Clive Lever sent the following, from "The Man In Black", BBC Publications 1990. (ISBN 0 563 20904 6)....Bert Coules, who lives on the Kent coast within whistling distance of the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway, produced his first creepy story at the age of seven, and has been horrifying people with his writing ever since. He describes himself as six foot four, craggily handsome and an inveterate liar.
Bert Coules worked as a recording engineer, a sound-effects technician, a script reader and a producer-director in radio drama before becoming a full-time freelance writer. He is particularly well-known for his Sherlock Holmes adaptations, but his output is extremely varied, encompassing "Fear on Four", science fiction, and docu-drama. His broadcast plays are shown below; those with asterisks are known to exist within VRPCC collections. The Sherlock Holmes plays are not listed here but full details can be found at http://www.bertcoules.co.uk/sh-home.htm
This page contains a listing of Bert's plays and adaptations for radio, a word from Bert Coules on certain aspects of radio drama, and finally some notes about some of the plays.
A Magician Amongst the Spirits* (Harry Houdini's life) 90m
Asterisked plays in VRPCC collections
A word from Bert Coules:
In choosing a subject for an original radio play or adaptation, are there constraints imposed by the BBC, or can ideas be submitted on any subject?
As far as subject matter goes, there are, of course, the usual constraints which apply to every dramatic medium: the BBC wouldn't accept material that was deemed to be obscene or libelous or gratuitously offensive. Dramatisations of existing works are dependent on a number of factors including copyright availablity (if a novel has been turned into a film, for example, the film company will probably have purchased dramatic rights for all media.) And then there are considerations of scheduling - the Corporation aims for a varied fare of subject matter and genre - and perceived audience appeal. Also, the different radio drama slots are usually devoted to different types of programming, which can have a big effect on which ideas are favourably considered.
There are very few 90-minute plays broadcast at present. How does this influence a writer's choice of material?
It doesn't affect choice of material so much as how that material is treated: there is a school of thought which holds that the loss of longer slots has led to a certain lack of depth and development in some plays. In talking about "a writer's choice" you must remember that a lot of radio drama is written on the instigation of the BBC rather than the writer; for example, I was recently commissioned to dramatise two quite complex crime novels: one as a one-off play of sixty minutes, the other as a two part serial lasting two hours overall. Not unnaturally, I had to adopt rather different approaches for the two projects.
If you have a story which seems to require an hour but the BBC will only give you a 45 minute slot, how do you decide what to leave out?
It doesn't quite work that way. Scripts are married to specific slots from the very moment of their instigation, so the running time is almost always in the writer's mind from the beginning. The plot, content and style of the piece will have been conceived for a fixed running time; it's very rare in my experience that the duration of a radio play will have to be altered once it's been commissioned.
Is there a mechanism at the BBC for writers to check how much of their work has been retained in the archive?
Not directly. This has to be done through a BBC producer or other executive.
What is current BBC policy on deciding what to store / discard? Is stuff automatically thrown out if you don't put a retention order on it, say every 12 months?
This is a matter of BBC policy and I have no idea what the current guidelines are. Writers - on the whole - are not made privy to such things.
~Many thanks to Bert Coules for answering these questions, and for supplying his list of radio plays.
Further information about Bert's work is on his website at http://www.bertcoules.co.uk
Nigel Deacon / Diversity website
UPDATE on archiving policy, following an exchange between Caroline Raphael and ND, Apr. 2003
All "performance programmes" are now automatically archived by the BBC. This means radio plays, comedies, serials, Desert Island Discs, etc, but not news broadcasts. The policy began around the year 2000; before that date only a certain amount was saved. The reason for the change in policy is cost of recording / archiving, which has plummeted in the last few years.
A WIZARD OF EARTHSEA....1996
Doomed forever to be hunted by a nameless creature that would devour his soul and turn his powers to evil, the young wizard must journey beyond the edge of the world, battling dragons and encountering many perils, to confront the beast which only he can destroy.'A Wizard ofEarthsea' is a classic tale of high magic, courage and the neverending struggle between good and evil. Dramatised by Bert Coules from Ursula Le Guin's 1968 novel 'A Wizard of Earthsea'. With Judi Dench [The Narrator], Michael Maloney [Ged / Shadow], Emma Fielding [The Girl / Lady Serret], Richard Johnson [The Dragon of Pendor], Mark Burrows [Young Ged], Abigail Docherty [Yarrow], and Tom Felton [Ioeth].
Also in the cast: Jonathan Adams, Sean Baker, Ann Beach, Keith Drinkel, Robert Harper, Ioan Meredith, Chris Pavlo, Colleen Prendergast, Christopher Scott, and Kim Wall. Music composed by David Chilton and Nick Russell-Pavier. Directed by Janet Whitaker. The initial two-hour broadcast was re-broadcast on BBC7 in two parts.
Bert Coules has done the difficult job of writing five Sherlock Holmes tales, based on references from the stories of Arthur Conan Doyle. He began with The Madness of Colonel Warburton (R4, 1415, 30 Jan 02). Clive Merrison was Holmes, as ever, and the role of Watson was expertly taken by Andrew Sachs, following the death of Michael Williams. The new stories stick closely to the Conan Doyle style, and to me were indistinguishable from the real thing. (VRPCC newsletter, Apr 02)
These have been issued by the BBC on cassette. They are well written and cast, and a delight to hear. I was a little apprehensive about how Andrew Sachs would be as Watson (since I thought Merrison and Williams were the best Holmes and Watson ever) but by the end of the series I was delighted with the new interpretation, and thought Mr. Sachs had done a wonderful job. Perhaps the stories were a little darker than the originals, but none seemed too far from the Conan Doyle style.... (part of a review taken from www.reviewcentre.com and reproduced by permission).
THE LAUGHING POLICEMAN....2002
The Three Hostages....2003
Inspector Rebus-The Falls....2003
originally broadcast as the Classic Serial 18 Sep to 2 Oct 1994. The BBC7 repeat:
Tue 20 Jan, 10:00 - 11:00 60 mins Overtures And Beginners: Richard Hearncastle takes the position of a magician's assistant to his uncle.
Wed 21 Jan, 10:00 - 11:00 60 mins First Night: The trials and tribulations of the artistes behind the scenes of a travelling variety show. Tom Baker stars.
Thu 22 Jan, 10:00 - 11:00 60 mins As his uncle works on a new illusion Richard begins to feel a prisoner. The final episode in this powerful story of magic and theatre.
......information sent by Greg Linden
I believe he wrote propaganda in WWI, and this can be heard in the scripts. All the 'good sorts' who are invalided out can't wait to get back to the Front to give the Hun 'what for'.
Totally politically incorrect by today's standards; rampant stereotyping, oozing gung-ho, but such good fun!
THE MARLEBOURNE POINT MYSTERY....2010
By Bert Coules. A Sherlock Holmes story inspired by Arthur Conan Doyle. R4 1415 5-6 Apr 2010. Clive Merrison again in the title role, with Andrew Sachs as Dr. Watson. 90m.
Bert Coules replied: .....I hasten to second the praise for Patrick Rayner, whose contribution to the shows - and many, many others besides - has been vast and wonderful, and who unfailingly makes my scripts sound much better than they really are.
Yes, we've had two Watsons: in the Conan Doyle dramatisations the late and much lamented Michael Williams, whom one online commentator called "quite simply the best Watson there has ever been, in any medium", and in all of the Further Adventures his successor Andrew Sachs, who had large shoes to fill and did so superbly.
And yes, Clive Merrison has been the one fixed point in a changing age, the centre and focus of the whole enterprise with its four producers, three directors, eleven writers, six producer's assistants, many musicians, vast string of guest stars and supporting casts, and fantastic technical crews who regularly and magnificently transform dingy, unatmospheric studios into fog-bound streets, windswept moors and a cosy firelit sitting room in Baker Street.
What a pleasure and a privilege it is to have worked with them all.
In an earlier posting, Bert wrote a little about his 'Holmes':
.......in common with most actors on radio, Clive Merrison gives what you would call a complete performance, with facial expressions, gestures, movements, the lot.
The various scenes are set up so that the cast can move around the sets just as they would on stage or film, so apart from the fact that they're holding scripts in their hands and that there's no proper scenery, furniture, costumes or lighting, a radio drama recording session isn't actually that much different from a TV or movie session.
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