April 2022
Sept 2022
Dec 2022


Radio drama is starting to recover from the Covid situation; there is now more recording in the studio and fewer repeats, which is welcome. Unfortunately we have lost the 15-minute drama (a reduction of 60 hours per year of radio drama time) and the Saturday Play is now down to one original play per month, with the rest being repeats. We also have a truncated drama slot each week: 30 minutes instead of 45. Radio 3 is still producing 25 original plays per year.

Regular listeners to radio 4 will notice that there is an increased number of mini-serials and series in the Afternoon Play slot. Some of these are very good, but it must make the situation difficult for new writers trying to get their first-ever radio play commissioned and broadcast.

In the online radio 4 discussion group which I follow, there has been talk about the decline of drama programming. There has also been some comment on the R4X situation; various people saying that the BBC has a vast archive of drama material on which they could draw 'instead of repeating the same old stuff'. It is clear that many people are still not aware that the drama collection of pre-2000 material at the BBC is not vast and that much of the material from this era is not repeatable because it is either impossible or too time-consuming to clear the copyright and the performing rights.

The situation for the post-2000 material is simpler; the BBC holds all rights, which means no repeat fees. Such plays can be repeated any number of times. The fees to writers were increased slightly when the change took place, but it's 20 years ago and I would be surprised if that the 'rights premium' had not been eroded. Understandably there are writers who object to the BBC building up a bank of repeatable material which they can broadcast as many times as they like for nothing.

The UK International Radio Drama Festival took place successfully in Canterbury this year, 21-25 March. there were two audiences, face-to-face and online. Events were managed so that all listened collectively to each play at the same time. The standard of the entries was high, and there was an additional online production broadcast live on the Tuesday evening, with actors performing remotely in both Warsaw and Kiev; 'A Time Traveller's Guide to Donbas'. Those in Kiev were determined to show, even during bombardment, that they were not going to allow Russian invaders to stop them doing what they wanted to do.

Jeff Evans from Icebox Radio (USA) submitted a particularly good creepy thriller entitled The Sweep and there was a nice short from Rumania "The Dictator's Portrait" set three days before the Rumanian Revolution. We had a moving portrayal of dementia from Polish Radio's Marta Rebzda 'Let Me Tell You' and a virtuoso comic sound piece "Mondi Possibili" by Italy's Steffano Gianotti. A space voyage beginning inside a toilet bowl leads an astronaut to stroll around the solar system and beyond, quoting original speeches from the different Apollo missions by heart.

Those who are interested can listen to the performances online through the 'festival' link on the main radio page.

The BBC Audio Drama Awards (along with the Imison and the Tinniswood) were originally scheduled for the end of January, but it soon became clear that the coronavirus restrictions might prevent a face-to-face meeting, so the date was pushed back, and then it was pushed back again. Eventually it took place on 25 Mar, two months later than normal, and because of Covid restrictions, it was a much-reduced affair; a small number of people in the Radio Theatre at Broadcasting House but the majority watching online.

Those who wish to scrutinise the list of winners should refer to the ADA link, again on the main radio page.

My personal highlights:

1.Mirian Margolyes receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award for her outstanding contribution to radio drama over many decades. As I said at the time "much deserved; over 700 radio performances,mainly drama, but comedies, reading and other things too. Well done indeed." This followed the award for best memoir some months ago for her autobiography 'This Much Is True', which fizzes with enthusiam for life and naughty stories and is a great read.

2.John Dryden's second series of PASSENGER LIST being judged as best online drama; another winner from the Goldhawk stable.

There have been some interesting items in the period January-April. McLevy is back; a two-parter about his new life with Jean Brash in the New World, and as entertaining as his police adventures. If enough people enthuse about it by writing to the BBC, more may be commissioned, so please take note. There was a collection over several weeks of short dramas 'United Kingdoms' in the European style; a series about a terminally ill tennis player frozen in a laboratory, waiting to be woken up when a cure is found; a new production of Conrad's Heart of Darkness; a siege in a supermarket; the story of how the young Mozart took Allegri's sacred music from the Vatican; another thriller serial from Matthew Broughton; Brexit in Ireland; a Covid play from Mark Lawson (should we be jabbed or not?); a new series 'Our Friends in the North'; two plays about Ukraine, and a new play by David Pownall.

As for my personal impressions of some of the plays:

STEELHEADS, by John Dryden and Brett Neichen (R4, beginning 1415, 1 Jan 22) was a 5 x 30m thriller series, also available as a podcast. When young British tennis pro, Joleen, is diagnosed with a terminalbrain tumour, she has herself cryogenically frozen at an experimental lab in Seattle, in the hope that one day - perhaps hundreds of years into the future - there will be a cure and she can be revived. After an undisclosed time, Joleen awakes from her slumber in Alaska, and is puzzled by her new surroundings. The world’s population is now split into SteelHeads, people who have been chipped, and ClearHeads, who oppose being chipped. Individuals with the chip lead bland, regimented lives, oblivious to anything negative. The Clearheads are the realists who see life as it is; at least, that's how it seems to them. It's worth pointing out that the story line also coincides with the events we are currently living through, with vaccine-hesitant people reluctant to have Covid jabs for fear of government foul play.

Joleen was played by Jessica Barden, along with a very large cast; sound design was by Steve Bond, script editing was by Mike Walker and producers were Emma Hearn and John Dryden, for Goldhawk Productions.

An unusual item going out in January was a dramatisation of Joseph Conrad's HEART OF DARKNESS (R4, 1500, 8 Jan 22) broadcast as the Saturday Play, lasting 85m and repeated from October 2015. This was Orson Welles' unproduced screenplay of the Joseph Conrad novel. The story: a skipper is hired to take a steamship up the Congo river to find a missing company agent who trades in ivory. He encounters a terrifying evil. The script was written by Welles in 1939, but was turned down, and Citizen Kane was filmed instead. The adaptation for radio is by Jamie Lloyd and Laurence Bowen. The story involves some of those frightening artefacts from the jungle which you can see in the Pitt-Rivers Museum in Oxford: shrunken heads, human scalps, and the like. Marlow was played by James McAvoy, Kurtz by Jonathan Slinger and Elsa by Phoebe Fox. It was produced by Laurence Bowen and directed by Jamie Lloyd for Indie company Feelgood Fiction.

Sebastian Baczkiewicz used the Radio 3 drama slot to tell us how Allegri's setting of Psalm 51, now known as Miserere, escaped from the Vatican (WUNDERKIND, R3, 1930, 23 Jan 22). This is one of the most beautiful pieces of music in existence, and to preserve its sense of mystery, the Pope forbade anyone from transcribing it, on pain of excommunication. The work remained uncirculated and unpublished for a century. But Leopold Mozart took his son to Rome in 1770 and the two of them heard the Mass on Maunday Thurday service at the Vatican, at which the Miserere was sung. A couple of hours later, back at home, the young Wolfgang wrote out the whole piece from memory. According to the play, it was to get the young prodigy and his father into hot water. Leopold Mozart was played by Paul Higgins, Anna by Jasmine Hyde and Cardinal Ucelli by Craige Els. Musical direction was by John Chambers and the producer was Toby Swift.

It was some time later that I realised this drama was unusual. The central character,Wolfgang, had not actually spoken a single word during the play. He makes no appearance other than through his brilliant fingers. But as the late, great Don Haworth pointed out many years ago, in his interview with Bernard Palmer: "Anyone spoken of, in radio, is as real as someone who is there and speaking, which is not so in any other medium."

Sebastian introduced the play, and gave some background: "One of the things I discovered when reading Leopold's letters and looking into the history of the Mozartswas that Wolfgang was the youngestof 7 children, 5 of whom died in infancy. The tragedy of that loss affected me quite deeply as I thought about how you would live with it and the expectations you would have for your child, perhaps, if you had experienced that level of grief and loss. It's an extremely delicate time for Leopold; his eldest daughter, who was also a prodigious musician and toured with her younger brother for years, has had to retire because she has reached the age of 18 and it's not seemly for her to continue performing - and the fact that Wolfgang himself is no longer a child. He is becoming a man, and Leopold knows that soon he will want his independence and perhaps to leave this extraordinary life. Leopold suffers all the anxieties and conflicted emotions of that experience. The thing that struck me about all this was the precariousness of our existence, and the vicariousness of Fate".

Matthew Broughton's new 5-part thriller serial BROKEN COLOURS began in late February (R4, 1415, 22 Feb 22). Jess meets Daniel at an environmental protest which gets out of hand. It changes both of their lives. RT described this as a story of conflicting perception. Aside from the story line, which rattled along quite nicely, there was an interesting subtext. Our regular reviewer Harry Turnbull had this to say about it:

"A psychedelic curiosity appeared in the shape of Broken Colours where we have a protagonist who has a condition known as synesthesia. It made me wonder: do we dream in colour? I know the question has been asked before but it’s one I can’t answer. The last dream I had was fleeting fragments of places, people and shadows but no discernible colour, not even black and white.

With synesthesia some sounds are experienced as colours. It sounds surreal but enables a bit of philosophical introspection from Jess played by Holli Dempsey... Difficult to sum this up but there are definite echoes of techniques used in the long running conspiracy thriller Tracks, and little wonder - as writer Matthew Broughton is involved with both.

But what is this actually about? Too little suspense to be a thriller. Is it a love story? Not really, as you aren’t invested in why an artistic young woman would take up with a drug dealing gangster just because he happens to appear to be vulnerable. Girl meets boy and is soon ensconced in a whole heap of trouble."

Dan was played by Josef Altin, Johnny by Tom Byrne and Melissa by Alexandra Riley. Sound design was by Catherine Robinson and Nigel Lewis and the producers were John Norton and Emma Harding for BBC Wales.

A LEAP IN THE DARK by Ron Hutchinson (R4, 1415, 26 Feb 22) was commissioned to celebrate the approaching centenary of the UK’s first ever radio play. In 1922, when producer Cedric Maud and his assistant Grace first proposed the idea of a play to be performed on the newly available wireless sets, the idea was initially regarded as impracticable and perhaps impossible to execute. How would listeners know what was going on if they couldn't see the stage? A young writer, Richard Hughes, was commissioned to write a piece which would exploit the potential of the new medium. The play takes a light-hearted look at the way the first drama producers faced the challenge and invented a new art form destined to become very popular - radio drama. Nigel Playfair, stage actor, was played by Alex Jennings, May Playfair by Jane Slavin, along with Rufus Wright, Clive Hayward and other well-known radio names. The producer was Eoin O'Cllaghan, for Big Fish productions.

A new play by David Pownall, one of our most experienced playwrights, was broadcast in early March. BED FOR THE NIGHT (R4, 1500, 5 Mar 22) was about the aftermath of Britain's colonial past and the issue of illegal immigration. It's set in Brighton, 2022, and the story begins with a knock on the door of a retired couple. Daniel, now in his 80s, is confronted by a black man outside who asks him for a bed for the night. Daniel finds that he is the grandson of a man he used to employ as a servant when he worked in Rhodesia. He invites him in; he feels obliged to do so because of a promise he made many years ago. But Amos came over the Channel illegally in a boat. The play follows Amos' attempts to stay in the country and in touch with his family. It was produced by Martin Jenkins, who has worked with David Pownall on over thirty previous occasions. Daniel was played by Nigel Anthony, whose first radio performance was on 11 Nov 1956, in a Children's Hour drama, which probably makes him the longest-serving radio actor in the country. Amos was played by Stefan Adegbola and Flora by Sarah Badel. Sound design was by David Thomas and the production co-ordinator was Sarah Tombling, for Pier Productions.

JABBER JABBER, by Mark Lawson (R4, 1415, 14 Mar 22) was a play looking into the Covid vaccine rollout from the point of view of those who wanted it and those who didn't. Mark Lawson says that he has had two jabs, a booster, and a mild dose of Covid. But after seeing news reports that 90% of British adult population had received the first jab, he was interested by the 10% (about five million people) who refused it. A tenth of the NHS workforce also declined it, even under the threat of dismissal; a threat which was hastily withdrawn when it was realised that the NHS would collapse if a large number of its workers were suddenly forced to leave. The play was a thought - provoking listen going far deeper than the polarised discussions normally encountered on the national media and it highlighted many real concerns about what has been going on over the last two years. There was an excellent cast: Nimmy March, Nicholas Murchie, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Jane Slavin, Clive Hayward and Tom Glenister. The producer was Eoin O’Callaghan, for Big Fish Productions.

OUR FRIENDS IN THE NORTH (R4, 1415, beginning 17 Mar 22), by Peter Flannery, is a ten-episode radio version of his TV series. The drama follows the lives of four friends over three decades beginning in the 1960s. It looks at corporate, political and police corruption in the 1960s, the rise and fall of the Soho porn empires in the 1970s, the nouveau riche and the Miners’ Strike of the 1980s and the rise of New Labour in the 990s. Some of the stories are directly based on real-life controversies. The adapted series will end with a tenth episode by writer Adam Usden, which will bring the story to the present day. The first episode opens in 1964, with 20-year old Nicky (James Baxter) meeting his girlfriend Mary (Norah Lopez Holden) on the beach. Harold Wilson is PM.

Harry Turnbull adds: ........ "an audio version of the hit 90s TV series .... which helped propel the likes of Daniel Craig and Christopher Eccleston to fame. The action moves between the regional, with activist Nicky, and the capital, where our everyman hero Geordie traverses the cesspit of Soho. What binds the two together is the breathtaking corruption of real-life Newcastle politicians like John Poulson and T. Dan Smith and the grotesque dishonesty of Scotland Yard vice squad cops, also all too true. And of course recent events at the Metropolitan police and Downing Street merely underline the timelessness of these themes."

Sound design for the play was by Eloise Whitmore, the producer Melanie Harris, and the executive producer Jeremy Mortimer, for Sparklab productions.

Unfortunately I missed 'STRINGS', an interesting-sounding R3 drama broadcast on Sun 13th March, scripted by Linda Marshall Griffiths and produced by Nadia Molinari. Apparently it imagines a future world where all life is threatened and decisions must be made about what is worth saving. The Longyears spacecraft is on a mission to launch into the future by entering interconnected cosmic strings. It's on listen-again so is still available. I hope it's easier to follow than 'Solaris'; I struggled somewhat with the plot of Lem's classic at the Radio Drama festival whilst following the Rumanian version with my English translation. There was also a play by David Morley about Ben Santer, a climate scientist, highlighting the difficulty of integrating the complex issue of climate science with easy-to-understand public statements and political manoeuvering.

ND / 28 Apr 22


Those interested in radio drama have been aware for some time that the amount of airtime devoted to it is decreasing. I have attempted to document this a little during the last couple of years, and now Chris Newbould has looked into it (see his piece on www.prolificnorth.co.uk, 21 Sep 22). The trade body for the 'indies', AudioUK, has asked Ofcom to reinstate BBC quotas for key radio genres. AudioUK has documented the fall in hours of drama and comedy since 2017.

The last BBC Trust Operating Licence for Radio 4 required 600 hours of drama to be broadcast for 2016-17, but the subsequent removal of quotas caused this to fall significantly. The BBC’s last Annual Plan committed to 300 hours of drama on Radio 4 for 2022-23. Radio 4’s output of drama will therefore have fallen by 50 per cent since Ofcom took over regulation of the BBC from the former BBC Trust. This is the result of Ofcom removing in 2017 specific quotas set by the BBC Trust, requiring a set number of hours in key genres to be broadcast on each of the BBC’s radio services. Regular listeners will have noticed that the Friday drama is now only 30 minutes and there's no radio play on Mondays now; they're broadcasting 'This Cultural Life' instead; not a bad programme but it's not drama and it's a repeat.

There has also been a 17 per cent fall in annual comedy hours committed to by Radio 4, from 180 hours in the last BBC Trust Service Licence to 150 hours in the latest BBC Annual Plan.

There is no shortage of decent writers; there is still good drama to be heard and one hopes that the BBC will get its house in order. Cutting part of what it does best - comedy and drama - is a really bad idea.

As for the dramas I've heard and enjoyed:

The classic serial GRAIN OF TRUTH by Zygmunt Miloszewski (R4, beginning 1 May 22; 2 episodes), dramatised by Mark Lawson was a crime thriller set in Communist Poland. State Prosecutor Szacki finds himself trapped in a land of half-truths and secrets. Small-town Poland is a little dull but an unusual murder case gets him back into action. The crime scene is littered with grotesque clues. Szacki was played by Bryan Dick, with Rachel Austin, David Fleeshman and Claire Benedict.The producer was Polly Thomas and sound design was by Eloise Whitmore, from indie producer Naked Productions.

BELGRANO, by Richard Monks (R4, 1415, 2-3 May 22) was a fascinating two-parter looking at the story of Clive Ponting, a civil servant who leaked documents about the sinking of the Argentinian cruiser, the General Belgrano, during the Falklands War forty years ago. Ponting was put on trial for his breach of the Official Secrets Act and the judge directed the jury to convict him. What was kept very quiet was that the rules of engagement had been broken. The drama looks at what drove Ponting to do what he did. The writer used Government Papers, newspaper reports, interviews, court transcripts and Ponting’s own account when writing the drama, and there are some imagined scenes and characters. The trial eventually led to some changes in the Official Secrets Act. Clive Ponting was played by John Heffernan, Sally Ponting by Ruth Everett and Richard Mottram by Geoffrey Streatfield. The producer was Sally Avens.

BRIEF LIVES (R4, 1415, 10-11 May 22) by Tom Fry and Sharon Kelly signed off with what was described as 'Series 12' by the BBC; it was actually a two-parter; after 58 episodes 2007-2022, Sarah and Frank are finally going to get married. Problems arise for them when Sarah loses a work file and Frank has a visitor, Fat Doug, from his past. 'Brief Lives' has been a really excellent programme; for the few who haven't heard it, Frank works as a legal adviser in a Manchester legal practice; he helps steer clients through their encounters with the law and the police. Frank has been played throughout by David Schofield and his assistant Sarah most recently by Kathryn Hunt. Back in 2008 I described the series as 'a series of legal dramas a bit like Henry Cecil's "Brothers in Law", updated for the 00s'. I am pleased to see that most of the episodes are available indefinitely on BBC Sounds. The producer is Gary Brown.

On 14 May in the Saturday Play slot (and continued on the Sunday and Monday) we had the first part of THE RECKONING (R4, 1500, 14 May 22), by Mike Walker, which investigated the true events surrounding the death of the playwright Christopher Marlowe, adapted from Charles Nichols' book. It's London, 1593 and Marlowe, a young writer, is fatally stabbed in a Deptford lodging house because of a disagreement over the bill. There's an investigation, the witnesses are interrogated, and then the suspect walks free. The authorities find that Marlowe was the aggressor and was killed in self-defence. History says it was just a drunken quarrel. But Charles Nichols thinks it was murder. In this drama, he traces Marlowe's political and intelligence dealings, explores the shadowy underworld of Elizabethan crime and espionage, and penetrates a complex and chilling story of possible entrapment and betrayal. Marlowe was a writer who influenced Shakespeare and if he had lived he could have become equally well-known, but he died at the age of 29. The story is essentially true and the people in it are real; the events are documented; the words were spoken, though the writers have invented some of them, and set them in a modern idiom for the sake of clarity. But this true story is also a mystery, a jigsaw with many pieces missing. The drama shows what might have happened; perhaps what did happen. Christopher Marlowe was played by Chris Lew Kum Hoi, Robert Poley by Burn Gorman, Ingram Frizer by Carl Prekopp, and Nicholas Skeres by Matthew Durkan. Sound was by Peter Ringrose and the producer was Sasha Yevtushenko.

On 17 May we had a welcome repeat from 2020 of AN ACCIDENT THAT WASN'T YOUR FAULT, by Margaret Perry (R4, 1415, 17 May 22). This was a play revolving around events taking place in a call centre, where one of the girls on the phones is falling behind on her quotas. Her job is to cold-call and offer legal action to people who have suffered accidents which weren't their fault. One of the people she contacts seems to fit into the right category, but things get a little bit personal. This was a fascinating listen; a drama I missed first time around. Lydia and Jess were played by Charlotte O'Leary and Vanessa Schofield; the producer was Jessica Dromgoole.

RED LINES (R4, 1415, 18 May 22) was a political play by Craig Oliver and Anthony Seldon; a behind-the-scenes drama about Prime Minister Cameron and President Obama failing to enforce the "red line" against chemical weapons used by Syria's President Assad, who was aided by Vladimir Putin. Craig was Cameron's former Head of Communications and the play is co-written with the historian Sir Anthony Seldon. It shows how Cameron and Obama were outmanoeuvred by Putin and Assad in 2013 and failed to get support from Parliament to punish Assad's use of Sarin gas on his own people. Assad was assisted by Putin, and the writers think that these events were a step on the road to the invasion of Ukraine. After the UK voted to take no military action, Obama decided likewise. Then Putin negotiated a deal with Assad to remove Syria's chemical weapons, but afterwards many more attacks were carried out using hidden stockpiles. David Cameron was played by Toby Stephens, Putin and Nick Clegg by Nicholas Boulton and Ed Miliband by Jon Culshaw. The producer was Richard Clemmow and the director David Morley, for Indie producer Perfectly Normal Productions.

THE UNITED NATIONS, by Guy Hibbert (R4, 1415, 8 and 5 Jun 22) was a two-part fictional drama set in a world undergoing political upheaval. Richard is head of the Oversight Committee, given the job of uncovering corruption in the U.N. One day a Pakistani named Fazal tells him that Pakistan has secretly moved three nuclear warheads into Saudi territory. Is the information true? Is it safe to assume that the information is unreliable because it cannot be verified? Richard considers how he might best respond... Richard was played by Jason Isaacs, Carol by Madeleine Potter and there were several other well-known names in the cast. Sound design was by Wilfredo Acosta and the story was adapted and directed by Eoin O’Callaghan; by Indie company Big Fish.

IN DIAMOND SQUARE (R, 1415, 22 May 22) was set in Spain during the civil war there. Natalia, a pretty, naive shop girl from the working-class quarter of Gracia, is hesitant when a pushy youth asks her to dance at the fiesta in Diamond Square. But in spite of his rudeness he is charming and she becomes his woman. The relationship develops but the war intervenes and then everyone's lives are in turmoil. In a now-chaotic country, Natalia has to fight for the survival of her children. The couple were played by Maxine Peake and Will Howard, sound design was by Adam Woodhams, production was by Nicolas Jackson and the Executive Producer Sara Davies and was an Afonica production.

Simon Wu's play THE DISAPPEARANCE OF MR. CHAN (R4, 1415, 25 May 22), repeated from 2020, was about dark deeds in the new Hong Kong, now under the control of China and slowly being taken under totalitarian control. Hong Kong writer Mr. Chan fails to arrive at Heathrow, and his daughter Poppy is determined to find him. She goes to Hong Kong having enlisted the help of a journalist friend, Jason. They decide to write a story that will help get her father released, but Poppy’s mother thinks the best way to get the result they want is to comply with the authorities and stay silent. Poppy was played by Jennifer Leong and Jason by Jeremy Ang Jones; sound design was by Eloise Whitmore and the producer was Melanie Harris, assisted by Jeremy Mortimer, for Indie company Sparklab.

I greatly enjoyed BARBEQUE 67 - THE ORIGINAL SUMMER OF LOVE, by Andy Barrett (R4, 1415, 30 May 22); a play about the first UK rock festival. It included accounts from those who took part, including Geno Washington, Zoot Money and Nick Mason from Pink Floyd. It's set near Spalding in 1967. At that time the area was home to labourers from Eastern Europe, and the fields were all full of tulips. A retired tulip farmer, Doug, who went to that festival, meets a young Rumanian woman, who shares his enthusiam for Jimi Hendrix. On 29th May 1967 thousands of people congregated in a giant agricultural shed, the Tulip Bulb Auction Hall. They heard Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Geno Washington, Pink Floyd, The Move, Zoot Money and local band Sound Force Five. Now, at a time when the future of foreign workers in British agriculture is uncertain, the play is particularly apposite. It is some time since we had a Radio 4 play from Andy Barrett; I can recall 'The Perfect Wood', a comic play about a Bowls tournament some years ago, but nothing since then. Doug was played by Robert Glenister and Tereza by Anamaria Marinca, with Tom Glenister as young Doug. There were also contributions from some of the musicians who took part. Jonathan Banatvala was the producer, assisted by Melanie Nock, and the director was Andy Jordan. This was an Indie production by the International Arts Partnership; the group which organizes the annual UK International Radio Drama Festival in Canterbury.

The Saturday play THE ROYAL VISIT (R4, 1500, 4 Jun 22), by Ayeesha Menon, was set in Kalina, a Bombay (Mumbai) suburb. The villagers are told that a royal couple will be paying a visit. Jackie, from the Parish Committee, is given the job of planning a big welcome. Shailesh sets up the snack table, and history professor Colin, who is teaching students about British colonialism, is appointed to find a suitable student to present a mango to the Royals. An apt time (Platinum Jubilee weekend) for a play about royals. The production was from well-known Indie company Goldhawk, with production by Nadir Khan assisted by Toral Shah.

In June we had an interesting series of mainly-factual plays entitled THE PRICE OF OIL (R4, 1415, first episode beginnning 11 Jun 22). The 7 dramas covered various aspects of the oil industry; we had a mix of history, politics, the dangers of oil exploration and even a speculative play set in the future. There was an episode about The Gulf War of 1990; another on corruption and environmental degradation in Nigeria in 1994, and another beginning with an explosion on an oil rig. These were good listening for those interested in energy policy. There were plays by Nigel Williams, Joy Wilkinson, Tamsin Oglesby and Rex Obano; the other three were by Jonathan Myerson. The producers were Nicolas Kent and Jonquil Panting.

Another highlight was a further series of LIFE LINES (R4, 1415, 27-28 Jun 22). The episodes were again by Al Smith, set in an ambulance call centre. Carrie is a call handler, cool and collected when dealing with the emergencies which each call brings. But as with so much of British industry, bureaucrats have imposed 'targets', which are anything but helpful. On top of that, Carrie's relationship with her daughter is suffering because of the work pressures. This is a top-rank drama, with superb pacing; more of a heath-service 'thriller'; impossible to switch off once it's started. Carrie was played by Sarah Ridgeway, her manager by Rick Warden, and an excellent supporting cast played the rest. The producer was Sally Avens.

BAD ARK, by Matt Hartley (R4, 1415, 30 Jun 22) was a light-hearted comedy about a business tycoon taking some guests to the North Pole on his new superyacht. Unfortunately the ice shelf is melting and collapsing, and there's an suddenly a tidal wave which hits the boat. With most of the passengers overboard and much of the world underwater, four clueless survivors try to work out what to do next. Manny was played by Juan Wilken, Gary by Steffan Rhodri, Jasmine by Freya Mavor and sound was by Nigel Lewis. The producer was John Norton, for BBC Wales.

PERFIDY AND PERFECTION, by the late Yuri Rasovsky (R4, 1415, 19 Jul 22) was a little gem; a beautifully constructed comic duet told entirely via a couple’s letters. It starred two American actors: Simon Helberg and Jocelyn Towne, directed by Martin Jarvis. It's a romance set in 1912 Boston, then Paris, Rome and beyond. A penniless young fortune hunter James, having borrowed money, is setting out to court a charity worker, Julia, daughter of a rich Bostonian. She falls under James’ spell. But father objects. The play used specially-composed music by A-Mnemonic and the producer was Rosalind Ayres, for indie company Jarvis and Ayres.

On 2 Jul 22 we had END OF TRANSMISSION, by Anita Sullivan (R4, 1500) as the Saturday Play. Jude has lived for 20 years with HIV and now she's 50. She starts to ask questions about the virus, which actually appears as a speaking character in the play. The virus takes her on a transmission journey skipping across continents, centuries, decades and diverse hosts to meet the person who gave her HIV. The play includes Positive Voices speakers from the Terence Higgins Trust. Niamh, Stephen, Allan, Tim, Roland, Ese, Jess and Mary are people living with HIV who share their stories to help end the associated stigma. Anita Sullivan has been living well with HIV since the year 2000. The Virus was played by David Haig and Jude by Louise Brealey. Production Coordinators were Jacob and Sarah Tombling and the producer was Karen Rose, for Sweet Talk Productions.

My next highlight was the second series of TAKEOVER, by Ayeesha Menon and Matthew Solon (R4, 1415, four episodes beginning 11 Jul 22). We are again in the world of the super-wealthy and a family at war with itself. Business mogul Ravi Majumdar will do whatever it takes to claw back control of his global empire. The leads were taken by Rajit Kapur, Abhin Galeya and Amrita Acharya. Sound Design was by Eloise Whitmore, original music by Sacha Puttnam, Mike Walker edited the script and the producers were Emma Hearn and Nadir Khan. The Director and Executive Producer was John Dryden, for Goldhawk.

I was very taken with the new series EXEMPLAR, by Dan Rebellato, with Ben and Max Ringham; a set of modern-day audio-forensics thrillers set in the north-east of England. Jess is a scientist whose passion for sound makes her the UK’s leading audio forensic examiner. Assisted by her new trainee, Maya, she undertakes a different sound challenge in each episode. The series will be fascinating to anyone who has dabbled with wave files or sound editing programs such as Wavelab or Audacity or Cooledit Pro. In the first episode, a young woman's apparently accidental death is linked to a recording from a voice-activated speaker; can Jess work out what actually happened? And episode 4 was a work of genius; it involved the construction of a stereo recording from two unrelated pieces of recording hardware to solve a crime; a good story and great resolution. Jess is played by Gina McKee and her assistant by Shvorne Marks; original music and sound consultants were Ben and Max; Polly Thomas and Jade Lewis directed and the executive producer was Joby Waldman, for indie company Reduced Listening. I think this means that the production was done remotely rather than in a studio. No doubt someone will correct me if I'm wrong.

There were other highlights too; a Classic Serial by Dorothy Whipple, a modern-day vampire story ENGLISH ROSE (I liked the hidden 'alium' reference to the plant which stopped the girl sleeping); a creepy ghost story by Kenny Boyle based on Gaelic folklore, a touching piece of Welsh family history by Daf James entitled GRAVEYARDS IN MY CLOSET, and a couple of interesting short stories by Agatha Christie writing as Mary Westmacott. Also worthy of mention is A PUNK'S PROGRESS, written by a devoted fan of The Clash; a good drama for the Saturday Play slot.

ND / 30 Sep 2022


There have been better times for radio drama. The medium is contracting, and Tim Davie, the Director-General, has said that Radio 4 Extra, the archive channel, will cease to exist as a broadcast channel; archive content will only be available on the BBC website. The amount of new drama commissioned has been reduced drastically. The last BBC Trust Operating Licence for Radio 4 required 600 hours of drama to be broadcast for 2016-17, but the subsequent removal of quotas caused this to fall significantly. The BBC’s last Annual Plan committed to 300 hours of drama on Radio 4 for 2022-23. It is not known whether Radio 4 Extra will continue to exist as a channel on BBC Sounds following its removal as a broadcast channel. This does not inspire confidence in how the BBC is run.

There is a group on Facebook opposed to the change, named 'Save BBC Radio 4 Extra', with about 500 members. You might consider joining it, though it would be better, perhaps, to write to the decision-makers at the BBC.

Nevertheless Radio 4 itself continues to host some good dramas, many of which are supplied by independent production companies. From 1 Jan to 15 Dec this year, I counted 125 plays made by independents out of 350 (I may have missed one or two), which is about 36%. A few plays are now made remotely; a trend which started during Covid when there was no alternative.

DEAR HARRY KANE (R4, 1415, 17 Nov 22) by James Fritz was the story of a young Sri Lankan Spurs fan who travels to Qatar to work on building the World Cup Stadiums. There is virtually no prospect of a job in his own country. When he reaches Qatar he finds he will be helping to build the stadium in which his footballing hero, Harry Kane, will play one day. But the working conditions are considerably worse than those in the job description, and the wages are nowhere near what he expected. Is this really how the Quataris treat their immigrant workers? Nisal was played by Hiran Abeysekera, Nadeesha by Shalini Peiris and Joseph by Jyuddah Jaymes. Football commentary was by David Hounslow and the producer was Sally Avens.

I enjoyed the mystery thriller SOMEONE DANGEROUS, by Andy Mulligan, a two-parter broadcast a week apart beginning 1415, 21 Sep 22. A young couple have just bought a house; they want a big place with land suitable for bringing up a family in thge countryside. The husband knows that the previous occupant, a young woman, killed herself in the bath and hasn't told his wife, but the price was right so he negotiated with the seller himself and went ahead. Then Ira finds the woman's diary hidden under the floorboards. This was a complex, multi-layered drama; an impressive hostile soundscape; even the house's acoustic sounded brittle and unfriendly; antique plumbing and a neighbour's dog generating intrusive noises and a remarkably unsympathetic wife; a good illustration of the word 'gaslighting' where one of the characters starts to doubt his/her sanity [the word 'gaslighting' comes from the Patrick Hamilton play - Ed] . Jed was played by Rob Jarvis, Ira by Lizzie Aaryn-Stanton and the neighbour by Harry Myers. The production was by Emma Hearn and John Dryden; another excellent offering from Goldhawk.

There was a thought-proking series of self-contained plays broadcast in September, which speculated on what might happen if your lifetime, by some genetic freak, event, was twice the length. This was ONE FIVE SEVEN YEARS, by Marietta Kirkbride (R4, five plays beginning 1415, 23 Sep 22), where 'extended lifetime syndrome' (ELS) is a reality for a small fraction of the population. How will the rest of the population react if they know you are going to live twice as long as them? In the first play, Anya works in a lab which diagnoses the condition. When she and boyfriend Luke disagree about testing to see if they have the 'double-life' gene, their world is turned inside out. In play 2, 'Uche', (written jointly by Marietta and Eno Mfon) ELS testing spreads across the globe but a small village in eastern Nigeria rejects the science in favour of “traditional” methods of detection, which leaves a young girl in fear for her life. Uche was played by Faith Omole, Halima by Emmanuella Cole and Nkechi by Juliet Agnes. In play 4, a retired couple are celebrating their pearl wedding anniversary when they discover one of them has ELS; in the other two plays we had a murderer serving a life sentence (but how long is 'life' supposed to be?) and a person is facing severe memory loss; how does that work if you're going to live for two lifetimes? Production of these plays was by Nicolas Jackson, for Afonica.

Huw Brentnall's first radio play, ABOUT A DOG (1415, R4, 4 Oct 22) was a comedy set in rural Suffolk twenty years ago. Danny Mouser is always looking out for his wayward cousin, Lee. But one day when he hits a pheasant with his van he sets off a chain of unfortunate events. This is the first of two dramas featuring new voices from East Anglia, and was recorded on location in Suffolk. The play was extremely amusing, and the slightly-overdone rural accents added to the fun. Danny Mouser was played by Felix Uff, his wife by Henri Merriam, and his nutty cousin Lee by Huw Brentnall. Sound design was by Matthew Valentine and Alisdair McGregor and the producer was Fiona McAlpine, for Allegra Productions.

THE ODD WOMEN, by George Gissing (R4, 1500, two successive Sundays beginning 9 Oct 22) was an intriguing listen. It was adapted from the novel by Christopher Douglas, and was set in 1888, when a surge in technology and industry was beginning to create more opportunities for female workers. Cablegrams could now be sent under the Atlantic and across the Empire at 30 words per minute. In the play, an army of secretaries, stenographers and telephonists is being recruited and trained to help the trade boom. The story follows the lives of two principals of a recently-established London secretarial school. The drama gives a penetrating glimpse into a vanished world. Women were regarded as home-makers and if a woman didn't fit into the role through remaining unmarried, she might be regarded as 'odd'; hence the title. Many women without husbands endured much hardship: they were often those who, by fate or economic condition were unable to reach marriage; forced to work and often accepting humble jobs on the verge of slavery. The narrator was Robert Powell; Rhoda Nunn was played by Emma Cunniffe, Mary Barfoot by Geraldine Alexander, Everard Barfoot by Tom Goodman-Hill and Monica Madden by Ayla Wheatley. Production was by Jane Morgan, well-known for her 30-year series of 'Road' plays with the late Douglas Livingstone. On this occasion Jane was working for 7digital.

Jim Poyser's play THE DOWNING STREET DOPPELGANGER (R4, 1500, 8 Oct 22) was fun. It is 1922; the Prime Minister, Baldwin, is gravely ill, but the party don't want the truth to get out; it's not the right time for a general election. How can they cover up the P.M.'s condition? The best way, they decide, is to find a good impersonator. Someone knows there's a music-hall comedian who does an extraordinarily accurate impression of the P.M. and events proceed from there. There were some nice lines in the script relating to current UK politics, which added to the fun. The P.M. parts were taken by John Thomson, Wilcox by Jonathan Keeble, Tewkes and Boris by Malcolm Raeburn, and the producer (who also had a small part in the action) was Gary Brown.

The best thriller I'd heard for a long while was a three-parter broadcast broadcast on successive days (R4, 1415, 11-13 Oct 22): WAR OF WORDS, by Neil Brand, produced by Tracey Neale. It was a chilling warning against believing what you hear or read on the internet.It begins in London, where Indira, a young medical school graduate, receives news of the death of her parents and travels home to India to do the formal identification. She learns that there were suspicious circumstances, and she starts to ask the authorities awkward questions. Eventually she discovers that fabricated news about her parents has been circulating on the internet, and they had been targeted. But why ... and where has that fake story originated? Then she bumps into a computer expert, Sophie who's been looking for her.

This leads into episode 2, where the world of click farms, troll farms and propaganda from the dark web is slowly revealed. The internet underworld and the tens of millions of dollars spent on promoting propaganda and interfering with political opinions affects policy decisions all over the world, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to separate fact from fiction. Once a lie achieves a certain momentum it can become unstoppable, irrespective of whether it's true, and in any case, the best lies are those which also contain a grain of truth. WW2 propaganda about carrots making you see better in the dark even made it into Biology textbooks. Anyway, at a New York conference Sophie is accused of plagiarising a senior academic and finds herself caught up in a dangerous conspiracy. As questions continue to be asked, the death count rises; another house fire here, a heart attack there...

In part 3, there is urgent work taking place in Kiev to reduce the effect of Russian propaganda circulating on the internet. Ukrainian intelligence is busy gathering data and using artificial intelligence to pinpoint the main source of Russian disinformation about 'Nazi' Ukraine, cultivated by the Kremlin for years and spread by compliant websites and gullible people. Finding the source is laborious, but a person keeps appearing in the stories of Indira, Sophie and Alecs (sic); a shadowy figure who seems only to exist in the dark web's sea of disinformation. The saying 'Believe nothing you read and only half of what you see' should perhaps be kept in mind every time we look on the internet. Indira was played by Hannah Khalique-Brown, Inesh by Assad Zaman and Alecs by Peter Sullivan. Sound was by Keith Graham and Caleb Knightley.

The discovery of the final resting place of Tutankhamun by Howard Carter and his team in 1922 was the basis of Sebastian Baczkiewicz's play THE TOMB, which was aired over two Saturday in October, starting on 22 Oct 22. After decades of searching the Valley of the Kings, Carter and his Egyptian assistant Shafiq Tadros eventually uncovered a step leading to the tomb. Sebastian concedes that Shafiq was a figment of his imagination designed to represent the unheralded Egyptians who carried out all the digging work (thanks HT). The man paying for the work was Lord Carnarvon; he and his daughter Lady Evelyn arrived and an unauthorised inspection of the tomb took place. A chance meeting on the streets of Paris with an Egyptian student, decades later, causes Shafiq to tell his own story.

In November 1922 the discovery of the tomb became the biggest news event in the world. The tomb had been untouched for 3,000 years and contained priceless artefacts including a solid gold coffin, thrones, archery bows, trumpets and fresh linen underwear. Egypt, now freed from British rule, regarded the discovery of Tutankhamun as a symbol of its rebirth as an independent nation. But then there was the question of who should control the dig and who should keep the treasures. The drama was based on true events. Shafiq was played by Noof Ousellam, Howard Carter by Neil Stuke and Fahima by Sarah Agha; the director was Steve Bond and the producer Joby Waldman, for Indie producer Reduced Listening.

Mark Lawson's latest play HOT DRAFTS (R4, 1415, 25 Oct 22) was highly topical. Pip is a young woman starting a new job at the heart of government. It's her first day; she's excited, but she was held up in traffic and now she's late; there are traffic jams everywhere; nobody knows why. When she reaches the Cabinet Office, she is directed to the Speechwriters’ Room. Other members of the team arrive in dribs and drabs. The Head of the Unit supervises the creation of a number of “hot drafts”, which are speeches for The Boss on imminent events, factory openings, the death of a public figure, and so on. There are also “cold drafts” - lines for civil or miliitary emergencies. Members of the team improvise and criticise a series of speeches for these occasions, arguing over what can and can’t be said. Alex was played by Alex Jennings, Pip by Macy Nyman, Dr. Jason by Jane Slavin and Snick byTom Glenister; the producer was Eoin O’Callaghan, for Big Fish Productions.

EXIT GAME (R4, 1500, 5 Nov 22) by Nick Perry and Alex Millar was a drama-documentary looking at the system which operates in guiding our most promising footballing youngsters towards the professional game. At football clubs across the country, floodlights illuminate the latest talent. But 99% of the would-be superstars do not make the grade; they are not offered a contract. Alex Millar, a journalist who has spent a lot of the last 20 years writing about football takes us on a journey through the system. What he finds is interspersed with a fictional drama based on his research, exploring the stories of two boys navigating their way through it. Jack was played by Tim Preston, his younger self by Harvey Chapman, Nathan by Olatunji Ayofe and young Nathan by Cannon Hay. The producer was Sasha Yevtushenko.

Radio 3 broadcast an interesting play by Mike Harris in early November; CHURCHILL VERSUS REITH (R3, 1930, 6 Nov 22). It’s 1926: the General Strike; Churchill wants to commandeer the newly-formed British Broadcasting Company to crush what he considers to be a Communist-inspired uprising. The BBC’s founder, John Reith, is determined to preserve its independence. Both are strong personalities; Churchill is an ambitious, volatile, and aristocratic; Reith is an ascetic, religious, middle-class Scot. Churchill thinks Reith’s desire for the BBC's political neutrality is defeatist and perhaps traitorous; Reith regards Churchill as a dangerous extremist. At stake is the future independence of British broadcasting. As our reviewer Harry Turnbull puts it: "The tussle between Winston Churchill and BBC goliath Lord Reith over reporting the 1926 general strike was a collision of two worlds; one that encapsulates the current debates over authenticity, fake news and bias. The Corporation takes a fundamental viewpoint, first postulated by its founding father Reith, that it represents the epitome of impartiality. Of course in recent times we have seen this implode in several ways because, no matter the ideals of an organisation, it cannot legislate for the individuals it employs......Christian McKay as the rumbustious Churchill, flailing on about Bolsheviks is contrasted with Tom Goodman-Hill who attempts to be the voice of reason while wrestling with how the BBC should report contentious matters." Sound design was by Sharon Hughes and the producer was Gary Brown.

It is many years since Leonard Rossiter made Reggie Perrin famous on TV. But Jon Canter recently dramatised THE FALL AND RISE OF REGINALD PERRIN (R4, 1500, two successive Sundays beginning 13 Nov 22) from the story by David Nobbs. Reggie is the executive who has had enough of working for his bullying boss at Sunshine Desserts, and the trains not running on time, and his life being of no importance. His behaviour becomes increasingly eccentric until he makes a life-changing decision. He will disappear. Episode 1 was about his fall; episode 2 was about his rise, which takes place in a most unexpected way (I never saw the TV version). David Haig played Reggie, Pip Torrens was his boss CJ, and Selina Griffiths was his wife Elizabeth. The producer was Sally Avens.

WHIPPED (R4, 1415, 22 Nov 22) by Becky Prestwich looked at the rarely-seen and seldom-heard detail of the life of a newly-elected MP. Meg, a young single mother, has just been elected by a very slim majority. Her party is in opposition but it’s on the way up, and she is ambitious. She begins her working life in Westminster with an office perched between a sink and a clothes rail in the ladies cloakroom. I learned a little about the way an MP can attempt to introduce a Private Member's Bill; the risks which new MPs face from extremists and nutters; and the security measures which have to be implemented to protect MPs from harm. Nor is there any guarantee that a Member's good idea won't be credited to someone else - or even the other party. Meg was played by Molly Windsor, Amina and mum by Nina Wadia, and Noah by Jake Ferretti. The political adviser was Louise Thompson and the production was by Pauline Harris.

There were other interesting items: some European-style micro-dramas; series 2 of Harland, a supernatural thriller, by Lucy Catherine; an Algernon Blackwood dramatised narration 'The Willows' by Stef Penney which might have gained from being a bit shorter; biblical stories with new slants by Sebastian Backiewicz, Patrick Barlow and Lucy Gannon; a play about Ian Dury and Jane Horrocks; coastal erosion on the Welsh coast; and 'Working', Sarah Wooley's latest. I missed the new Katie Redford play Christmas Wings (22 Dec) and Theo Toksvig-Stewart's adaptation of a novel about Silicon Valley so those are next on my catch-up list.

Nigel Deacon / 23 Dec 22

Back to top

Radio Plays
Wine Making
Cosby Methodist Church
Gokart Racing
Links to other Sites
Contact Us