Michael Robson: Radio Plays

Biog. information should be available shortly. Barry Pike has kindly written a resume of the plays, and underneath I'm slowly putting together some notes about the ones I've heard. The play listing is a joint effort with Michael filling in some gaps. Away we go, then.......

Michael Robson's Radio Plays, by Barry Pike

Michael Robson is one of that elite of radio dramatists who wrote prolifically for the medium at a very high level. He was a major contributor between 1974 and 1989, writing in those fifteen years over thirty original plays, about half of them for "Saturday Night Theatre". He also produced a number of adaptations of the work of other writers.

His first radio play was LANDSCAPE WITH LIES in 1974 and his first for "Saturday Night Theatre" THE FOOL ON THE HILL in 1975. He hit his stride decisively in 1976, which was something of an annus mirabilis for him, with no fewer than seven of his plays broadcast, among them three splendid thrillers: THE LUCAS TESTAMENT, LET IT COME DOWN and THE TERRIBLE CONNEXION. THE LUCAS TESTAMENT is an exciting play with its roots in the past. Robert Cardiff finds himself suspected of the murder of a close friend and occasional lover and it becomes necessary to investigate for himself when the police inquiry begins to make life intolerable. All the victim's male friends are put through the wringer but Robert, in particular, is harried by Jeffrey Segal's dogged chief inspector and Steve Hodson's vengeful sergeant. His disentangling makes for riveting listening.

LET IT COME DOWN is a drama of pursuit and persecution, intense and gripping. Because Alan Scott's evidence in a murder trial has allowed the killer to go free, he is subjected to a brutal campaign of contrived cruelty. His peace of mind is destroyed and he is physically endangered. The action demands a confrontation, which duly arrives - and with it a violent sequel.

THE TERRIBLE CONNEXION is the first of two Victorian mysteries solved by 'the eccentric Inspector Millions', as the Radio Times has it. Its companion- piece is THE INSTRUMENTS OF DARKNESS, broadcast in 1977. Both plays are self-consciously baroque and establish their own idiom, with formal dialogue, fanciful crimes and grotesque characters with outre names. Nigel Stock plays the inspector with great panache, relishing his lines and contriving to make him at once absurd and impressive. Anthony Hall is his piping sidekick, the industrious Dynasty Surecard.

JACK'S BACK, also in 1977, is another of Michael Robson's triumphs, an exuberant comedy about J.S.Bach (beautifully played by John Rye). Especially treasurable is the scene where Bach interviews an aspirant trumpeter, who proceeds to play with dazzling assurance a virtuoso sequence from a Brandenburg Concerto.

A STUDY IN SIN (1980) is a further amazing work, a sixty-minute thriller that succeeds brilliantly in subverting every detail of what appears to be its action. Ultimately, it's a matter of feeling, though it seems emphatically otherwise for most of the time.

WHO WROTE HORSEBACK HALL? (1985) is a lovely play combining a parody of the formal detective story, set among odious Edwardian aristocrats, with a sympathetic account of the enigmatic Saki, the wit and satirist whose death in the Great War was caused by someone else's momentary folly.

THE SPIRIT OF THE HOUSE (1988) is a touching ghost play which, like A STUDY IN SIN, turns everything on its head as the end approaches. The last play was INTENT TO DECEIVE, a final glittering thriller for "Saturday Night Theatre", in which Nigel Anthony occupies the hot seat and almost persuades us that he did not, after all, murder his sister.

Other plays, not known to us alas, sound equally enticing: THE HIDEOUS SILENCE,(1975), set in Victorian India and concerning a train threatened by a landslide; WEEKEND AT MONTACUTE (1976), about a high-level political meeting; and THE RUNNING OF THE DEER (1979), a 'winter comedy' in which a tax exile living in the Seychelles is summoned home by an alarmist telegram. Will we hear any of these of BBC7 - and if not, why not? By any standards Michael Robson's work is exceptional and his reputation deserves to be fostered by BBC radio, which ought to care about such things.

Barry Pike


??.??.74 Landscape with lies (first play)
19.04.75* The terrible connexion SNT (Inspector Millions) rpt. 19.09.77
11.07.75 In Mombasa once...AFT
16.08.75 The fool on the hill SNT
29.11.75 The hideous silence SNT rpt. 12.12.76
03.01.76* The Lucas testament SNT
03.03.76 Can you stay the night? 60m
03.04.76* Let it come down SNT rpt. 12.12.76
21.08.76 Weekend at Montacute SNT
04.12.76 My Fate Cries Out WS (Apptmt with Fear)
25.12.76 A Fine and Private Place WS (Apptmt with Fear)
30.04.77* Everything is thunder SNT
07.05.77 The dark backward SNT
01.06.77* Jack's back 60m AFT
07.07.77 Anniversary Gift, WS (Eight Little Murders)
24.09.77* The instruments of darkness (Inspector Millions) SNT
08.02.78 Crooked Eclipse date possibly 06.02.78
30.01.78 Shadow of a Magnitude (Mysterious Circumstances)
28.04.79* Incident at Whitewater (Just Before Midnight)
21.05.79 That lethal summer 45m AFT
01.09.79 The running of the deer SNT
22.12.79 Can-Can SNT
??.??.81 Welcome, these pleasant days! SNT
18.09.81* A study in sin 50m, rpt. 24.11.84
30.01.82 Welcome, those pleasant days SNT
30.12.82 *Obsession in August AFT, rpt. 04.08.84
12.02.83 *In silver mist SNT
26.10.83 *Pray For His Soul WS (Motive for Murder)
27.10.83 *Tiger in the Forest WS (Motive for Murder)
01.11.83 A Show of Strength WS (Motive for Murder)
05.11.83 Such Sweet Thunder WS (Motive for Murder)
06.11.83 *Overkill WS (Motive for Murder)
11.05.85 *Who wrote Horseback Hall? SNT (Saki)
27.07.90 Who wrote Horseback Hall? WS
24.06.86 Full Fathom Five 30m
24.05.88* The spirit of the house 30m AFT
29.07.89* Intent to Deceive SNT
??.??.92 A Cambridge Mystery
date nk A show of strength
date nk No One Gets Hurt WS (Motive for Murder)
date nk Such Sweet Thunder
date nk Tiger in the Forest
date nk *Shadow of a magnitude 30m WS (Motive for Murder)

A Fine and Private Place and The Spirit of the House are one and the same play.

date nk A Moment in Time
date nk The Fall
date nk Saturday Night and Sunday Morning
date nk The Spanish Gardener
date nk An Adventure in Bed
date nk The Girl from Arles (trans/adapted)

Asterisked items exist within VRPCC.

SNT = Saturday Night Theatre; WS=World Service, AFT=Afternoon Theatre, nk = not known.

Compiled from information supplied by Michael Robson, Barry Pike, Don Craig and own collection.

Nigel Deacon/Diversity website


26 Nov 74, English Service of the SABC (South African Broadcasting Corporation); Cast: Roger Service, Pamela Perry, Tim Sutcliffe, Tony Wood, Margaret Milner-Smyth, Terry Fitzhugh, Gilian Lomberg, Frank Grahame, Peter Bachelor, Tommy Reed, John Kingley, Phillip Armitage, Brian Charteris, Jim Williams. Produced by Don Ridgeway at the SABC Studios, Durban.

The play was also broadcast as a BBC Saturday Night Theatre in 1975. Roger Service was Richard Lamb (no 2) in the South African "The Men from the Ministry".

4 Dec 76; Appointment with Fear: with Ursula Howells, Christopher Cazenove and Terence Longdon. Rpt. BBC7, Apr 2004.

A teacher through no fault of his own is party to a grave miscarriage of justice. Seven years later he becomes the victim of a seemingly motiveless hate campaign. With William Lucas, Ros. Drinkwater, Christopher Bidmead, Kevin Brennan, William Sleigh, Michael Shannon, Garrard Green, Hayden Jones; dir. Dir. John Cardie.

Excellent murder mystery. With Robert Lang as the writer, Geoffrey Segal as the Chief Inspector, Dulcie Gray as Patricia Bryant; also stars John Rye, Basil Moss, Steve Hodson, Shaun Arnold, Eva Haddon, Maddi Head, Dennis McCarthy, Michael Deacon, Rosalind Adams, Christopher Bidmead, Alison Gollins, Jenny Gratham and Hayden Jones; directed by John Cardie. 90m.

JACK'S BACK....1977
Lighthearted play about J.S.Bach just before he married Anna Magdalena. At this stage he had four children and was looking for a second wife. He travels to Hamburg where he is assessed (as a performer) by legendary organist Adam Reincken, aged 98, whom he had heard twenty years earlier. Bach interviews an aspirant trumpeter, who proceeds to play with dazzling assurance a virtuoso sequence from an obscure Concerto. Producer Margaret Etall. Cast: John Rye (Bach), Vicky Ireland, Christine Osanne, William Eedle, Timothy Bateson (Reincken), Malcolm Gerrard, Rod Beacham, Kenneth Shanley, Anne Rosenfeld.

A comedy thriller; a corpse is discovered up a sycamore tree, another is found after falling from the roof of the Crystal Palace. An motley crew assemble to sort out who did it: Joseph Paxton, a host of characters with unlikely names, and Inspector Millions and his sidekick Dynasty Surecard ...Millions must be one of Michael Robson's best creations; Nigel Stock makes some wonderfully daft noises as he brings the character to life. Other cast members: Anthony Hall, Elizabeth Proud, Richard Hurndall, Manning Wilson, Henry Knowles, Brian Hewlett, Michael Deacon, Heather Bell, Nigel Graham, Peter Wickham, Michael Harber, T. Faulkner, Penelope Reynolds, Irene Sutcliffe. Directed by David Spencer. 90m.

A STUDY IN SIN.... 1981
A woman, a successful husband and a luxurious home ...then things start to go wrong and there are menacing phone calls. The plot develops steadily, and not in the way one would expect ... interesting thriller with good cast; Karen Ford as the wife, John Pullen as Hobart; also stars Gariel Wolf and Timothy Bateson. Rest of cast / director: not available; my recording is cut short. 50m.

Fantasy based on the Arthurian legend. 60m.Dir. David Spenser.

    Afternoon play, 30 Dec 82. Two Victorian children go to visit their scholarly uncle Luke who is staying in Camelot country. Luke, Lord Scakville and the sombre Merlyn Tredinnick are close to finishing an excavation on the estate. Explotation, a hidden shrine, apparitions, talking tapestries and the excavation itself suggest the Holy Grail could be at hand, but there are warnings, anxiety and danger. Cast :Robert Morris... Prof. Dulac, John Westbrook ... Lord Sackville, Wendy Murray... Lady Helen. Produced by David Spencer.

In the 'Motive for Murder' series. World Service. 26 Oct 83.

In the 'Motive for Murder' series. World Service, 6 Nov 83.

SNT, 90m. The story of a fictional composer who is plagued by a rival with almost as much talent as himself, and more knowledge of the ways of the world. With Colin Baker/Angela Phillips/Patrick Malahide.

A very fine ghost story, broadcast as an afternoon play. With Bernard Brown, Sheila Grant, Norman Bird, David Goodland, Carole Boyd, Alan Dudley; dir. Gerry Jones. 30m.

A woman is killed in a hit-and-run car accident. The police interview her brother, who says it's not her. With Steve Hodson. 90m.

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