Christopher William Hill Radio Dramas

Christopher William Hill is an experienced writer of radio drama. His works include a trilogy based on the Lees-Milne diaries, Love Me Liberace, a comedy 'Marmalade for Comrade Philby' and 'Accolades', an amusing play based on an episode in the life of A.L.Rowse. His early black comedy 'Killing Maestros' was shortlisted for the Tinniswood Award. It is about Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, and reveals it to be the “Scottish Play” of the Opera world, jinxed with mysterious deaths.

Christopher studied Drama and Theatre Studies at the University of Kent, where he specialised in theatre direction. Since then he has worked as a writer, actor, director and script editor for Bedlam Theatre Company of Cornwall and has twice directed for the company. His stage plays (for a variety of theatres) include Tenth From The End; Stealing The Smile; Lam; Blood Red, Saffron Yellow; Song Of The Western Men; Icons; Multiplex; The Jonah Lie. Christopher is currently under commission to Plymouth Theatre Royal, the Northcott Theatre, Bedlam Theatre Company of Cornwall, Chelsea Theatre, Unicorn Theatre for Children and the Stephen Joseph Theatre.

Christopher has also worked as librettist for the opera The Murder of Charlotte Dymond.


Christopher William Hill has written three plays based on the Lees-Milne diaries, and they were broadcast on successive days in early July. The titles were SOMETIMES INTO THE ARMS OF GOD, THE UNENDING BATTLE, and WHAT ENGLAND OWES (R4, 1415, 8-10 Jul 13) and they give an interesting glimpse into his life and work.

As a musician and collector of 'curiosities' I was particularly interested in the third play, which featured Gerlad Tyrrwhit, also known as Lord Berners, one of the more colourful figures from a bygone age. Close to the end of WW2, Lees-Milne was sent to assess Lord Berners' home, Faringdon House in Berkshire, for the National Trust. Berners, apart from running the estate, had no need to work, being extremely rich. He had been a fairly successful British diplomat but his eccentricity and love of jokes and frivolity was well-known. In this respect we need more men like him.

At Faringdon he built a 100-foot folly. At the bottom was a notice: "Members of the Public committing suicide from this tower do so at their own risk". He sat in the House of Lords once, but refused to return on the grounds that his umbrella was stolen by a bishop. He said his title was acquired when three uncles fell off a bridge at the same time after attending a funeral. He could paint in the style of Corot and he wrote crisp and witty prose. He spread fun and laughter amongst his friends, but his greatest talent was for music, and he produced some excellent works. His Rolls-Royce contained a small clavichord under the front seat in case the urge to compose overtook him whilst on a drive.

So, to the play ... together with the handsome Robert Heber Percy and his wife, Jennifer, Lord Berners is part of an apparently successful ménage-a-trois. Lees-Milne visits; he finds it an inspirational relationship and thinks it would be the perfect and most civilised lifestyle to lead. Then suddenly, Berners has a stroke, and is forced to contemplate his mortality. He decides that provision must be made for Robert if the house is to be acquired by the Trust.

Lees-Milne was played by Tobias Menzies, Lord Berners by Christopher Godwin, and other characters appearing were Nancy Mitford (Victoria Hamilton), Eddy Sackville-West (David Seddon) and the Heber-Percys (Michael Shelford and Philippa Stanton). The producer was Marion Nancarrow. (ND, Diversity website review, Sept 2013)

    BBC notes on the three plays:

    10 July 2013: Afternoon Drama - James Lees-Milne: What England Owes
    By Christopher William Hill. Play 3 - Faringdon (Lord Berners' house). Lord Berners had returned to England under a cloud, having spent most of the war in Rome at a time when ordinary people were being called up to fight for their country. He was a notable eccentric, and a brief internet search will give some examples of his eccentricity. He was also a composer of note. His domestic arrangements (a menage-a-trois) left something to be desired. In the play, Lee-Milne attempts to steer Faringdon into National Trust ownership. James Lees-Milne ...... Tobias Menzies, Lord Berners ...... Christopher Godwin, Nancy Mitford ...... Victoria Hamilton, Robert Heber-Percy ...... Michael Shelford, Jennifer Heber-Percy ...... Philippa Stanton, Woman ...... Joanna Brookes, Eddy Sackville-West ...... David Seddon.

    9 May 2013: Afternoon Drama: James Lees-Milne, The Unending Battle
    By Christopher William Hill. Play 2: 1944; James Lees-Milne is attempting to secure a London property to house the musical collection of Boer War veteran, Major Benton Fletcher. Late one night, whilst trying to telephone a friend, Lees-Milne has a crossed line and makes the acquaintance of an anonymous woman. Lees-Milnes's childhood friend Tom Mitford returns unexpectedly from the continent.He wants to settle down after the war, find a wife and raise a family and expects James to help him sift through a list of potential candidates. James Lees-Milne ......... Tobias Menzies, Nancy Mitford ......... Victoria Hamilton, Tom Mitford ......... Tom Mison, Major Benton Fletcher ......... Sean Murray, Woman ......... Philippa Stanton, Girl ......... Philippa Stanton, Neighbour ......... Joanna Brookes, Operator ......... Hannah Wood. 2nd Operator ......... Joanna Brookes, Post Official ......... David Seddon, Produced & directed by Marion Nancarrow.

    8 May 2013: Afternoon Drama - James Lees-Milne: Sometimes into the Arms of God
    By Christopher William Hill. James Lees-Milne's work for the National Trust in the 1930s and 40s was instrumental in securing architectural gems for the nation. His diaries have inspired these three linked plays and they outline the decline and fall of the English country house. This play, no. 1 of the 3, is set in 1942 and Lees-Milne is billeted with the National Trust at West Wycombe Park - a world away from Blitz-ridden London. Lees-Milne is a rising star of the Trust. Invalided out of the army, he's looking for his own battles to fight and is determined to save the house and preserve it for the nation. But times are hard and the Trust is reliant on a considerable endowment before they can acquire a property - an endowment which the incumbent inhabitants, Johnnie and Helen Dashwood, cannot afford to pay. James Lees-Milne ......... Tobias Menzies, Nancy Mitford ......... Victoria Hamilton, Eddy Sackville-West ......... David Seddon, Cecil Beaton ......... Samuel Barnett, Helen Dashwood ......... Joanna Brookes, Miss Paterson ......... Joanna Brookes, Johnnie Dashwood ......... Sean Murray, Haines ......... Ben Crowe, Produced by Marion Nancarrow.

Another play by Christopher William Hill "HUSH! HUSH! WHISPER WHO DARES! (R4, 1415, 25 Jul 13) imagined an encounter between 90-year-old Ernest Shepherd, illustrator of the tales of Pooh, and 50-year-old "Christopher Robin", A.A.Milne's son. The play examined the effects of the the Pooh stories on the lives of the two men, including a possible V&A retrospective, but there were plenty of dark shadows. Oliver Ford Davies played the illustrator and Christopher Milne was played by Simon Treves. The producer was Peter Kavanagh. (ND, Diversity website review, Sept 2013)

    BBC notes, summarised by ND:

    25 July 2013: Afternoon Drama - Hush! Hush! Whisper Who Dares!
    1969. The author speculates about an encounter late in life between the elderly illustrator, Ernest Shepard, and the troubled Robin Milne, then in his fifties, who had endured a lifetime (sic) of being identified as the golden-haired child in the Winnie The Pooh books. Against the backdrop of an actual retrospective of Shepherd's work, this imagined meeting dredges up reminders of a lifetime of anguish for both men, caused by an odious little bear. Ernest Shepard .................... Oliver Ford Davies, Norah .................... Kate Fahy, Christopher Milne .................... Simon Treves, Janet Steen .................... Harriet Chandler, Reynolds .................... Michael Bertenshaw, Ensemble .................... Sean Murray , Ensemble .................... Ben Crowe, Ensemble .................... Philippa Stanton.

9 Oct 11; 2 part dramatization of Stella Gibbons' romance about three women looking for the right man. Classic Serial.

Cast: Victoria Hamilton, Dinah Stabb, Paul Moriarty, Francine Chamberlain, Simon Bubb, Adam Billington, Adjoa Andoh, Alex Rivers, Joan Walker, Ian Masters, Victoria Inez Hardy, James Lailey, Judith Coke, Gerard McDermott. Producer Marion Nancarrow.

Afternoon Play, 1 Sep 09. By Christopher William Hill. Helen Ashbourne, a reclusive English former photographer living in New York, is approached by gallery owner Josh, who hopes to display her collection of photographs taken aboard the airship Hindenburg. But as arrangements for the exhibition progress, suspicions are aroused about her past and exactly what she was doing in Germany in 1937, before she boarded the fated airship. Helen ...... Sian Phillips, Josh ...... Corey Johnson, Annie ...... Fenella Woolgar, Yusef ...... Raad Rawi. Producer - Stephen Canny.

Comedy drama by Christopher William Hill, R4 30 Jul 09, afternoon play. A novelist finds that his French translator has reworked his latest spy novel as his autobiography. Will he own up or not? After all, spies generally get the pretty girls. Cast: Patrick Bradyn ...... Bill Nighy, Hannah Olrod ...... Penelope Wilton, Delphine Barbret ...... Rachel Atkins, Ken ...... Geoffrey Whitehead, Lottie ...... Claudia Elmhirst, Barlow ...... Adrian Scarborough. Original music by Lucinda Mason Brown; produced by Gordon House. Production company: Goldhawk Essential for radio 4.

    This was a good comedy with an excellent cast. It attracted some interesting comments on the BBC messageboard. I'm editing and reproducing some of them below:

    m.f.: .....I suspect the writer knew who was going to play the parts. It just felt right.

    l.r.m.:...........Loved it, suppose the resolution was that he goes for the money and fame plus the wishes of the woman who loves him and never mind the consequences or indeed the truth.

Sat 4 Apr 09. Play about electing a new Archbishop of Canterbury. Geoffrey Whitehead as the Archbishop of York and Alex Jennings as the Bishop of Oxford. Interesting exploration of Church politics. Produced by Mary Peate. 55m.

9 7 2008: Afternoon play. By Christopher William Hill. In 1973; Oxford academic AL Rowse published the work that would establish his name internationally - Shakespeare The Man; in which he claimed to have decoded Shakespeare's sonnets and finally discovered the identity of the playwright's mysterious Dark Lady. But was his 'discovery' based on a misreading? AL Rowse ...... Ian Richardson, Alex Laing ...... Joseph Kloska, Professor Burnett ...... Nigel Anthony ,Gillian Lawrence ...... Stella Gonet, Prosser ...... Sean Barrett. No details of producer.

11.2.08: Comedy series set in 1962. A BBC producer struggles to make a radio soap set in the futuristic world of 2008. Six programmes. Details of episode 3: They Come to Freeze Our Children. An actress is forced to face her worst fear and work with a child. Nigel Lavery ...... Peter Bowles, Sylvia Hann ...... Cheryl Campbell, Godfrey Winnard ..... John Fortune, Sir Angus McNairn ...... Gary Waldhorn, Hugo Kellerman ...... Joseph Kloska, Douglas Bennings ...... Jon Glover, Keith Wood ...... Sam Pamphilon, Cynthia Valentine ...... Rachel Atkins, Fenella Sayers ...... Ania Gordon, Director ...... Alex Lamipekun, Angela ...... Anna Bengo, Continuity ...... Simon Treves.

Afternoon Play. By Christopher William Hill. 26 Sep 07. A student's parents attempt to sue her school after their daughter gets terrible A-level results, but questions are raised as to who is to blame. [Excellent play, but a depressing snapshot of an education system in decline, where teaching to the test is frequently the norm, justified by the unbiquitous league tables. It was not always thus - Ed.] Mike: Geoffrey Hutchings, Connie: Penelope Wilton, Harry: Philip Jackson, Gwen: Sylvestra Le Touzel, Harriet: Joannah Tincey, Kevin: Sam Pamphilon, Colin: Simon Treves. Producer Liz Webb.

R4, 13 Feb 04, Friday play, 55m. A play based on the events surrounding Liberace's 1959 libel trial against the Daily Mirror. Cassandra couldn't stand Liberace and put the boot in, perhaps a bit too vigorously, and a trial was the result. Against this background, an East End teenager is growing up and isn't sure whether he prefers women or men...Owen is 15 and thinks Liberace is the world's best piano player when the story begins in 1956. Over the next three years he writes many letters to his hero, sets about learning the piano, and falls in love with his piano teacher. The play stars Freddy White as Owen, Henry Goodman as Liberace; also stars Frances Barber,James Fleet, Ann Beach, John Rowe, Philip Fox, Ioan Meredith and the author. Pianist Colin Guthrie; directed by Liz Webb.

R4, 14 Aug 03. Productions of Tristan and Isolde have often been jinxed by mysterious deaths. Conductor Sergei Bodanov convinces himself that he too will suffer from the curse and tells his therapist that he has six weeks to rid him of this "evil" before the first performance. With Bill Nighy, Henry Goodman, Lorelei King, Sylvestra La Touzel, and Andrew C Wadsworth. Piano: Colin Guthrie. Director Liz Webb .

Update: "Killing Maestros" shortlisted for
Tinniswood Award 2003

Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde is the “Scottish Play” of the Opera world - jinxed with mysterious deaths. When conductor Sergei Bodanov takes over a production following the heart attack of a fellow conductor, he convinces himself that he too will suffer from the Opera’s curse - and tells his therapist that he has six weeks to cure him of this evil before the first performance.

Quite apart from the on-stage deaths in Tristan und Isolde, there are many off-stage deaths connected to the opera. George Ander was due to play Tristan in the first production of the opera, but went mad and was replaced by Ludwig Carolsfeld who died shortly after the premiere and the conductors Felix Mottl and Joseph Keilberth both expired whilst conducting the second act.

In this black comedy, conductor and health freak Max Blom clutches his heart and dies at the 89th bar of Act II during a rehearsal. His friend Sergei Bodanov takes over, driven by an ingrained sense of Russian fatalism. But Sergei is convinced that Max was killed by Wagner, and believes that he too will suffer a similar fate. He begins sessions with psychotherapist Karl Lieberman and tells him that he has six weeks before the first performance “six weeks for you to cure me, doctor”. Karl is initially fascinated by this “inherited fixation”, but Sergei’s paranoia and hypochondria gradually infect Karl, Karl’s wife Ruth and his friend Laura - with disastrous consequences.

Cast: Bill Nighy (Love Actually; State of Play), Henry Goodman (RSC’s Richard III), Lorelei King (Second Nature; Notting Hill), Sylvestra Le Touzel (Hearts and Bones) and Andrew C. Wadsworth (Kiss Me Kate).
Producer: Liz Webb
Broadcast: 14/08/2003, BBC Radio 4

Expanded synopsis supplied by Jo Hodder, Society of Authors. Used by permission.

More information on Gordon House's page.

(....Thanks to Barry Hodge for locating information on "Hindenburg" and "Spargoe" - ND.)

*exist in collections within VRPCC.

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