Radio Drama Reviews
20 Nov 2023

Harry Turnbull

Lines In The Sand: The Journeys of Gertrude Bell
Drama on 4

With Fenella Woolgar, adapted by Mary Cooper from the book ‘Queen of the Desert’ by Georgina Howell.

I first heard of Gertrude Bell many years ago having dined at the home of a Middle-Eastern family in Earls Court where my wife was employed as an au pair. It was an illuminating afternoon and I learnt something about the history of Arab-Israeli conflict and the Hindawi family’s flight from their farm in Palestine which was commandered in 1948.

It was eight days later, back in Wigan, that an item appeared on the evening news about a foiled terror plot at Heathrow Airport. On the screen popped up a mugshot of Nezar Hindawi, one of the family members present at our Sunday lunch of roast chicken infused with lemon and crushed coriander seeds.

The crime was considered so grotesque Thatcher broke off diplomatic relations with Syria, thought to have funded the plan, and Nez copped a 45 year sentence - at the time the longest imposed in modern British criminal history.

Sadly, the deep-rooted hatred engendered by Britain and France’s Colonial carve-up of the Middle-East that fuelled Nezar’s hatred, remains. Before the Great War Gertrude Bell was a well-to-do young British woman who admired the Middle-Eastern region and endeavoured to make herself useful. Her efforts with the intelligent services helped bring stability to the region as the Ottoman Empire was vanquished.

Fenella Woolgar capably embodies the spirit of the woman who fell in love with the local cultures and played a significant role in supporting Arabs as the Great War vanquished the Ottoman Empire.

It is an intriguing listen and inevitably draws comparisons with the more lauded Lawrence of Arabia. It is fair that the role of those under-valued by history should be highlighted but there is a striking omission - the fact that Bell was the first honorary secretary of the northern branch of the anti-suffrage league. In other words, the woman who was brought up in privilege took a position against women fighting for the vote in Britain.

Another similarity with T.E Lawrence was meeting an untimely end.

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Turning Point: The Fall
Drama on 4

Excitement and fear are rampant across Berlin and the secret police are on high alert.But what’s this laddies and lassies? The leaders of the East German terror regime are speaking with broad Scottish accents and downing Glendfiddich. Welcome to the McStasi!

It’s kind of weird when Sauciehall Street springs to mind rather than Friedrichstrasse but radio drama is only limited by the imagination I guess.

Turning Point is a series of stories based on important times in history. In The Fall, events suggest that the collapse of the Berlin Wall was accelerated by a public relations blunder. I must admit, I never conceived that the State apparatus of the GDR were concerned about brand reputation.

Crossed wires meant a government spokesman mistakenly announced Wall checkpoints were open causing floods of citizens to try and pour into the West.

Of course the event merely speeded up a process that was under way but this production gives an insight into how fear began to grip the Stasi themselves when control started to slip from their grasp. It was produced by Gaynor Macfarlane for BBC Scotland which perhaps gives us an insight into casting. Interestingly, she also directed Love Stories: The Betrothed, an Italian drama also populated with Scottish voices.

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She’s Not There
Drama on 4
Directed by Tracey Neale

This French murder mystery may be familiar to some who have seen the 50s noir film Les Diaboliques with Simone Signoret.

A bit difficult to recreate the atmosphere of that time with another British cast so I do wonder whether it could have been set in Peterborough rather than Paris.

John Heffernan and Emma Fielding feature in this strange take on the menage-a-trois from a novel by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, who also penned the tale that was the basis of Hitchcock’s Vertigo.

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You Must Listen
By Nigel Kneale
Featuring Toby Jones

A script by sci-fi writer Nigel Kneale has been retrieved from his archives and re-recorded as the original 1952 effort has been lost.

Toby Jones is the lead telephone engineer investigating the peculiar case of what appears to be a crossed-line in an office involving a woman sounding off to her paramour.

Of course in the old days there were devices called party lines which meant telephone connections were shared and muddles were not uncommon but this case has a much more mysterious aspect.

Kneale utilised the technology of the day to create a soundscape involving the disembodied voice nicknamed ‘Passionfruit’ by titillated ladies in the office.

The lost story was restaged as part of the BBC’s 100th anniversary of radio drama celebrations.

Limelight: There’s Something I Need To Tell You
Goldhawk Productions

Limelight is the podcast series that is also broadcast on Friday afternoons on Radio 4. They are often episodic fast-paced stories designed for the reduced 30 minute slot and allegedly appealing to a slightly younger audience.

This story in five episodes is typical John Scott Dryden and Goldhawk with seemingly innocent citizens thrust into international intrigue. In this case a couple on holiday in Dubai get mixed up with shady characters in the shadow world of banking and take possession of a mystery envelope that everyone wants.

As is often the case with these thrillers you end up wondering, just what happened there? This of course leaves enough questions to answer the call for a second series if required.



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