Ronnie Smith, one of our most experienced radio playwrights, has been writing his plays since 1966. He also wrote for television until 1976. He has used the names John Naismith and Robin Smyth, and his work is very well-known (and sought by collectors).
Robin Smyth had tried lots of jobs. He'd worked for a brewery, a shipping firm and a paper mill. He'd sold toys and dresses at market; he'd been a tallyman, collecting hire purchase debts. And now, at 29, he wanted to be a writer.
He hadn't read much so he got his wife to buy him a big dictionary for Christmas.
With the help of his pal, a rag and bone man with a terrific flow of words, he sat down to learn.
That was about two years ago.
Smyth, from Lambeth: "I feel embarrassed to say it, but I find it all so easy. I've never scrapped anything since I started.
I started to write a book, but after ten pages I got tired. So I turned it into a story called 'Where did all the Teds go' and sent it to the radio. They bought it, so I wrote some more".
Since then he has had two plays in Love Story, two plays in Thirty Minute Theatre, and three more plays on radio. This week the BBC sent for him to talk about an idea he has for a horror play about a seance. He still works as a tallyman at weekends, and his ambition is simple: 'I only hope the feeling I've got that I can write doesn't leave me'.
Smudger Smyth, a Cockney who calls himself London's first Teddy-boy, is a tallyman. He goes from door to door, selling the citizens of Fulham everything from shoes to sheets on hire-purchase.
A few weeks ago he went to the door of Associated Television's headquarters in the West End of London and sold managing director Lew Grade a television play.
"No", says Robin Smyth, who prefers to be called Smudger, "my customers weren't very surprised. I tried so many things. It was just another line...."
Mr. Smyth has been a soldier, a barrow boy, a window cleaner.
"Once I went into the ashtray business; bought about ten million clam shells for a quid, and spent weeks in a basement, painting them by hand. I was going to make a bomb, selling them at ninepence each. But nobody wanted to know. ...I had to sling the flaming things away."
"There's two halves to me" he explained last night. One half wants to be a business magnate and make a million. Window cleaning is a nice line - fresh air, and your own boss. But the writing half of me is on top now...I've really got the bit between my teeth".
He learned to type as Army clerk in Germany. That, he feels, started the urge to write.
At the moment he's writing an episode for the Mrs. Thursday TV series, a play for BBC-2, a radio play, and a historical epic about Robert the Bruce.
For me, his play "The Devil and all his Mischief", in BBC-2's Thirty Minute Theatre, proved a natural Pick of the Week. It was an entertaining, perceptive tale of a grown-up son kept at home by his Bible-thumping mother, mainly for his pay packet. It was tellingly played by Betty Marsden as Mum, Terry Scully as the road-sweeper, who spends his spare tiome doing correspondence courses, and Sheila Hancock as the plain divorcee who fancies him.
With this play, Smyth comes of age as a playwright. His natural ear for dialogue, sense of drama, and his knowledge and understanding of people achieves an extra edge. I can't recall when so much humanity was squeezed into thirty minutes.
Here's a brief listing of some of the radio and television work:
12.10.02 I left my heart in 1960
03.12.00 Cherries hung with snow
01.11.97 The flight of Eric Strapp
16.03.96 The charge of the boys' brigade
27.10.93 The best that money can buy
11.08.90 A craving for gold (as John Naismith): SNT
05.09.87 A Memory Longer than Death (as John Naismith): SNT
c1984 A choice of enemies. Capital Radio Drama
c1984 A man seen swimming. Capital Radio Drama
c1984 Cats. Capital Radio Drama
29.03.80 The Fighter (as Robin Smyth), 45m
c1979 A name from the backstreets
1979 The very last Mr. Universe, 30m (as Robin Smyth)
1976 You in your small corner (as Robin Smyth), 45m
30.08.75 Wild flowers and grains of sand (as Robin Smyth)
10.11.73 Serial: Duke Diamond (4th Dimension); 6 episodes (as Robin Smyth)
26.09.73 A stranger from yesterday(as Robin Smyth)
30.08.72 Barney (as Robin Smyth)
19.01.72 Smoke (as Robin Smyth)
08.07.70 There ain't a lady livin' in the land (as Robin Smyth)
19.02.69 Every day is Monday morning (as Robin Smyth), 45m
10.02.68 There's nothing better than money (as Robin Smyth)
1967 Episode: Somerset Maugham adaptation, (as Robin Smyth), 45m
11.06.66 The long lost love of Annie Carnations (as Robin Smyth)
03.12.66 Knock on the Moon (as Robin Smyth)
02.02.66 Birds ain't worth the trouble (as Robin Smyth), 60m
Written and read by Robin Smyth:
Where have all the young Teds gone?
Memoirs of a Blitz kid
Love and the little children.
Friday with Grandad
I left my heart in 1960....2002
A love story with music, by Ronnie Smith. Ever since 1960, when he first met Laura at the youth club, truck driver Bobby has believed that stardom is just around the corner With Gerard McDermott and Deborah Berlin. Saturday play, 60m.
CHERRIES HUNG WITH SNOW....2000
30 Dec. 60m. By Ronnie Smith. Fulham, 1958. It's over five years since Tommie was demobbed after National Service. Now he's come back in search of some familiar faces. With George Cole, David Thorpe and Becky Hindley. Saturday play, 60m.
The Flight of Eric Strapp....1997
Comedy written for George Cole; also stars Stratford Johns. 90m. Eric Strapp is on the run, despite his being innocent of any crime. With George Cole and Stratford Johns. Director Enyd Williams. Producer Patrick Rayner.
The Charge Of The Boys' Brigade....1996
16 Mar; Sat. play. 55m. With George Cole, David Thorpe, Natasha Pyne, Brian Murphy, Joan Littlewood, David Holt, Ross Livingstone, David Jarvis, Teresa Gallagher, Deborah Berlin, Becky Hindley, John Hartley, James Taylor, Jenny Forsyth, Clara Mackie, Louisa Seddon , Suzanne Banks-Hennigan, Ben Lamell, Eamonn Fleming, Paul Daintree, Daniel Philpott, producer Enyd Williams.
The best that money can buy....1993
27 Oct 93. Frances Jeater, Bob Sherman, Ed Bishop, John Baddeley, Philip Anthony, James Taylor, Steve Hodson, Dominic Letts, David Thorp, Colin Pinney, Gareth Armstrong, John Evitts, Teresa Gallagher. Pianist Michael Haslam; directed by Enyd Williams.
A Craving For Gold....1990
by John Naismith (Ronnie Smith). 11th Aug 1990 (Saturday Night Theatre).
Eddie Manson returns to London from Australia and is soon brought into the race to find the loot from a big heist that his father had been involved in. Martin Jarvis as a hard-boiled detective with a Strine accent.
With Martin Jarvis [Eddie Manson], Vincent Brimble [Dectective Constable Robbins], Jane Wittenshaw [Diana Martel / Barmaid], Penelope Lee [Tracy Darling], Sean Barrett [Vinny O'Neil], Geoffrey Matthews [Nosha], Cyril Shaps [Stompy Miller], Fraser Kerr [Wiesel Hales], Danny Schiller [Crawford], Michael Kilgarriff [Ritzo], John Hollis ['Specs' McGiver / Sergeant Bone] and Simon Treves [Detective Inspector Coutes / Detective Superintendent Rowe]. Directed by Gerry Jones.
WILD FLOWERS AND GRAINS OF SAND....1975
Producer Michael Bartlett.
"4th. Dimension" series. By Robin Smyth, six episodes beginning 10 Nov 73. R4. With John Pullen, Roy Spencer, Anthony Daniels, Heron Carvic. "A space fiction serial stretching to the end of nowhere in the great eternity of forever".
1:2473; 2:Kidnapped by Zedmen; 3:The Witch of Mars, 4:The Friendly Enemies, 5: I, Yangor, 6:Revenge!
There Ain't a Lady Livin' in the Land....1970
By Robin Smyth, 8 Jul 70; with Derek Seaton / Charles Leno / Hilda Fenemore.
Any reviews of the above gratefully received. I like these plays; most of them are somewhat nostalgic, humorous, and they often star a cockney rogue.
BBC2, 30 Minute Theatre. A patient in a mental hospital finds true love.. Terence Longden; dir. Basil Coleman.
BBC2, 30 Minute Theatre. A boy with a real gun imagines himself to be a gangster, with horrific results. Stars Kenneth Cranham.
BBC2, 30 Minute Theatre. Three down-and-outs discuss the best way to spend a £5 note found outside their squat by the alpha male, 'Elvis' Wilkins.
KNOCK, KNOCK, WHO'S THERE?....1969
BBC2, 30 Minute Theatre.A door to door saleman tries desperately to get weekly payment from a fearsome housewife. Harry Fowler, Bryan Pringle, Rita Webb, Danny Green.
THE DEVIL AND ALL HIS MISCHIEF....1968
BBC2, 30 Minute Theatre. A horrendous, suppressive mother comes home unexpectedly to find her 25 year old son dancing The Tango with a tarty girlfriend. With Sheila Hancock.
SHIPS OF THE LINE....1967
BBC2, 30 Minute Theatre. Two old men meet after thirty years and the initial bonhomie slowly turns to rancour as the remember a woman who figured in both their lives. With Leslie Sands and Reg Lye.
BRIEFLY KISS THE LOSER....1965
A Mr. Universe aspirant and a young artist clash over a pretty girl. With Alexis Kanner, Neville Smith, Tracey Rogers. Director David Reid. ....This writer has captured Cockney dialogue in the same way Damon Runyon did with his Brooklyn characters. The Stage, March 1965.
A cockney pub singer / photographer with an outlandish drunken mother has problems with money and with girlfriends. With Beryl Reid, Ray Lonnen, Angela Richards, Judy Parfitt,, Ida Barr. Director Alistair Reid.
NO TEA FOR THE TALLYMAN
The new door-to-door saleman (the tallyman), plausibly dishonest, is tricked, trapped in his own machinations. With Leslie Dwyer, Kathleen Harrison. ATV.
ONCE UPON A TIME
Julie and Terry are in love. Their parents share flats in the same house and are constantly at war. Tragedy ensues. With George Sweeney, Cheryl Hall, Anthony Allen, Arthur Lovegrove. ATV. .....This modern day Romeo and Juliet story sizzles. Suffolk Evening Star.
HAPPINESS IS LILY ROSENBLOOM
Mo-Mo- is a demoralised no-hoper but even no-hopers are not immune to love. With Alfie Bass, Ray Lonnen, John Bennett, Molly Weir, Marjery Mason. ATV.
A GREAT BIG CRACK IN HEAVEN
A young lad dates a girl for a bet, and breaking all his own rules, he falls madly in love. With Anthony Allen, Cheryl Hall.
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