April 2009
Sept 2009
Dec 2009


Events have conspired to limit my use of the radio for the last three months, and consequently I missed re-makes of some well-known plays (Bennett's GRAND BABYLON HOTEL and Pinter's FAMILY VOICES, for example). I also heard no programmes at all in the recent “Darwin Season”, a diverse collection of programmes designed to commemorate Charles Darwin's role in improving our understanding of the world. Nevertheless I heard some noteworthy items, especially at the beginning of the year.

HONG KONG BY NIGHT (R4, 1415, 1 Jan 09) was a short, rather effective love story by a Japanese writer, In-Sook Chappell. Poppy is locked out of her apartment. Arthur, who has hardly spoken to her and who lives on the next floor, invites her to explore Hong Kong by night. Slowly they realise that they like each other, and that they might have a future together. Liz Sutherland was Poppy, Oliver Williams was Arthur, and the producer was Abigail le Fleming.

THERAMIN (R4, 1430, 3 Jan 09, Saturday Play) by Melissa Murray explored the convoluted world of the Russian electronics expert and spy, Leon Theramin, who invented the only musical instrument which has to be played without touching it. Theramin reluctantly bugs the American embassy in London, then has to defend himself and his former lover against the CIA and the KGB. There have been many plays set in the Cold War period, and one sometimes wonders what it was all about; there seemed to be no winners at all. Tom Hollander was the brilliant inventor, his girlfriend Alex was played by Kate Ashfield, and the producer was Marc Beeby.

IN THE ABSENCE OF GEOFF (R3, 2000, 90m, 4 Jan 09. was another interesting story by Charlotte Jones, who has recently given us 'The Sound of Solitary Waves' and 'Humble Boy'. The play concerned a man whose marriage is falling apart. He can see no way out of his business problems or his domestic situation. Then he sees a possible solution – he will pretend to lose his memory. There begins a tangled web of deceit and invention. It starred Adam Godley, Amanda Lawrence and Lizzy Watts, and the producer was Claire Grove.

ICARUS FALLING (R4, 1415, 5 Jan 09) is the only play I know where a man learns to pilot a glider. Repeated from a year or two ago, and written by Jonathan Davidson, it's about a painter who has gone stale and who needs a new way of looking at the world. The play starred Jay Villiers, Eleanor Tremain and Eve Matheson, and the producer was Tim Dee.

APES AND ANGELS (R4, 1415, 6 Jan 09 explored whether creationism should be taught as a science in schools. The play was written by Jim Eldridge, author of King Street Junior. Twenty years ago this would have been a non-question; anyone asking it would have been thought to be very odd. Science is science; the study of repeatable phenomena, entirely based on evidence, reason and logic. Fundamentalists of various persuasions are now beginning to demonstrate to the rest of us why their ways, based on a quite different set of values and beliefs, belong to the past. The play starred Richard Katz, Anna Madeley, Robert Lister, Terrance Hardiman and Miranda Keeling, and was produced by Peter Leslie Wild.

THE THIRTEEN WATCHES (R4 1415 9 Jan 09) and THE FERRERS DOCUMENTS (R4 1415 16 Jan 09) were two of the latest series of plays written by Bert Coules starring the great detective and his sidekick Dr. Watson. These stories are inspired by passing references in the original Conan Doyle tales. There are some differences: Watson is no longer Holmes's cipher, Lestrade is intelligent and thoughtful; some of the ladies are colourful characters ... the overall effect of these tales is first-rate. One hopes that further series will be forthcoming.

Here's a short excerpt from David Brown's review of one of the episodes in Radio Times: ....Overcrowded housing in London has murderous consequences in this latest extension to the Baker Street saga. Writer Bert Coules hangs a typical Holmesian mystery around one of the great social schisms of Victorian London - dilapidated accommodation and the unscrupulous property owners who exploited the people flocking to the metropolis....

Clive Merrison was Holmes, Andrew Sachs was Watson, and Stephen Thorne was Lestrade; Patrick Rayner produced.

Sean Grundy's outrageous X-rated comedy CAVITY (R4, 1415, 29 Jan 09) was in the same class as Steve Walker's "Haunted by More Cake" and Giles Cooper's "Disagreeable Oyster"; the sort of play usually no longer commissioned by the BBC for fear of offending sensibilities or obtaining tiny audiences; amazingly original, brilliant, absurd, and completely impossible to imagine in any medium other than radio. Full marks to the BBC for putting it on in the afternoon. Comments from the BBC messageboard were appreciative, though some listeners accustomed to the normal 'afternoon play' diet were clearly nonplussed at this very peculiar drama. Kirsty, the heroine, has a lunchtime fling with a colleague but it goes disastrously wrong when the wife returns home unexpectedly. Kirsty hot-foots it into the loft, where she slips over the edge and falls down inside the cavity wall. Adrian drills holes in the walls all around the house, to 'communicate' with his lost love. Then he gets his wife to buy long, thin food. Julian Rhind-Tutt played Adrian and Ingrid Oliver was Kirsty; the producer was Alison Crawford.

THE NUMBER OF THE DEAD (R3, 2000, 31 Jan 09) was Mark Lawson's fourth radio play, broadcast in the series “The Wire”. A broadcaster on a major news network has to face a crisis on-air. I thought this Lawson's best radio play so far; well-written and well-paced. Gillian Reynolds wrote of it, in the Daily Telegraph: ..............it took place in a radio studio, was about the news and what lies behind it. It had the convincing ring of close observation, brimming with gossipy detail.

Tim Freeman, played by Tim McInnerney, presents a three-hour midday news magazine. He's an old hand; his yound female sidekick is making her debut. It's an ordinary day: an interview with a minister in a radio car, listeners 'phoning in and texting opinions, traffic and travel, headlines, sport.........an unexpected story breaks: some young men are holding hostages in a city bank. Shots have been heard.

We hear the producer react, and Tim's inner dialogue; Tim on-air; Tim off-air in the studio. Eoin O'Callaghan did this script proud. (For those who haven't yet heard the play I've only summarised part of Gillian's review, and taken out 'spoilers'.)

The cast included Tim McInnerney, Lia Williams, Amy Marston, Inam Mirza and John McAndrew, and the producer was Eoin O'Callaghan.

HOMESICK (R4, 1415, 11 Mar 09) was part of the BBC's celebration of science fiction during March. Anita Sullivan's play concerned a stranded alien and his relationship with a human in the face of his inability to return home. It reminded me of the famous short story “Meteor” by John Wyndham.The were some remarkable sounds effects as the alien first tried to communicate, completely incoherent at the beginning, gradually becoming intelligible; the SMs did an excellent job. It starred Mark Heap, Paul Ritter, Maxine Peake, Susan Jameson, Ewan Bailey and Mia Soteriou. The producer was Karen Rose, and the author directed.

DEWEY EYED (R4, 1415, 30 Mar 09 was a quirky play about a recently-widowed lady, Vera, who is finding it difficult to focus on life. Her daughter tries to get through to her using the only language they have in common - Dewey Decimal. They're both librarians. Against my expectations, the play worked well. The cast included Olivia Colman, Sheila Reid, Caroline Guthrie and Paul Rider and was produced by Jessica Dromgoole.

A QUESTION OF ROYALTY (R4,1415, 1 Apr 09), a hilarious comedy by Andrew Lynch, starred Johnny Vegas and Ricky Tomlinson as two jobbing plasterers called in to refurbish the Public Records Office. They look around for the customary memento to steal when they finish the work. What they remove this time isn't a packet of biscuits or a knife from the kitchen drawer; it's a document whose significance initially escapes them. Eventually it threatens the stability of the Royal Family. Timothy Bentinck starred, better known as David, from 'The Archers'; it was good to hear him away from Ambridge. The producer was Dirk Maggs.

DOLLY (R4, 1415, 16 Apr 09), by Christopher Douglas, was a dramatisation of the D'Oliveira Affair, which made national headlines almost forty years ago. D'Oliveira, from the South African slums, had worked his way up as a club cricketer and now made a living playing for Worcestershire. He was an exciting batsman and a talented medium-paced swing bowler. His form was so good that he eventually made the England team. In the late sixties he was selected to go on a winter tour of South Africa, which was still under the rule of apartheid.

However, the South African Prime Minister, Vorster, refused to recognise the English team because D'Oliveira was a 'Cape Coloured' - a player who would not be able to sit in the same railway carriages, attend the same functions, or drink in the same bars as his white English and South African counterparts. To the MCC's credit, in the face of such overt and disgusting racism, they called off the tour, and South Africa played no more test matches for about twenty years.

Dickie Bird, the world-famous umpire, was one of the first cricketers to go and coach black children in Soweto. He has strong views on apartheid. In Dickie's words, taken from his autobiography ....when I arrived at the venue...not a soul to be seen....then...they came over the hill....ragged, patched-up pants, no shoes....very different from the magnificent facilities enjoyed by their white counterparts. Even the practice pitches in Johannesburg were out of this world, and here were these black lads with not a cricket stump, bat or ball between them, turning up to play on waste ground....

In the play, D'Oliverira was played by Jude Akuwudike, his wife by Rakie Oyola, and Peter West by the author; the producer was Roland Jacquarello.

There have been other good productions, including a short Alan Ayckbourn season on Radio 4 and Radio 7, another Mike Bartlett play "The Beauty Queen", and a Wodehouse dramatisation (Blandings) as a Classic Serial. I have good expectations of them.

Nigel Deacon, 18 Apr 09

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It has been a turbulent time politically since the last review. We have had the politicians' expenses scandal, trouble in the financial sector, the continuing war in Afghanistan, early days of the first black American president, terrorists on trial, the release of the Lockerbie bomber, paying for man-made climate change (if it exists, which seems doubtful to say the least), and preparations for the election on the horizon. Little wonder that many recent plays have been political.

THE GREAT HARGEISA GOAT BUBBLE, by Julian Gough (R4, 1415, 15 May 09) was a parable about the stock market and how it works. A goat is run over in Somaliland; the owner is compensated with enough money to buy two goats. It went from there and rapidly escalated to ridiculous heights, accompanied by wonderful sound effects. The story originally appeared in the financial pages of a national paper, and it won the BBC short story prize in 2007. It starred Hugh Quarshie, Stephanie Flanders and Sam O'Mahoney-Adams, and the producer was Di Speirs.

Another series of ON MARDLE FEN, by Nick Warburton (R4, 1415, beginning 5 Jun 09) has given us more cracking tales set in rural Norfolk. I was particularly taken by an episode involving an ice-skating race along the river. I was once told that before the first World War my grandfather skated from Quadring to King's Lynn when the water froze; a distance of about 20 miles, and in those days, it wasn't uncommon to do it. Nick's gang of eccentrics and their adventures on the Fen are a real highlight of the drama schedules. The old rogue Warwick is played by Trevor Peacock, with strong support from Sam Dale, Kate Buffery, John Rowe and Helen Longworth; Claire Grove directs.

HYDE PARK-ON-HUDSON, a play by Richard Nelson (R3, 2000, 7 Jun 09) blended history and conjecture. No reigning British monarch visited the United States before 1939. History was in the making when the King and Queen arrived at President Roosevelt's New York home just before the outbreak of war. The story looks at events from the perspective of the President's lover, Daisy Suckley. Barbara Jefford played Daisy as a woman in her 90s looking back over a long and eventful life, and Emma Fielding her younger self. The play was apparently based on the playwright's discovery of some of Daisy's letters and diaries. The cast had Tim Piggott-Smith as Roosevelt, Nancy Crane as his secretary, Julia Swift as his wife and Sylvia Syms as his mother. Ned Chaillet, who directed Radio 4's excellent 'J. Edgar Hoover' plays a few years ago, produced and directed.

HOW ARE YOU FEELING, ALF? by James Graham (R4, 1415, 8 Jun 09) was another very topical play about the last days of the Callaghan government and the beginning of the Labour Party's years in the wilderness under the shadow of Mrs. Thatcher. The main character in the play was 'Alf', an elderly MP in poor health and almost too ill to attend the House for crucial votes. As the government gradually lost its authority and support, the measures to ensure that members voted became more and more desperate. Ultimately we saw Callaghan retaining his dignity and honour by accepting defeat and recognising that a new hand was needed at the tiller. How standards have changed since those far-off days. The cast included Julia Ford, Laura Mowat, Robert Lonsdale, Philip Jackson, Janice Aqua and Jonathan Tafler; the producer was Claire Grove.

POWER PLAY, by Margaret Heffernan (R4, 1415, two successive afternoons, 22-23 Jun 09) was the story of the collapse of Enron, the biggest power company in the world. There is nothing more political than the way a country's energy is generated and distributed. Without it a modern economy cannot function. Yet only seven years ago one of America's apparently most successful companies collapsed spectacularly amongst accusations of insider trading and corporate greed. The play dramatised the fall of Enron, illustrating some of the ruthless ethics and language of the trading floor and used compelling archive material from the Senate Committee Hearings into the financial scandal.

Senator Byron Dorgan, in mid December 2001, in a Hearing before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation, said .............'The subject of the hearing today is the meltdown and bankrupcy of the Enron Corporation in just several months. This is not your average business failure. This is a tragedy for many including workers and investors who it appears to me have been cheated out of billions of dollars. It's about an energy company which morphed itself into a trading company involved in hedge funds and derivatives. It took on substantial risk, created secret off-the-books partnerships, and in effect, cooked the books under the nose of their accountants and investors. More than sixty billion dollars in value has been lost in months, some of those at the top of the pyramid got rich, those at the bottom lost everything. It appears to me to be a combination of incompetence, greed, speculation with investors' money, and perhaps some criminal behaviour'.

The play was discussed on the BBC messageboard, where the reviews were favourable. Margaret Heffernan, contributed a few remarks: .............When I was researching it, I was horrified by how exactly the collapse of Enron presaged everything that happened with the banks. Unfortunately, I think that means that we learned nothing then and I rather wonder whether we've learned anything now. My personal belief is that the clue to these rotten companies isn't the accounting detail but the culture.

One listener suggested that a drama-doc. approach might have been better. The author answered as follows:

Sorry you found it hard to follow; we tried SO hard to streamline it! I'm not sure a documentary approach would work. Two reasons: first, it gets really complicated and abstract and second, in the end, I think the story is about more than the facts. It is about what happens to people - perfectly nice, normal people - when they work in an environment like this. That seems to me to be the long lasting story that's important: not the accounting detail but the personal corruption of people like you and me.

The cast included Andrea LeBlanc, Jin Suh, Hilario Saavedra, John Fleck, Mary Lou Rosato, and the producer was Sarah Davies.

I approached THE CHOSEN ONE (R4, 1415, 24 Jun 09) with a sense of misgiving; a story by Edson Burton, where a young man converts to Islam, with disruptive effects on his family. I expected a preachy tone and being told what to think. However, the play explored the issues sensitively and intelligently, and to my surprise, it was a good listen. Alex Lanipekun was Aaron, the Muslim Englishman, and Nadia Williams played his sister. The producer was Mary Ward-Lowery.

THE HOST was another sequel to Journey into Space, created by Charles Chilton. This latest play was written by Julian Simpson (R4, 1430, 27 Jun 09). David Jacobs, the surviving cast member from the original 50s radio series, played "The Host", Toby Stephens was Jet Morgan (better casting, perhaps, than Chilton's "Frozen in Time", which went out a couple of years ago) and Charles Chilton himself (93 in Jun 09) read the closing credits. David Chilton, Charles' son, was responsible for the sound design and music, and the producer was Nick Russell-Pavier of Goldhawk Productions.

Gillian Reynolds commented in the Daily Telegraph on Charles Chilton's hugely industrious and successful BBC career, encompassing features, Variety, Westerns and science fiction. Roger Howe of VRPCC recently interviewed Charles Chilton at some length, and his interesting account is shown on the radio articles page.

TORCHWOOD made an unexpected appearance on three successive afternoons; (R4, 1415, 1,2,3 Jul 09) three episodes written for radio of a popular TV science fiction series. I don't have a TV so am not familiar with its plotlines or characters. As radio drama it wasn't to my taste, but Gillian Reynolds liked it, as did many others writing to the BBC messageboard. The titles were: Asylum, Golden Age and The Dead Line, and John Barrowman played Captain Jack Harkness.

THE NIGHT THEY TRIED TO KIDNAP THE PRIME MINISTER (R4, 1415, 15 Jul 09) was yet another political play, based on an extract from Quintin Hogg's diaries. In 1964 a gang of students at Aberdeen University attempted to kidnap the Prime Minister, Sir Alec Douglas-Home, who had temporarily taken over the leadership of the Conservative party after the ill-health of Harold MacMillan. This was a dramatic reconstruction by Martin Jameson of what might have happened. The cast: Tim McInnerney as Sir Alec, Chris Starkie, Benjamin Askew, Michelle Duncan, Grainne Dromgoole, Annabelle Dowler, David Hargreaves; producer Jeremy Mortimer.

One of our nation's treasures, THE NATIONAL THEATRE OF BRENT, made a welcome return to Radio 4 (R4, 1830, 3 programmes beginning 29 Jul 09). The only episode I heard was a tribute to Bob Dylan, with Patrick Barlow and John Ram using their famed powers of observation and description to portray this musical legend. I still can't work out how two men in ill-fitting grey suits can be so funny.

MARMALADE FOR COMRADE PHILBY (R4, 1415, 30 Jul 09) was a comedy drama by Christopher William Hill in which a novelist finds his latest spy novel turned into autobiography – his own. The culprit is his translator. He has to decide whether to own up, taking into account that if the book was true, he'd probably be more popular with women. Bill Nighy was excellent as the novelist, and there was some very sharp comic writing and strong supporting performances from Penelope Wilton, Rachel Atkins, Geoffrey Whitehead, Claudia Elmhirst, and Adrian Scarborough. Original music was composed by Lucinda Mason Brown; and the producer was Gordon House, working for Goldhawk Productions.

LAST NIGHT ANOTHER SOLDIER (R4, 1430, 1 Aug 09) was a Saturday play by ex-SAS soldier Andy McNab, which should be compulsory listening for all MPs whilst our army is in Afghanistan. A young lad joins up, and the play gives a realistic and uncompromising portrayal of what a soldier's life is like in a war zone. It starred Russell Tovey, Damian Lynch, Stephen Hogan, Lloyd Thomas, Paul Ryder, Caroline Guthrie, Janice Aqua and Matt Addiss; the producer was Verney Samuel.

Jonathan Holloway had two drama items broadcast over the summer, and one of them was REP (R4, 1415, 17 Aug 09). An actor has a brief spell in what is, for him, an unfamiliar situation; one of Britain's last surviving repertory theatres. He has some scrapes and romantic encounters, and the play evokes the spirit of 'rep' very effectively. The leads were taken by Jay Villiers, Lucy Liemann and Michael Fenton Stevens, and direction was by Tim Dee.

SLOW BOAT TO LENINGRAD by David Pownall (1430, 22 Aug 09) was a Saturday Play described in Radio Times as a 'black comedy', a term generally used to describe a drama which fails to entertain. However David Pownall generally delivers the goods; this was his sixty-ninth radio play since 'Free Ferry' in 1972, and this time he was writing about August 1939 when the British Government misjudged the pre-war political situation badly and sent a team of lightweight politicians to negotiate with Stalin and Hitler. They ended up signing a non-aggression pact with Russia, and we all know what happened next. The cast included Geoffrey Whitehead as Chamberlain, Nicholas Boulton as Ribbentrop, Michael Maloney as Hitler, Michael Jayston as Stalin, and Christian Rodska as Churchill. Jonathan Tafler and Keith Drinkel had prominent parts playing politicians I'd never heard of, and the producer was Martin Jenkins.

An unknown script by Mollie Millest and Kenneth Horne was discovered on eBay by Wes Butters in 2005. It was from 1966 and had never been broadcast. The BBC arranged for it to be delivered by Robin Sebastian and Jonathan Rigby (as Kenneth Williams and Kenneth Horne) in a programme entitled TWICE KEN IS PLENTY (R4, 1130, 1 Sept 09) in front of an audience at the BBC Radio Theatre. In the script, the two Kens try to infiltrate different parts of Broadcasting House, progressing on their way through lines full of bad puns, weak jokes, good jokes, and innuendo. This was nowhere near the standard of 'Round the Horne'; apparently the script was rejected many years ago by the BBC Light Entertainment Department, but it was a nostalgic listen; and for a brief thirty minutes it was almost possible to imagine that Williams and Horne were back. It was also good to see Mollie Millest, a major contributor to Kenneth Horne's scripts, getting a credit. In all the shows where her material was used in the 1960s (Beyond our Ken and Round the Horne), she was not mentioned once. Perhaps it's not a coincidence that this was the time of the 'closed shop'.

There has been no shortage of other good programmes; I must mention another series of “Brief Lives” by Tom Fry & Sharon Kelly about a legal practice; two hilarious plays not too far removed from the truth about our Higher education system by Joyce Bryant; a touching little play about a ten year old girl writing to an elderly author by Jane Rogers; a new series of the excellent comedy series 'Cabin Pressure' by John Finnemore, a play looking back at WW2 by Dave Sheasby, new plays by Judy Upton and Nigel Baldwin, and a new series of dramatisations of John le Carre's 'Smiley' novels starring Simon Russell Beale, going out in the Saturday Play and Classic Serial slots with intervals of a month or two between stories. Readers will remember with affection the Rene Basilico versions of twenty years ago with George Cole produced by John Fawcett Wilson; these are as good.

ND / 17 Sep 09

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Perhaps the best radio news since the last review is that the new I'M SORRY I HAVEN'T A CLUE is a distinct success. Jack Dee, the deadpan Northern comic, has taken the place of the late Humphrey Lyttelton, and judging by his performance so far, the show has a good future. As for drama:

HOFFNUNG DRAWN TO MUSIC (1415, 28 Sep 09) was Alan Stafford's play about the life of Gerard Hoffnung, the well-known musical cartoonist and humorist. He was also a raconteur, tuba player, 'One Minute Please' participant and organiser of three of the most extraordinary concerts ever to take place at the Royal Festival Hall. These were humorous musical extravaganzas of great originality - for example, in one piece we hear the opening of the Grieg Piano Concerto, but when the orchestra starts up, it's playing Tscaikowsky, not Grieg. Matt Lucas stars as Hoffnung, supported by Gina McKee, Stephen Boswell, Nicholas Jones, Jon Glover, Hugh Bonneville, Felicity Montague, and a guest appearance by Annetta Hoffnung. The play marked the 50th anniversary of Hoffnung's death. The producer was Adam Bromley and the director Lissa Evans.

Adam Bromley adds:

Matt Lucas peforms all the Hoffnung you hear, including the famous bricklayer routine. We used the original archive for timing and the laughter, but it's Matt's voice.

We recorded it line by line, using the original as reference; I have to say that in the studio, on high quality monitor speakers, it was almost impossible to differentiate Matt from Hoffnung. (I can second this - I thought the 'bricklayer' material was taken from an old Hoffnung recording - Ed)

We put some selective equalisation and processing on voice on the Bricklayer material to make it sit with the texture of the laughter and 'atmos' from the archive recording. This makes it feel different to the rest of the show.

The real Annetta Hoffnung appeared at the very end of the play, doing the closing speech. Alan Stafford, the writer, met with her many times and we had her support throughout the production.

She was with us in studio for a morning and she had a lovely time. Over lunch, she told us more about Hoffnung and it was heartbreaking to hear how young and how suddenly Gerard died. He was a true original.

Hattie Naylor's IVAN AND THE DOGS (R4, 1415, 4 Nov 09) was based on the remarkable true story of a Russian four-year-old who walked out of his Moscow apartment to escape a violent father and who spent two years living on the streets, where he was adopted by a pack of wild dogs. The play story explores Ivan's dependence on the dogs and the way they protected him. He was played by Tom Glenister, and the producer was Paul Dodgson.

THE TONY KAY SCANDAL, by Michael McLean (R4, 1415, 6 Nov 09) was about soccer in crisis. In 1965, an outstanding young player, Tony Kay, was accused of match-fixing, sent to prison, and banned for life by the FA. The play explores what really happened, and includes recent interviews with the footballer whose career was ended by this unfortunate affair. The producer was ex-BBC producer Martin Jenkins and Tony Kay was played by Mikey North.

A play about Einstein, by James Graham (ALBERT'S BOY, R4 1415 10 Nov 09) concentrated on the last part of his life. As a young man, Einstein revolutionised the way scientists viewed the world. Between his twenty-fifth and thirty-eighth birthdays, he had rebuilt the Universe in his mind. His two landmark writings are Special Relativity, which deals with high-speed motion (1905) and General Relativity (1915) which deals with gravity. His equations anticipated the birth of nuclear energy, space flight, lasers and atomic clocks. In Einstein's world, clocks run at different speeds, objects appear to shorten as they move faster, and even simultaneity is relative.

In this radio portrait, we meet the elderly Einstein, no longer making revolutionary discoveries, but revered, famous, and perhaps as well-known for his philosophy as his science. He once wrote 'I believe in Spinoza's God who reveals himself in the harmony of all that exists, but not in a God who concerns himself with the fate and actions of men.' Einstein was played by Victor Spinetti and the producer was Peter Kavanagh.

Jonathan Holloway has had some interesting plays broadcast this year. THE RAILWAY SIDING (R4, 1415, 12 Nov 09) was set on a train travelling from Haverfordwest to Paddington. A young architect meets a garrulous guard and a spookily familiar young woman. All is not quite what it seems. The cast included Sam Dale as the architect, Ewan Hooper as the guard, and Lydia Leonard as the young woman. The director was David Hunter.

The following day we heard another play by the same writer. A NIGHT WITH JOHNNY STOMPANATO (R4, 2100, 13 Nov 09) began as a rather odd romance, but gradually the listeners realise that the boyfriend is a gangster. The tale was based on a true story. In 1958 police were called to the home of the actress Lana Turner, after a domestic incident. Her boyfriend, Johnny, had been stabbed to death by her daughter. At the coroner's inquest, Lana gave the performance of her life. Laurence Bouvard played Lana, and John Guerrasio was Johnny; Sara Davies directed.

It is now twenty years since the Berlin Wall was demolished, and to mark the anniversary the BBC broadcast a number of related programmes, both drama and documentary. We had John Tusa talking about it in HOW THE WALL FELL, and a couple of weeks later we heard THE SHAPE OF THE TABLE (R4, 1430, 14 Nov 09) by David Edgar. This was a full-length play originally staged by the National Theatre in 1990, following the rocky transition of a fictional Eastern European country from hard-line Communism to the beginnings of Western-style democracy. The government has difficult choices to make. There are thousands of demonstrators on the streets, and the Soviets are refusing to send in troops. Do they suppress the demonstrators themselves or do they begin to instigate reforms?

Tim McInnerney was Pavel, the beleaguered P.M., and other political heavyweights were played by Henry Goodman, Jeremy Clyde, Michael Elwyn, Jonathan Keeble and Robert Lister. Original music was supplied by Malcolm McKee and the producer was Peter Leslie Wild.

THE LOOP (R4, 1415, 18 Nov 09), by Nick Perry, was a little gem of a play, possibly the best of the year, described on the BBC messageboard as 'faultless'. A man finds himself talking on the telephone to someone in America but ... it gradually transpires that over there, it's fifty years earlier. This bizarre beginning sets in motion a whole train of events which goes around in an enormous circle. Directed by Toby Swift, it starred Ivan Kaye, Edward Hogg, Peter Marinker, Emerald O'Hanrahan, Rhys Jennings, and Melissa Advani. I hope this item is entered for the Imison Award - it would qualify, because it's Nick Perry's first radio play.

Michael Dobbs spent years as one of Margaret Thatcher's chief advisors. Now a writer, his story "A FAMILY AFFAIR" (1430, 28 Nov 09) covered the last days of Mrs. T's term as Prime Minister, seen from the perspective of her husband and children. In November 1990 she made the decision to resign, after much dissent in the ranks of the Conservative Party and a leadership ballot in which she just missed the requuired majority. The play was an interesting portrait of a family worrying about a wife and mother, and showed how much Mrs. Thatcher owed to her redoubtable husband, Dennis. Clare Higgins took the lead, and Stephen Moore was Dennis Thatcher; Benjamin Whitrow played his friend Bill Deedes. John Taylor produced and Roland Jacquarello directed.

My grandfather was a sales rep. for fifty-five years, and had a fascinating life travelling the length and breadth of the country in the early days of the motor car. Consequently I'm always interested to hear plays about travelling salesmen. Don Webb's play RIGHT PLACE, WRONG TIME (R4, 1415, 1 Dec 09) followed a series of violent crimes in the North, the only lead being a Photofit reconstruction of the robber's face, which strongly resembles sales rep Alan Morgan. Is he the perpetrator? Alan was played by Shaun Dooley, Inspector Perkins by James Wood, and Alan's boss by James Quinn; Gary Brown was the producer.

ONE IN A MILLION, by Peter Kesterton (R4, 1415, 9 Dec 09) was a crime thriller about a Maths lecturer arrested for an attempted assault on a young woman. The evidence is circumstantial, but it includes a DNA match, and the case seems all but over. Enter Bayes' theorem (the probability of one event in the light of another), and a person capable of explaining it, and everything changes. What seems to be a foregone conclusion veers off in another direction. The cast included Andy Morton as the suspect, Christian Rodska as the Maths-challenged police inspector, and Alex Tregear as his female assistant; the producer was Jolyon Jenkins.

We have been treated to more from the BBC's 'Smiley' season; a three part Classic Serial of THE LOOKING GLASS WAR (beginning R4, 1500, 20 Sep 09), and TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY (three episodes beginning R4, 1500, 29 Nov 09). The stories are too well-known to require much comment, but they are of the highest standard, and utterly absorbing. Shaun McKenna did the dramatisations, Simon Russell Beale played Smiley, and the directors were Marc Beeby and Steven Canny, in that order. We have also had a welcome re-make of ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT, dramatised by Dave Sheasby, and BEAU GESTE, adapted by Graham Fife. Benny Hill, comic superstar, admired as a mime artist by Chaplin, and even more popular in America than England, was profiled by Ben Miller on Radio 2. Roy Smiles' drama about the 'Beyond the Fringe' team GOOD EVENING went out on 24 Sep, and Kurt Vonnegut's sci-fi classic SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE, adapted by Dave Sheasby, was broadcast a few days earlier on R3.

There are still calls on the BBC messageboards for more 90-minute plays, and I would second them, but there has certainly been some good listening during the last quarter.

Nigel Deacon, 19 Dec 09

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