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Richard Wortley:
SOME REFLECTIONS ON A LIFETIME IN RADIO
- Seagulls over Portland Place

There are gulls off the Thames from time to time. Frank Windsor in 1960 played a talking seagull for me in a programme for 7-10 year olds. I can visualize him now through the sound proof cubicle glass reading his newspaper in between rehearsal mewlings: a reserved man but not aloof. 'Z Cars' and 'Inspector Watt' had not quite been born (1961).

I recorded Judi Dench in, what I believe, was her second ever radio performance (Beattie, in "Roots", by Arnold Wesker). Her Norfolk accent might have come under scrutiny, but the acting was radiant and there seemed nothing to teach the instinctive genius about microphone technique.

The same writer's work meant directing 'Chips with Everything' where my lead actor walked out after the read through, bizarrely convinced that the play was somehow fascist. So Sean Barrett with the smallest role took over the largest. Were we 'live' for that transmission? Anyway, pure 'chorus line'.

The 'lead actor' went on to a nervous breakdown and left his family to wander round Scotland with his belongings in a wheelbarrow.

My amateur acting period ran from the age of eight to twenty-four: junior school, senior school and the Army (National Service) where I 'strangled' the padre's wife in 'Ten Little Niggers' (I played Chief Justice Waldegrave and I thought her gurgling noises were going rather well). And lastly, acting at University. All that evaporated the day I met a professional.

I converted Saul to Paul, my Road to Damascus and thespian midwifery, though I managed one last appearance with the massively talented Arthur Lowe, ex repertory stage actor, reaching a small blip in his career playing Pottery's Manager to my ingenue student. The underwhelming script was part of a dramatised geography series writtem, I blush to report, by myself.

Years later I re-encountered the delightful Arthur as he read 'The Diary of a Nobody', a definitive Mr. Pooter, though his television timing - pauses for audience laughter - required detailed adjudtment with a razor blade (analogue editing). He must have later died from over-work, judging by the number of times his agent rang during our rehearsals: Arthur inundated with other offers.

Back in "Schools Broadcasting", Andrew Faulds, actor and agit prop Labour MP played Carver Doone for me in Blackwood's "Lorna Doone". A vigorous dark bearded man, he was already considered to be skilled in kissing the babies.

Rehearsing a live broadcast, ten minutes from transmission, another radio regular and I were unclear as to whether his character ended up dead or not. The author was unavailable. "I tell you what, Richard", said Geoffrey Matthews, a marvellously entertaining man, "I'll die with an upward inflection".

By 1970 I had moved across to 'senior school' in Broadcasting House, Eric Gill at the door and drama for adults. I was still on the BBC staff and remained so until my 'retirement' in 1994. My change had symbolic relevance, though swapping the one Portland stone building for another in Langham Place W1A 1AA might not seem world shattering. However, the plays were longer, as was the rehearsal time. The budgets were bigger and the material, at least in theory, more adult.

Perhaps I was chosen for my rushy Socialist beliefs. I was also wedded to the single play and fancied a bit of 'cutting edge' political or commedial.

I modelled myself on Kenneth Loach, not Peter Brook, though the latter's theatre directing has given me several frissons across the years.

I also had a 'thing' about the super sound tracks of continental cinema and their nuanced atention to the 'great outdoors'. Thus my colleague Jane Morgan and I became the pioneers of radio drama 'on location'. In a soft centred way we were derided for time wasting and being pretentious. Today, location recording is standard practice boosted by economics over art - several degrees cheaper without the studio overheads.

Like other directors, I built a body of writers round me and continued my admiration for actors; their vocal skills and witty company far outweighing simplistic talk of 'luvvies corner'. They also arrange the very best funerals.

SOME REFLECTIONS ON A LIFETIME IN RADIO
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