Susan Hill Radio Plays

Susan Hill was born in 1942 and was a keen radio listener from childhood, familiar with Under Milk Wood and The Dark Tower. She published several novels before beginning to write for radio. In her plays she explores the inner fears, loneliness and hopes of her characters. She hints at comedy amidst insecurity and mounting anguish. A number of her plays are Gothic chillers - but not the ones selected below for comment. (A list of her plays is given further down the page)

In her play "The Cold Country" four explorers are snowed up near the South Pole with no hope of getting away and no hope of rescue. The radio has stopped working, and as the days pass, they all get on each other's nerves. The resulting situation is grim - how will she resolve it? In her introduction to the printed version of the play, Susan Hill explains that ever since the news of the conquest of Everest in 1953 she has been fascinated by cold white desolate worlds. "The Cold Country" is anti- heroic, a study of defeat. The plays runs counter to the false glamour of Captain Scott's journey to the Antarctic. Elsewhere, Susan Hill develops the theme of the solitary and apparently anti-social individual's imagination as the only way through difficult situations. This theme is well suited for radio treatment.

"The Lizard in the Grass" presents the experiences of an imaginative adolescent girl, caught by chance in a convent school where she fails to get on with staff or pupils. The girl, Jane, is treated by one of the nuns as a deviant needing to be straightened out, and the teacher nearly succeeds in breaking her spirit. But she receives some affection from an eccentric old nun who is barely tolerated by her colleagues. Susan Hill is able to capture in this play the effect of different trains of thought cutting into each other. She gives credit to Guy Vaisen, the producer of all but one of her plays, for encouraging her, and also to Geoffrey Burgon, who wrote music for three of them.

"Consider the Lilies" combines honesty about suffering with optimism. The play concerns a young girl with a wasting illness. The central figure is a middle aged botanist called Bowman, who talks to Susanna, and there is a good sub-plot involving Bowman's eccentric second in command who schemes to get a job he wants.

Susan Hill said the following about radio rehearsals:

......I had never gone into the studio during the recording of any of my plays; I felt that the presence of the author, even when sitting mute in the background of the control room, would inhibit the producer and cast. But I was persuaded to go down for the production of "Consider the Lilies" only to find that, especially in the final scenes, the actors were having great problems with the interpretation of their parts, because of faulty writing. After long talks with the producer and others, several scenes at were rearranged, cut, or rewritten entirely in the margin of the scripts, during lunch and coffee breaks. I still adhere to my rule that the author must not interfere in any way with the work of producer, actors or technicians, but I shall not be absent from studio during any future recordings, because a radio playwright's education is a continuous one, and a day spent listening and observing, in silence, can teach you more than weeks in the study with a script-in-progress.........

I have written this after reading the book "British Radio Drama" by John Drakakis, CUP, 1981, which contains a chapter about the plays of Susan Hill and Dorothy L. Sayers...........N.D.

Susan's website is at:


31.08.70 Miss Lavender is dead (adapted by Guy Vaisen)
07.08.71 A change for the better (adapted by Guy Vaisen)
25.08.71 The end of the summer
28.08.71 Taking leave
07.11.71 *Lizard in the grass
03.10.72 The cold country*
31.03.73 Winter elegy
18.09.73 Consider the Lilies*
22.04.74 Strange Meeting* (adapted by Guy Vaisen)
09.06.74 Window on the world*
01.12.74 Strip Jack naked
05.12.74 Mr Proudham and Mr Sleight
01.10.75 The summer of the giant sunflowers, rpt. 6.5.77
15.12.79 Winter Elegy
11.03.80 *Here comes the bride (Just before Midnight)
20.03.80 The sound that time makes
10.12.84 The woman in black, reading, 10 x 20min; Alan Dudley
24.07.85 Winter, 30m
07.01.93 Gentlemen and Ladies (5 pt. serial)
04.10.93 Mrs de Winter, reading, 13 x 14min.
09.12.93 *The woman in black (4 pt. serial)
10.01.94 The mist in the mirror (5 x 14min serial)
02.10.04 *The woman in black (one-off play, 55m, dram. Mike Walker)


The End of Summer....1971
Judi Dench/Michael Williams

A Change For The Better....1971
Susan Hill Fay Compton/Cathleen Nesbitt/Pauline Letts/Lockwood West

Taking Leave....1971
Richard Hurndall/Wilfrid Carter/Pat Keen

Lizard In The Grass....1972
By Susan Hill. 1 Mar 72.

With Helen Worth as Jane
Martin Jarvis as John

Though ye suppose all jeopardies are passed
Ware yet, I rede you, of Fortune's double cast,
For one false point she is wont to keep in store,
And under the fell oft festered is the sore:
That when ye think all danger for to pass
Ware of the lizard lieth lurking in the grass.
John Skelton, Poet Born 1460, died 1529

Sister Superior -Fay Compton
Sister Patrick -Fabia Drake
Sister Imelda -Aimee Delamain
Aunt Berenice -Colette O'Neil
Her Friend-Doreen Andrew
Jane's father -Denys Hawthorne
Clare -Linette McMurrough
Megan -Jean Roger
Schoolgirls-Olwen Griffiths, Jane Knowles, Elizabeth Proud, Jo Manning Wilson.

The music, played by John Marson and sung by Jonathan Cooke, was specially composed by Geoffrey Burgon. The poems are taken from the work of John Skelton, except three lines from the poem, 'Dunwich' by Anthony Thwaite. Producer-Guy Vaesen. (......information from Gil Swain)

Winter Elegy....1973
Susan Hill Pauline Letts/Lewis Stringer

By Susan Hill. 11 Aug 74. With Tony Britton. "He lives in a world of his own. He doesn't seem to . . . . The lillies, of course, he takes all that interest in those lilies, they might be his children. Well, very nice, all to the good, I'm fond of a well set-up lily myself."

Lesage ---Vernon Joyner
Mrs Lesage ---Betty Huntley-Wright
Charles ---Nicholas Dillane
Lottie ---Julie Hallam
Bowman ---Tony Britton
Doctor ---Clive Swift
Nurse ---Diana Olsson
Susannah ---Helen Worth
Music by ---Geoffrey Burgon.

Musicians: Doreen Price (soprano), John York Skinner (Counter-Tenor), Nona Lidell violin, Geoffrey Burgon celeste, David Corkhill vibraphone, John Marson harp.
Producer ---Guy Vaesen.

By Susan Hill. 9 Jun 74. With Patricia Gallimore as Nell and Julie Hallam as Jess.

Jess: 'I should like to be 30 years old and have both experience and confidence.'
Nell: 'I should like to be 90 years old, aged but not yet senile, respected and philosophical. I should like to haave seen all there is to see.'

Two girl students share a hostel room in their first year. Life to them is all theory, gazing through their "Window on the World" ; until one of them makes a positive move to alter the situation. Producer: Richard Wortley.

Strange Meeting....1974
Susan Hill Nigel Graham/Martin Jarvis/David Timson/Stephen Thorne

The Summer of the Giant Sunflowers....1975
Susan Hill Dandy Nichols/Peter Woodthorpe

The Sound That Time Makes....1980
Susan Hill Patricia Gallimore/John Rowe/Frances Jeater

The woman in black....1993
episode titles: A journey and a funeral, A causeway and a pony trap, A nursery and child, Letters and death certificates. This is Gothic horror - an excellent story, too.

Nigel Deacon / Diversity website
Asterisked plays known to exist in VRPCC collections.

Back to top

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