Alan Ayckbourn was born in 1939. He attended Haileybury public school, near Hertford, and left aged 17 to begin a theatrical career, interrupted briefly by National Service. Early in his career he acted as producer for a number of radio plays and other broadcasts. Over a long career he has written 62 plays, and he lives in Scarborough, where he runs the Stephen Joseph Repertory Theatre.
In the words of Paul Allen, Radio 4 presenter, his comedy treads that thin line separating it from tragedy. It derives in part from a post-war mix of radio, cimema and English humour made up of Donald McGill, early Carry On films, Round the Horne, and the need for good humour in the face of perpetual rationing and declining national significance.
Ayckbourn's drama is not directly political, except in its attacks on political correctness or feminism, but it raises political and moral issues through comedy. Ayckbourn's characters savage each other, and in doing this they comment upon the structures which hold English society together. He writes about the middle classes, and criticises aspects of our society through his plays. The critic John Peter describes him as a domestic political activist, and another critic describes his plays as a disturbing vision of middle-class England which has been poisoned by economic ruthlessness and the collapse of ethics.
So far, I have made no mention of radio plays; all of the above refers to his writing for the stage. A number of his plays have been adapted for radio, but as far as I am aware, none were written specifically for it.
Saturday Night Theatre:
Compiled from information supplied by Roger Bickerton and own collection
Alan Ayckbourn's website says these 4 versions (of 16) of "Intimate Exchanges" were done for BBC World Service and directed by Gordon House.
BBC RADIO BROADCASTS
RELATIVELY SPEAKING 1976
ABSURD PERSON SINGULAR 1977
RELATIVELY SPEAKING 1977
JOKING APART 1981
RELATIVELY SPEAKING 1982
Just Between Ourselves....1983 by Alan Ayckbourn, adapted by Richard Wigmore;. with Peter Vaughan, Jennifer Piercy, Nigel Anthony, Frances Jeater and Hilda Kriseman
first broadcast on the World Service in 1983 rpt. Radio 4, 12 Feb 1984 (Afternoon Theatre)
This broadcast -BBC7, 19 June 2004, 12:30 - 14:00 (with an introduction by Gordon House, current Head of Drama)
A bittersweet comedy about love, relationships and marriage. The story lifts the covers off suburbia to reveal the seething tensions beneath. Dennis spends his spare time pottering in the garage, oblivious to the fact that he has absolutely no mechanical or DIY skills. He is equally unaware that his wife, Vera, is being driven to distraction by his possessive mother.
Gordon House...................."I've lost count of the number of Alan Ayckbourn's plays I've produced on radio, but one of the first I ever worked on was "Just Between Ourselves", a play where each scene takes place on the birthday of one of its five central characters. This is a play in which a man literally drives his wife mad. The scene in which this deeply depressed woman begs for help and he, quite incapable of understanding what she is talking about, asks her to draw up a list of household jobs to be done, is one of the bleakest scenes in the history of English Theatre. Just Between Ourselves is a great play, but shorn of the comforting laughter a theatre audience produces, it beggars belief to call it a comedy, particularly on radio."
SEASON'S GREETINGS 1985
Cast: Norman - Robin Herford,
Annie - Diane Bull,
Reg - Simon Jones,
Sarah - Tessa Peake Jones,
Tom- Jon Strickland,
Ruth - Lisa Rider.
3 x 90m.
MAN OF THE MOMENT....1992
A play which is rarely revived because it needs a swimming pool on stage; hardly a problem on radio. It's about a TV programme which stages dramatic reunions, hoping for catharsis and conflict. A former criminal, Vic Parks, now a big celebrity, is confronted in his luxurious Spanish villa by Douglas Beechey, an inoffensive ordinary man who briefly became a national hero seventeen years earlier when he tackled Vic during a bank raid in order to protect a cashier. During the attack, the cashier, whom Douglas subsequently married, was disfigured.
Now Douglas lives a quiet life in suburbia. Vic, meanwhile, is now a TV presenter and is extremely objectionable. But Douglas never delivers the goods the journalist is after.
The play highlights the inability of television to tell the truth. Everyone assumes Douglas has some secret motive in refusing to supply what the programme wants. The interviewer is exasperated by her failure to penetrate Douglas's air of quiet contentment; it is left to Vic's wife to discover the real motive behind his act of heroism and the decency which prompted his original brave act. The play deplores the glamorisation of evil, and points out the goodness of which man is capable.
THE REVENGERS' COMEDIES, PART 1 1996
THE REVENGERS' COMEDIES, PART 2 1996
The Polly Thomas version was broadcast again on BBC7 on 26.06.04 and the Gordon House version, also on BBC7, on 19.12.04. Gordon House introduced his production of the play on 26 Jun 04 but the technicians put out the Polly Thomas version by mistake - hence the repeat later in the year. .......many thanks to Tony Mitchell for sorting out the confusion about these broadcasts.
.......Many of you have written in to say how much you enjoy the 90-minute dramas, and I hope that this week's feature-length farce, Events on a Hotel Terrace will prove a special Sunday lunchtime treat. Alan Ayckbourn's play features a lost soul called Celia who feels - in the face of her frequently rude, alcoholic headmaster husband - that life's come to a halt. But handyman Lionel Hepplewick seems to offer something new and exciting... .....BBC7 newsletter, Mar 04)
BROADCASTS WITH ALAN AYCKBOURN AS PRODUCER
An Interview with Brian Johnston, 1992
The cricket commentator Brian Johnston interviewed Alan Ayckbourn (a lifelong cricket enthusiast) during the lunch interval of the 1992 Headingley Test Match. Ayckbourne organises an actors' cricket team from time to time, and they play challenge matches. What follows is a shortened account of the conversation so far as I can remember it...Alan Ayckbourn:
"Cricket is a huge theatre spectacle...entering the ground like Headingly here...is very like going on stage at Drury Lane...enormous walk out, and you in the solo spotlight. The only difference, perhaps, is that you are surrounded by total hostility out in the middle, or at least by people who mean you ill. It's also a very great game for teamwork; although you do sparkle as individuals, a fielding team is very much a team, and actors respond to this. They like the idea of clear roles, whether you are a wicketkeeper or slip fielder, or whatever. It is amazing how many playwrights and actors love playing."
In 1992, Ayckbourne had written 45 plays. "Mr. Whatnot was my first London play, and I wrote that in my early twenties. I had my first West End show at the age of about 24. My first big hit was "Relatively Speaking", when I was 25. Michael Hordern, Richard Briers....
BJ: Did you do any acting before you started writing?
AA: Yes....I started as an assistant stage manager; didn't get formally trained...then I went on to become a stage manager, an electrician, and at one stage I got involved in sound, which I'm still involved in. Then I became an actor, then a director, and finally I became a playwright....I met this incredible man Stephen Joseph, in Scarborough ...when he died in '67, we renamed the Library Theatre the Stephen Joseph Theatre. He encouraged young talent, as I was then, and he encouraged particularly the young playwrights, and he had this extraordinary (then) idea that a playwright belonged within a theatre; they weren't mysterious people who sent in plays from outside. They were part of the process of play-making.... fortunately for me Stephen Joseph was so busy, he often left areas which he couldn't cover, and he would just grab the nearest person, and in my case he said "go and direct the next play"..I'd never directed before...I said "what do I do?" and he said "just create an atmosphere in which actors can create" and walked away.
BJ: You've got this remarkable way of writing ...am I right in saying you sit down five weeks away, it's already been advertised, bookings have been made, you haven't even written it, and it takes you roughly ....how long?
AA: Well, no more than ten days, probably less...there's a lot of preparation that goes on in my head before that; I don't make copious notes, ....a bit like juggling, trying to keep several coloured balls in the air; if I take too many breaks from it I drop the lot.
BJ: What about the dialogue?
AA: That's the easy bit really; it's the structure, when you try and hold an audience .... narrative structure, that's the toughest thing to achieve.
BJ: One play you wrote had different endings...tell us about that.
AA: There was one play called Intimate Exchanges which actually has sixteen endings...the idea behind them was to try to show people and remind them that theatre is live ...the only thing unique about theatre is its liveness...you get an individual performance every time you go. The performance subtly alters, and I wanted to emphasise this by saying "look folks, big things can happen in front of your eyes, like the play can take off in another direction..."
Two people came to see a play of mine in Scarborough called "Sisterly Feelings", and one came on one night and saw one version, and recommended it to the people in the hotel, who went to see it and saw another version; when they got back, neither realised that there were variations, and the most terrible row broke out...it finished up with someone saying "are you calling my wife a liar?"...
BJ: You've been described as writing middle-class comedies of the anguish in people's lives...do you regard yourself as a comedy writer or is there an undercurrent of social troubles or family strife which is very true to real life?
AA: I regard myself as a writer, really...the category of comedy or tragedian is something that's rather invidious; I don't think, for example, that William Shakespeare ever though of himself as a comedy or a serious writer; he did both, and I would like to think that most of us try to keep a balance between the tragic and the comic, and it seems to me that people's emotional enjoyment can be increased if you can get them reacting on two or three levels. It's exciting and stimulating for them and for the actor.
BJ: Do the characters come from your head, or are they based on real people?
AA: Bits...I think in the end most characters come from within oneself... it's very hard to say.....
BJ: Have you been tempted to do a cricket play?
AA: There was one called "Time and Time Again" in which one character was fielding on the boundary....and at one point drops a rather important catch...but....no.
BJ: Have you a new play at present?
AA: I'm midway through one which is a bit of a departure for me; it's a musical...which I wrote with my resident musical director in Scarborough, John Paterson, and we're rehearsing that...
Nigel Deacon / Diversity website / Oct 2003
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