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Don Haworth:
THE ART OF THE RADIO WRITER

Introduction.. 1.. 2.. 3.. 4.. 5.. 6.. 7.. 8.. 9.. 10.. 11..

All this sounds pretty solemn stuff, and I would not want to give our listeners the impression that's what all your radio writing is like. What about comedy?


DH: Yes... and I suppose there are some laughs withing 'A View from the Mountain'. 'Daybreak' had both comedy and this frightful drama. Anyone who speaks of it says 'this chap who threw his father to the pigs', and always with a smile; it's a very agreeable proposition to people ... and the actual detail of the life as oppressive and somehow squalid ... is also comic. The character was a large and comic person.


There's a famous saying of somebody's that nothing gives one more satisfaction than an accident to a friend...


DH: Yes... the form I've heard it is ' to see a friend fall from the roof of his house' - it's the permanent thing; the idea of Fate in front of us and a bucket of whitewash poised over every door. If you think of cultural progenitors then Laurel and Hardy would be high amongst them.


Coming back to the actual difficulties of writing for radio: it's also a problem for him but a tremendous challenge, too, that you have more or less absolute freedom...


DH: Absolute freedom; it is possible to do a play like 'A View from the Mountain' which has three characters which are exchanging dialogue with each other, apsrt from the music, for the whole length of the play.

Monologues are OK, and you can do a play with very many scenes and very many people; in other words the mode of expression is more free in radio than in any other medium. There is no other medium in which either of the extremes of very large or very small numbers work.

Having said this, the very large numbers are not principal people. They must necessarily be background people because we come to the problem that the ofreground people must be few in number because they've got to be recognisable. Few in number in any one scene, that is. You could have many scenes with many different people in different scenes, but if we get many more than three in a particular scene, it's difficult to distinguish between them.


Perhaps more than in any other medium, perhaps, because it's radio, because you can't see people; the actual choice of words ... must be absolutely crucial.


DH: I think it is. Also the verbal construction needs to be fairly robust, because the listener may miss particular words, and we must find actors who can speak the lines, or we must adapt lines to suit actors. We must aim above all at clarity, and this is particularly so when people are listening over very long distances or on indifferent apparatus like car radios, for instance.

I think what I tend to do is to write episodic scenes, to write brief scenes, in which the dialogue is quite clear.

What I wouldn't attempt to do would be to plan some idea and refer back to it as much as five minutes later, because it might well be forgotten, so that in a way, everything has got to be created as it goes along; and the play has to be constructed in many many episodes which are not totally interdependent, so that the listener, having missed, perhaps, some episode, can then hear the next without a frightful sense of loss.


If I could come back again to 'A View from the Mountain'.... because it was based on a mythological idea, and because of its strangely timeless quality (It's a very philosophical play, after all) - this must present a certain problem of diction for you.


DH: It was a question of finding a timeless location for it, and yet one which would have some picture of reality, and what I chose was a central European country, sometime in the nineteenth century. I suppose one would have been thinking of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at that time; certainly the administration had features of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, where you remember everything was desperate and nothing serious..

There was then the problem of how the words were to be spoken by the actors; whether or not they should use some accent. We decided not; if they merely spoke in a contemporary way, this would be accepted by contemporary people as being more timeless than any other particular accent.

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