David Zane Mairowitz, a tri-lingual resident of Avignon in the south of France, wrote a play about a writer in search of the poet Petrarch and his passionate coup de foudre, the elusive young Laura, paralleled with a modern scholar and his student. We recorded most of this work in and around Avignon. It was a compact team of one actor (Struan Rodger) from London, two actors 'found' on the spot, one sound engineer, the author (DZM) developing his story as he went, and myself. A flawed but imaginative experiment, it was also entered for the Italia Prize under the persuasive title of "Fragments in a Vulgar Tongue", i.e. no Latin.
Back in studio 6A, I am proud to have directed all the original stage cast (bar one) of Alan Bennett's "Forty Years On". This was in 1972 and 'early' for stereo sound, but late in the life of the endearing actress Nora Nicholson. She died two months after the recording. It only needed nudging into place (Studio 6A) with John Gielgud, Paul Eddington, Dorothy Reynolds and Alan himself so fresh from their West End run. I give myself a couple of bonus points for securing the 'retired' voice of Alvar Lidell to recreate his war-time news reading for one of the vignettes.
"Sir John" (my republican tendencies make me mildly queasy about titles) seemed to burn with mental energy and showbiz gossip. So that was pleasant.
Alan and I went to Exeter College, Oxford at about the same time, adjacent attics in my first year; the same outside lodgings in my third. I feel thrilled to know him, if not well, for over forty years. The unflashy brilliance, the integrity of such a private/public figure, though in retrospect he may have flinched at the sporty side of my student days.
Another 6A moment was recording a commissioned monologue by the budding playwright (long since budded) Nick Dear.
Prior to Alan Bennett he wrote a study "In the Ruins" of King George III's lunacy and the splendid stalwart Nigel Stock sweated so profusely in his 'madness' that he had to change his shirt three times.
Down in the basement of Broadcasting House (a studio later turned into a car park) saw me with Nick Dear adapting his stage play on the painter Hogarth "The Art of Success". A feverishly atmospheric 'history' play with Michael Kitchen 'nailing' his previous triumph on the boards, also with Penny Downie who later became the author's wife. And on an adjacent spot in the basement the formidable Irene Worth recreated her role in David Hare's 'The Bay at Nice', so hot off the stage that we recorded it without scripts; the only time in my life.
I first met the Grand Dame upside down in a green leotard, warming up on our studio carpet. We recorded the longest pause ever in drama, so eat your heart out Harold Pinter.
For another stage glimpse I mention Stephen Poliakoff's 'Breaking the Silence', some nicely rounded characters and a subtle motif for radio adaptation, a plot inspired by the author's grandfather bringing sound to the Russian silent films.
It brought me into orbit with the silkily perceptive Edward Petherbridge, the joyfully truthful Lesley Sharpe and the anxious beauty of Francesca Annis.
"The Last Temptation" came to me in two ninety-minute episodes. Adapted for radio by the Quaker and BBC colleague Hallan Tennyson (great grandson of Lord Alfred and assistant head of radio drama) with a Greek friend, appropriately for the novel, without it becoming the cause celebre which Martin Scorcese discovered in his film version.
The controversial plot hinges on Jesus needing Judas to betray him and also making Jesus in love with Mary Magdalene. John Hurt played Jesus, Judi Dench (again) played Mary Magdalene and a splendidly eccentric radio actor Heron Carvic featured as Pontius Pilate.
The Irish barmaid at the BBC club was suitably knee- trembling as she watched them drinking their orders, not because of their acting reputation, but because her 'wine' might turn into water.
I recall our adapter rejecting my offer to introduce him to Miss Dench, whom he vastly admired, on the somewhat obscure grounds that he had just been gardening and his hands were dirty. When our nine days work were over, John Hurt's pretty French partner cooked us a delicious meal in their Hampstead cottage. In a horrible later twist, she was killed iin a thunderstorm, thrown from her horse.
Cleo Lane once sang for me in a radio production of Carson McCullers' "The Member of the Wedding". She took a step out from her night job starring in the London performance of "Porgy and Bess" as the four times married, worldly-wise black cook, Berenice Brown, with Liza Ross as the teenage malcontent, Frankie Adams, entering into adolescence at her brother's wedding. Such a lovely, bittersweet story. Miss Lane, a down to earth delight, said she didn't really read music but would check it out with her husband, Johnny Dankworth. Perhaps she was winding me up?
Barry Foster, also musical (he'd tickle the ivories on a studio piano during breaks) headed the cast in my failed production of Brecht's 'The Days of The Commune'. He sang fabulous pastiches of Kurt Weil which nearly saved a lumpy text, the longest play (two and a quarter hours) I had ever recorded apart from Shakespeare. Recorded that is at a run minus the played-in songs. I was too inexperienced to confront the adaptor.
I solved my middle-class social conscience with the gutsy working-class observations of Jeremy Seabrook and Michael O'Neill. 'Once round Lil, Twice Round the Gasworks' being one of my more pleasing excursions into 'Saturday Night Theatre'. Or was it a Monday Play? Or was it the 'light' end of the Third Programme? (............it's not S.N.T......N.D.)
I experienced being filmed making a radio play "Congress" (studio 6A) as part of a general documentary on the writer / academic Malcolm Bradbury. I had badly broken my leg so my wheelchair entry proffered an over-prepared jest that I would do absolutely anything for publicity. The pivotal actor of that moment, Anthony Sher, has never seen me on my feet, before or since.
The 'old style' cameraman not only blew the studio lights for two hours - time is money- but got over-excited with many 'retakes' for our statuesque, blonde 'spot' operator and her sound of unzipping male trousers close to microphone. Good job it was a modern play; undoing 'flies' would not have justified such meticulous camera work.
I met a famous old emigre William Gerhardie, the 'English' Chekhov brought up in Petrograd. Another well-known English novelist Olivia Manning (wife of a legendary radio producer Reggie Smith- true, true, true), had adapted Gerhardie's early work 'The Polyglots' (1925) for the wireless. His best writing, some say, that and 'Futility' (1921). At eighty-plus, he allegedly loved to be 'adorned' with young women; eye-candy in today's jargon.
So I took a glamorous little group from my radio cast round to his flat near Broadcasting House where all his lights promptly fused. As luck would have it an American journalist and part-time electrician was also there to lighten our darkness.
I once made a play on location back in the reel-to-reel days of big green vans and long black cables; now it's light portable equipment and tiny mini-discs. The far less well-known Ian McEwen (novelist) was 'writing us up' for the Radio Times. But what he missed came after the studio / van recording. Heading for the pub, the lead actress, a fine West Indian woman, said she was feeling extra tired:
Me: "You must be, such a lot to do."
I had another surprise at an office interview with an actress who told me she had become a white witch. The week before I had seen her lying stark naked, at the Institute for Contemporary Arts, with her legs wide apart. The play was unambiguously titled 'A Fuck in Three Parts'. That's the 1970s for you.
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