Radio Drama Reviews: Nov 2022
Harry Turnbull

Harry Turnbull's Radio Drama Reviews: Nov 2022

The Tomb

A Reduced Listening production for BBC Radio 4

Was Howard Carter a Tomb Raider?

One hundred years ago an Englishman made one of the greatest discoveries in the history of antiquities. But dash it man, did they have to go all out arrogant and peddle some outrageous slurs on the reputation of Howard Carter? The fellow dedicated his life to unveiling a rich seam of history and these blackguards on the wireless insinuate he had his hands in the till. As if such a man would plunder the very treasures he was intent on preserving. By jove, he’d sue ‘em if he was around today.

The production made great play of the rumour that Howard Carter may have plundered priceless antiquities from the tomb of Tutankhamun. Actually, some fact-checking did take place, by BBC television in a documentary series ‘Raiders of the Lost Past’, and experts concluded he may have taken some keepsake trinkets which were later given away to the few people he knew (not a very sociable chap apparently). However, there is a caveat; rules about excavation seemed to say that if there was evidence of previous looting then the digmasters were entitled to 50% of anything found. Thus there was quite an incentive to be a bit naughty.

Of course this is a drama not a documentary so one can expect some artistic interpretation. In this centenary production Neil Stuke plays Carter as a typically elitist Colonialist who mistrusts those who don't hail from the green fields of Albion. The story is actually told from the viewpoint of a character called Shafiq. whom writer Sebastian Baczkiewicz concedes was a figment of his imagination designed to represent the unheralded Egyptians who carried out all the digging work. So the story is not just a celebration of Carter’s discovery but also a critique of Colonial interference.

Incidentally in the same year of the momentous discovery, 1922, Egypt gained independence from the shackles of Britain.

Whatever the truth, it remains a great story.

The Pride of Parnell Street

Drama on 3 Produced by Toby Swift

It seems almost incidental but domestic violence appears to increase when the World Cup comes around. It's not just men giving a partner a slap or a foul mouthful when teams lose, they do it even when they WIN (according to several academic studies). This poignant drama by recent Irish Laureate Sebastian Barry has been a stage favourite for many years and transitions seamlessly onto the airwaves.At the heart is a couple whose world is upended first by the death of a child and then when Joe batters Janet after Ireland’s incredibly successful 1990 World Cup run comes to an end.

Janet is empathetically played by Mary Murray, whose mournful dialectic monologues, like mysterious incantations, indicates a world out of balance, one in which she is grappling to find meaning.There is a disorientation, her words acting like stumbling blocks as she seeks to navigate this new world of violence and loss. The structure is based around soliloquies by Murray and Aiden Kelly that interconnect but don’t quite meet. Conveys the emotion one can imagine in a stage version.

Churchill Versus Reith

Drama on 3 Producer Gary Brown Writer Mike Harris

A broadcast that casts an eye on historical events that have a contemporary resonance. 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.

Another way the BBC’s superior attitude unravels is the way it trumpets fact-checking but then decides which facts we should be made aware of. In the 1920s the BBC was in embryonic form, so the issue with Churchill was an immediate question over its non-partisan stance. 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.

In the end he is accused of going too far to appease Churchill by fiery MP Ellen Wilkinson, captured perfectly by Helen O’Hara.

Dracula Unmade

In which the voracious vampire slakes his bloodlust while romping around the Indian sub-continent. Part of the Unmade series, celebrating scripts that never made it to the Silver Screen. Listening to this tells you all you need to know why.

North and South, Sense and Sensibility, The Odd Women

A trio of productions from Victorian era novels that explore the female voice in a world steeped in masculinity. What these stories tell us, and indeed what many women now know, is that men tend to get in the way rather than help matters. All represent what BBC audio drama does so well with these classic serials by unfurling a compelling story via tight scripts, nuanced acting and understated soundscapes.

North and South is a gritty Elizabeth Gaskell story set in an industrial northern town. What immediately stands out - if you are an Archers listener - is the dulcet tones of James Cartwright who plays Sgt Burns in the soap. Sally Avens directs this three parter with an ending that quivers with emotion.

The Odd Women forms part of the Working Titles series and is based on the 1893 novel by George Gissing. Robert Powell narrates a tale that demonstrates female striving and in particular focuses on what must be one of the first ever typing pool’s at a secretarial school run by women.

Sense and Sensibility directed by Nadia Molinari and is of course typical Jane Austen with fortunes and connections uppermost as women try to negotiate a world full of pitfalls.


Part of the Dangerous Vision series that investigates future possibilities for everyday life. In this menacing afternoon drama the NHS as we know it no longer exists as writer Kevin Core examines what would happen if healthcare was governed by an app on our phone. As with all stories that project the present into the future there is a hint of could-it-happen-here? A pacy, uneasy thriller directed by Gary Brown.

BBC Sounds Podcast: The Boy In The Woods

One wouldn’t normally associate the smooth-as-honey tones of Radio 4’s ‘You and Yours’ presenter Winifred Robinson with a gritty tale of small town murder. In this instance it was a case she covered as a journalist that haunted her for many years, involving as it did the grisly killing of a six year old child. These stories are sometimes not easy to cover - both Winifred and I reported on the murder of James Bulger - and being outside the house of one of the perpetrators when the police swooped was a scene I’ll never forget. It was like something out of a horror movie, with an armed, baying mob demanding blood. In this series she revisits the scene of the terrible tragedy when youngster Rikki Neave was strangled and left naked in the woods and speaks to his mother who was originally suspected of the killing. A profound and uneasy exploration of life at the sharp end on a council estate.



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


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