Ken Whitmore Plays

Ken Whitmore is one one the most versatile of radio dramatists, with several strings to his bow. It is cause for regret that he no longer writes for the medium, discouraged by the arbitrary restrictions of the current regime.

Whitmore operated at a high level, with exceptional energy and imagination. Over twenty-two years he produced twenty-four original plays, besides a number of adaptations from the work of others (including a serialisation of Graham Greene's BRIGHTON ROCK). He began in 1974 with HAYWIRE AT HUMBLEFORD FLAG ( a title suggestive of eccentricity and exuberence, both much in evidence during his radio career). Two plays appeared in 1975: a sinister comedy, ONE OF OUR COMMUTERS IS MISSING, and JUMP, about a boy convinced that mankind is doomed unless everyone jumps simultaneously. COLDER THAN OF LATE (1976) is a first-rate whodunit, set in a frozen landscape, with a corpse tied to a tree beneath the snow. A DECENT BRITISH MURDER (1980) is, likewise, a superior mystery, set this time among a smart house-party and featuring a bizarre impossible crime. THE SPORT OF ANGELS (1981) is a fantastic comedy, with Miriam Margolyes as an invented character who becomes involved with her creator (a boy called Godfrey, also known as God). THE GREAT TIMES CROSSWORD CONSPIRACY (1982) involves a complicated scheme to complete the eponymous puzzle without actually working out the answers. DITHERING HEIGHTS (1985) is a Gothic farce, set in a Yorkshire mansion, with Aubrey Woods as an over-ambitious entrepreneur. THE RED TELEPHONE BOX (1986) is an eccentric whodunit, compounded of comic absurdity and high ingenuity. THE GINGERBREAD HOUSE (1986) exploits hair-raisingly the Hansel and Gretel story; and WINTER MUSIC (1989) is a sombre play about a family living with the after-effects of extreme domestic violence. THE FINAL TWIST (1996) is doubly well-named: because it is, alas, Whitmore's final radio play; and because it is, even for him, outstandingly twisty. Donald Sinden starred as a devious actor-manager, who commissions a play about the murder of a troublesome wife, in which his own troublesome wife plays the victim. Ken Whitmore signed off in characteristic style, still firing on all cylinders.

Ken Whitmore has his site at
http:// www.writing-coach.co.uk

Barry Pike

KEN WHITMORE (compiled by Barry Pike)
11.9.74 Haywire at Humbleford Flag 60m
29.1.75 One of our commuters is missing* 45m
8.4.75 Jump* 45m
25.6.76 The story of a penny suit 60m
18.12.76 Colder than of late* SNT dir Alfred Bradley
29.12.76 Out for the count 60m
5.2.77 The Caucasian in the woodpile 45m
15.10.77 Pen Friends SNT
19.8.78 Watch the forest grow SNT
3.2.79 The lackey's daughter* SNT
17.8.79 Always in love with Amy (Just Before Midnight)
2.9.80 A Decent British Murder* SNT
12.2.81 The sport of Angels* 60m
22.12.82 The great Times Crossword conspiracy* 30m
5.3.83 Kill or cure (Travelling Hopefully) SNT rpt 6.3.87
11.8.84 La Bolshie Vita* SNT
7.9.85 Dithering Heights* SNT
25.2.86 The red telephone box* 60m
7.6.86 The town that helped itself* SNT
18.12.86 The Gingerbread House* 60m dir Alfred Bradley
1.4.87 The cold embrace 45m
20.2.89 Winter music*
16.5.90 A room in Budapest 45m
30.3.96 The Final Twist* 90m

All directed by Alfred Bradley except The Final Twist and Going Under.

Ken Whitmore also lists "Going Under*" (90 minutes) adapted from the novel by the Russian Lydia Chukovskaya, a five-part adaptation of "Brighton Rock*" by Graham Greene, and an eight part adaptation of "Fame is the Spur*" by Howard Spring*.

asterisked plays known to exist within VRPCC

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A note from Ken Whitmore:

"99% of my plays were produced and directed by Alfred Bradley who scoured the country for writing and acting talent like a soccer coach standing on Sunday League touchlines, shivered in his car all night waiting for a promising lad named David Pownall to come home so he could ask him to write a play, gave me money when I was broke or chivvied the BBC into paying my expenses, offered to baby-sit for my kids when I had a son ill in hospital and did tons of such favours to multitudes of writers and actors. By such means Alfred coaxed and bullied plays out of unknowns, cast them, directed them and kept his writers alive. Today scripts come in by post and go to faceless clones in offices who never meet writers and the scripts they deem worthy are passed to conveyor belt producers who rarely meet writers. That is why everything now sounds like the Archers and there are no more Big Occasions."

Ken Whitmore


A man and his wife invite their penfriends to stay. The man's penfriend is female; the woman's is male. They hope that the two strangers, both lonely, might pair off. This is how the story begins, and whilst it's fairly amusing; it seems a little like 'Terry and June" territory. But it continues to develop; a multilayered crime story gradually appears, where each couple (there are four of them) attempts to double-cross at least one of the others. Producer Alfred Bradley. 90m.

Ken adds the following remarks about the production- "Trevor Hill was a great producer for sound effects and I remember him going off somewhere to record a coach and horses for couple of scenes. And we had a big old fashioned fire range in the studio complete with pans and kettles and pokers, which the actors had to move about as they spoke their lines. Trevor also had the superb theme tune specially commissioned. I'm afraid I have forgotten the name of the composer. (Trevor worked on the original Children's Hour and on retirement wrote a book about his radio days)".

    RT notes to episode 1, 31 Aug 1984 (first broadcast 1979)
    This is the story of John Hamer Shawcroft, his boyhood rise from the streets of Ancoats, Manchester, and his pursuit of power and fame. Through the lives of Hamer and his wife Ann, there flows the wider current of England's life; the challenge to the landed aristocracy in the late 1880s; the birth of the Labour party; the Suffragette movement in which Ann plays an heroic part; and the aftermath of the 1914-18 war. Shawcroft as a boy - Gary Carp, the older Shawcroft - Ian McKellen, Tom Hannaway as a youth - Phillip Pollitt, Arnold Ryerson as a youth - David Riley, Grandfather - Geoffrey Banks, John's mother - Rosalie Williams, Gordon Stansfield, his stepfather - Ian Flintoff, Ma Hannaway - Elizabeth Kelly, Charles Artingstall, the bookseller - George Hagan, Ann Artingstall as a girl - Susan Revill, Hawley, his father - Graham Tennant, Lizzie Lightowler, his aunt: Rosalie Critchley. Other children played by Jimmy Braddock, Phillippa Connell and Ruth Williams. Theme music composed by Johnny Pearson. Producer - Trevor Hill.

    Episode titles:
    1. Born in Captivity
    2. Thrown to the Wolves
    3. The Fight for St. Swithin's
    4. Lovers and Losers
    5. Deaths and Entrances
    6. Hamer's Women
    7. (no information)
    8. Perish By the Sword

    Notes to episode 5:
    Hamer - Ian McKellen, Ann - June Barry, Lizzie Lightowler - Rosalie Crutchley, Lady Lettice - Helen Ryan, Ellen - Rosalie Williams, Arnold - Andrew Jackson, Pen, his wife - Vida Paterson, Nell Richards - Nina Holloway, Jimmy Newbouolt - John Baldwin, Lord Lostwithiel - Jeffrey Wickham, Tom Hannaway - Geoffrey Wheeler, Harry Liskeard - Peter Guinness, Evan Vaughan - Richard Clay-Jones, Parry Powell - Herbert Smith, Gallery assistant - Rory Scase, Carrickfergus - James Tomlinson. Producer Trevor Hill. BBC Manchester.

Cast: Tony Robinson, Meg Johnson, Bob Grant, Bonnie Hurran, Peter Wheeler, Stephen Granville. Directed by Alfred Bradley.

A run-down industrial town which pulls itself up by its bootstraps using some very unusual tactics. 90m. Producer Alfred Bradley.

A plot originating from a moment of extreme violence years ago.... There's some wonderful writing in this play, but the subject matter is grim....with Martin Jarvis as Thomas Havilland, the narrator, Julie Higginson as Virginia and Angela; Linda Gardner as Grace. Also stars Geoffrey Banks, Harry Beatty, Peter Wheeler. Pianist Tom Steer; directed in Manchester by Alfred Bradley.

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