provoking subject that will send shivers down your spine when you hear that match being lit"..

R4 1415 9 Jul 07. Interesting biographical tale of the MP and playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan, who was for a time a close friend of the Prince of Wales. Having faced his father's refusal to give up the throne, "Prinny" turns to Sheridan for advice. Stars Richard E. Grant as the playwright and Anthony Glennon as george, Prince of Wales. Other cast members: Frances Tomelty (narrator), David Horovitch, Gerard Murphy, Jasmine Callan, Richard Howard, Fo Cullen. Produced by Eoin O'Callaghan.

Readers may remember Frances Tomelty as the SM in Stewart Parker's "Radio Pictures" (q.v.) ...ND

BORN FOR WAR....2006
24 Oct 06. By David Pownall. Two plays marked the invasion of the Suez Canal in 1956. Born For War featured Mark Arens as an angry young man as the big news event of the day highlighted uncomfortable divisions in his family. Tilly Blackís Sand was set in Port Said where a ten-year-old English girl played by sweet-voiced Holly Bodimeade unconsciously echoed the patronising cliches of the ex-pat community.
short excerpt from review by Moira Petty, in "The Stage", Oct 06.

Dizzy Spells....2004
The young Disraeli, womaniser, novelist and would-be politician, stands as an MP. Interesting biographical play. With Geoffrey Whitehead (Disraeli Sr.), James D'Arcy (Ben Disraeli), Jasmine Hyde (Sarah), Alison Pettitt and Ben Crowe; director Martin Jenkins.

Love is an Existential Thing....2003
Kierkegaard: the philosopher...endlessly talking and trying to impress...he makes an impression on a young girl, to whom he becomes engaged, but he behaves appallingly to her. If the play is accurate (my knowledge of him is otherwise zero) and he was as self-centred as portrayed, perhaps the one unselfish thing he did in his life was to call off the marriage. There may be philisophers who can relate in an ordinary way to normal people, but Kierkegard was not one of them.

Curriculum Vitae, by David Pownall (R4, 1415, 5 Nov 02) was Pownall's sixty-second original radio play. Set in the early 1960s, it concerns an idealistic young graduate who gets a well-paid job recruiting workers for a new Liverpool car plant. But Dad is a union man and sees his son's job as a betrayal of the shop-floor workers. Why should the young man have the right to hire or fire those more than twice his age? Carl Prekopp was Rex, Tim Flavin was Ross, and the play was directed by Martin Jenkins, no longer a member of the BBC but still involved in making radio drama of the highest quality. (VRPCC newsletter)

The Spies, also by David Pownall (R4, 3 Apr 02) took another look at the story of Jesus's crucifixion and resurrection, through the eyes of children paid by the Romans to spy on the disciples. A plausible plot, and an interesting perspective on the barbaric Roman regime. (VRPCC newsletter)

Facade, by David Pownall (R4, 1415, 18 Mar 02), broadcast a few days after the William Walton centenary, dealt with his relationship with the wordsmith Edith Sitwell as they were putting together "Facade" a composite of music and verbal imagery (or nonsense, as many would have it). It is difficult now, in a period where no-one turns a hair at on-stage expletives, to understand why this rather odd but harmless work was attacked so vigorously when it first appeared. Celia Imrie and David Tennant played Sitwell and Walton, with Chris Emmett as Noel Coward and the ill-fated Constant Lambert.

Barbara Allen....2001
Afternoon Play, rpt. 15 October 2004, 14:15 hrs, 45 min, with Keith Baron/Natasha Pyne/Benedict Sandiford/Jennie Stoller/Honeysuckle Weeks/Phillip Joseph/Adam Godley. The mystery of love's compelling power, explored in a drama based on one of the best-loved folk songs of all time. Director Peter Kavanagh.

14 Apr 00, R4,Friday Play, 55m. An extraordinary play about the evolution of language. The characters in this play aren't people - they're words.

BBC blurb: And on the eighth day God created language. Little did He expect the confusion that would ensue through the ages....

A radio play in which the characters are a family of words which are followed through the ages.

With David Bamber [Ich, the Father ('I')], Joanna Monro [Willa, the Mother ('Want')], Georgie Alexander [Hane, the Daughter ('Home')], Ben Crowe [Gan, the Son ('To Go')], Struan Rodger [Cark], Andrew Scott [Angel of the Eighth Day], John Hartley [God], and Stephen Critchlow [The Creator / Voices]. Directed by Peter Kavanagh.

Fumers, by David Pownall (R4, 30 Sep 00, 1500) concerned a stubborn old man refusing to give up smoking but insisting that the rest of his family see sense. As the family hits withdrawal symptoms, he lies in bed puffing away happily. Grandad was Alec McCowen and Jackie Natasha Pyne; Peter Kavanagh directed.(VRPCC newsletter, Dec 00)

With Nathan Osgood and Carlos Antonio. 11 Mar 99. Afternoon Play. On 14 April 1865, 30 minutes into the performance of `Our American Cousin' in the Ford Theater, Washington, John Wilkes Booth entered President Abraham Lincoln's state box and shot him dead. Directed by Eoin O'Callaghan.

With David Horovitch. 4 Mar 99. Afternoon Play. In May 1812, as Napoleon's armies massed on the Russian borders, the aggrieved John Bellingham, a Liverpool timber merchant, entered the House of Commons and shot dead Prime Minister Spencer Perceval.

With Samantha Bond and Gerard Murphy. 25 Feb 99. Afternoon Play. The first in a series of plays exploring the minds of three of history's most celebrated killers. On 13 July 1793, Charlotte Corday, a young woman from Caen in Normandy, travelled to Paris with the sole intention of killing Jean Paul Marat while he sat in his bath. What drove her to such extremes? Directed by Eoin O'Callaghan.

A play about the composer Gesualdo.

Gift From The North....1997
by David Pownall (R4 1402 13 February, 1997) concerns the plight of a Lancashire fisherman who catches a sturgeon. His friend says it belongs to the monarch - how can he get the fish to Queen Victoria? I wonder if the play was inspired by the Marriott Edgar/Stanley Holloway monologue...........followers of David Pownall may remember "A Matter of Style" (1988) about those who lived, probably uncomfortably, at the top of stone pillars and "Plato not NATO" (1990), where a Yugoslav and an Englishman exchange holidays. (VRPCC newsletter Apr 97)

Partial Cast:
Hugh Dickson ..... Robinson
Stephen Thorne ..... Cedric
Alex Lowe ..... Albert
Brian Glover ..... Greg
Barry Foster ..... Carlson
Kim Wall ..... Jacob
Ioan Meredith ..... Harry
Directed by Peter Kavanagh.

Biographical play about Louis Armstrong.

Monday Play, 22 May 95 and 27 January 97.

History, like everything else these days, has become a commodity - and so it happens that a statue of Jeremy, a 17th-century archbishop, is commissioned to adorn a Surrey town square. Surprisingly, however, it is Jeremy who raises his voice loudest in protest.

Roger Allam................Dyson
David Ryall................Jeremy
Jilly Bond.................Norma
Michael Tudor Barnes.......Norris
Ian Masters................Conrad
Don McCorkindale...........Chairman
Oliver Senton..............Harry
Derek Waring...............The Professor
Peter Yapp.................Inspector Jepp
Annabel Mullion............Sarah
Produced by Eoin O'Callaghan.

6 May 95, Saturday Playhouse and 30 Mar 96, SNT. It's 1945. A boy overcomes his terror of war to demand that Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin, who are meeting in his grandfather's greenhouse, explain why his mother is now an inconsolable widow.

David Calder..............Storyteller
Kenneth Cranham...........Seph Hammer
Maureen O'Brien...........May Hammer
Becky Hindley.............Rusty
Oliver Senton.............Jack
Robert Lang...............Winston Churchill
Andrew Sachs..............Stalin
David Healy...............Roosevelt
Jonathan Keeble...........Hitler
Peter Yapp................Mr Hunt
Natasha Pyne..............Rouille
Andrew Branch.............Bags
David Antrobus............Trevor
Music by Neil Brand; produced by Eoin O'Callaghan.

Elgar's Third ....1994
First Produced : 1994 BBC3
First Published : 1993 in "The Composer Plays", Oberon, London
Genre : Radio Play Male : -- Female : -- Other : large mixed cast
Synopsis : composers final, losing battle to write a third symphony in the face of impending death.

10 Oct 94, Monday Play. Members of the judging panel for a well-known literary prize suspect something fishy when they discover that a major political figure has entered the competition.

Featuring Peter Vaughan as the Salmon Trout; Susan Fleetwood as Betty and Hugh Ross as Martin. Produced by Eoin O'Callaghan.

The cast includes Hugh Ross, Edward Petherbridge, Robert Stephens, Hugh Dickson, Garard Green, Michael Barnes, John Church, Eric Allan .... it's set in 1610 and is about the new King James Bible. The 'censorship' is this .... should the dream of St. John be included? Producer Eoin O'Callaghan. 90m. .......repeated on Radio 3 as the Sunday Play, 29 May 2011.

R3, 17 Apr 87. A walking trip in Spain to Santiago de Compostela becomes a voyage of self-discovery.

Engineer/Captain (Football)/Captain (Army)....George Parsons
Sir John Moore/Chairman/Quinones..............John Church
Stan..........................................Colin Jeavons
Cyril.........................................Neville Smith
No. 10/Capataz/Joachim........................Shaun Prendergast
Don Laslo.....................................Edward de Souza
Sentry........................................Francis Middleditch
Produced by Richard Imison.

Produced by Martin Jenkins. R3, 3 Jun 86. A play set in a prison somewhere in East Africa, where a jailed leader works on his memoirs.

Male Sebusia............................. Joseph Marcell
Neville Tyldsley......................... Benjamin Whitrow
President Hiwewe......................... Alton Kumalo
Tilda.................................... Joy Lemoine
Prison Governor.......................... John Matshikiza
Young Seb................................ Okon James
Silas/Hector/Messenger................... Kwesi Kay
Phanuel/Boy/Ephraim...................... Cyril Nri
Uncle/Lucius/Sergeant.................... Victor Lindsay
Abe McCooey.............................. John Church
Lieutenant/Stephen/Stanley............... Leo Wringer
Headmaster/Reporter...................... Richard Durden
Muchada/Barber........................... Alex Tetteh-Lartey

Master Class ....1983
First Produced : 1983 Haymarket Theatre, Leicester
First Published : 1983 Faber & Faber, London
Genre : Play Male : 4 Female : -- Other : --
Synopsis : The loyal composer Shostakovich and outsider Prokofiev are confronted by Stalin in 1948 Russia
Radio 4 production: stars Timothy West, Jonathan Adams, Peter Kelly, David Bamber. Music arranged by John White; piano played by cast members. Dir. Martin Jenkins.

ND synopsis - Stalin gives Prokofiev a piano lesson. A wonderful plot.

A conflict of interests. A valley holds the promise of oil from shale. The wife doesn't want the valley dug up; her husband, who used to be a mining engineer, does. The guy who looks after the sheep also has strong opinions, and then there are the rustlers. Directed by Alfred Bradley.

Music To Murder By ....1976
First Produced : 1976 University of Kent, Canterbury
First Published : 1978 Faber & Faber, London
Genre : Play Male : 3 Female : 2 Other : --
Synopsis : Two ghosts are conjured up by a Californian woman musicologist to demonstrate creativity and violence. The ghosts are Peter Warlock and Gesualdo.

Set in 1945, towards the end of the war. A girl breaks away from her working class roots to work for a high class lady. She exchanges one set of problems for another. June Barry, Molly Sugden.

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