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The sixth Audio Drama Awards ceremony, including the Imison and Tinniswood Awards, hosted by Sir Lenny Henry, took place on 29 January 2017 in the Radio Theatre at Broadcasting House. The Awards acknowledge the excellent work done in Audio Drama by the BBC and by independent producers. It focuses not just on the actors and writers but on all members of the production teams; good radio drama is very much a team effort. Alison and I received invitations to the event, and we met writers, actors and production staff, including the Goldhawk team.

The proceedings were initiated by Bob Shennan, Director of BBC Radio & Music. He reflected on the importance of radio drama; it attracts an audience of about a million people per day, and the BBC's range of drama is extraordinary and unique. He thanked Alison Hindell and Dave Battcock for making the event possible, then handed over to MC for the evening, Sir Lenny Henry.

Lenny's first radio play appearances were in plays by Annie Caulfield; he has since appeared in many more and has written three radio plays of his own. He introduced the awards with his usual mixture of humour and seriousness; each award was presented by a person with some connection to it; either as judge or practitioner.

As for the awards themselves, I have a few personal highlights, though there were some plays I missed. I liked James Fritz's play "Comment Is Free" which won both the Imison and Tinniswood Awards. The play examines (and is a scathing comment on) the dangers of social media and the way it can affect our lives. It was good to see Life Lines getting an award; this was a compelling drama set in an accident-and-emergency call centre. The Zola 'Blood, Sex and Money' series received the award for Best Adaptation, which was very well-deserved. Valene Kane got the award for best supporting actress for her part in the radio 3 play The Stroma Sessions (highly recommended); great to see a R3 play doing so well. Carl Prekopp's excellent production of 'The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner' also received an award: Lee Rufford was the expert runner set to win the big race but who, close to the finishing line, refuses to cross it.

There were two special awards:

The whole production team of The Archers was called to the stage to receive this award - for the harrowing story of Helen and Rob Titchener. Rob's insidious campaign of domestic control (and ultimately abuse) caught the attention of the public; it was discussed in staffrooms and pubs; it led to a fundraising campaign for the victims of domestic abuse, and it even got a mention in the House of Commons. It highlighted a problem which affects countless thousands of people country-wide and yet which remains largely hidden.

This was presented to Bill Nighy. Bill has played a huge range of roles on stage, screen and radio. He appeared in the TV favourite Yes, Minister (1983). On radio he was in Cigarettes and Chocolate by Anthony Minghella (1988), I wish to apologise for my part in the Apocolypse (2008), Educating Rita (2009), Private Lives (2010), and a host of other well-known productions. Bill replied briefly and warmly, and we heard some clips from some of his radio roles.

As for the plays which have been broadcast so far this year, there has been a good mix: war games, J.S.Bach, love in all its forms, sexual abuse, police investigations, antibiotic resistance, the worst university in the country, Freud, a bank robbery, Inspector Morse, a mobile 'phone going through a time warp, and lots of authentic stories from World War 1. We've also had some good classic serials, including one by the king of adventure stories, Rider Haggard.

During February we had a repeat of Philip Palmer's latest three Bradley Shoreham stories, RED AND BLUE (R4, beginning 2 Feb 17). Bradley is an ex-miilitary war-games expert who has retired from the army and is now working with civilians, stress-testing the functioning of big organizations to train them how to deal with emergencies more effectively. In RANSOMEWARE (R4, 1415, 9 Feb 17), a city hedge fund's cyber defences were put to the test. Although barely computer-literate, Bradley devises a box of tricks for the firm's IT experts to deal with, and has no hesitation about using dirty tactics to see how senior managers deal with unexpected situations and which of them are possibly not up to the job. The crisis he generates simulates what could happen if a multi-million pound business was brought to its knees. Tim Woodward played Bradley, with Michael Bertenshaw as Malcolm, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett as Toby and Lydia Leonard as Andrea. In SACRIFICE (2 Feb) the scenario was a civil emergency with a new drug-proof pandemic spreading around the globe. SHADOW (16 Feb) was set on an oil rig where things go wrong. All three plays were produced by Sasha Yevtushenko; plays 1 and 3 were directed by Toby Swift and play 2 by Eoin O'Callaghan.

LOVE ME (R4, 1415, 15 Feb 17) by Sarah Cartwright was her third radio play. Maggie is hopelessly devoted to her ex-boyfriend but discovers that he's about to cohabit with someone else. She follows him determined to do something about it. This was the first radio play I'd heard containing a reference to 'LARP' (Live Action Role-Play); in fact, when the role-players appear in the plot, one could be forgiven for thinking that all of the characters are a little bit nuts, but I have it on good authority that LARP is popular. Maggie was played by Alexandra Roach, Wes by Marcus Garvey and Ed by Jonathan Bailey. The producer was Sally Avens.

ROMANCE IS DEAD (R4, 1415, 17 Feb 17) was described in RT as a comedy drama; supernatural is nearer the mark. It was by Ben Lewis and concerned a young woman with psychic ability who only rarely wants to use it. She enters into a relationship with Jamie, who initially gets what he wants but who becomes spooked by the frightening experiences which her presence seems to cause. Lauren was played by Alexandra Roach and Jamie by Kieran Hodgson; Kirsty Williams produced.

Chris Reason's new 5-part serial INAPPROPRIATE RELATIONSHIPS (R4, 1415, beginning 23 Feb, weekly) was a story for our times; the body of a teenage girl has been discovered, members of an Asian grooming gang have been arrested, and it seems that justice will be done. But Rachel, a local probation officer, hears from one of her clients, a recently-released sex offender, that the suspects are probably not the ones who did it. The dialogue is full of shrewd observations about the human condition and the way in which local officials operate, and there are layers within layers in this complex story. Rachel's suspicions grow; she starts digging; then her young daughter goes missing. The series was well-paced and completely engrossing despite the grim nature of the crimes being committed. Rachel was played by Rosie Cavaliero, Paul by Shaun Dooley, her daughter by Shannon Flynn, and her gay friend Peter by Nick Murchie. The producer was Sasha Yevtushenko.

Thriller writer Val McDermid has written an excellent three-part serial RESISTANCE (R4, 1415, beginning 3 Mar 17) which looks at what might happen if antibiotics stopped working. There's a big music festival in a field in appalling weather. As the event progresses, some of the people attending become ill, but it's put down to run-of-the-mill colds and flu. However, some time later, an antibiotic-proof bug starts to circulate in the general population, and gradually it becomes clear that the original infection originated at the festival. Also - antibiotics are of little use in combatting it; fatalities grow. The crisis builds slowly. Eventually the chief of Public Health in England arranges a meeting with the Health Minister, who, unfortunately, is more interested in keeping the situation quiet than in devising a strategy to limit the damage. It was a very believable scenario and one hopes that nothing like this ever comes to pass. Zoe was played by Gina McKee, Jamie by Jason Done, Sam by Nitin Kundra and Lisa by Angela Lonsdale, along with a large supporting cast. The producer was Susan Roberts.

HANCOCK'S ASHES (R4, 1415, 13 Mar 17, repeated from 2015) by Caroline and David Stafford was a fact-based drama about what might have happened when Willie Rushton brought back Tony Hancock's ashes from Australia to Britain in 1968. Willie was a very funny man, and the nature of his trip with the unfortunate urn gave some extremely amusing scenes. Willie was played by Ewan Bailey, Brian Foster by Richard Dillane, Danny by Paul Heath and the stewardess by Roslyn Hill. The producer was Marc Beeby. Caroline and David have written many plays together including a series about cases of the famous wartime advocate Norman Birkett.

THE FERRYHILL PHILOSOPHERS, by Michael Chaplin (R4, 1415, 14-15 Mar 17) returned for another two episodes. Alun Armstrong and Deborah Findlay star as an ex-Durham miner and a university philosopher, Joe and Hermione, who meet up to discuss some of life's most difficult dilemnas. The first episode was about the parents of a boy severely injured in a cycling accident; do they want to leave him on a life-support machine or do they want it to be switched off? The second had its roots back in the miners' strike of 1984; Joe was once stitched up by a police officer giving false evidence after a violent incident between police and miners, caused by a miner wanting to go back to work through the picket line. Now Joe's daughter is becoming friendly with the son of that officer; then there's also a local drug problem which Joe knows something about. Should he assist the police or should he turn a blind eye? These episodes develop into fascinating discussions between the protagonists, and it's not always the philosopher who knows best. The production was by an independent: Catherine Bailey Productions; produced by Catherine and directed by Marilyn Imrie.

David Pownall has written another play; FINDING FREUD (R4, 1415, 20 Mar 17), billed in RT as a comedy in which Jean-Paul Sartre is asked to script a film about Sigmund Freud. He ends up writing a completely useless script which will never interest the average film-goer. Film director John Houston has to sort out the mess. I don't know much about films; it's not my thing, but it seems from the numerous radio plays we get about film-making that many of the people involved have personality problems beyond the dreams of analysts. Kenneth Cranham was Sartre and David Sterne played the film director; Dervla Kirwan was Grace and the producer was Peter Kavanagh.

A new play by Jessica Swale, LOVE (SIC) (R4, 1415, 22 Mar 17) was described accurately by RT as a comic drama. For the unaware, 'sic' means "as written". As for the plot: Ruth is fed up with being taken for granted by her partner; she's become almost invisible to him. She tries to spark their relationship back into life, but he just doesn't notice. Then she becomes aware of a new medical discovery; something which might help. She signs up for a trial, and it certainly provides an answer of sorts, but not necessarily the one she was looking for. Ruth was played by Jemima Rooper, her friend Bridie by Isy Suttie, and Tom, her husband, by John Heffernan. The trick cyclist was Sara Kestelman and the producer Marion Nancarrow.

GIVE DOTTY A CHANCE (R4, 1415, 24 Mar 17) by Martin Hesford was a light-hearted look at the last years of the singer Dorothy Squires. Her dates are 1915-98; she was Welsh, she married Roger Moore when he was a knitwear model and aspiring actor. At that time she was one of the most famous female singers in the world, and a well-known personality in Hollywood. When she split up with Moore, it left her emotionally drained and her singing career faded, but there was a revival in the 60s and another one much later on; her songs were liked by the gay community. She was a colourful personality; her Wikipedia page is well worth a look. Dorothy Squires was played by Ruth Madoc, Alan by Arthur Bostrom, Warren by Graeme Hawley and Margaret by Sue Jenkins. The producer was Gary Brown.

HOUSE OF GHOSTS (R4, 1430, 25 Mar 17) by Alma Cullen was an entertaining Saturday play using Colin Dexter's characters of Morse and Lewis. Colin Dexter had died a few days earlier, so the broadcast of the play, published in RT a fortnight in advance, must have been coincidental. Alma wrote several episodes of the original TV series; this story is set in 1987 in Oxford and opens with a performance from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. A young professional actress playing Ophelia dies suddenly in mid-performance and Inspector Morse is immediately on the scene, having been in the audience. The plot flashes back to Morse’s student life in Oxford, re-uniting him with ghosts from his past as he tries to work out why the murder was committed and who did it. Jane Anderson liked this play and wrote about it in RT as her 'Pick of the Week'. Neil Pearson played Morse, Lee Ingleby was Lewis, with Pip Torrens, Stephen Critchlow and Timothy Watson. The producer was Marilyn Imrie.

THE INTERROGATION, by Roy Williams (R4, 1415, beginning 29 Mar 17) returned for another series. These programmes are police procedurals and they get better and better; the DI and DS have a unique style of interrogation. Their three cases dealt with a woman whose elderly father has disappeared, a criminal youth reporting cruelty to his dog, and a person coming in to make a victim statement. Kenneth Cranham plays DI Max Matthews and Alex Lanipekun DS Sean Armitage; the other parts were played by a changing cast. The episodes were produced by Mary Peate.

Phililp Palmer's Saturday Play THE HATTON GARDEN HEIST (R4, 1430, 1 Apr 17) was an examination of the biggest-ever UK burglary which took place over Easter in 2015. A gang of ingenious mainly-retired older criminals, after meticulous planning, drilled into an underground Safe Deposit vault and departed with goods and cash including gold and precious stones. According to the Daily Mirror, the robbery is possibly the largest in British history. Between 60 and 70 safety deposit boxes, with an estimated value of around £35million, were prised open on Bank Holiday Monday after the alarms had been disabled. The actual value is unknown; the content of safety deposit boxes remains a secret. The robbers had climbed down a lift shaft into the building; then they drilled through the 18-inch thick wall into the vault, bypassing the main vault door. It was a very interesting listen. The narrator was Tracy-Ann Oberman and the ringleader, Brian, was played by Peter Wight, with a supporting cast including Andy Linden, Paul Hilton, John Bowler, David Sterne, and Nick Murchie. The producer was Sasha Yevtushenko.

KING SOLOMON'S MINES, a famous adventure story by Rider Haggard, was broadcast in a new Classic Serial version (R4, 1500, beginning 2 Apr 17), dramatised by Chris Harrald. It tells of a search of an unexplored region of Africa by a group of adventurers led by a big-game hunter, Allan Quartermain, for the missing brother of one of the party and for ancient treasure. It is a cracking tale: a harrowing journey across the desert, bloodthirsty natives, a witch hunt ceremony, where opponents of the tribal leader are butchered on the spot, and an evil old hag of immense age which one of the group has encountered before. It was also pleasing to note that there were no concessions to political correctness; it was true to the book. Allan Quartermain was played by Tim McInnerney, Sir Henry Curtis by David Sturzaker, Cpt. John Good by Simon Ludders, Umbopa by Sope Dirisu and Infadoos by Maynard Eziash. The producer was Liz Webb.

We paid two more visits to Hayborough, the worst university in the country, in HIGHER, by Steve May (R4, 1415, beginning 3 Apr 17). Jim has to go to China to recruit students, but the new Vice-Chancellor doesn't seem to want him to succeed. Amongst the possible recruits are huge numbers of young people who speak no English and an equally large number of call girls who could do with educating. No matter; for purposes of funding, they all count. One of my friends comments that it's not too far from the truth. Jim was played by Jonathan Keeble, Karen by Julia Rounthwaite and Gary by Max Chatterton; Gary Brown was the producer.

Julian Simpson's new sci-fi play MYTHOS (R4, 1415, 5 Apr 17) was unusual for him in that the plot was not based on sound recordings, though a new 'smartphone' plays an important part in the drama. An agent has to investigate why there has been an abnormal number of deaths from heart failure in a remote village. An over-inquisitive local reporter is drawn into the action. There is magic involved. He soon finds himself engulfed in a supernatural tale in which he and his agent friend travel back in time in order to avert catastrophe. Agent Lairre was played by Nicola Walker, Johnson by Tom McInnerney, Hicks by Jonathan Bailey and Seth by David Calder. This was an independent production by Sweet Talk, produced by Karen Rose and directed by Julian Simpson.

Keeping up with the spirit of the times, we had a hostage play in IN HERE, by Eileen Home (R4, 1415, 12 Apr 17). There are gunmen in a gymnasium; they have already shot a man who lies bleeding; the place is surrounded by police. Unknown to the criminals there's a woman hiding in the changing room. Suddenly her mobile 'phone rings. Can she remain concealed - and can she help the police? The woman was played by Ruby Ashbourne, Bill Paterson was the senior police officer, and the gunslingers, Raheem and Afzal, were played by Waleed Akhtar and Farshid Rokey. The producer was Gaynor Macfarlane.

The play HARD STOP (R4, 1415, 13 Apr 17) by Peter Bleksley focused on one of the difficulties experienced by armed officers in the police force; they put their career and their reputations on the line every time they fire a gun. You may have witnessed a hard stop; it's the enforced stopping of a vehicle on the road by a group of police cars which surround it and then gradually draw to a standstill. In this story, an armed officer is told to hard-stop a gun-wielding criminal believed to be on his way to kill a rival. The interception results in the gun-wielder being shot dead. The play focuses on the court case, in which the integrity of the armed officer is questioned. PC Sam Jenkins was played by Daniel Mays, Jane Tucker: Andrea Lowe, Baba Oyedije by Dennis Alam and Quigley by Ron Cook. The producer was Eoin O'Callaghan.

A fitting play for Easter was THE GREAT PASSION (R4, Saturday Play, 1430, 15 Apr 17) by James Runcie. This was about Johann Sebastian Bach, set in 1727, shortly after his appointment as organist, composer and choirmaster at Leipzig. Bach is getting to know the choir and working at great speed to compose his St. Matthew Passion in time to rehearse and perform it on Good Friday. This was an excellent play, full of wonderful music. The baroque singer Joanne Lunn was drafted in for all of the difficult soprano singing, and Melody Grove played the restof Anna Bach's part. Anna, a professional soprano, helps train some of the choir members whilst keeping the rest of J.S.B's life in good order and supplying him with a steady stream of descendants. The play imagines what it was like for J.S. to compose and rehearse the oratorio in time for its performance, contending with family demands, inexperienced musicians and the musical backstabbers with which all musical performers are familiar. Simon Russell Beale was Bach, Melody Grove (as previously mentioned) was Anna, with Al Weaver, Adam Greaves-Neal, Stephen Boxer, David Horovitch and Tom Goodman-Hill. The producers were Eoin O'Callaghan and Marilyn Imrie.

Yet another series of TOMMIES (along with its companion programme HOME FRONT) began in April, following the WW1 campaign exactly 100 years after the event. The research which goes into these programmes is meticulous; all of the incidents portrayed are based on notebooks or letters or other documentary evidence; none of it is made up. Shortly before the last 'Home Front' season I was surprised to be contacted by one of the programme's producers in my capacity as 'Apple Man' asking me to suggest which varieties of apple would have been sold at market in Kent during the First War. Some weeks later I noticed the line for which I was responsible appearing in the broadcast.

Nick Warburton's episode 17 APR 1917 (R4, 1415, 17 Apr 17) was not set on the battlefield. After being too close to an explosion, Captain Mickey Bliss has got his 'Blighty' (a non-fatal wound which means he's off the battlefield and will soon be sent home to England, if he survives) and is now fighting for his life in a military hospital in France. The hospital is for officers only; it's not good for the other ranks to see their commanding officers with shell-shock or dying of their wounds. A steady stream of visitors from England calls at the hospital to see their unfortunate menfolk and in many cases, to say goodbye. The narrator was Indira Varma, and Mickey was played by Lee Ross, with Clare Corbett, Pooky Quesnel and Pippa Nixon; the series producers were again Jonathan Ruffle, Jonquil Panting and David Hunter.

It was good to hear another play by James Fritz, writer of "Comment is Free". Now we have DEATH OF A COSMONAUT (R4, 1415, 19 Apr 17), with Julian Rhind-Tutt as the doomed spaceman in a crippled spacecraft, knowingly sent into space by the Russian space authorities with two hundred unremedied faults: commemorating Lenin's birthday by launching the rocket was deemed more important than ensuring that the craft was actually spaceworthy. This outstanding monologue, with its memorable soundtrack portraying the astronaut's thoughts, was produced by Rebecca Ripley.

I was impressed by Pinter's Play BETRAYAL and the accompanying play KEEPING IN TOUCH by Joan Bakewell (R4, 1415, 22 Apr 17). Both plays relate to the love affair between the two writers in the 1960s. Pinter's play has the scenes in reverse chronological order, the happier moments between the lovers not occurring until quite late in the play. It's very vivid, though as a person with no experience of affairs I couldn't pretend to understand much of it; I could see little except an enormous downside, and if it was a share deal I would steer well clear. The Bakewell play seemed to me to be lighter and fresher (and to me, similarly puzzling) but it was interesting to have a view from the other side. 'Betrayal' starred Olivia Coleman, Andrew Scott, Charles Edwards and Gerard McDermott and was produced by Gaynor Macfarlane. In 'Keeping in Touch', Rachel and Tom were played by Charlotte Riley and Colin Morgan, and the producer was Charlotte Riches.

I must also mention the continuation of the epic series THE CORRUPTED during January 2017 by G.F.Newman, which follows the fortunes of the Oldman family, from small-time business and petty crime to their involvement with major political figures; it was superb.

There's also a second series of Tumanbay just starting .....

ND / 26 Apr 2017


There has been varied output since the last review in April; we've had a second series of Tumanbay, a 5-hour dramatization of a Salman Rushdie novel, a Rosenthal trilogy, a new play by Michael Palin, a drama about attempting to set up democracy in Iraq, a couple of gritty plays trying to make sense of the current political situation in Britain and Europe, and another story about the dangers of social media.

Two attractive plays by Katherine Jakeways went out in late April: WHERE THIS SERVICE WILL CONTINUE and WHERE THIS SERVICE WILL TERMINATE (R4, 1415, 27-28 Apr 2017). In the first play, two lonely people meet on a long train journey. In the second, David tries to find the woman again, a year after they met, in the hope that they can get together. The plays were sensitively written and acted. Suzie was played by Rosie Cavaliero and David by Justin Edwards. The producer was James Robinson, for BBC Wales.

Three related 'Rosenthal' plays were broadcast in late April and early May. The first was ESKIMO DAY (R4, 1430, 29 Apr 2017) by Jack Rosenthal; a Saturday play adapted for radio by his daughter Amy. It's set in 1966. Two sixth-form students are heading for Cambridge with their respective parents, for their University interviews - will they get in? The play brought back memories of the day I went for a similar interview back in 1974.

The second play, COLD ENOUGH FOR SNOW (R4, 1430, 6 May 2017), continued the story. Jane Anderson, writing in RT, said "...the two potential graduates are now in love, as only teenagers can be, but the real drama revolves around their parents' relationships". David Moorst played the young man (Neil) in both plays and Rosie Day was Pippa.

Play 3, THIN ICE (R4, 1415, 8 May 2017) was an original by Amy Rosenthal based on her own experience of leaving home, and the unwillingness with which she initially embraced university life, in strong contrast to the picture painted in the first two plays. Ben was played by Richard Lumsden, Edie by Georgis Groome and Tasha by Helen Monks; the producer of all three plays was Marion Nancarrow.

Alistair McGowan's latest play, THE B WORD (R4, 1415, 26 May 2017) told us about the events leading to the opening night of Shaw's 'Pygmalion' in 1913; the first time that the word 'bloody' was used on stage. At the time it caused considerable controversy. Producing the play also caused strong reactions between Shaw, his leading man, Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree and his leading lady, Mrs Patrick Campbell, who played the 19 year old Eliza Doolittle at the age of 49. Richard Huggett wrote a play in 1968 (The First Night of Pygmaliion) in which he similarly depicts backstage events during the first production. Shaw was played by Alistair McGowan, Beerbohm Tree by Richard McCabe and Mrs. Campbell by Charlotte Page. The producer was Emma Harding.

Michael Palin's play, THE WEEKEND (R4, 1415, 3 June 2017) was broadcast in the Saturday Play slot, adapted for radio by Richard Stoneman. Stephen is a middle-aged family man for whom almost everything has gone wrong; he has withdrawn into sarcasm and cynicism, and communication with his family has almost disappeared. His unfortunate wife tells him that their daughter is bringing her family for the weekend and that the neighbours will be joining them. From Stephen's point of view, this is a nightmare. And to us, looking in, it is extremely funny. Michael Palin played Stephen, with Penelope Wilton as his wife Virginia and Patrick Barlow as Hugh, the most boring man in the world. The producer was Marilyn Imrie.

Series 2 of TUMANBAY, an 8-episode epic, began in mid-June (R4, 1415, 13 June 2017). It was written by John Dryden and Mike Walker and made by Indie company Goldhawk. The action is set in and around the (fictional) medieval city of Tumanbay, which has been taken over by brutal religious fundamentalists. Barakat is a zealot responsible for rooting out heretics and putting an end to them in whatever way he sees fit; the whole city is ruled by fear. Gregor, who held a high position under the previous regime, demonstrates his usefulness and loyalty to the barbarians in order to survive. General Qulan refuses and remains locked up. The rebels gradually gather themselves into an organized group and devise a strategy for reclaiming the city. The serial involved an enormous cast of foreign actors, and recordings were made on locatiion; music was by Sacha Puttnam and Jon Quin and the producers were Emma Hearn, Nadir Khan and John Dryden.

Goldhawk says that series 3 and 4 are in the pipeline. The Goldhawk website is well worth investigating; you will find details of current projects and a large archive of older information.

OCCUPATIONAL HAZARDS, by Stephen Brown (R4, 1415, 17 June 2017) was based on real events and recorded at the Hampstead Theatre in London. It tells of the attempts of Rory Stewart, a British diplomat, to establish democracy in the newly-liberated Iraq in 2003. Rory was far from ordinary; he had recently walked 6000 miles across Iran and Afghanistan and had written a book about his adventures. When Iraq was invaded, he applied for a job as a diplomat there, and when he got no reply, he went to Baghdad to search for a job. Somewhat surprisingly he was appointed as governor of the Maysan province in southern Iraq.

The play is based on Rory's memoir of events. His task was greatly hindered by the civil war. He was obstructed at every turn by people who did not tell the truth and who attempted to turn everything to their own advantage, oblivious of the chaos they were causing for the people around them. However one also wonders at the mindset of those who thought a foreigner like Rory could forcibly impose democracy on a region so strongly tribal.

Henry Lloyd-Hughes played Rory, with Nezar Alderazi as Ahmed, Waj Ali as Musab and Silas Carson as Karim; the producer was Stewart Richards and the director Carl Prekopp.

SIEGE by Adrian Penketh (R4, 1415, 27-29Jun 2017) was a three-part story looking into the near future, 2020. 'Siege' was related closely to political events in Britain and Europe in 2015-17 including the rise of Euroscepticism, Donald Trump's victory and the election result in France. These events in America and Europe have revealed a huge 'disconnect' between the governing class and a large section of the people it claims to represent. The articulate left, with its virtual monopoly over the mainstream media, has been a major contributor to the resulting melee. In the play, a popular 'Front Nationale' politician is campaigning to become the next mayor of the left-wing city of Grenoble. He wins, and the story is all about the consequences. Joseph Millsom, Mariah Gale and Amira Ghazali starred in this excellent tale; the producer was Marc Beeby.

Kellie Smith's play THE ARCHIVIST (R4, 1415, 7 Jul 2017) was described in Radio Times as a psychological thriller. I'm not so sure; 'suspense' might be a better description, and it had a few things to say about social media and its effect on our lives. Ben starts to film his family for his personal archive which is, in itself, fairly harmless. However he then shares everything on Facebook and elsewhere. He can't spend a day without videoing something and then sharing it with the world. His partner, Clare, gets sick of it and imposes a ban. Unfortunately Ben is addicted and can't stop; he finds a workaround and continues as before. Will Clare find out? Ben was played by Adam Nagatis and Clare by Christine Bottomley; Pauline Harris produced.

THE MUSIC LESSON (R4, 1415, 11 Jul 2017) by Hannah Silva took a brief look at musical performance. Mika is learning to play the recorder; a famous teacher offers to help her. This was an extraordinary two-hander, looking at the relationship between between an exasperating, fairly talented music student and a highly skilled master musician who will not compromise on standards. As a pianist I found some of the philosophical insights on playing Bach interesting. Fiona Shaw played the teacher and Erin Doherty the student; the producer was Melanie Harris and the director Susannah Tresilian.

A fascinating play THE CHURCHILL BARRIERS by Emma Spurgin Hussey was repeated in late July (R4, 1415, 27 Jul 2017). The story is set in Orkney in 1944. On a small island, everyone needs to be flexible; each person has to do his bit. Here, a clerk and a pianist, played by David Dawson and Cesare Taurasi, work together to improve the sea defences. Production was by David Hunter.

Christopher Lee caught the 'Brexit or no-Brexit' spirit of 2016-2017 in his play GIBBERISH (R4, 1415, 31 Jul 2017). There is trouble on the Rock. It is 31 July, 2017, and the Prime Minister is about to call another election. Then she hears that Gibralter wants to stay in Europe and is about to declare itself Spanish. Bearing in mind that Gibralterians overwhelmingly rejected proposals for Spanish sovereignty in 1967 and again in 2002, one had to suspend a certain amount of disbelief, but it was an interesting play nevertheless. The PM was played by Gillian Bevan, the Queen by Anne Reid, Charlie by Nelly Harker and Henry by Miles Jupp; production was by Celia de Wolff.

Salman Rushdie's novel MIDNIGHT'S CHILDREN, dramatised by Ayeesha Menon, was produced by the BBC as a one-day epic broadcast in seven parts throughout the day (R4, 15 Aug 2017) and subsequently repeated a few weeks later as a Classic Serial on Sunday afternoons. The story centres around Saleem, played by Nikesh Patel, born at midnight on 15 Aug 1947, the exact moment of the Partition of India. Partition was to have a profound influence on his life. Fatima Hasan, writing in RT, describes the story as witty, savage, tender and magical. The first episode describes an extraordinary scene in which a doctor has to examine a female patient through a hole in a blanket. This must be based on fact; you couldn't make it up. There are other peculiar and absurd occurrences throughout the narrative; it is strange but compulsive listening. The drama was produced by Tracey Neale and Emma Harding.

TOLKIEN IN LOVE (R4, 1430, 19 Aug 2017) was another excellent biographical play by Sean Grundy, about the early life of Ronald Tolkien. Tolkien is known especially for "The Hobbit" and "Lord of the Rings"; what is less well-known is that he had a fascination with languages, especially those of the past, along with Norse sagas, Old English literature and mythology. Ron had a difficult childhood; he lost both parents when he was young, and a Catholic priest, Father Francis, became his guardian. At the age of 16, Ron and his brother moved into a boarding house in Edgbaston, where Ron met and became very friendly with Edith Bratt who lived there already; it soon became obvious that they were soul mates. Father Francis was unhappy about this friendship, realising that it could easily disrupt his studies and prevent him getting into Oxford, so he prohibited their meeting again until he was 21. Ron kept to this condition, and on his twenty-first birthday, Edith received a large package in the post. The play is based on real events, some of which were later incorporated into 'Lord of the Rings'. This could be a candidate for the Tinniswood Award. Ron was played by Wilf Merrick, Edith by Claudia Jessie, Father Francis by John Duttine and Mrs. Faulkner by Sally Grace. The producer was Liz Anstee.

FOR THE TIME BEING, by Tony Jones (R4, 1415, 28 Aug 2017) was a neat sci-fi play about the consequences of going back in time and fiddling with the past. A man travels back to watch to his younger self. The setting, but not the story, was reminiscent of the play "Excerpt From a Dog's Ear", by Kavyasiddhi Mulvey (2007) where a man re-enters his childhood landscape. Unfortunately going back in time has a cost; you cannot beat the system. I was reminded me of the three laws of thermodynamics, which can be paraphrased somewhat cynically as follows: (1)you can never win; you can only break even; (2)you can only break even at absolute zero, (3) you can never reach absolute zero. Old Will was played by Danny Webb, his younger self by Christopher Weeks, Sarah by Molly Chesworth and Fiona by Lizzie McInnerney. The play was made by Brill productions; producer Clive Brill. I wonder if Tony has written a radio play before; if not, this could be a candidate for the Inison Award.

THE LESSON, by Virginia Gilbert (R4, 1415, 8 Sep 2017) was a disturbing tale about a teacher publishing a successful novel. The central character in his story bears a close resemblance to a former student who seems to be intent on causing trouble. However as the tale progresses, we see that the teacher is not exactly whiter than white, and we begin to wonder who, exactly, is the innocent party and who is the victim. James was played by Harry Lloyd, his wife by Fiona O'Shaughnessy and the other woman by Phoebe Fox. Production was by David Ian Neville.

In a short series of 'Crime Down Under', we had PRIME CUT, (R4, 1415, 11-12 Sep 2017) by Alan Carter, a two-part detective story set in Australia. The story and style is not subtle; the first thing we encounter in the story is a headless torso. The main character is Cato, a detective of Chinese descent who has seriously blotted his copy book. He tries to prove he's still good at the job. Cato was played by Andrew Leung, and the female detective Tess was played by Christine Stephen-Daly. The producer was Helen Perry.

A QUESTION OF JUDGEMENT , by Ryan Craig (R4, 14145, 13 Sep 2017)looked at a fictional accident in a school on a council estate. There is a gas explosion and some children at the school die. A public inquiry takes place, chaired by a retired judge. Unfortunately some people think that the judge's privileged background will prevent him from delivering a fair verdict. There was a nice twist at the endwhich proved them wrong. Colefax, the judge, was played by Timothy West, with Neil McCaul, Samuel James and Kath Weir lined up against him. The producer was Patrick Kavanagh. .

A BOOK BY LESTER TRICKLEBANK, by Richard Lumsden (R4, 1415, 15 Sep 2017, repeated from 2015) was the story of a man who never left home because he was scarred by a traumatic event in childhood. Only now, decades later, is he able to face up to what it was. He decides to write a book about it, and eventually, with help from a young librarian, he makes a start. His book eventually reveals a shocking truth. Stephen Tompkinson played Lester, with Rebekah Staton, Jack Hollington, Jane Slavin and Stephen Critchlow; the producer was Sally Avens.

There have been other plays of note; Moya O'Shea's SNAKE was a savage little tale set in the Australian outback; we had a play by Marcus Brigstocke THE RED on alcoholism, an interesting sci-fi play GRAND DESIGNS OF THE THIRD KIND by Toby Hadoke, and a new production of Beckett's ALL THAT FALL. Beckett is not to everyone's taste but this play is reputedly more suitable for radio than some of his others.

One other matter: there has recently been a change to the BBC's Charter. Ofcom is taking over regulation of the Corporation from the BBC Trust, which was scrapped earlier this year under a new Charter agreement with the Government. The new agreement lasts for 11 years. The new regulator intends to drop many rules about the type of shows which must be broadcast.

The former commissioning editor of the BBC, Caroline Raphael, wrote about this in a letter to the Daily Telegraph on 14 Sep 17, in her capacity as Vice-chairman of the Radio Independents Group. She expressed her deep concern and pointed out that this would remove quotas in some very important genres.

In Caroline's words, “The BBC is supposed to be distinctive, and the independent production sector's view is that requirements for genres such as drama and comedy on Radio 4 and drama on radio 3 need to remain, as well as other requirements.... they are much loved by audiences, for whom they make the BBC distinctive from commercial radio”.

She went on to say that Radio 4 drama currently only just exceeds the 600 hours previously stipulated by the BBC Trust, and that this level could be reduced significantly. The Radio Independents Group was making the case to Ofcom for the retention of these regulations, so that the public continues to have distinctive, high-quality BBC radio services.

ND / 25 Sep 2017

An interesting three months for radio drama. We have had a good two-part podcast from Matthew Broughton on radio 4, related to his 9-part 'Tracks' thriller. Marcy Kahan has given us an absorbing 90-minuter on radio 3. Lucy Catherine has continued with her Icelandic saga 'Gudrun', and we have had plays from Stephen Wakelam, John Banville, Paul Farley and Robin Glendenning. There has been a charming first radio play from Jonathan Tafler about the early life of Noel Coward, some Graham Greene dramatised by Nick Warburton; more classic drama from Mike Walker about the Russian Tsars, and, unusually, two plays about North Korea. We also have two Jonathan Smith plays coming up for Christmas, along with a new 3½ hour Neil Gaiman dramatisation by Dirk Maggs.

LYING LOW, by Stephen Wakelam (R4, 1415, 22 Sep 17) was based on a little-known incident in the life of Samuel Beckett. It was 1961, and he checked into a Folkestone hotel using the name S.Barclay. He was about to marry his companion Suzanne Dechevaux-dumesnil, and the wedding had to take place in England for some reason to do with French inheritance law. One of the signatures on the wedding certificate is 'J.Bond', and Stephen Wakelam has imagined her as Janet, a bright, part-time receptionist, still at school, working at the hotel in her spare time. We encounter her as a girl and as a middle-aged woman looking back, many years later. There is an interesting piece by Valerie Grove about this play in "The Oldie", 1 Oct 2017, where the unusual attention to detail, both in the script and production, are described. This was 1961, remember, and in 2017 we don't speak or behave in quite the same way. Beckett was played by Adrian Dunbar, chairman of the annual Beckett festival at Enniskillen, where Sam went to school, and the young Janet was played by Charlotte Beaumont. Susan Brown was the older Janet, and the production was by Gemma Jenkins.

The first of the 'North Korea' plays, LIGHTS, CAMERA, KIDNAP! (1415, R4, 25-26 Sep 2017, in two episodes) was by Lucy Catherine. In 1978 a South Korean movie star and her ex-husband, a film director, were kidnapped by Kim Jong-Il, to make films for North Korea. The story is stranger than anything you could make up; all of it is based on actual events. Jong-il wanted the North Korean movie industry to produce world-famous films which could win prizes. He decided to kidnap South Korea's most famous film-making couple and make them work for him.

The actress Choi Eun-hee was snatched first. In 1977 she was approached by a Korean agent pretending to be a businessman. He told her he could form a film-making company with her to revive her career. The opportunity would enable her to become a well-known actress-turned-director. She was persuaded to go to Hong Kong and then to a meeting on one of the islands. On the way, the car stopped at Repulse Bay and she got out. She was grabbed and injected with a strong sedative. Eight days later she was under guard in a Pyongyang villa. Her ex-husband Shin Sang-ok soon realised she was missing and started to search for her. He too was pursued by agents and was abducted in a similar way.

The two prisoners were kept apart. Shin Sang-Ok refused to cooperate, which led to him spending four years in prison. Finally he gave in; he was released, and the couple were reunited and started to make films together. They found Kim Jong-il to be a fairly knowledgeable film producer. They worked with him and produced a series of movies, the most notable of which was Pulgasari, where a monster sides with peasants against a feudal landlord. After eight years the couple decided that they had Kim Jong-Il's trust, and they might be able to escape. The play covers that episode, too.

Choi Eun-hee was played by Liz Sutherland; Shin Sang-Ok by Paul Courtney and Kim Jong-Il by Leo Wan. The producer was Sasha Yevtushenko.

SYNONYMOUS, by D.C.Jackson and David Ireland (R4, 1415, 27 Sep 2017) was an amusing play about a reality TV star and an erudite ghost writer, Val, who hasn't written a novel for 25 years. Suzi is an actress, footballer's wife and mother; Val wants to ghost her latest book. This was a good listen and was favourably reviewed by Sarah Carson in RT. Val was played by Amelia Bullmore, and Suzi by Jaime Winstone. The producer was Kirsty Williams.

Paul Farley's new drama, SINGLES GOING STEADY (R4, 1415, 2 Oct 2017) was set in Liverpool in 1961. The sixties were a different world to the one we inhabit today: no email, no mobile phones, no internet. If you wanted to contact someone you had to make a significant effort to do so. The play charts the progress of a love affair between two people who send each other singles made in an automatic voice-recording booth. The title refers to a compilation released by the Buzzcocks in 1979. Clarry was played by Katherine R Morley and George by Robbie O'Neill, with Charlie Clements as Frank and James Nelson-Joyce as Big Pat; the producer was Emma Harding.

Meic Povey's play from April 2015, PULLING FACES (R4, 1415, 3 Oct 2017) received a well-deserved repeat; Bill, a healthy 60-year-old, has lost his wife; the death is some way behind him and the worst of the grieving process is over. Before she died his wife compiled a list of the things he would have to do after she'd gone, and he's almost at the end of it. The final task is to put a big mirror in the bathroom which they used to share. Now he has to examine himself and reflect on his life and decide what to do next. Billy was played by Robert Pugh and Karen by Sara Lloyd-Gregory, Eiry Thomas was Sally and Sue Roderick was Jan. The producer was James Robinson, for BBC Wales.

Elizabeth Barry, a well-known restoration actress, was the subject of Robin Glendenning's new play, BARRY'S LESSON (R4, 1415, 5 Oct 2017). Elizabeth worked very successfully in the London theatre companies, building a good reputation and eventually becoming the most famous actress of her age. Her stage career began 15 years after the first-ever professional actresses had replaced Shakespeare's boy heroines on the London stage. The play speculates on the extent to which her liaison with John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester (a well-known poet, satirist and womaniser who paid dearly for his excesses by dying at the age of 33) helped her career. Wilmot took Elizabeth as his mistress in 1675; the relationship lasted for around five years, and produced a daughter, before descending into acrimony after Rochester began to resent her success.

Wilmot is a larger-than-life figure; his CV puts those of ordinary mortals to shame. He was born at Ditchley House in Oxfordshire and went to Burford Grammar followed by Wadham College. He was a member of the Restoration Court; he was imprisoned in the Tower for three weeks for attempting to abduct a young Countess whom he eventually married years later; he was in combat in the Navy, was paid to sleep at the foot of the King's bed, and served on HMS Victory. He was a close friend of Nell Gwyn, he was renowned for drunkedness and riotous behavior. He delivered a satire to Charles II, "In the Isle of Britain" which criticized the King for being obsessed with sex at the expense of his kingdom. He has been described variously as the best satirist of his age, a poet with few equals, and author of the filthiest verse in England.

Lizzy was played by Jane Slavin, Wilmot by Tim McInnerney and Molly by Liz McInnerney. The producer was Eoin O'Callaghan.

A new 90-minute thriller by Paul Sellar broadcast in two instalments, THE GOLD KILLING (R4, 1415, 16-17 Oct 2017), made good listening. A boxer-turned-businessman in Ghana invests in a gold mine, sensing big profits. Suddenly there is a series of murders. The BBC website describes it as a story based on greed, fear and fraud. Joe was played by Robert Glenister, the Marquess by Pip Torrens and Tony by David Houslow; the producer was Sally Avens.

A first radio play by Jeremy Hylton, ONE HORIZON (R4, 1415, 18 Oct 2017) drew on the marathon-running experiences of Mark Lewis Jones and Richard Harrington. Two men take on the Marathon des Sables - The Sand Marathon - a 156-mile run across the Sahara Desert -which must be the toughest foot-race on earth. You have to run through endless dunes, rocks, and salt plains; there is constant sun with temperatures around 50 centigrade. Your feet will swell, crack and bleed under the pressure and the heat. You have to be self-sufficient and carry all your own food and equipment for the week on your back. Communal tents are pitched every night but apart from that you have to take everything with you. Water is rationed and if you need more, you get a time penalty. Gwyn was played by Mark Lewis Jones, Paul by Richard Harrington, Ceri by Ri Richards, and Sarah by Mali Harries. The producer was James Robinson, for BBC Wales.

A play by Vincent O'Connell VELVET BLACKOUT (R4, 1415, 19 Oct 2017) had an unusual plot; it's the middle of WW2; a young woman is rescued from a bombed building. She has amnesia, but there is a chance that somewhere, locked away in her mind, is information important to the British war effort. A doctor and a policeman use some unusual techniques in attempting to make her remember. Roxanne was played by Isabella Inchbald, Trounce by Ben Crowe and Edward by Joel MacCormack. The producer was Marc Beeby.

I was sorry to hear recently of the death of Peter Whalley on 26 July. Published obituaries contained lots of information about his 600 episodes of Coronation Street but gave his radio plays, a more significant and representative body of work, scant attention. One or two obits mentioned his '30 radio plays'; only the Writers' Guild quoted the correct number (40); presumably from this website. In memory of Peter, his play THE LONGEST JOURNEY (R4, 1415, 20 Oct 2017) from 2007 was repeated in late October. This is a thriller in which a man picks up a female hitch-hiker, and they proceed on their journey. It slowly becomes clear, though the carefully-constructed dialogue, that they are both holding something back. Neither trusts the other, and we, as the listeners, have to guess which one is the baddie. There has been a murder; where is the body, who is the murderer, and who is the victim? The driver was played by Ian Puleston-Davies and Amy by Emma Atkins; also starring were Martin Reeve, Anthony Flanagan and Seamus O'Neill. The play was produced by Pauline Harris.

As a pianist I was fascinated by Daniel Thurman's play about Rosemary Brown, THE LAMBETH WALTZ (R4, 1415, 26 Oct 2017). Musicians of a certain age may remember the temporary fame of the psychic and musician Rosemary Brown, who said that Liszt, Schumann, Beethoven, Schubert and others had dictated music to her from the next world. She transcribed, it seems, hundreds of pieces, and several volumes were published by Novellos and Basil Ramsay. I have played a few of them; they are very musical and to me they appear to be well-constructed, non-virtuostic pieces in the style of the composers they are supposedly from. Her Wikipedia page is worth investigating, but don't take too much notice of the 'critical reception' section, which consists almost entirely of the opinions of non-pianists! Youtube is also worth a look, where recordings can be heard. Rosemary was played by Marion Bailey, Liszt by Matthew Steer, Johnny Carson by Kerry Shale and John Lennon by Charlie Clements. The producer was David Hunter. A few days later, Rosemary's son was interviewed on Woman's Hour.

The Saturday Play JAYNE LAKE (R4, 1430, 4 Nov 2017) was unusual in the way it used sound. It was written by Matthew Graham, an experienced TV writer, but this was his first radio play. It put us inside the head of a blind woman as she experienced unknown terrors. She is on holiday in an isolated cottage in Cornwall with old college friends whom she doesn't like very much, and there is possibly an uninvited guest as well. The plot had me slightly confused at the end, but the view we had of the action was eerie and unsettling. Spooky silences, menacing footsteps, sudden crashes and creaks. I must go back to listen again to see if I can understand the ending. Meggie, the blind girl, was played by Georgie Morrell, Nick by Tom Bennett, Karen by Sophie Stanton and Barty by David Kirkbride. The producer was Kate Rowland.

The second 'North Korea' play was by Nick Perry, author of "The Loop". It was called DEATH AT THE AIRPORT (R4, 1415, 4 Dec 2017) and it was again a docu-drama. It looked at the power struggle between the leader of North Korea, the dictator Kim Jong-un, and his half-brother Kim Jong-nam. If you are in control of that country and perceive a threat from a rival bloodline, you deal with it by careful planning: anticipating it and destroying it is the procedure and murder is not necessarily a problem.

The first thing Kim Jong-nam noticed as he stood minding his own business at Kuala Lumpur airport in February was was a pretty young woman trying to get his attention, followed by something wet and cold on his face. As he recoiled, another young woman grabbed his head and smeared a quantity of something oily over his face. He died before he could reach hospital. It turned out that the substance was VX nerve agent. The women were caught and are being held in Kuala Lumpur for murder; if convicted they will be executed.

North Korea denies responsibility, but its fictional press releases are well-known. You may remember that a double rainbow and new star appeared when Kim Jong Il was born, and all of us know the date of his birthday.

Jong-nam was played by Daniel York, Ko Young-hui by Liz Sutherland, Jong-un by Chris Lew Kum Hoi, and Jong-chul by Paul Chan; the producer was Sasha Yevtushenko.

It was good to hear a first radio play by actor Jonathan Tafler THE RULES OF PALSHIP (R4, 1415, 16 Nov 2017), about the early life of Noel Coward. Jonathan imagines a testing moment when Noel is on tour in 'Charley's Aunt'. There are some tensions between the cast members, and a situation arises when a new actor, perhaps with more enthusiasm than acting skill, is given his chance. It affects the relationship between Noel and the female lead. 'Nuf said; it was a charming play and I don't like spoilers. Noel was played by Joel McCormack, Graham Henshaw by Tom Forrister, Fraser Stanhope by Wilf Scolding and Barth by Neil McCaul. The producer was Peter Kavanagh.

Marcy Kahan's play NINETY MINUTES WITH STANISLAVSKI [AND SEVERAL OTHERS] was recorded on 22 Nov and was broadcast on R3, (2100, R3, Sun 10 Dec 2017). A young actress is in despair; she is used to appearing on TV and is soon to appear in a new production of The Seagull. Unfortunately she has never appeared on a stage before. How will she cope? Then she receives some advice from an unexpected quarter. The play contained an excellent cast of comic thoroughbreds: Colin Stinton as Bobby Lewis; Matthew Marsh as Harold Clurman; Maggie Steed as Stella Adler; Nicholas Woodeson as Lee Strasberg; and Bruce Alexander as Stanislavski. Norah Lopez Holden was Cressida, the Actress in Despair. The producer was Melanie Harris and the sound design was by John Scott and Eloise Whitmore.

On 11 Dec we had DO NOT GO GENTLE (R4, 1415) by Mike Harris; a play which touches on dementia. In the words of RT, “Josey may be approaching the end of her life, but she is determined to fight on”. Dementia is affecting increasing numbers of people who have parents much older than was previously common. It is not rare for people in their late 60s to be looking after two increasingly bewildered parents in the last stages of extreme old age. There's an appropriate sound track by Leonard Cohen. Josey and The Woman were played by Susan Brown, Alice by Joan Walker; Ryan and Young Ted by John Hollingworth. The producer was Clive Brill, for Indie Brill Productions.

Prompted by Ian Curteis, I will give Brexit a mention; Ian is author of "The Falklands Play", a very fine piece of work, eventually broadcast 25 years after it was written. As we all know, we are in the middle of seemingly interminable Brexit talks; we've already had two radio plays about Brexit; the BBC talks about it, pessimistically and at length, on every 'Today' programme and most news broadcasts.

Here's what Ian said in the Daily Telegraph letters page on 19 Dec 2017:

    "PD (letters, Dec 16) writes that
    free trade "is essentially what
    Brexit is about".

    It isn't. It is about sovereignty: a
    cast iron fact that no-one seems
    to have mentioned for weeks."

One hopes that Brexit leads to increased prosperity and opportunity for every person in Britain.

Finally, what's on offer for Christmas? I've had a quick look through the Radio Times and have noticed the following:

On 25 Dec (1415) we have MR. BETJEMAN'S CLASS, by Jonathan Smith. Jonathan is father of Ed Smith, who has been commentating on Test Match Special from Australia, where we have just lost The Ashes. The play is about the early part of Betjeman's life; it's 1928, and he has left Magdalene College without a degree. He finds a job teaching cricket in a prep school. Betjeman is played by Ben Whitrow, and the young JB by Philippe Edwards.

Following this we have on 26 Dec (1415) MR. BETJEMAN REGRETS, set fifty-six years later, when Betjeman was 79 and living in Cornwall. In September the production of this play was postponed by the death of Ben Whitrow. Sarah Crowden, cast member, said that they were in limbo until Bruce Young, the producer of both plays, decided to continue with Robert Bathurst, a friend of Ben's. Sarah remarked that listeners will probably be unable to spot the join; they sounded very alike. She also said that the experience was very poignant; Ben and her own father, the late Graham Crowden, had worked together at the National Theatre.

There is also a new Neil Gaiman drama. On Christmas Day, we can hear the first episode of THE ANANSI BOYS (in six episodes, adapted by Dirk Maggs); a 3½-hour epic broadcast throughout the week. This is a mythical fantasy about the trickster god Anansi and his son Fat Charlie. The episodes run as follows: first 5 episodes: daily, 25-29 Dec 11.30pm, ep.6 in the Saturday Play slot, 30 Dec, 2.30pm (60m). It stars Lenny Henry and Jacob Anderson; the producer is the person responsible for many of the recent episodes of Home Front, Allegra McIlroy. This should be a real treat. Thank you, Allegra.

ND, 20 Dec 2017

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