Gordon House Radio Plays

Having joined the BBC in 1972 as a Studio Manager, and worked in Radio Sport, and Children’s Television, Gordon House became Head of the BBC World Service Drama team in 1985. He held this job for sixteen years, during which time the Unit won over thirty national and international awards - many of them plays directed by Gordon himself. In 1998 he won the Writers’ Guild Special Prize for services for his work with new writers. His 2001 production of “Alpha” by Mike Walker won the Sony Radio Academy Award for Best Drama Production, as did Gregory Whitehead’s “The Loneliest Road” in 2004. He was a founder member, and ex-Chair, of “The Worldplay Group” a radio association of drama directors from broadcasting stations around the world, which initiated a yearly season of international radios dramas broadcast on BBC World Service, ABC, CBC, RTE, Radio New Zealand and Radio Television Hong Kong.

From April 2001 – March 2005 Gordon was Head of BBC Radio Drama – a tenure which culminated in the Department winning its largest ever number of awards in a single year.

Gordon has now retired from the BBC, teaches Radio Drama at ALRA, and is an Executive Director of Goldhawk Essential. He has recently returned from Guyana where he was the drama consultant for a new Aids-based soap Opera, Merundoi. He continues to produce occasional radio plays – most recently Alan Bennett’s “Lady in the Van” (with Alan Bennett and Dame Maggie Smith) and Peter Souter’s “Goldfish Girl” which won a 2009 Sony Award.

Other details:

    "For many years I worked as a producer in the Drama Department of the World Service. There wasn't much money around so we couldn't commission more than a handful of plays each year, but what we could do was make radio adaptations of some of the world's great stage plays, and as part of our brief was representing United Kingdom culture to a world audience, that gave me the chance to make radio productions of work by Britain's finest dramatists; from Shakespeare to Sheridan, from David Edgar to David Hare. But the dramatist to whom I was most indebted through twenty great years was Alan Ayckbourn." (.......taken from GH's intro to the BBC7 repeat of "Just Between Ourselves" in 2004.)

The following remarks on how to write good radio drama briefly appeared on the CBC website a few years ago. I reproduce them here for budding radio writers:

Ten Tips for Radio Dramatists

by Gordon House
Executive Producer
BBC World Service Drama

1. Tell a good story. Radio Drama thrives on cracking good narratives. Whether you're writing a tragedy, a comedy, a deeply personal piece of autobiography, or a play to change the world, a strong storyline will keep your audience listening.

2. However, don't make the story too complicated, with too many themes, characters and plotlines.

3. Get under the skin of your characters. Get to know them really well. Each will have his or her own individual speech mannerisms. Don't have them all speaking in your tone of voice.

4. Don't - in the interests of furthering the plot - have characters telling each other information they already know!

5. Use the four building blocks of radio drama: speech, sound effects, music and silence. Decide exactly what 'sound picture' - a mixture of these four elements - the listener needs to hear in each scene. Will a scene be enhanced by having music under it? Will a pause between speeches add to the dramatic effect?

6. But if in doubt, keep it simple - the play stands or falls by the words you have written; not the number of music or sound effects cues.

7. Vary the pace and length of your scenes, as well as their background acoustics and 'location'. A radio play which has six ten-minute scenes, each set in a dining room, is likely to be less effective than a play which varies its scenes and settings.

8. Presentation is important. Script Editors (and play competition judges) are better disposed towards neatly-typed, professionally presented manuscripts. Type all directions and sound effects in capital letters (e.g. HAMLET'S GARDEN. HAMLET IS DIGGING FOR POTATOES. IT IS RAINING.) and dialogue in lower case. Leave a space each time a character speaks.

9. Enjoy writing your play. If you enjoy it, the chances are that other people will, too.

10. Feel free to ignore some of these tips. All the best playwrights break 'rules' from time to time. But have a good reason for breaking them.

Some radio plays produced / directed by Gordon House:

4 May 11 That's Mine, This is Yours
Peter Souter's romantic comedy is about a divorced couple dividing up their wordly goods.

Juliet ... Tamsin Greig
Sam ... Alex Jennings
Amanda ... Eleanor Butters
Directed by Gordon House

Sam and Juliet are to divorce. We join them as they meet to divide up their possessions in the house they've shared ever since they married. As they discuss what belongs to whom we learn all we need to know about their characters, what drew them together and what has driven them apart. We'll also learn if there is still some hope for them, even on the eve of their separation.

The early signs are not good.

They seem to have drifted apart and to have very little in common. Their attitude to objects themselves tells us they shouldn't be together. Sam is an avid hoarder and collector; not of anything of great value, simply things that he feels should be kept together. For example he owns a single example of every toy ever given away with a McDonald's Happy Meal. Some of the collections are interesting (he has the signatures of all 12 men who have set foot on the moon) but most are banal, even annoying.

His obsessions and childlike delight in small things, once so attractive and fun for Juliet, have begun to seem like immaturity and a denial of the important things in life. Her drive and decisiveness, once so sexy and stimulating, to him now feel like coldness and self-obsession. She has done well in her job and begun a new relationship with a wealthy lover that has led them to this day, to this parting.

And yet and yet.. Peter Souter's romantic comedy suggests there may still be some way back from the brink.

Alex Jennings, who starred in Peter's award-winning "Goldfish Girl" stars as Sam, and Tamsin Greig (star of "Episodes", "Love Soup" - and, of course known to R4 listeners as Debbie in "The Archers") plays his wife Juliet. The director is the former Head of Radio Drama, Gordon House.

7 Mar 11 Mr Jones Goes Driving
Shelley Silas' play is the story of a man giving up the one thing that he has always loved.

Written by Shelley Silas. Johnny Jones isn't particularly old, he's a regular man with a regular wife, two grown up children and a handful of grandkids. His has a good life, and for that he's grateful. He accepts that growing old is just one of those things, and until now, he has just got on with everything that has been thrown his way. He has always lived his life by getting up each day and getting on. However, all that is about to change.

Told that a series of seizures he's been having are not because of a brain tumour, but epilepsy, relief soon turns to gloom. While Johnny accepts everything the doctors tell him, he cannot accept having to give up his driving license. For over fifty years he's driven just about everyone everywhere in his beloved almond Rover P6 with a V8 engine. It is his private place, where he can be alone, think alone, listen to music, or simply sit by the sea, looking out at nothing more than sand and waves. It's a great big armchair of a car, with a chrome and oak interior, which he loves passionately. His wife, Alice hasn't driven for years, why would she when she has Johnny to drive her everywhere? While he's happy to part with many other activities, this is one he just can't give up. Now he's told he must stop driving or face the consequences.

Every day he says tomorrow will be the last day he'll drive.

This is the story of the day he takes one last journey in his dark Rover. And gradually we learn about the secrets no one else knows about.

The play stars real life husband and wife Richard Briers and Ann Davies.

Mr Jones Goes Driving is about growing old but not always gracefully. It's about facing up to things in life we don't want to. It's the story of a man giving up the one thing that he has always loved.

Johnny Jones ...... Richard Briers
Alice Jones ..... Ann Davies
Imran ..... Muzz Khan
Lizzie Gray ..... Helena Breck
Ian ..... Jonathan Holby
Patrick ..... Ben Tosh
Johnny's Mother ..... Stella Duffy
Johnny's Grandchildren ..... Wilf and Ruby Armstrong Ashdown

Original Music composed by Lucinda Mason Brown
Producer/Director: Gordon House
A Goldhawk Essential production for BBC Radio 4.

Comedy drama by Christopher William Hill, R4 30 Jul 09, afternoon play. A novelist finds that his French translator has reworked his latest spy novel as his autobiography. Will he own up or not? After all, spies generally get the pretty girls. Cast: Patrick Bradyn ...... Bill Nighy, Hannah Olrod ...... Penelope Wilton, Delphine Barbret ...... Rachel Atkins, Ken ...... Geoffrey Whitehead, Lottie ...... Claudia Elmhirst, Barlow ...... Adrian Scarborough. Original music by Lucinda Mason Brown; produced by Gordon House. Production company: Goldhawk Essential for radio 4.

    This was a good comedy with an excellent cast. It attracted some interesting comments on the BBC messageboard. I'm editing and reproducing some of them below:

    m.f.: .....I suspect the writer knew who was going to play the parts. It just felt right.

    l.r.m.:...........Loved it, suppose the resolution was that he goes for the money and fame plus the wishes of the woman who loves him and never mind the consequences or indeed the truth.

    ...and finally: .........

    ...... this is director Gordon House. Thanks to all who have fed back comments on "Marmalade".

    I thought there were a couple of points raised that were worth further discussion. It was indeed a fabulous cast, and we were very lucky our first choices were all available at the same time. But contrary to m.f.'s suggestion, no writer can ever be sure beforehand who will be cast in a radio play. Actors (and their agents) rarely accept a radio part more than 2 or 3 weeks before a recording, in case a more lucrative film, tv or stage offer should come their way. Radio Drama is some way down the economic pecking order!

    That said Christopher (the author) and I always wanted Bill Nighy in the leading role (we had both worked with him before) and were very lucky to catch him between films. He has always been a terrific supporter of Radio Drama.

    As for the resolution, l.m.f. is absolutely right - at the beginning of the play Patrick reads the opening para of his novel in the third person - in the final speech he reads it in the first - thereby letting us know that he will take the money/fame/sex option and to hell with the consequences!

2 Apr 08. By Peter Soutar, afternoon play. Frightening evocation of what memory loss can do. Ally and Joe were married; she cannot remember him. She asks who her friends are, and why they never visit; he says 'they do'. Two-hander with Juliet Stevenson and Alex Jennings, directed by Gordon House. There is an earlier play on the same topic: "Deficits", by Derek Lister. (q.v.)

By Peter Tinniswood. Recorded after his death, this play introduces us to Raymond Lancaster, another of Tinniswood's eccentric comic creations. Raymond's humdrum existence is salvaged by his rich fantasy life, in which football predominates. This is a well- crafted play; interesting but not memorable. The cast: Ian McDiarmid, Paul McCrink, Helen Longworth, Fiona Clark, Barbara Marten, Everal Walsh, Stephen Thorne, Alan Green, Mark Chatterton; directed by Gordon House; original music by Nina Perry.

A middle-aged man and a middle-aged woman talk politely in a Torquay hotel. But neither of them is quite whom they appear to be. With Judi Dench as Miss Plunkett and Alan Bennett as Mr. Mortimer. Directed by Gordon House. This short play was originally written in 1998 for Judi Dench and her late husband Michael Williams; they performed it at the National Theatre. It has not been broadcast before.

Alpha, by Mike Walker (R4, 2102, 6 Jul 02) made a superb Friday Play: a scientist has built a computer so all-knowing that it appears to have an independent life of its own. In comes the representative of organised religion (David Calder as Father Marquez) to put an end to it. A predictable church response, perhaps. A few centuries ago the established church ordered the bones of John Wycliffe to be dug up and burned because he made the bible intelligible to ordinary people. One wonders what church leaders of today might do if computers became intricate enough to offer advice on moral dilemnas. With computer memory doubling every eighteen months we might not have long to wait. This was another first class play directed by Gordon House.

Dramatisation of Wilde's famous novel by Nick McCarty. With Jamie Glover, Ian McDiarmid and Steven Pacey. Directed by Gordon House. Broadcast as the Classic Serial in two one-hour episodes.

By Alan Ayckbourn; produced by Polly Thomas; stars Geoffrey Palmer, Frances Barber, Bill Nighy and John Sessions and broadcast on 26/12/1999.

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.

(1999-09-18) The End Of Love
(Rose Tremain)
Olga and Bertie's 30-year-old daughter Lottie wishes to marry her Irish poet boyfriend Michael. But Michael is a dreamer, fearful of commitment. He reminds Olga of the love of her life - a Polish pianist. Their love was not enough; why should Lottie's fare any better? With Miriam Margolyes and Nigel Anthony. Director Gordon House. Director Gordon House

(1999-08-20) The Uncertainty Principle
(Marcy Kahan)
Set in 2099, this play explores the comic implications of a society where people know from birth - thanks to inevitable developments in genetic testing - the date of their death. Or at least they think they do. With Kerry Shale, Clive Swift and Mia Soteriou. Director Gordon House.

(1999-05-21; Rpt) The House Swap
(Peter Tinniswood, dir Gordon House)
w/Penelope Wilton and William Hootkins - Sid Fiedelman, a hard-drinking, award-winning American cartoonist is sent by his editor to cast a satirical eye on Britain at the end of the millennium. But Sid and his world-weary wife, Alma, are quite unprepared for what the small English village of Winterleaf Gunner has to offer.

(1999-05-17 to 30) Secret Window, Secret Garden
(Stephen King, dram Gregory Evans, dir Gordon House) w/Henry Goodman and William Roberts.

1: Best-selling novelist Morton Rainey is astounded to be accosted on his doorstep one morning by a man who claims that Rainey has stolen a story from him.
2: Morton's cat has been killed and his house burned down. John Shooter, the man who has accused Morton of stealing his short story, is evidently an extremely dangerous fanatic.
3: Mort Rainey's life is in turmoil. His house has been burned down, his cat killed and his literary reputation besmirched. Now it appears he will be framed for murder.

CRIBB AND THE BLACK ....1999, 60m, WS and R4
26 Feb 99. Dramatisation by Steve Walker of the true story of Tom Cribb, world champion boxer in the bareknuckle era, and the challenge by Tom Molyneaux (Tom the Black), an American slave who eventually became a free man. With Shaun Parkes as Tom Molyneaux, Pat Roach as Tom Cribb. Also stars Burt Caesar, James Cosmo, Robert Bathurst, Cecilia Noble, Justine Midda, William Roberts, Justine Miller, Chris Emmett, Harry Myers, Ben Crowe, Giles Fagan, Chris Pavlo. SM Peter Ringrose. Directed by Gordon House.

22 Jan 99.... 625Y

(Wally K Daly, dir Gordon House)
w/Amanda Root, Geoffrey Whitehead and John Strickland - Daly's new play intriguingly imagines what would happen if a research scientist discovered a gene that could determine a man or a woman's natural lifespan.

19 Mar 98: Salzburg in London

By Marcy Kahan. Esther Salzburg, a screenplay writer, escapes noisy New York for the promised peace and quiet of an Edwardian block of flats near London's West End. However, she is in for an unpleasant surprise. With Tara Hugo, Robert Goodale, Marcella Riordan, Kerry Shale, Mia Soteriou, Kristin Milward and Carolyn Jones. Director Gordon House.

(30-10-1997; Rpt) Who Was Emily Davison? (Rose Tremain)
Emily Davison has a small: tragic place in British history as the woman who threw herself in front of the King's horse: Anmer: during the running of the 1913 Epsom Derby. Why did she do it? With Janet Maw: Nigel Anthony: Miriam Margolyes and Elizabeth Proud. Producer Gordon House.

(16-10-1997) Deadline (John Fletcher)
For generations: villagers living in the remote Chinese4 village of Liuquan have venerated their ancestors: buried in the local churchyard. Then comes the bombshell - an edict from the provincial governor that in future the dead will be cremated rather than buried. With Kim Wall and Mary Wimbush. Producer Gordon House.

THE DOLPHINARIUM ....1996, 60m
By Steve Walker. A famous explorer discovers a plot to turn the human race into mindless automata- by destroying all the dolphins on the planet ...with Michael Cochran as Sir Hartley, Bill Paterson as Duncan McNab; also stars Mardav Sharma, Ed Bishop, Bryony Glascoe, Avril Clarke, Helen Horton, Michael Tudor Barnes. SM: Graham Harper, production assistant Nicky Hildebrand; directed by Gordon House.

By Alan Ayckbourn. With Peter Vaughan, Ronald Herdman, Maggie McCarthy. Produced by Gordon House. Rebroadcast 1994.

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) & BBC7, 19 June 2004, 12:30 - 14:00, introduced by 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."

The famous play by Tom Stoppard. Produced by Gordon House. With Peter Barkworth.

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