April 2010
Sept 2010
Dec 2010


There have been some changes in the radio drama world over the last month or two. The funding for the BBC has been reduced, and this has led to across-the-board cuts in all BBC departments, including drama. The Friday Play has more or less gone as a regular slot, though it will be used occasionally for special items. Writers and broadcasters spoke against the change, including Neville Teller and Tom Stoppard, pointing out that extravagances in other areas by the BBC could be cut more heavily so that drama might be spared, but it appeared that no-one was listening.

PLANTAGENET, by Mike Walker, reminded me very much of the wonderful serial epic by Don Taylor around 20 years ago: "God's Revolution". This was a 12-hour drama-doc of the Levellers' insurrection, and the beheading of the king. There has been nothing like it since, but this three-hour serial (Classic Serial, beginning 1500, 14 Feb 2010) produced by Jeremy Mortimer was of similar quality. A regular correspondent to the BBC Messageboard, "Angle", commented as follows:

The standard of production is higher than anything else that R4 has achieved for years. It makes a very satisfactory and satisfying change from the over-abridged Classic Serials we have been getting for some time. Let's hope that there is more to come.

The story starts with England's first Plantagenet king, Henry II; he has had a long reign but is now in conflict with his sons. Mike Walker's dramatisation was inspired by Holinshead's Chronicles. David Warner played the King, Jane Laportaire was the Queen, and the unpleasant sons were Joseph Cohen-Cole, Piers Wehner and Rhys Jennings.

MURDER IN SAMARKAND, by David Hare, (R4, 1430, 20 Feb 10 )was based on the experiences of Chris Murray whilst he was British Ambassador in Tashkent, in the central Asian dictatorship of Uzbekistan. It had sex, scandal and politics in fairly equal measure. The play documents his attempts to oppose those who engage in torture , the way it affected his career, and his affair and subsequent marriage to a local belly dancer.

To paraphrase the article in 'RT', Murray believed that he had proof that the Uzbek regime had boiled a dissident to death. He also said that in the run-up to the war on Iraq, intelligence gathered by Uzbek torture victims was being passed to the CIA and from there to MI6 and the FCO in London.

This amounted to rocking the diplomatic boat, enormously upset his superiors back in London, and set in motion a train of events which ended in him losing his job.

The drama was very favourably received, as was David Tennent in the leading role. One comment on the BBC messageboard went as follows. At the back of my mind throughout the drama, was the thought that once a person decides to become an ambassador he signs away his right to act independently - many countries carry out torture and our government knows it. Another person pointed out that Craig Murray has his own website; well worth a visit for those still keen on freedom.

THE KILLING OF THE TSR2 (R4, 1415,7 Jan 10) was set in the days when British engineers were at the forefront of aircraft research and design. The TSR-2 was a Cold War strike aircraft developed by the British Aircraft Corporation for the Royal Air Force (RAF) in the early 1960s. It was designed to penetrate a well-defended forward battle area at low altitudes and very high speeds, and then attack high-value targets in the rear with close-in bomb runs and precision drops. It included a number of features which made it the most advanced aircraft for the role, yet the programme was controversially cancelled in favour of the F-111. Ten TSR2s were built; not all were completed, and only one flew.

In January 1959 the Minister of Supply announced that the TSR-2 would be built by Vickers-Armstrongs working with English Electric; the initials coming from "Tactical Strike and Reconnaissance, Mach 2".

Prior to the TSR-2 effort, the British Royal Air Force had deployed the English Electric Canberra bomber, capable of flying at high altitudes and relatively high subsonic speeds. The Canberra carried no defensive weapons and relied on its high performance to allow it to avoid defences, but as the performance of the Soviet interceptors grew, the Canberra grew increasingly vulnerable.

The introduction of the radar-guided surface-to-air missile changed the situation. They attacked in a straight line from below, and had speed and altitude performance greater than any aircraft. The Canberra, and most other planes were extremely vulnerable to these weapons.

The solution was to fly lower. An aircraft travelling just under Mach 1 will cover this distance in a little over two minutes, giving the missile site very little time to prepare for an attack.

Like so many projects, this one was wrecked by the politics. It was scrapped by the Labour government in 1965.

The play starred Ewan Bailey, Bruce Alexander, Jon Glover, Joseph Cohen-Cole, John Biggins, Nigel Hastings, Rhys Jennings, Kate Layden, Emerald O'Hanrahan and Piers Wehner. The producer was Jonquil Panting.

FAMILY SOUP, by Elizabeth Lewis (Afternoon Play, R4, 1415, 8 Jan 10) was billed as a 'comedy drama'. This genre can be dire, (as are most plays described as 'dark' - either thrillers or comedies) but this was a notable exception. Charlie, a newspaper columnist, writes mainly about his family. They object strongly, not liking their lives to be on public view. Being male and middle aged, Charlie takes no notice, so they decamp to Italy to teach him a lesson, leaving him with a nutty father-in-law and a tame rat.

This was the best comedy I'd heard for quite a while. It starred Philip Jackson as Charlie, with Howell Evans (Hywel Evans?), Manon Edwards, Geoffrey Whitehead and Lynne Seymour. The music was by David Chilton (son of Charles Chilton), the producer was Kate McAll and the director Gordon House.

Another series by Frederick Raphael entitled FINAL DEMANDS (beginning R4,1415, 4 Mar 10) went out in the Afternoon Play slot during March. It was a sequel to the 1970s TV drama "The Glittering Prizes", and concerns a bunch of very clever people on their journey through life. It received a hundred comments on the BBC messageboard, nearly all of them negative.

There were six episodes, some of them broadcast on consecutive afternoons, and whilst I agree with the general sentiment that the characters were pretty unlikeable, I couldn't find anything wrong with the drama. It wasn't memorable and I can't remember much of the plot, but it didn't deserve vilification. I felt obliged to use the messageboard to point out that in times of funding cuts, BBC managers probably count the comments rather than spend time reading them, and on that basis, Mr. Raphael will probably be asked to do a follow-up.

The cast included Tom Conti, Barbara Kellerman Flora Montgomery, Mark Wing-Davey and Alastair McGowan, and the producer / director team was Jo Wheeler and Pete Atkin.

NOT BOBBY, by Nick Warburton (R4, 1415, 10 Mar 10) was a very curious story. Mackenzie Crook starred as lonely Frank, who brings home a hyper-intelligent rabbit which learns to write. Frank gets him into the local school, and this is where the problems start. For a summary of our education policies over the last decade, look no further. It was fun, too, and any teachers who heard it will have had wry smiles on their faces. Pete Atkin directed.

It was good to hear a play directed by Cherry Cookson again; LISTENING TO TIME by Judith Somerville. (R4, 1415, 22 Mar 10). Hans and Anna, two strangers, played by David Troughton and Kate Buffery, meet on a remote Scottish island whilst on holiday. For a few days, they are close. Then the holiday ends, and they return home, each with fond memories of each other, but never to meet again.

A generation later, fate unexpectedly puts them in touch. The story goes from there.

Dawn Lowe-Watson, a writer associated with the same producer for many years, summarised the production like this:

This mysterious and haunting play took me into it and has left such resonances that I still find it difficult, by nearly 5.00 pm, to escape. The aura of the place, the plot, the writing, the characters of Hans and Anna, the two lead characters - all these have left me dreaming and faintly uneasy.....this is poetry but never pretension, and has the unmistakable hand of producer Cherry Cookson bringing it all to life with consummate artistry and conviction.

I couldn't have put it half so well as that.

There were other excellent plays during April 2010 which I did not hear until after writing this review: one by Matthew Solon, another Sherlock Holmes original by Bert Coules, and a most unusual play by Richard Lumsden starring Tom Courtenay. These are discussed on the 2010 Plays page.

Nigel Deacon, 18 Apr 10

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I am conscious of having missed some interesting plays and other items over the past six months, but unfortunately life cannot entirely revolve around the radio drama schedules. I regret missing Mike Walker's play about the Battle of Britain. It would also have been good to hear Richard Fenyman, physicist, philosopher and bongo-drum player, on the Archive Hour early in September. However, I had some good listening, and a few of my radio highlights are described below.

THE SIX LOVES OF BILLY BINNS (R4, 1415, 21 Apr 10), by Richard Lumsden, starred Tom Courtenay.We are in a retirement home, and a man in the last stages of old age drops a teacup, and it falls very very slowly to the floor. During its descent, which takes the entire length of the play, the loves of his life flash before him, in a series of episodes from his life. This is the kind of play, in the words of one visitor to the BBC messageboard, where you're driving alone in the rain and you have to pull over into a lay-bye to listen. The supporting cast was Alison Pettitt, Tanya Franks, Ella Smith, Joanna Monro, Keeley Beresford, Gbemisola Ikumelo and Walter Lumsden, and the producer was Sally Avens.

NYAMA (R4, 1415, 23 Apr 10) was an 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.

Later on 23 Apr was the play WE OUTNUMBER YOU, by Ed Hime (R4, 2100, 23 Apr 10), one of the last dramas to be broadcast in the Friday Play slot. A big oil company opens a new zoo on the Isle of Wight, to show its environmental commitment. Unfortunately the zoo contains some dangerous animals and one night two deranged 'greenies' hide inside. They hatch a plot, it goes hideously wrong, and the play rapidly turns into a horror story. Kenneth Cranham stars as the oil company boss, and the cast also included Luke Treadaway, Joanna Monro, Georgia Groome, Vineeta Rishi and Ben Crowe. The producer was Jessica Dromgoole.

Last year the Radio 4 programme 'Open Book' asked various authors to name a favourite 'neglected classic.' Michael Morpurgo chose Paul Gallico's wartime tale THE SNOW GOOSE (R4, 1502, 23 May 10) which was dramatized for the Classic Serial slot by Nick Warburton. It's partly a love story about the developing relationship between Philip, a badly disfigured artist, and a young girl who takes him a wounded bird. She doesn't realise she loves him until he's gone. He takes his boat across the Channel to help rescue troops from Dunkirk. The cast included Steven Mackintosh as Philip and Georgia Groom as the girl, with Deborah Findlay, Sam Dale and Michael Shelford. The producer was Sally Avens.

Iain Finlay MacLeod's play MR ANWAR'S FAREWELL TO STORNOWAY (R4, 1415, 6 Jul 2010) was a beautifully - produced tale set in the Outer Hebrides. An Indian tailor is asked by his quietly-spoken elderly neighbour to make him a special jacket. There is a certain diffidence between the two men, but it gradually disappears as they become more acquainted. A love interest added to the drama, but I was reminded of 'art concealing art'; it was the relationships between the characters, not necessarily the plot, which made this a fine piece of radio. Mr. Anwar was played by Vincent Ebrahim, Tormod by Matthew Zajac, Nadia by Shelley King and Isobel by Anne Lacey. The producer was Kirsteen Cameron.

GERONTIUS (R4, 8 Jul 10), by Stephen Wyatt, examined the thirty-year relationship of Cardinal Newman and Friar Ambrose St. John, his mentor and friend. Newman insisted in his will that he was to be buried in the same grave.

Partway through the play we hear a gay rights protestor calling the Catholic Church homophobic. This is one of three modern perspectives offered late in the play on the controversy over the deep love between Newman and St John. A second sees the inscription on Newman's tomb as an expression of a belief that intense human love foreshadows our experience of divine love. The third offers the Catholic perspective that we should focus on what Newman has to tell us, rather than bring in unhistorical ideas about gay love.

The play is a meditation of what the intense love between these two men actually meant; it's not about shoe-horning that love (for which the documentary evidence is very clear) into anybody's convenient category.

Derek Jacobi played Newman, and Friar Ambrose was Nicholas Boulton, supported by Geoffrey Whitehead, Karl Davies, Michael Jayston, Ben Warwick and Jane Whittenshaw. The director was Martin Jenkins, working for Pier Productions.

As I write this (19 Sept) the Pope, on his visit to London, is presiding at the ceremony of Cardinal Newman's Beatification, in front of 50,000 spectators, at a park near Birmingham; a step towards the Victorian theologian becoming a saint. Apparently there have been two recently verified miracles associated with Newman. It's a strange world.

THE UNDERSTANDING, by Peter G Morgan (R4, 1430, 12 Jul 10) was about the dilemna a surgeon faces during a relatively routine operation. A woman is giving birth, and things start to go wrong. It wouldn't be a life-threatening condition, except that she is a Jehovah's Witness, and she has said explicitly that under no circumstances should she be given a blood transfusion. But under the trauma of the experience, she realises what might happen, and makes a desperate plea for help. Does the surgeon have the right to ignore the signed paperwork and save her life?

This thought-provoking tale received a lot of comments on the BBC message board, which can be more or less summarised by just two contributions, which I have edited slightly for clarity:

......When Jehovah's Witnesses refuse blood, they have taken it upon themselves to understand fully the implications. Therefore they must be listened to.

......I see nothing wrong with a professional trying to get someone who is refusing life saving treatment for purely superstitious reasons to see sense.

The cast: Philip Fox, Katy Cavanagh, Golda Rosheuvel, Sam Dale, Gbemisola Ikumelo, Caroline Guthrie.The producers were Steven Canny and Jonquil Panting.

PILGRIM, by Sebastian Baczkiewicz, returned for a second series (R4, 1415, Tuesdays, four episodes beginning 31 Aug 10). It attracted many comments from the messageboard, divided more or less down the middle by those who like fantasy and those who do not. The drama is based on a guy born several centuries ago who is cursed with never dying, having half an existence in the world of men, and half an existence in the world of the 'grey folk' - those whom men have forgotten, who exist in their own supernatural world, often the long-dead ancestors of those still alive.

Fantasy is a strange genre, because it has to suspend disbelief against the odds. The radio version of 'Lord of the Rings' twenty-five years ago succeeded, and so did 'The Hobbit' a few years earlier. 'Pilgrim' manages it most of the time, and there is a frightening realism in some of the scenes. Just occasionally the attention wanders, but overall the series is an impressive achievement. The main character, 'Pilgrim', is played by Paul Hilton, who delivers the right balance of world-weariness and earthy wisdom which one would expect from a person who has been alive since the Middle Ages. Marc Beeby directs, and his expert hand is evident in these productions.

Annie McCartney's latest radio play is a comedy: STARING INTO THE FRIDGE (R4, 1415, 13 Sep 10) A middle-aged woman lives with her children, but they hamper virtually everything she wants to do. They are both in their twenties, and by most accounts should have moved out years ago, but they continue to regard their mother's house as a hotel and their mother as an unpaid cleaner, cook and more.

This is not conducive either to her piece of mind or her own relationships, particularly those with men. She can't even count on privacy if a boyfriend stays overnight. Then one day when she is thinking about all this, wondering what to do, her fridge tentatively speaks to her. It's quite a wise fridge; it's observed some things she has missed, and it gives her suggestions and advice. She begins to confide in it.

I was reminded of Simon Brett's 'Furniture Play' of a few years ago, where a sofa showed similar wisdom. James Nesbitt plays the fridge (imagine him putting that on a CV); Annie McCartney plays Maggie, Marcella Riordan was her best friend Flora, and Mark Lambert was the boyfriend. The producer was Eoin O'Callaghan.

Roy Smiles' tribute to Graham Chapman, the Python star, in PYTHONESQUE (R4, 1415, 15 Sep 10) was originally written in 2008 and performed on stage at the Edinburgh Festival in 2009. It mixes biographical material, well-known sketches, and a plot where the deceased Graham Chapman is conversing with a man with a clipboard at the gates of heaven. Will he be allowed in, or sent to the other place? Roy Smiles has done similar radio plays before, about 'Beyond the Fringe' and the Goons. This one attracted a lot of comment, positive and negative in roughly equal amounts, on the BBC messageboard. There are clearly many people listening to radio 4 who do not find the Pythons funny, but I found the play to be a pleasant reminder of their best work. James Lance played Terry Gilliam and Eric Idle; Matt Addis was Terry Jones and Michael Palin, Mark Oosterveen was John Cleese, and Chris Polick was Graham Chapman. The producer was Liz Anstee.

I was very taken with the latest radio play from David Nobbs, WE HAPPENED TO BE PASSING (R4, 1415, 24 Sep 10). It's a Saturday, and Tony and Sal, tired after a week at work, are grateful for a bit of peace. But the doorbell rings, and standing outside are a man and woman they don't recognise. Slowly it dawns on them that they once met on holiday. They have nowhere to stay, so they 'just decided to call' - and that's where the story begins. David Nobbs builds up the tension beautifully, bit by bit, until the house is a seething mass of resentment and vituperation. Radio Times called it 'a wonderfully perceptive comedy of manners and international relations'. That sounds a bit pretentious, but I guess it's not a bad description. The cast included James Nickerson and Kerry Shale as the unwilling hosts, and was produced by Gary Brown.

By the time the next review is out in late December, I should have attended the Imison and Tinniswood Awards in London. The Imison honours the best original radio drama by a newcomer from the previous calendar year, and the Tinniswood is for the best radio drama script. The shortlists are shown on the Imison and Tinniswood pages. Last year, shortlisted plays were repeated in late October. I hope it happens again this year.

Nigel Deacon / 30 Sept 2010

Note added 9 Oct 2010 - Yes, all of the Imison / Tinniswood shortlisted plays will be rebroadcast soon...

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The main radio event in the last quarter was the Awards ceremony at the National Liberal Club in London on 27th October where the Imison and Tinniswood Awards were presented. "Diversity" was invited, and Alison and I saw the presentations by Rose Tremain after a short introduction by Gordon House. A digest of the evening is shown on the Imison and Tinniswood pages.

The Imison Award is given for the best drama script by a newcomer to radio drama broadcast during the previous year. It went to Eoin McNamee for "The Road Wife", an entertaining tale about a truck driver and his woman, which was repeated on Radio 4 on 22 Oct 2010.

The Tinniswood Award is given for the best original radio drama script broadcast during the previous year. The winner was Hattie Naylor, with her tale "Ivan and the Dogs", about a young boy aged 4 who, after some domestic troubles, walked out of his parents' Moscow apartment in the middle of winter . He encountered a pack of wild dogs, and there began an extraordinary relationship based on mutual need. Regular readers of this site will know what I think of most monologues, but this one was compelling. It was repeated on Radio 4 on 21 Oct 2010.

As regards the drama broadcast since the last review, these are my highlights:

THE KANE CONSPIRACY, by Jonathan Holloway (Saturday Play, 2 Oct 2010, R4) was set in the run-up to the 1941 Oscars.The young Orson Welles is pushing his film 'Citizen Kane', in spite of vigorous negative lobbying by FBI chief J Edgar Hoover and the newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst. Hearst was very unhappy with the way his thinly disguised 'alter ego' was portrayed in the film, and Hoover and Hearst were determined to strangle the production; they almost succeeded.
The writer based the play on documentary evidence, and it was an interesting listen for anyone who has seen 'Citizen Kane'. This was Welles' first and most famous venture as a Hollywood director but seems to have done little for his future career.

Jeff Harding was Orson Welles, Toby Jones was Hoover, and John Guerrasio was Herman Mankiewicz; the producer was Sara Davies.

SETTING A GLASS (2 Nov 2010, R4) was by Nick Warburton, winner of the Tinniswood Award in 2006. There was virtually no plot at all, and I was reminded of what Don Haworth said in 1987: that simplicity is the key to success in radio drama. "Look at the film "Zulu''-that was basically about people charging up and down a hill....the film became a classic". In "Setting a Glass", a middle-aged man visits his mother in hospital; she is at the end of her life. A young nurse talks to him ... That's it - but what a play! Beautifully cast, produced and acted. James Fleet was the man, Hannah Pierce the woman, and the producer Peter Kavanagh.

FIVE DAYS IN MAY was a topical political drama (6 Nov 2010, R4) by Matthew Solon, a fictionalised reconstruction of the events just before the formation of the first coalition government in Britain for 70 years. The play was based on interviews with some of those who were there, and with political journalists. David Cameron was played by Samuel West, Nick Clegg by Nicholas Boulton, Gordon Brown by Gerard Kelly, Peter Mandelson by Henry Goodman, and Ed Balls by John Sessions. It received a glowing writeup by Eddie Mair in "Radio Times". This was an independent production by "Goldhawk Essential", the script by Matthew Solon and the production by John Dryden.

As a scientist I was very interested to hear THE MAN WHO JUMPED FROM SPACE, by Andy Walker (11 Nov 2010, R4), based on the high altitude parachute jumps made by Joe Kittinger in 1962. The United States Air Force became increasingly worried about the safety of flight crew who had to eject at high altitude, as a result of jet planes flying higher and faster. One of the problems with was the tendency of the man to spin at high speed as he descended. Other problems were sub zero temperatures and very low pressures; a puncture in the pressure suit could be fatal. A series of jumps made by Kittinger, eventually from about 20 miles up, enabled a safe method of descent to be worked out. The parachutist was played by Simon Lee Phillips and the producer was Gary Brown.

MOERAN'S LAST SYMPHONY (26 Nov 2010, R4) was a biographical play by Martyn Wade about a little-known English composer, Jack Moeran, who died in 1950 from the after-effects of injuries incurred during the First World War. He was a composer in the tradition of Finzi, Parry, Patrick Hadley, and Vaughan Williams; unmistakably English in style, and drawing on traditional folktune. Only recently has his music become better known, probably because of the internet. He wrote interesting piano music (years ago I played the piece 'Windmills'), chamber music, and a few larger works.

His first symphony was well-received by the public in 1937, and he was commissioned to write a second. The play goes from there. It starred Tim McInnerney as Moeran, Kate Binchy as his landlady, along with Sean Froudist Walsh, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Nicholas Boulton and Geoffrey Whitehead. The producer was Cherry Cookson, who always directs 'musical' radio plays with great sensitivity.

Martyn has also written plays about Gerald Finzi, Percy Grainger and William Baines. His page gives more details.

Back in 1985 I was mesmerised by the Glyn Dearman production of Robert Graves' classic Roman tale "I, CLAUDIUS", made at the Maida Vale studios, with Timothy West in the title role. It went out in two ninety-minute episodes: 'I, Claudius' and 'Claudius the God'. Now we have a new dramatization by Robin Brooks in six one-hour episodes broadcast as the Classic Serial. (R4, Sundays, beginning 28 Nov 2010).

Sir Derek Jacobi, who was in the 1976 TV version as Claudius, plays Emperor Augustus, and Tom Goodman-Hill takes the title role. It's a superb production, and approaches the quality of Glyn Dearman's masterpiece. Perhaps one shouldn't compare the two versions; the larger canvas needs a different approach.

Robin Brooks put some interesting comments on the radio 4 blog; here's a brief summary of some of them:

    ....As material for dramatisation, one of the best things about 'I, Claudius' is that it starts very well and then gets better...... as the dynasty unravels - Graves produces more and more splendid villains for our delectation: grandma-serial killer Livia, her son the morose and sexually perverted Tiberius, ghastly Gnaeus Piso, Tiberius's slimy sidekick Sejanus, nephew Caligula, who can now be heard waiting about on the fringes of the action, ready to reveal himself as the most glorious psychopath of all; even Claudius's monstrous, murderous wife Urgulanilla, will now get her moment in the spotlight. These characters are a gift to the writer and to the actors, who, as I hope you've noticed by now, attack them with delightful relish.

The very long cast list also included Tim McInnerney and Harriet Walter; the producer was Jonquil Panting, and the music composed by David Pickavance.

I was pleased to hear series 2 of ON MARDLE FEN, set in the wilds of Norfolk, written by Nick Warburton. The central character is Warwick Hedges, a formidable opportunist, also the owner (and chef) of a small fenland restaurant. The establishment is run by his son, a hardworking, sensible individual who is unable to understand why his father gets into so many scrapes. The first episode (6 Dec 2010, R4) was all about the sighting of a bird on the fen. Warwick is not really into ornithology, but one day he meets an attractive young lady who is looking both for rare birds and somewhere to stay. She wants to see a bittern, she's on holiday, and she's determined. Warwick decides to help by offering her a room. It slowly triggers a series of disasters. The cast: Trevor Peacock as Warwick, Sam Dale, Kate Buffery, John Rowe, Helen Longworth, and Claire Rushbrook. The producer was Claire Grove.

Recently (2-3 Dec 2010, R4) we had another two very agreeable episodes of THE No.1 LADIES' DETECTIVE AGENCY, dramatised by the author, Alexander McCall Smith. These understated, easy-paced, slightly humorous stories set in Botswana are a pleasure to hear. They are not so much good against evil as good against 'misguided'. The 'detective-lady' is always old-fashioned, gentle and sympathetic, even towards her adversaries. Mma Ramotswe is played by Janice Acqua, Mma Makutsi by Nadine Marshall, and Mr. J.L.B.Matekoni, by Ben Onwukwe. The producer was Gaynor MacFarlane.

SKY HIGH, by Guy Meredith (10 Dec 2010, R4), was a play about a female executive's plot to double-cross the company she's working for with the help of a recently-sacked ex-colleague. Guy Meredith is one of our most experienced radio writers, and readers may remember his private detective plays "Daunt & Dervish" which went out in 2003. This one was up to his usual high standard, and received favourable comments on the BBC messageboard. It starred Claire Harry, Chris Pavlo and Lloyd Thomas, and was produced by Tracey Neale.

There were other plays of note; Jonathan Smith's THE TRENCHES TRIP (10 Nov 2010, R4) concerned a group of sixth formers taken over to the Flanders battlefields and brought out surprising conflicts between students and between staff. THE BABINGTON PLOT (30 Nov 2010, R4) was Michael Butt's account of the attempted assassination of Elizabeth I but I had to switch it off; the account of the hanging and butchering of the perpetrators was too strong for me. AMAZONIA, by Garry Lyons (21 Nov 2010, R3) was a repeat; an account of the life of Arthur Ransome; a journalist and agent for both the Bolsheviks and the English Foreign office during the Russian Revolution; later a children's writer. There was also a superb dramatisation of Dostoyevsky's THE GAMBLER (4 Dec 2010, R4, 90m) by Glyn Maxwell, with Sam Crane, Nicholas le Prevost and Patricia Routledge - a real treat.

Nigel Deacon, 23 Dec 10

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