Richard Wortley:
Nick Fisher, Perry Pontac, Peter Tegel, Charlie Howe

Four More Writers

This gets harder as they are long established friends - Nick Fisher, Perry Pontac, Peter Tegal and Charlie Howe. None of them write direct autobiography but in two cases it’s in the subtext.

Still, knowing their families adds texture to my feelings about their work. Our global internet world might suggest geography is irrelevant but three of them happen to live in London, two close by.

Nick Fisher has been a freelance dramatist for over twenty-five years straight from graduating in modern languages.

A wide ranging ideas person, a true ‘son’ of C P Snow, he embraced the superhighway of digital technology at a time when I considered digital editing meant lifting one finger in the air.

Our collaboration began with working class youth (actors like Sylvestra Le Touzel, now a classical artiste and Peter Duncan, now - via Blue Peter - Britain’s Chief Scout’.

We moved on to chief poet of ‘the creepy’ - Edgar Allen Poe - all good thing for our technical teams. Then a bold peep at Louis XIV’s intestine, a royal flush in all senses, Bill Patterson voicing the royal stomach in political, social and gastronomical mode at that ultimate period of peculiar custom when courtiers were obliged to witness the kingly bowel in action.

Then an extended run-in with crime fiction - not based on books but a freshly minted radio original, the ‘sleuth’, Julie Enfield, played with bravura panache by Imelda Staunton and more fun and games with our sound effects.

Come to think of it, my daughter has an important position with our real police force and her name is Julia. Watch your back with writers, they are ruthless!

Phillip Glass provided the signature tune off a commercial disc. I suggested three weeks of intensive research (only kidding) for time and motion form-filling purposes but the wheel of fortune had provided my answer in ten minutes.

Perry Pontac whose own inspirations include Oscar Wilde and Alan Bennett is an expat American, resident in London for the last thirty-five years. His voice of light satire and much word-play is backed by a mind steeped in poetry and a passionate love of Shakespeare.

Here are three random pick-outs from my bag of twelve. The parody ‘Hamlet Part II’ (with Peter Jeffrey, Harriet Walter, Simon Russell Beale), the second Shakespeare parody ‘Prince Lear’ (with John Shrapnel, Clare Skinner and Rosalind Shanks) and the comedy satire ‘Strange Delights’ (with Sian Phillips, Brenda Blethyn and Christopher Scott). His impeccable interpreter Mr John Moffatt also appears in most of the rest.

Peter Tegel has his multi-focus European background, his dramatic escape from Sudetenland as a Czech-German boy of six, fleeing to Britain from the Nazis with his hat-making mother and Jewish step-father. Next stop the graduate in modern languages from Balliol College, Oxford, then the translator of German and French writers, then the increasing interest in Russian literature and now Board Member of the Pushkin Club. It accounts for a continental flavour to his radio plays but not the masked passages of autobiography. Master race ideology came to the front in his play ‘The Well of Life’ - Caucasian women battery- farmed for breeding purposes.

My studio involved every form of child actor. The real child (drama school or ordinary school), the woman who can suggest a young child, the adult with no-growth syndrome - aged twenty-three looks and sounds ten years old (director’s note - warn the ‘adult’ cast not to offer her an ice-cream) and the writer’s own daughter.

‘The Happy Depths of A Homophobe’ took in two sun-filled days in the garden of my partner and myself - rented accommodation in Islington - where else? The rueful, elegiac story provided a setting for homosexual yearning and nude male bathing at Hampstead ponds - ah, the flexibility of radio as the cast soaked in the skills of Philip Voss and Derek Jacobi. For those who enjoy the court circular, please note that Mr Jacobi was knighted a month later.

Charlie Howe fits a younger writer category though a tempus fugit rule means his birth certificate now reads thirty plus.

Statistics are frequently meaningless but basically the core BBC Radio 4 audience for drama is middle aged and so are the writers. We are not shy about the ‘grey vote’ these days, however. Older writers are not just due to the lure of television. It is more complex than that. Radio is respectful to the word in general though ‘media cautious’ over free language. I hope it can still appeal to writers of all ages.

Charlie at twenty-four won a youth prize for ‘Drinking the Jake’ which I directed. He has two brothers who are professional footballers and an influential old grandfather of unusual willpower - this is all valuable material for a writer. His admiration for Sam Beckett, his equivocal feelings about psychoanalysis at the time of ‘Drinking the Jake’ and his reflections on romantic love were all part of the mix in a bold setting of alcoholics on a park bench.

Recent marriage, recent fatherhood, wife half-Greek, a day job counselling at a ‘drop-in’ centre (South Coast not London). Drugs post-prison, pre-suicide etc can only add to an unusually fertile imagination: I await developments.

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