December 2002
September 2002
April 2002


The three months since the last review have seen interesting plays in the afternoons and on Friday nights, some good comedy series, including yet another run of "I'm Sorry, I Haven't a Clue", and some welcome repeats of Radio Active from the 80s. There has also been the launch of BBC 7, a digital radio station for which you need either a television plus special electronic box, or a digital radio. First, though, the items which have kept me most entertained since late September:

We have had another six Mark Steele Lectures (R4, 1830, beginning 18 Sep 02) including an excellent one on Mohammed Ali, formerly Cassius Clay. Racism had been rife for generations in America; to paraphrase Steele:- 'In 1908, the black Jack Johnson won the World Heavyweight Boxing title. Cartoons portrayed Johnson as a gorilla, and as Johnson arrived in the ring, a band struck up a song called 'All Coons Look Alike To Me'. Clay was aware of this history and dedicated himself to boxing partly as the best way to earn respect in his community. He made the famous reply "No Viet Kong ever called me nigger" when accused of draft-dodging at the time of the Vietnam conflict. Just as memorable is his World Title fight against Floyd Patterson, a black boxer but one who promised to "win the title back for America...the image of a black Muslim as a World Champion disgraces the sport and the nation." In the fight, Ali kept being in a position to knock Patterson out but he allowed him to recover so that he could keep punching, until after twelve rounds Patterson was put out of his misery, as Ali stood over him yelling "Stand up, White America" to the crowd.....and no matter how much you try and imagine the impact of it, I don't think that you really can......here is a country where black people can't be served water in Woolworth's, and a militant black Muslim is defending his World Title on live television by screaming "Stand Up, White America" - the whole of society was polarised by this; it'd be like, if during an episode of Ground Force, Charlie Dimmock started battering Alan Titchmarsh unconscious with a shovel - respectable opinion would be horrified, but anyone half-decent would be saying "look at this, it's fantastic"'.

The Listening Heart-Beethoven in Crisis, Summer 1802 (R4, 1415, 1 Oct 02), by David Constantine, was an imaginative reconstruction of the year when Beethoven realised he was going deaf. Until that point he had been a pianist-composer; from that year the emphasis shifted to composition, and he wrote his best works when most of his hearing had gone. This remains one of the greatest achievments in the history of music. Beethoven was played by Robert Glenister, and the pianist was David Owen Norris.

The way the internet can grab a person's imagination was demonstrated in Dot's Net, by Neil Monaghan (R4, 1415, 18 Oct 02). Dot is cultured and erudite and in her late sixties; her son, she feels, has abandoned her by emigrating to America. But he has paid for an online computer so they can keep in touch, and for a home help Maddy, who is young and attractive. To start with, Dot won't touch the machine, but then Maddy's love life takes a turn for the worse; which is where Dot and her computer get involved. This was an excellent comedy, Antonia Pemberton playing Dot and Charlie Hayes Maddy. The producer was Izzy Mant.

In The Typist Who Flew to Australia, by Helen Cross (R4, 1415, 30 Oct 02), we were treated to the story of Amy Johnson (1903-41), the first female pilot to fly alone from Britain to Australia, which she achieved at the age of 26. Born in Hull, her flying career began in 1928; she was the first female ground engineer licensed by the Air Ministry, and she was awarded the C.B.E for her flying exploits. Her accomplishments were well recognised at the time, and she became a celebrity. The aeroplane which she used on her solo flight to Australia was a tiny De Havilland Gipsy Moth, which is on show at the Science Museum. Catherine Bradshaw played Amy, Andrew Wincott was Hans, and Peter Leslie Wilde directed.

Curriculum Vitae, by David Pownall (R4, 1415, 5 Nov 02) was Pownall's sixty-second original radio play. Set in the early 1960s, it concerns an idealistic young graduate who gets a well-paid job recruiting workers for a new Liverpool car plant. But Dad is a union man and sees his son's job as a betrayal of the shop-floor workers. Why should the young man have the right to hire or fire those more than twice his age? Carl Prekopp was Rex, Tim Flavin was Ross, and the play was directed by Martin Jenkins, no longer a member of the BBC but still involved in making radio drama of the highest quality.

The remarkable story of the friendship between a former master and an African slave was covered in Evaristo's Epitaph, by Patrick Carroll (R4, 1415, 25 Nov 02). The play was "based a Cornish gravestone and parish records" - RT. Thomas Johns, a Cornishman, was at the slave auctions in Rio, and a boy aged about six was on sale. A buyer was keen to have him, but Johns, noticing his unpleasant manner, put in a higher bid . He became the boy's master and had him trained as a mine carpenter. Evaristo became devoted to his master and on one occasion saved his master's life during an incident when they were attacked by bandits. The years passed, and eventually slavery was abolished, but Evaristo chose to accompany his master to England , where he retrained as a cabinet maker. The epitaph reads: "Sacred to the memory of Thomas Johns of Polkerris who departed this life January 28th 1861 aged 61 years / Evaristo Muchiavella, born in Mozambique South Africa, died at Redruth February 19th 1868, aged 38 years. Here lies the master and the slave, side by side within one grave, distinctions lost and caste is o'er, the slave is now a slave no more".

Remarks added 25 Oct 03..Evaristo's play.... .....I have just visited Polkerris; there is no church there, and no graveyard - just a deconsecrated chapel. Is the story fictional, or is the gravestone elsewhere? Would be grateful for more information.

Written to Death, by Lesley Glaister (R4, 1415, 4 Dec 02) gave a vivid portrayal of odd goings-on in a writers' group. Ellen is recently widowed, and so joins a writing class to keep her mind occupied and to make new friends. A widower in the group soon becomes more interested in her than her writing, but he is pompous and self-opinionated. Her way of dealing with the situation is highly original, and is revealed as she reads her story to the others, a little each week. There is also a nice twist at the end. Sheila Donald played Ellen, Crawford Logan was the awful Hubert, and the director was Dave Bachelor.

A new comedy series, Alison and Maud, by Sue Limb (R4, beginning 1130, 13 Dec 02), has a cast which most writers can only dream about: Denise Coffey, Miriam Margolyes, Joss Ackland, Chris Emmett, Geoffrey Whitehead and Phyllida Nash; set in a guest house run by two sisters, neither of whom is well suited to it. Joss Ackland is the ageing father, perpetually stuck on a tricky crossword clue; Chris Emmett plays the anorak roles and the odd-job man; Geoffrey Whitehead is Bernard the accountant. In episode 2, Emmett the ornithologist has cornered Denise Coffey for six hours in a pub talking about certain birds having vermiculated plumage; Ackland is wandering around the house asking anyone he can find about the word for Spanish sausages - seven letters... "damned foreigners....coming over here inserting their sausages into our crosswords". The producer is Jonathan James-Moore.

The Great Smog by Jerome Vincent (R4, 1415, 13 Dec 02) was set in London in December 1952, when the worst smog in living memory brought the city to a standstill. It is estimated that there were 3,000 extra deaths as a result of it; eleven cattle died at the Smithfield show by breathing in fumes; there were more burglaries, and the buses and tubes ran a very restricted service. Theatre performances and concerts were abandoned, sometimes during the performance, as audience and singers had coughing fits. The Great Smog consisted of three short cameos; a girl turned down by her boyfriend; a pickpocket who robs a blind man, and two burglars who take their victim to hospital when they realise he is choking to death. Shirley Dixon was Alice, Harry Myers was Ben, and Peter Jefferson, his voice a few semitones lower than normal (digital tricks?) was the newsreader; David Blount directed.

Man in the Flying Lawn Chair (R4, 1415, 16 Dec 02) was an unusual play devised by the 78th Street Theatre Lab from an idea by Eric Nightingale. In 1982, a Los Angeles truck driver, Larry Walters, tied 45 weather balloons to his lawn chair, which was tethered to his truck. He climbed in, holding his rifle, and then cut himself loose. He had intended to hover above the city, using the rifle to burst balloons as necessary,but instead he rocketed into the sky, dropped the gun, and was spotted at 16,000 ft. by a passing jet plane. Why did he do it? "When I was young my Dad bought me a balloon filled with gas....I took it home and spent the whole day attaching toys to it....I finally got it to lift this one toy, and it just hovered, and floated across the room - that's when I knew I wanted to float the balloon." There was unfortunately no happy ending; Walters went on tour giving "motivation" seminars, suffered financial difficulties, and in 1993 took his own life. But the narrator pays tribute to him at the end of the play: "Walters' memory survives as a model of those qualities of independence, vision and disregard for common caution without which aviation would never have come into being."

Other plays of note have been The Beautiful Couple, by Carolyn Pertwee - a love story with a difference- (R4, 1415, 2 Oct 02); Anton in Eastbourne , by Peter Tinniswood, with Paul Scofield (R4, 1415, 20 Nov 02); a superb adaptation of Watership Down, by Neville Teller (R4, 1502, starting 29 Sep 02); Leila Aboulela's charming The Museum, (R4, 1415, 15 Oct 02); Music at Night, by Don Taylor, with an eerie violinist (R4, 1415, 18 Nov 02); Don Haworth's Conversations on the London Train (R4, 1415, 7 Nov 02)....I have no space to describe them, but all have entertained me or compelled me to learn something.

Finally, to return to the subject of BBC 7: on its first night the station teamed up with Radio 4 for two hours to give a taste of their schedules. We had part of an old Hancock show, part of an Alan Bennett reading, an excerpt from the play "Cigarettes and Chocolate", by Anthony Minghella (very surprising, this)...then I looked at their schedule, on the internet, at the Drama & Books section. The week beginning 16 December had the following highlights: The French Lieutenant's Woman by John Fowles, Pet Sematary(sic) by Stephen King, Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie and A Suitable Boy, by Vikram Seth. Nothing very uncommon, but it is early days; we will have to wait to see what happens.

Nigel Deacon / 21 Dec 02


Five months since the last review; some interesting items, but perhaps the grumbles should come first. Too many repeated afternoon plays (three out of five this week) and not enough ninety-minuters. But The Go-Between, by L.P.Hartley, dramatised by Laurie Graham (R4, 1430, 25 May 02) was very welcome when it appeared. Comedy and lighter drama seem to be on the up, and there have been some well-told ghostly tales. The good weather means that some September programmes are still in the in-tray, but I have found the following to be particularly good:

Thin Woman in a Morris Minor (R4, 1415, 10 Apr 02), by Sarah Lefanu, was a docu-drama about the writer Rose Macauley. In 1947 she drove alone down the Spanish coast in her ancient car, a curiosity to all who saw her. She had interesting encounters on the way, and we were told about some of them. Maureen O'Brien was Rose, and Cornelius Garrett was Senor Simon, a ghost from her past.

Inside Google (R4, 2130, 12 May 02 was a factual programme about "Google", the internet search engine. Most of you will know the internet as an almost-infinite source of information but often rather frustrating because it has no proper index. Getting anything useful from it therefore depends on the way you search. For the uninitiated, Google is a program (and now a silicon valley company) which has made sense of the internet for 100 million people by using simple keywords and the distance between them to locate information. Peter Day chatted to its founders, all in their twenties, about their plans for the future. It was refreshing that none of them mentioned money; they were more interested in making the internet accessible than in becoming millionaires.

The Other Wittgenstein (R4, 1330, 14 May 02) was an excellent biography of the pianist Paul Wittgenstein, brother of the famous philosopher. He lost his right arm in the First World War, and it seemed that his career was over, but he developed his left hand technique to such a degree that he was able to comission some of the world's best composers to write music which he performed all over the world. Pete Morgan wrote and presented the programme.

A very good production of The Iliad went out in two parts as The Classic Serial (R4, 2102, beginning 8 Jun 02), with Derek Jacobi as the narrator. The story is the feud between Hector and Achilles during the siege of Troy. Music was composed by the excellent Mia Soteriou, and the dramatisation was by Tom Holland. Radio does not get much better than this.

Thalidomide Forty Years On (R4, 2000, 8 Jun 02) was presented by the journalist Geoff Spink, himself a thalidomide victim. There are about four hundred people alive today whose bodies and lives have been changed by thalidomide, a drug used by women to combat morning sickness. The drug exists in two mirror-image forms, but at the time, no-one knew that the left-handed form affected foetus development. With improved knowledge of body chemistry, researchers are thinking about using the drug again to combat disease.

The Little World of Don Camillo, by Giovanni Guareschi, dramatised by Peter Kerry (R4, 1830, beginning 10 Jun 02) returned for its second series. These tales of the feud between the communist mayor and the Catholic priest are ideal for half-hour dramatisations, rather like the Jeeves short stories. Joss Ackland plays God, Ian Hogg plays Don Camillo, and Shaun Prendergast is Peppone. As Radio Times says, " a delight".

David Ashton has found a winning formula with his entertaining tales of McLevy, Inspector of Crime. Another series began with A Good Walk Spoilt (R4, 1415, 18 Jun 02), where a body is found on Leith golf links on the eve of a major golf championship. The casting here is excellent; Brian Cox is the indomitable McLevy, Michael Perceval-Maxwell his sidekick Mulholland, and Siobhan Redmond the brothel-keeper Jean Brash. The series is purportedly based on the memoirs of a Victorian Inspector, but one sometimes wonders if his journal was quite so full of entertaining tales.

The Twenty-Nine Worst Minutes of Raymond Hej was a wonderfully funny and touching play about the son of the only Norwegian in Barnsley, written by poet Ian MacMillan (R4, 1415, 25 Jun 02). Raymond's father tells him "although life is a matter of years, the bad things that happen to you are just a matter of minutes...". Raymond therefore decides to give his autobiography, the twenty-nine worst minutes of his life, in one-minute bursts. Introducing each minute is a "fanfare" on the bass tuba. The form varies; one minute is presented as a Philip Marlowe mystery; another as a George Formby song, and minute 22 describes " the evenings of my married life, an extremely long minute, presented as a Samuel Beckett monologue".

The Doctor' s House, by Alan Drury (R4, 1415, 9 Jul 02) had a resident evil spirit in a remote Somerset village looking to prey on newcomers. A good well-cast story; Gerard Murphy as the incomer, with Struan Roger and Gavin Muir as the residents.

Nick Warburton has been busy; Our Late Supper (R4, 1415, 15 Jul 02) concerned a shy elderly lady befriended by a twelve year old girl, and Mountaineering (R4, 29 May 02), where another young lady has the hobby of nocturnal climbing, unknown to her parents. We also had "To Winchester" (R4, 23 Jul 02) in which a brother and sister attending their mother's funeral learn, on hearing the will, that she has asked them to transport a box from the family home in Scotland to Winchester. When they do so, it has far-reaching consequences.

Giles Wemmbley Hogg Goes Off (R4, 1830, beginning 16 Jul 02) is a new comedy series owing something to Alan Partridge; Giles is an upper middle class student in his gap year intent on doing good whilst he travels the world. But his attempts to assist are toe-curlingly embarrassing. To quote Giles at the end of his first day of well-digging in the Sudan: "...the whole village are here; some of them are praying.....it's great actually; they have their own special religion, passed down from generation to generation; I've been learning all about it from Ibby and Fatima; it's absolutely fascinating; in fact I think it may be unique to this community - what's your faith called again, Ibby? Oh -Islam". The series is written by Marcus Brigstocke and Jeremy Salsby, with material by Graeme Garden.

At home with the snails, by Gerard Foster (R4, 2302, 4 programmes beginning 18 Jul 02) returned for a second series. This is a surreal comedy; Geoffrey Palmer and Angela Thorne play the dotty parents, and Gerard Foster is the son who lives in the shed with his snails. In the first episode, the parents feign their deaths to see how their son reacts, because Dad wants material for his new book. Another original comedy, Night Class, by Johnny Vegas (R4, 1830, 5 programmes beginning 27 Aug 02) has started well and has similarly original plots; one episode has a family pet, killed in an accident, cremated in the kiln.

The Men Are From .... by David and Caroline Stafford (R4, 1415, 18 Jul 02) had a perfectly-cast Stephen Moore as Phil, the gormless husband, and Lesley Manville as his ambitious wife, Trish, a "relationship facilitator". They appear to have the "perfect marriage", and now, Trish is recording her own self-help manual. But she gradually realises that all her friends are dysfunctional, and that only she can sort out the mess. A hilarious take on the psychiatric industry; Marc Jobst was the director.

A completely riveting and somewhat disturbing play, Far from Home (R4, 2101, 26 Jul 02), by Michael Butt, looked at the difficulty of giving evidence in a murder trial. Terry has lived in a corner of London all his life and has no intention of moving. But his wife has the misfortune to see a murder being committed. Will she give evidence? What about reprisals? And if the family has to start life somewhere else under a new name, will it be safe?

Robert Westall, who died in 1993, had a reputation for high quality tales of the supernatural. In 1981 we had The Wind Eye, a story about a family on holiday in a deserted bay, where past and present are intertwined. Yaxley's Cat, (1992) was about superstition and persecution in 1600 Grimsby. In 1996 we had The Stones of Muncaster Cathedral, with a demon inhabiting the tower. Recently we heard The Wheatstone Pond (R4, 1430, 27 Jul 02); once an Edwardian boating lake, but now deserted and forgotten. There is a suicide; the pond is drained, and some very disturbing objects are found in the mud. Martyn Read did the dramatization, and the director was again Rosemary Watts. In Westall's words, "there is a freedom in ghostliness. You break the surface of life and let the underside come out. If even life is a flat plane, the ghastliness gives depth and height. It's a new dimension". (quoted from the Norham College website, Tyneside)

Val Sims has produced some good work recently. Two years ago we had Not like Enid Blyton, (due to be repeated on 6 Aug 02 but replaced by a repeated Tinniswood monologue at the last minute), a comic adventure about two young schoolgirls. Billy and Elvis (R4,1415, 16 Aug 02) was semi-autobiographical; Billy Sims, Val's husband, died on the same day as Elvis. She weaves the stories of the two mens' lives together, and produces a very effective radio piece on the nature of love and loss. Another Sims play, A Fairy lost in the 21st Century (R4, 1415, 16 May 02) was a light comedy with Thelma Barlow as Delphinium, a fairy who has been asleep for 700 years, accidentally woken by 11 year old Darren. He takes her home, and strange things start to happen. Chris Wallis directed both productions.

Tiger Leaping Gorge, by Brian Campbell (R4, 1415, 7 Aug 02) was a classic tale of what can go wrong on a walking holiday when the only participants are three headstrong young men. Remote parts of China may be spectacular, but they have never felt heat like this before...a ten hour walk from base, and there is no shade. Will they escape with their lives?

The Aerodrome (R4, 2102, 23 Aug 02) by Rex Warner, dramatized by Graham White, was an outstanding parody of the conflict between the military and the ordinary citizen. 1930s England, and the village is slowly taken over by the RAF. Roy and Bess's romance is shattered, and the rector is shot dead during machine gun practice. The Air Vice-Marshall gives the address at his funeral: "We are here today to bury a man. Death is often a matter of accident, and there are, it must be said, few reasons to be particularly dismayed by it. The rector's family is, I believe, well provided for. Now we shall bury the body".

Test Match Special has continued to deliver good value. I have sometimes wondered why, during winter tours, the cricket commentary from Australia, or India, or wherever, seems so dull by comparison. Perhaps the foreign networks fail to realise that they should employ raconteurs who can commentate rather than cricket specialists unable to talk about anything else. Another treat is "View from the Boundary" , on the Saturday of each Test Match, where one of the commentators chats with a well-known personality interested in cricket. The journalist and ex-Cabinet Minister Lord Deedes was Henry Blofeld's guest (R4, 1315, 27 Jul 02) and he reminisced about cricket between the wars and his early political and journalistic career. Another high spot was the interviewing of Stephen Fry by Jonathan Agnew (R4, 1315, 7 Sep 02); Fry is an entertaining and thoughtful speaker, and the conversation ranged from schoolboy cricket to Fry's appearances in "Blackadder".

There is plenty to be thankful for in this list; no other country has such a comprehensive schedule of quality programming; but a few less repeats and more full length plays would make it better. It might even attract back some of those writers who stopped writing for the BBC in the 90s.

Nigel Deacon / 14 Sep 02

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An interesting collection of plays this time; a few by familiar names but the BBC has been encouraging newcomers to submit material. We have had one or two ninety minute plays, and another split in half (Titanic, mentioned below) and put out on successive days in the afternoon. A regular 90 minute slot is necessary, but we are not badly served compared to some other places; I have recently been contacted by a drama enthusiast in America who writes as follows: "We cannot sustain production of radio drama over here ..... a heroic effort was made by a Los Angeles radio station in the 1980s, but it has given way to music and chat. I constantly marvel at the quality of past (and current) BBC productions. I recommend them to everyone I know, but they are not used to listening instead of watching....."

Kings (R4, 1415, five plays beginning 15 Jan) told various stories of the reign of the biblical King David. The first three were by Sebastian Baczkiewicz, and the others by Kate Clanchy. All were good, but I was particularly taken by "The Loved One" where Saul, on the brink of defeat by the Philistines, commands Anat, the witch, to foretell his fate. She conjures up old friends and enemies in the fire, and they speak with him...the images invoked by this scene were excellent.

Apostle of Light (R4, 1415,14 Jan 02) by John Pilkington was a dramatisation of the life of Louis Braille. After losing his sight in a childhood accident he was placed in an institution for the blind. The prospects for sightless children in Paris were appalling; they couldn't be educated because they could hardly read or write; the only printed material they could cope with consisted of enormous books printed in raised type. A visit by a retired army captain, Charles Barbier, changed all this. Barbier had developed what he called "night-writing"; he had once seen a gun crew annihilated because they had betrayed their position by lighting a lamp to read a trivial message. He worked out that raised dots and dashes could represent letters or words and that these could be read in the dark. Braille devised an alphabet using the same idea and showed that a practised user could read and write at a decent speed.

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.

Satisfaction Guaranteed (R4, 1415, 8 Feb 02) , dramatised by Diana Grifiths, was a tale by Isaac Asimov. US Robots employee Larry Belmont agrees to let his rather dowdy and submissive wife field-test a new house robot, a handsome humanoid called Tony. He is unprepared for the transformation which takes place in his wife, and so are the neighbours. An entertaining story; well-told. Nicholas Blane was Tony, and the director Pauline Harris.

Facade , by David Pownall (R4, 1415, 18 Mar 02), broadcast a few days after the William Walton centenary, dealt with his relationship with the wordsmith Edith Sitwell as they were putting together "Facade" a composite of music and verbal imagery (or nonsense, as many would have it). It is difficult now, in a period where no-one turns a hair at on-stage expletives, to understand why this rather odd but harmless work was attacked so vigorously when it first appeared. Celia Imrie and David Tennant played Sitwell and Walton, with Chris Emmett as Noel Coward and the ill-fated Constant Lambert.

The Spies , also by David Pownall (R4, 3 Apr 02) took another look at the story of Jesus's crucifixion and resurrection, through the eyes of children paid by the Romans to spy on the disciples. A plausible plot, and an interesting perspective on the barbaric Roman regime.

An extraordinary little play, A Meeting in Seville (R4, 1415, 5 Apr 02), written by Paul Mandelson, had a middle aged couple returning to where they spent their honeymoon, and encountering their former selves, eerily present in a nearby hotel. This was a refreshingly different 'timeslip' play; no temporal paradoxes or other cliches; a really excellent drama.

Later on we had Kill the Cameraman First , written and directed by Don Taylor (R4, 2102, 5Apr 02), more suited perhaps to the old Radio 3 . We had a narrator; calm, logical and unflappable, commenting on his perplexed alter ego as he encounters an over-eager market researcher encountering a philosophical lavatory attendant (Bill Wallis) in charge of some cubicles and a mirror which doesn't reflect what is in front of it; a gang of muggers, a nightmarish gameshow complete with studio audience; some refugees being machine-gunned, and assorted eccentrics who offer their views on life: ..."most conversation is to pass the time, which would have passed anyway..." ....".once upon a time when we all listened to poets and novelists and composers, they told us what was good and what was bad, and, lo, what was good was what they did.. ....they didn't care about the people in the street and in the factories, most of whom couldn't read, or if they could certainly they didn't read their stuff..."
The plot defies description, but it was compelling listening. Something I did learn was that you shoot the cameraman first to stop him telling the rest of the world what's going on. There were echoes of John Arden's "Bagman" and Taylor's own radio play "Underworld" from 1994. A real surprise to have a play like this on radio 4.

The Titanic Inquiry (R4, 1415, 11-12 Apr 02) commemorated the 90th anniversary of the famous most famous sinking in history. When the Titanic sank, the owners of the White Star Line tried to return immediately to England, but an inquiry set up by the US senate held the surviving witnesses in New York to be questioned in detail and in public. From the archives, Bob Sherman has reconstructed the inquiry. This was a gripping courtroon drama, directed by Ned Chaillet.

Gary Brown is one of the few playwrights who can produce dialogue and plots which are extremely funny. A couple of years ago we had Work in Progress where an incompetent actor finds himself working with an award winning director and eventually ends up stabbing him during a rehearsal. Now we have Fat Camp (R4, 1415, 15 Apr 02); Josh is overweight and can't get a girlfriend, and he's going to a fat camp for the summer holidays, so he can lose three stone and pull birds. Whilst there he meets funny, confident Dan. But when a plan to steal food backfires, Dan's other side is revealed. A witty play, and Andrew Knott and Danny Burns were well-cast as Josh and Dan.

John Spurling wrote an interesting biographical play about the Compton-Burnett family entitled "A Household in Hove" (R4, 1415, 19 Apr 02). Ivy Compton-Burnett's novels of family life were written late in her life, and she said that her early years in Sussex had been uneventful. John Spurling's wife, Hiliary, is Ivy Compton-Burnett's biographer; she appears in the play and reveals that the first part of Ivy's life was so traumatic that she could only come to terms with it by writing. Richard Wortley directed.

It is now thirty years since "I'm Sorry, I haven't a Clue" began, and the 30th anniversary show, lasting 45 minutes, went out recently (R4, 1815, 13 Apr 02). Humphrey Lyttelton was his inimitable self, and the show was the best I have heard; hilarious from start to finish; the scriptwriters having made a special effort. Raymond Baxter was drafted in to commentate on "Mornington Crescent", and Stephen Fry was the guest, with regulars Barry Cryer, Graeme Garden and Tim Brooke-Taylor.

The news from Radio 4 is not all good, however. Jack Adrian's obituary of Frederick Bradnum from the Independent (18 Jan) contained the following story: Bradnum submitted a new radio play (his seventieth, or thereabouts) to the BBC Drama Dept. in the late 1990s. It was rejected, and some weeks later, he was sent a package for new writers, explaining how to write radio plays....rather like telling Beethoven how to write symphonies. This reminded me of recent conversations with a few VRPCC members, some of whom are in touch with playwrights. They report that the lack of a regular 90 minute drama slot means that some plays are being compressed into a form which is far too short. Material has to be simplified, truncated, or in the case of biographies, omitted, and this makes the writer's job extremely difficult. Some have found the whole process so frustrating that they no longer write radio plays. Others are turning to new media; I recently heard from one playwright (with forty broadcast plays to his credit) that he is writing drama for the internet because it gives him more creative freedom than the BBC....

Nigel Deacon / 20 Apr 02

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