April 2003
September 2003
December 2003


A steady stream of good drama has been put out since Christmas, a lot of it involving Evelyn Waugh to mark his centenary. But to begin with we had STRANGERS AND BROTHERS, by C.P.Snow (R4 beginning 19.01.03, broadcast as the Classic Serial. This is the story of Lewis Eliot; his humble beginnings in Leicester, early legal work, getting a Fellowship at a Cambridge college, the election of a Master, and the many gifted, unusual and odd people he met on the peripheraries of academia and Whitehall. For those familiar with the novels, the titles of the epsodes were: 1)Time of Hope, 2)The Conscience of the Rich, 3)The Masters, 4)The Masters (sic), 5)The Light and the Dark. Particularly well-done was the election of the new college Master; clever academics jockeying for position throwing poison darts at each other whilst the old Master lies dying. The plays starred Adam Godley, David Haig, Clive Merrison, Andy Taylor, David Calder and Jeremy Child, and the dramatisation was by Jonathan Holloway; Sally Avens & Jeremy Howe directed.

THE PIANO PLAYER, a first radio play by William Bedford (R4 28 Jan 03 1415) was set in the 1950's ; a pianist's marathon performance in a seaside town provides entertainment for those who have nothing better to do...but there are romantic undercurrents; the glamorous pianist has a past, and so does Mr. Universe, the fish-and-chip man. The young Daniel and his ill-suited girlfriend Alison watch events and each other with bewilderment...Karl Johnson was Daniel, Philip Jackson was Mr. Universe, and Kate Dudley played Alison; the director was Ned Chaillet.

There were two plays by Adam Thorpe on the life of Thomas Hardy which were interesting because of the utter tediousness of the subject - the elderly Thomas Hardy. Could anyone really be as awkward as this? The titles were SOMETHING MEMORABLE (R4 29 Jan 03 1415) and NOUGHT HAPPENS TWICE THUS (R4 30 Jan 03 1415); first we had Hardy (Patrick Malahide) and his first wife Emma (Gemma Jones) amiably arguing with each other; then we had his second wife Florence (Sylvestra Le Touzel) coming out for the next round; it is July 1921 and a production company descend on the house to make a film of "The Mayor of Casterbridge". If Hardy was as cantankerous as this it was a wonder he ever wrote the books. The first play was produced by Rob Ketteridge and the second by Patrick Rayner.

WHEN LOUIS MET GEORGE, by Paul Farley (R4 1415 5 Feb 03) had two archivists rummaging through the contents of a storeroom in the basement of Broadcasting House when they find some sixty-year-old tapes. One of them features George Orwell and Louis MacNeice, both working for the BBC, caught in conversation, unaware they are being recorded. The play moves between the two time-frames, 1940 and 2003, and makes one realise that sixty years is not very long. Jon Glover was Orwell, Dermot Crowley wasMacNeice, and the younger BBC man was played by Tom George; Rob Ketteridge directed.

DART, by Alice Oswald (R4 1415 25 Feb 03) was a poem about the river Dart, describing it from source to estuary, and thankfully not in rhyme. It covered the everyday and the mystical, and was "a portrait of a place, a time and a river with extraordinary insight and beauty" (RT). Poetry is my blind spot, but it held my attention throughout. It was performed by Tom Goodman-Hill, Gareth Thomas and Joanna Tope and was produced by Gaynor Macfarlane.

AT FREDDIE'S, by Penelope Fitzgerald (R4 1 Mar 03, 60m 1430) concerned Freddie Wentworth, the eccentric head of the Temple Stage School, training precocious children to be actors. But the school is threatened with closure. Is there anything which can be done about it? Set in the sixties, Rory Copus was the odious Mattie, a child who uses his acting talents to lie his way out of French lessons; we had Margaret Tyzack as Freddie, with Dinah Stabb, Laura Doddlington, Lloyd Hutchinson and Philip Jackson. This was another excellent dramatisation by Michael Butt and was put out as a Saturday play.

THE HONEYBOURNE TAPES, also by Michael Butt (R4 5 Mar 03 1415) had an unusual storyline; a hypnotherapist sends a young lady into a trance after she's had emotional difficulties, and a figure from two hundred years ago emerges from her subconscious. She recalls moments from history in startling and convincing detail. There is a good sub-plot, too, and a terrific twist at the end. It starred Nicholas Farrell, Lynsey Baxter, Jonathan Coy, Stephen Critchlow, and was directed by Peter Kavanagh.

OUT OF THE PIRATE'S PLAYHOUSE, by Shelagh Delaney (R4 6 Mar 03 1415) was set on a summer's day; some eleven year olds celebrate the start of the holidays by going to their favourite activity centre - the Pirate's Playhouse...but now they are too old to be let in...This is an excellent play, with child actors - humorous, interesting and well-paced. It starred Daniel Hanbridge, Poppy Rush, Alexander Slater, Chris Jackson, and was directed by Polly Thomas.

SAINT GRAHAM AND SAINT EVELYN-PRAY FOR US (R4 1415 7 Mar 03), a literary comedy, was Mark Lawson's second radio play. The Vatican decides to stop the slide of literature towards the base and obscene by canonising either Evelyn Waugh or Graham Greene. Priests explore the two writers' characters, and their very different attitudes to almost everything emerge. John Sessions was Waugh, Simon Day was Greene and Peter Wickham and Daniel Evans were the clerics; the director was Robyn Read.

BRIDESHEAD REVISITED, by Evelyn Waugh, dramatised Jeremy Front (R4 8 Mar 03, weekly, 4 x 60m) was an adaptation of Waugh's well-known tale of a remnant of Edwardian England; Sebastian Flyte is a minor aristocrat who has few friends and who behaves appallingly to almost everyone, especially those from "below stairs". Midway through the Second World War a disillusioned Captain, Charles Ryder, finds himself posted to Sebastian's home, Brideshead Castle, and he becomes his one true friend. Ben Miles played Charles, with Jamie Bamber as Sebastian, Benjamin Whitrow as Charles' father, Toby Jones as Brideshead, and Ann Beach as Nanny Hawkins, the only one to emerge from the story with much credit. The director was Marion Nancarrow.

WITH THIS RING, by Wally K. Daly (R4 1415 10 Mar 03 45m) was a comedy with some substance to it: Paul, a Catholic divorcee, wants to remarry and needs an annulment. The person he wants to marry is nearly thirty years younger. Paul tries to sort things out in the confessional, but things don't work out in quite the way he planned. Nor are his children are keen on becoming illegitimate, ...with Stephen Moore as the divorcee, Sean Barrett as the Irish priest, Jean Boht as the ex-wife and Anna Livia Ryan as the bit of fluff. Superb casting, and ably directed by Peter Kavanagh.

THE LOST CHILD, by Gillian Richmond (R4 1415 12 Mar 03)was the story of a child lost at birth; Sarah is the servant and Rachel is the dowager, whose son is a nasty piece of work. He stands to inherit the estate if his missing brother (snatched from his pram many years earlier) doesn't reappear. But someone knows where he is... this was a tale of greed, revenge and retribution with Amanda Root, Julia Hills, Tom George, Paul Basson and Stephen Tomlin; directed by Sue Wilson.

There has been another entertaining series of the Baldi stories, an episode of which was TEMPUS FUGIT, by Martin Meenan (R4 1415 14 Mar 03). Paolo Baldi, the sleuthing monk, goes to an elderly horologist to get his pocket watch repaired. He finds a well-run business, but there is more; enormous tensions between the partners - then someone finds a body... with David Threlfall, Tina Kellegher, Owen Roe, Margaret D'Arcy; directed Mark Lambert.

NO FUTURE IN ETERNITY, by Timandra Harkness and Linda Cotterill (R4 18 Mar 03) was about Heaven; God is having an economy drive, the Heavenly Host has to be downsized, and two angels have to try their luck on Earth. They are not equipped to cope with the concept of free will. Rodney Bewes was God, with Phelim McDermott and Emma Kennedy as the two angels. The producer was Steve Doherty.

The local photographer becomes captivated by the young, beautiful and bored Madame la Marquise when she calls in to be photographed whilst on holiday, in THE LITTLE PHOTOGRAPHER, by Daphne du Maurier, dramatised by Michelene Wandor (R4 19 Mar 03 1415). This was a mixture of passion, disappointment, and murder. Sian Thomas was Madame, with John McAndrew as the photographer, and Nickie Rainsford, Robert Harper, Pauline Whitaker and Alice Ford. The director was Geni Hall-Kenny.

RAIN ON THE JUST, by Jimmie Chinn (R4 1415 1 Apr 03) revealed more family secrets...or are they fabrications by the unctuous and plausible Charlie? Have they led to murder? Has Stan killed his long-lost brother? And why did he come out of the woodwork in the first place? An excellent end to the trilogy begun some time ago; Stan expertly played by Bernard Cribbins, Beryl by Joan Kempson, and Charlie by Roy Barraclough. Directed by Martin Jenkins, who is now an independent radio producer.

DEAR BROTHER...,by Penny Gold (R4 2 Apr 03 1415)was a well-cast dramatisation of the last years of Vincent van Gogh, broadcast to coincide with the 150th anniversary of his birth. It was based on letters and memoirs of the time, including those to his brother Theo, who was also his friend, his mentor and his picture dealer. After settling in the sunny climes of Arles, Van Gogh hoped to establish a community for struggling artists with his friend and fellow painter Paul Gauguin, but Gauguin was not impressed, and soon returned to Paris.

Theo continued to help and encourage his brother, but Vincent was now mentally ill, and the remaining letters mirror his decline. Robert Glenister was van Gogh, with Jonathan Firth as Theo, Kika Markham as Joanna, and Kenneth Cranham as the irritable Gauguin. The director was Richard Wortley.

There were many other worthwhile programmes: Jackie Mason, the comedian, made a welcome return (R4 18 Mar 03, 1830); Bert Coules dramatised Ian Rankin's THE FALLS (R4, beginning 25 Jan 03), Lynne Truss had a series of two-handers (R4,beginning 1130 6 Jan 03) entitled FULL CIRCLE, where one person from each play appeared in the next. The comedy THE SUNDAY FORMAT had another run (R4 1830 beginning 7 Jan 03) and Hattie Naylor had two plays entitled CHINESE WHISPERS about the social consequences of the single child policy in China (R4, 1415, 13 & 20 Jan 03). All good stuff.

Nigel Deacon / 16 Apr 03

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RADIO REVIEW..... Sep 03

The last few months has been an unusual period for radio drama since it marks the return of Guy Meredith, Jonathan Smith, Barry Keefe, Alick Rowe, and Moya O'Shea, all of whom had new plays broadcast after a long interval. One hopes that other well-known names will find their way back into the schedules. There have been lots of other things too; another one-man play by Mike Mears, some well-produced Friday plays on rather serious issues, and good work by Marcy Kahan, Peter Kerry, Gary Brown and Val Syms, as well as by a number of younger writers.

A series of very silly stories by W.S.Gilbert, dramatised by Stephen Wyatt, GILBERT WITHOUT SULLIVAN, began on R4, 1130, 7 May 03. In one episode an entire village is subjected to a love potion; in another a confirmed bachelor is unable to avoid a large amorous lady, in spite of a shipwreck and other freak incidents. These were harmless entertaining tales, and a pleasant half-hour's listening, all directed by Sue Wilson.

THE NONENTITY (R4, 1130, 12 May 03) was set in Moscow, in the present day; Dmitri once made a good living out of his writing: dull propaganda stories which pleased the ruling Communist Party. Now they've gone, and his work is no longer needed. A young woman publisher has flown all the way from London to meet him, ostensibly to buy some of his stories, but there's more to it than this. It starred Kenneth Cranham, Eleanor Bron, Sylvestra Le Touzel and Stephen Critchlow and was produced and directed by Peter Kavanagh.

Mike Mears' latest play, JAM (R4, 1415, 23 May 03), starred the author as Mervyn (and everybody else) on a hot day in summer. Mervyn's on the way to a vital business meeting in London when the traffic grinds to a halt. He meets an odd stranger who makes him reassess his priorities. Mears has the ability to say pertinent things about the way we live without being preachy about it. "Jam" was directed and produced by Sue Wilson.

THE PERFECT WOOD, by Andy Barrett (R4, 1415, 30 May 03) was a lighthearted comedy - drama about rivalries on the bowling green. Bill has just retired and is looking forward to winning the local bowls championship with his wife; they're easily the best players in the area. But two skilful young newcomers move in, bringing some unwelcome changes and the realisation that perhaps the championship is not in the bag. Bill and his wife were played by Geoffrey Palmer and Stephanie Cole, and their rivals by Ben Crowe and Sara Poyzer; Peter Leslie Wild directed.

There were shades of Kafka in SEVEN FLOORS (R4, 1415, 18 Jun 03), by Dino Buzzatti, adapted by Martin Shea, James O'Neill and Eamonn O'Neill. Giovanni is sent to hospital even though there's nothing much wrong with him, and is given a bed on the top floor. But it's not a normal hospital; the patients are housed on each storey according to the severity of their conditions. When we reach the ground floor there are no doctors, only priests, and the rumour is that if you go this low, your number is up. A series of bureuacratic blunders starts Giovanni's descent...the play starred June Whitfield as the narrator, Adrian Scarborough as the victim, and Michael Begley, Sally Bretton, Zoe Hendry and Paul Hilton as the medics. The director was Jim Poyser.

A second series of C.P.Snow's STRANGERS AND BROTHERS (beginning R4, 1502, 1 Jun 03), dramatised by Jonathan Holloway, covered the period from the 1930s to the 1960's. Lewis Eliot mixes with the scientists involved in the design of the English atom bomb; the episodes were completely absorbing: the building of the atomic pile and the isolation of metallic plutonium, the political pressures, and the rival American project, culminating in the two nuclear explosions in Japan. We then moved forward, where a member of the government sees political advancement if he pursues a "ban the bomb" policy. His stock rises rapidly, but ultimately he comes unstuck. The episodes were jointly directed by Jeremy Howe and Sally Avens, and there was a distinguished cast including David Haig, Tim McInnerney, Geoffrey Whitehead, Sean Barrett, Clive Merrison, Hugh Quarshie and Jonathan Coy.

Jonathan Smith's return to favour was marked by THE LAST BARK OF THE BULLDOG (R4, 1430, 21 Jun 03). It was about the last few years of Churchill's career, and the crisis of June 1953 when he suffered a stroke during his last period in office as Prime Minister. Benjamin Whitrow was superb as Churchill, and he was ably supported by Sian Phillips as Lady Clementine, Michael Cochrane as Lord Moran, Robert Portal as Jock Colville and Emma Callender as Winston's attractive young nurse. The director was Bruce Young.

SHE CAME TO STAY by Vicky Payne (R4, 1415, 23 Jun 03) seemed to be a love story between the owner of a secondhand bookshop and someone much younger. But there were sinister overtones as the plot developed, and a surprise twist. Frances Barber was Carina, Geoffrey Whitehead was Greg, and Helen Ayres was the wimpish but well-meaning Lindsey; Marc Beeby directed.

THE DORABELLA VARIATION (R4, 1430, 28 Jun 03) by Alick Rowe was his first original radio play since "Valtemand & Cornelius Are Not Well At All" (1996) and "Crisp and Even Brightly" (1987). It was a gentle musical reminiscence, in which the spirit of Elgar haunts the Malvern hills. David Collings was Elgar, Kate Maberly was Dora, and the director Celia de Wolff.

Guy Meredith's new play, SPRING FORWARD, FALL BACK (R4, 1430, 19 Jul 03), was an amusing comedy-drama starring Stephen Moore and Samantha Spiro. Dennis is getting remarried but isn't sure he's doing the right thing. His first wife, Maggie, is a plumber; she has to sort out some leaking pipes before the reception guests arrive. There are plenty of opportunities for things to go wrong. Cherry Cookson directed, I hope more of Guy Meredith's work will be heard soon.

THE WIT AND WISDEN OF MARTIN TRUELOVE (R4, 1415, 1 Aug 03) was a very funny comedy set in the "Test Match Special" commentary box, written by Dan Sefton and featuring thinly disguised versions of Henry Blofeld, Fred Trueman, David Lloyd and Bill Frindall. A Test is in progress; everything is going smoothly; the Blofeld character is calmly talking about his colleagues' lack of sartorial elegance to three million people when an uninvited guest bursts in. The programme continues, but with move revelations than usual, including the information that a commentator's wife slept with the Glamorgan second XI, though not all at once. The TMS team was Jon Glover, Michael Maloney, Martin Hyder and Jonathan Keeble, and the outsiders Ewan Bailey, Alison Pettit, Stephen Critchlow and Liza Sadovy; Marc Beeby, who must be a TMS addict, directed.

It's worth saying at this point that the real TEST MATCH SPECIAL has been superb during the summer, with the guest South African commentators Barry Richards and Alan Donald entering into the spirit of fun which makes the programme so enjoyable. Another boost has been provided by email, which has given it more immediacy; there have been many interesting discussions between the commentators and listeners. On one occasion we had an exchange about the effect on the turf of magnesium and zinc levels, and for once Mr. Blofeld was rendered speechless.

Other programmes worth of note have been another short series of "I'm Sorry I haven't a Clue", plays by some familiar names (Nick McCarty, Nick Warburton, David Pownall and Moya O'Shea - which I have not yet had time to hear); a fascinating ARCHIVE HOUR by our own Sean Street on Churchill's speeches and other famous classic recordings, many of which, it seems, are faked; four superb plays by Ian Curteis about a love affair between an elderly lady and a retired cleric, (Bernard Hepton and Barbara Leigh Hunt); a Roman epic by Mike Walker, an excellent play set on a train "Tunnel Vision" by Niall Ashdown, "Madonna's Plumber" by Christopher Matthew, Diana Griffiths' adaptation of Flambards.....and on top of this, numerous repeats of classic comedy on BBC7.

The dramas on BBC7 have been interesting, though the selection has been limited by what is in the archive. It's also cheaper to repeat plays with small casts because there are less actors to pay. A recent selection was "Hiroshima, the Movie" by Michael Wall, a gifted playwright who died young in 1991. More of his work would be very welcome.

For those who are not aware, the Diversity website contains detailed information on many radio writers; type in the author followed by the words radio plays into the "Google" search engine and you're there.

Nigel Deacon / Sept. 03

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Radio play enthusiasts will be sad to hear of the death of Don Taylor , one of our best radio writers, on 11 Nov 2003 at the age of 67. His Guardian obituary, by Philip Purser, made much of his television and theatre work but said less about his radio plays. This is surprising since his radio work is almost unmatched in quality amongst contemporary playwrights. There is also a considerable amount of it.

Don was born in Chiswick in 1936. He went to a local grammar school followed by Oxford University, and became a BBC trainee in 1960. He worked in TV from 1960 to 1990, directing many plays and thrillers. Throughout his writing career he wrote and directed radio plays including adaptations of his own stage plays. His versatility can be seen by looking at the scope of his work; he wrote comedy, (e.g. The Jacobean Box), historical (Daughters of Venice), supernatural (The Exorcism), a tour of Hell (Underworld), philosophical-drama-doc (Kill the Cameraman First)..........his last play was On This Shaven Green (R4, 1415, 16 Sep 03): an idyllic summer's day in a perfect garden; hot sun, good food, fine wine, and nothing to do but enjoy it. But something lurks.... it starred John Wood, Barbara Jefford and Edward Petherbridge and was directed by Taylor's wife, Ellen Dryden.

The Three Hostages, by John Buchan, was dramatised in two 60m episodes as the Classic Serial, beginning 1500, 7 Sep 03. Richard Hannay has retired, is now Sir Richard, and is well into a quiet retirement when he's paid a visit by his old boss. There's a problem which only Hannay can solve. Will he take on the job? It involves rescuing some hostages from a gang of international criminals. An exciting adventure story; it starried David Robb as Hannay, Haydn Gwynne as his wife Mary, and Clive Merrison as Sir Walter. Also taking part were Michael Maloney, Souad Faress, Christian Rodska, Andrew Harrison, Bew Crowe, Gordon Reid, Emma Callender and the director was Bruce Young.

Soeur Sourire, by Bruce Stewart (R4, 2102, 26 Sep 03), was a play inspired by the life of the Singing Nun, Jeanine Decker, whose song "Dominique" shot to fame in 1963. A wonderful singer, but stitched up by her religious bosses and the record company, A & R. The play chronicles a disgraceful episode in the history of the Church - a nun with a talent for music earns prodigious sums for the ecclesiastical authorities. Years later, after she's left religious orders, she's sent an enormous tax bill, but has no money of her own so cannot pay it. Her nunnery ex-bosses don't want to know, and eventually she takes her own life. Hardly the first time that theory and practice in the Catholic church don't match up... and this is only 40 years ago. This was Bruce Stewart's first radio play for nearly a decade in a radio writing career stretching back to 1956. Kelly Hunter played Jeanine; it also starred Amanda Root, Jill Balcon, Marlan Diamond and Nicola Barber and was directed by Jane Morgan.

Find Me, by Matt Bloom (R4, 1415, 2 Oct 03) was a classic science fiction chiller. In the year 2020, an elderly woman has to travel to Sydney for her son's wedding. She reluctantly decides to use the new matter transportation machines which are becoming more popular than aeroplanes. They work by disintegrating the traveller at one end and reassembling him at the other. So Mary pays her money, and the matter transporter is switched on. Then there's a power cut. This was an outstanding play; in the same class as Asimov's "Satisfaction Guaranteed". JuliaWatson played Mary and the director was Jim Poyser.

High Noon at the Sad Cafe (R4, 3 Nov 03, 1415) by Val Syms was a pleasant comedy-drama about the owner of a run-down cafe. His new wife has run off with his money and her fancy-man Hughie, from "Condiments of Distinction". Life cannot get much worse, and he is all set to give up. Then his elderly mother has an idea to get the business back on its feet. Thelma Barlow plays the brainy old lady, as in the "Delphinium" stories, and the other parts are taken by Phil Hearne, Paul Broughton, Stephen Fletcher, Rod Arthur, Phillip Cotterill, Angela Walsh, Stephen Aintree, Genevieve Walsh and Linda Thornhill. The director was Chris Wallis.

The Colours of Steam (R4, 1415, 13 Nov 03) marked the centenary of the death of the painter Pisarro. The story traced his time as an exile in London when he and Monet gave birth to the French Impressionist movement. It starred David Troughton as Pisarro, with Jane Whittenshaw, Stephen Critchlow (Monet), Philip Fox, Ioan Meredith, Frances Jeater, Lucy Trickett, Jaimi Barbakoff, Ben Crowe, and was directed by Cherry Cookson.

Daunt & Dervish was a series of five comedy thrillers written by Guy Meredith, from an idea by Anna Massey and Imelda Staunton, broadcast on successive afternoons (R4, 1415 beginning 17 Nov 03). I wasn't expecting them to be in the style of Meredith's longer plays, and they weren't; nevertheless they were very agreeable. The first two contained a few deliberate radio cliches ("the gun in my right hand", etc...). By the third episode I was liking the style, and the series was getting into its stride. There are two lady detectives (Massey and Staunton); one prim and proper; the other not far from being a female Superman, and Bill Paterson is their advisor. With pleasing reviews and audience reaction, perhaps we'll get some more; it's as good as "Baldi" and "McLevy". The accompanying piano music, played by Harry Myers, was just right, and the direction was by Cherry Cookson (episodes 1,3,4,5) and Janet Whitaker (episode 2).

Wild Lunch, by Katie Hims (R4, 25 Nov 03) was an absurdist comedy: a terribly English, civilised lunch party gradually disintegrates on the day a man is hanged by an unspecified government. Even when the world is falling apart around them, there are those who will cling to the reality which suits them. It starred Claudia Harrison, Ben Miles, Richenda Carey, Ian Masters, Stephen Critchlow, Tracey Wiles and Kenny Blyth; Toby Swift directed. (Katie Hims was the writer in residence at BBC Radio Drama in 2002.)

Justin Moorhouse is making a name for himself as a stand- up comic. He has also written his first radio drama, broadcast on R4, 1415, 26 Nov 03: An Insurance Inspector Calls. The play is about a Blackpool landlord (Roy Hudd), his wife (Sarah Parks) and their fantasy-game-obsessed son (Jeff Hordley). They have made a claim for a new carpet, and the insurance man (Roy Barraclough) calls to make sure their claim is valid.........but he's not like most insurance men, and he asks the most peculiar questions. This was an excellent comedy, directed by Katherine Beacon.

Full-Blown (R4, 2102, 28 Nov 03) was a play about AIDS and its consequences. Roz is 30 years old, middle-class, clean living and healthy; just like you or me. But one day she develops a nasty cough which will not go away. Two weeks later, she is fighting for her life. Make no mistake - AIDS doesn't just affect the promiscuous. The plot sounds dire and depressing; to my surprise, it was anything but, and showed what a good playwright can do with difficult material. Drama has come a long way since its low point in the mid nineties; the SMs, the writing, and the acting have never been better. The cast: Claire Skinner, Charlie Simpson, Clive Wedderburn, Daniel Ryan, David Holt, David Collings, Dona Croll, Joanne Good and Ian Masters; music was by Joe Young and the director was Karen Rose.

Out of the Ashes, by Louise Gooding (R4,1415, 3 Dec 03) concerned Paul, a troubled 15-year old who has a fascination with fire, and Dan, a 55 year old fireman on the brink of retirement. Their paths cross when Paul is sent on a fire- fighting scheme for adolescent arsonists. Danny Young was excellent as Paul, Kenneth Cranham was Dan; and the play also starred Suzanna Hamilton, Daniel Anthony, Nick Roud, Harl Sajjan, Rachel Atkins, Lydia Leonard and Billy Sargent; Pauline Harris directed.

A Bird, A Heart, A Bicycle (R4, 1415, 17 Dec 03) was broadcast on the centenary of the first powered flight. In December 1903, according to the history books, the Wright Brothers were the first men to achieve powered flight when their primitive plane took off over the dunes at Kitty Hawk. This comedy, by Peter Roberts, looks at the activities of three eccentrics: a minor aristocrat named Walsh, who possibly beat them to it, Otto Lilienthal, who built an artificial hill in Berlin from which to launch gliders; and Hiram Maxim, the machine gun inventor convinced he had found the secret of flight. Walsh was played by Richard Derrington, Elspeth his wife by Alison Pettitt, Old Elspeth by June Barrie, Ernest by Alex Jones, and Otto Lilienthal/Hiram Maxim by Andrew Wincott. The director was Peter Leslie Wild.

At the moment of writing I'm looking forward to a comedy by Alick Rowe on Christmas Eve (The Shepherd who Couldn't see the Wood for the Trees), and a Christmas play involving Humphrey Lyttelton and his cronies from "I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue", still the best comedy on Radio 4 by a fair margin. As for BBC7, we've had lots of comedy re-runs, repeated Classic Serials but very few one-off plays from the archive. It would be good to hear more of these.

Nigel Deacon / 20 Dec 03

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