Harry Turnbull

I wonder if the good folk at BBC Drama North have been reminded there is life in the North East of England? For a long time we natives have felt excluded from some parts of economic and cultural Britain. OK, Ruth Archer is from the region, but you never hear her telling Pip what's best for the bairn or adding 'man' or 'like' to the end of a sentence.

Last year Geordie icon Sting was involved in afternoon drama 'The Great North Road' and has now collaborated on 'I Must Have Loved You', a line from one of his tunes.

The songsmith slathered on his best 'why aye' twang to play Vince Doyle, a curmudgeonly old singer whose daughter got fed up of him and did a runner. Years later a reporter turns up to find out what happened to her.

Sting worked with another North-Eastener, writer Michael Chaplin, on the story.

Drama commissioning head Alison Hindell described it as a powerful story but that wasnít exactly the view of The Guardian reviewer who described it as having 'no wit, no pace, no purpose, no charm'.

I'd probably fall between the two. There was no doubt a sentimentality which one might expect from someone thinking wistfully of rainy days in Whitley Bay while slurping on a pina colada in one of your mansions many miles away.

It began with that grating melancholy but it did grow on me and had a great plot twist ending.

Still on a north-easterly direction we have an audio version of Peter Flanneryís hit 90s TV series Our Friends From The North, 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 underlines the timelessness of these themes.

From a down-to-earth tale of ordinary folk to a galactic adventure, Strings was a complex affair that for some reason mysteriously appeared out of the Radio 3 ether. What followed was something of which the king of convolution Chrisopher Nolan (Interstellar, Tenet) would have been proud.

Writer Linda Marshall Griffiths, with the assistance of a batch of cosmologists and producer Nadia Molinari, unfurled a cosmic adventure based on string theory; theorists argue a model that describes extra dimensions of space. In string theory, at least six additional dimensions go undetected because they are tightly compactified into a complex folded shape called a Calabi-Yau manifold. You get the driftÖÖ.

Consequently we had fleeting images, ghosts, memories or perhaps even scenes from the future?

Inhabitants of a spacecraft are sent into a time warp to try and prevent earth's destruction but they float into dreamlike territory in an effort seemingly designed to subvert and distort the minds of listeners. Time drifts on a steam of solar consciousness.

Of course these shifts in time and perception are all very well with the visual aid of movies but a bit harder to pull off in an audio setting. So is our narrator Enda seeing her mum's spirit, simply imaging her voice or is she herself in fact the ghost?

Our gang of space cadets naturally number the inevitable billionaire who attempts to put a spanner in the galactic works.

The Lostyears probe is sent from a dying earth with an abundance of flour and fauna with a plan to return in the future when Mother Earth is on its knees. The idea is to catch a ride on a string and catapult into that future, arriving on earth to save the day.

You may need a second listen.

Another 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 itís one I canít 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 arenít 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.

A docudrama about a Caribbean slave trade uprising had all the hallmarks of a guilt trip. White Debt author Tom Harding explained that his Jewish family had received reparations from Germany but then he later learnt they had benefited from slavery and was asking the question; should we be made to pay?

The answer appeared yes; family members agreed to fund a PHD post for a black British student.

Does doing it in such a public way reduce the validity of the token gesture?. I can't say but it did bring a fresh perspective to a historical topic that continues to reverberate today.

On the other hand I did hear an author of historical fiction say recently that her publisher would not accept slavery novels that were not authenticated, i.e written by someone with skin in the game. But if writers of historical fiction are going to be confined to their own bloodline it will narrow the field a bit.

The question about this production is whether commentary, documentary-style interviews and script acting can work effectively in tandem. Producer Sasha Yevtushenko knitted it all together but Iím not sure this format hits the mark. You either tell a story with facts or by a dramatic interpretation; trying to do both seems to fall between two stools.

Ambridge Extra - The mystery of the Easter Bunny - has had us hopping for weeks. Who could be inside the bunny suit? All was revealed when an Easter Ambridge resurrection occurred - the reappearance of Kathy Perks. The Grey Gables employee had become a silent member of the cast back in 2015.

The character was sidelined alongside others like Mike Tucker under the reign of Eastender Sean o' Connor. Mike also recently returned to action. The returnees are presumably an admission by the current hierarchy that O'Connor got it wrong.

Meanwhile the vicar of Ambridge would of course condemn betrayal of a friendship with wanton casual sex. Well, he would; unless itís his own daughter, it seems. When Amy did the dirty with Chris she not only betrayed best friend Alice but could have set off her pal off on a drinking binge with potentially disastrous results.

Instead of having a firm word, like most fathers might, he merely raged about village gossips. Is this then the church in 2022?

Harry Turnbull, 20 Apr 22


Thanks, Harry, for these reviews .... ND


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