Bert Coules Radio Plays

Clive Lever sent the following, from "The Man In Black", BBC Publications 1990. (ISBN 0 563 20904 6)....Bert Coules, who lives on the Kent coast within whistling distance of the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway, produced his first creepy story at the age of seven, and has been horrifying people with his writing ever since. He describes himself as six foot four, craggily handsome and an inveterate liar.

Bert Coules worked as a recording engineer, a sound-effects technician, a script reader and a producer-director in radio drama before becoming a full-time freelance writer. He is particularly well-known for his Sherlock Holmes adaptations, but his output is extremely varied, encompassing "Fear on Four", science fiction, and docu-drama. His broadcast plays are shown below; those with asterisks are known to exist within VRPCC collections. The Sherlock Holmes plays are not listed here but full details can be found at http://www.bertcoules.co.uk/sh-home.htm

This page contains a listing of Bert's plays and adaptations for radio, a word from Bert Coules on certain aspects of radio drama, and finally some notes about some of the plays.

A Magician Amongst the Spirits* (Harry Houdini's life) 90m
Wagner in Hell (Wagner's visit to London) 45m
The Passion Flower Hotel* (Erskine)
Every Detail But One (fof) 30m
The Journey Home* (fof) 30m
Green and Pleasant (fof) 30m
Spaced out (drama doc for kids: how to write science fiction) 25m
Ray Bradbury (feature for kids) 25m
Mutiny on the Bounty* (Nordoff/Hall) 3 x 60m
Lost Empires (Priestley) 3 x 60m; rpt. BBC7, 2004 (see notes below)
The Chronicles of Brother Cadfael: Monk's Hood* (s)
The Chronicles of Brother Cadfael: Virgin in the Ice* (s)
The Chronicles of Brother Cadfael: Dead Man's Ransom* (s)
The Caves of Steel* (Asimov) 90m
A wizard of Earthsea* (le Guin) 120m
The Eyes of Max Carrados* (Bramah) 30m
So Much Blood* (S.Brett) 60m
The Thirty-Nine Steps* (Buchan) 2 x 60m
Plymouth in War (P.Napier;verse drama) 60m
Flowers for Algernon* (Keyes) 60m
The Guns of Navarone* (s) 5 x 30m
The women in his life (B.T.Bradford) 8 x 30m
The Laughing Policeman* (Sjowall & Wahloo) 60m
The Falls* (Rankin) 2 x 60m
The Three Hostages* (Buchan), dram., 2 x 60m
The Resurrection Men, 2 x 60m (Rankin), dram
Mr. Standfast (Buchan), dram, 2 x 60m.
The Distant Echo (McDermid), dram, 60m.
The Secret Garden (Chesterton), dram, 45m
An English Tragedy (Harwood), dram, 45m.
Early Belt & the Present (Richard Pitt), dram, 45m

The Complete Sherlock Holmes (Conan Doyle)**
The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

**Bert Coules is the head writer in this BBC project, dramatising every one of Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes tales. The "Further Adventures" are Bert Coules originals, based on passing references in the Holmes stories.

Asterisked plays in VRPCC collections

A word from Bert Coules:
Mr. Coules kindly volunteered to answer some questions about radio drama, and his answers are shown below.

In choosing a subject for an original radio play or adaptation, are there constraints imposed by the BBC, or can ideas be submitted on any subject?

As far as subject matter goes, there are, of course, the usual constraints which apply to every dramatic medium: the BBC wouldn't accept material that was deemed to be obscene or libelous or gratuitously offensive. Dramatisations of existing works are dependent on a number of factors including copyright availablity (if a novel has been turned into a film, for example, the film company will probably have purchased dramatic rights for all media.) And then there are considerations of scheduling - the Corporation aims for a varied fare of subject matter and genre - and perceived audience appeal. Also, the different radio drama slots are usually devoted to different types of programming, which can have a big effect on which ideas are favourably considered.

There are very few 90-minute plays broadcast at present. How does this influence a writer's choice of material?

It doesn't affect choice of material so much as how that material is treated: there is a school of thought which holds that the loss of longer slots has led to a certain lack of depth and development in some plays. In talking about "a writer's choice" you must remember that a lot of radio drama is written on the instigation of the BBC rather than the writer; for example, I was recently commissioned to dramatise two quite complex crime novels: one as a one-off play of sixty minutes, the other as a two part serial lasting two hours overall. Not unnaturally, I had to adopt rather different approaches for the two projects.

If you have a story which seems to require an hour but the BBC will only give you a 45 minute slot, how do you decide what to leave out?

It doesn't quite work that way. Scripts are married to specific slots from the very moment of their instigation, so the running time is almost always in the writer's mind from the beginning. The plot, content and style of the piece will have been conceived for a fixed running time; it's very rare in my experience that the duration of a radio play will have to be altered once it's been commissioned.

Is there a mechanism at the BBC for writers to check how much of their work has been retained in the archive?

Not directly. This has to be done through a BBC producer or other executive.

What is current BBC policy on deciding what to store / discard? Is stuff automatically thrown out if you don't put a retention order on it, say every 12 months?

This is a matter of BBC policy and I have no idea what the current guidelines are. Writers - on the whole - are not made privy to such things.

~Many thanks to Bert Coules for answering these questions, and for supplying his list of radio plays.

Further information about Bert's work is on his website at http://www.bertcoules.co.uk

Nigel Deacon / Diversity website

UPDATE on archiving policy, following an exchange between Caroline Raphael and ND, Apr. 2003

All "performance programmes" are now automatically archived by the BBC. This means radio plays, comedies, serials, Desert Island Discs, etc, but not news broadcasts. The policy began around the year 2000; before that date only a certain amount was saved. The reason for the change in policy is cost of recording / archiving, which has plummeted in the last few years.



Very funny "sex comedy" set in a girls' school, adapted by Bert Coules. 90m. Original story written by "Rosalind Erskine" (pen name of Roger Longrigg), writer of "The Chair", a well-known radio play starring Carleton Hobbs.

Ursula Le Guin - BBC Radio 4; broadcast: Thursday 26th December 1996. A young boy, Duny, nicknamed Sparrowhawk, has magical gifts which are powerful even for the island of Gont, a land famous for wizards. But when he gains his True Name of Ged and travels to the Island of the Wise to learn the ancient secrets of wizardry, his youthful pride and anger cause him to unleash a terrible darkness into the world.

Doomed forever to be hunted by a nameless creature that would devour his soul and turn his powers to evil, the young wizard must journey beyond the edge of the world, battling dragons and encountering many perils, to confront the beast which only he can destroy.'A Wizard ofEarthsea' is a classic tale of high magic, courage and the neverending struggle between good and evil. Dramatised by Bert Coules from Ursula Le Guin's 1968 novel 'A Wizard of Earthsea'. With Judi Dench [The Narrator], Michael Maloney [Ged / Shadow], Emma Fielding [The Girl / Lady Serret], Richard Johnson [The Dragon of Pendor], Mark Burrows [Young Ged], Abigail Docherty [Yarrow], and Tom Felton [Ioeth].

Also in the cast: Jonathan Adams, Sean Baker, Ann Beach, Keith Drinkel, Robert Harper, Ioan Meredith, Chris Pavlo, Colleen Prendergast, Christopher Scott, and Kim Wall. Music composed by David Chilton and Nick Russell-Pavier. Directed by Janet Whitaker. The initial two-hour broadcast was re-broadcast on BBC7 in two parts.


Bert Coules has done the difficult job of writing five Sherlock Holmes tales, based on references from the stories of Arthur Conan Doyle. He began with The Madness of Colonel Warburton (R4, 1415, 30 Jan 02). Clive Merrison was Holmes, as ever, and the role of Watson was expertly taken by Andrew Sachs, following the death of Michael Williams. The new stories stick closely to the Conan Doyle style, and to me were indistinguishable from the real thing. (VRPCC newsletter, Apr 02)

These have been issued by the BBC on cassette. They are well written and cast, and a delight to hear. I was a little apprehensive about how Andrew Sachs would be as Watson (since I thought Merrison and Williams were the best Holmes and Watson ever) but by the end of the series I was delighted with the new interpretation, and thought Mr. Sachs had done a wonderful job. Perhaps the stories were a little darker than the originals, but none seemed too far from the Conan Doyle style.... (part of a review taken from www.reviewcentre.com and reproduced by permission).

Sjowall & Wahloo - - BBC Saturday Play 2002-12-14 (57.09) Part of the 'Foreign Bodies' series.Dramatised by Bert Coules from the novel by Maj Sj÷wall and Per Wahl÷÷. Detective Superintendent Martin Beck investigates a mass killing on a Stockholm bus. With Richard Greenwood, Crawford Logan, Gregor Paulie, John Stahl, Simon Tate, Vicky Lidell, Noreen Leighton, Eliza Langland, Chris Young. Directed by Bruce Young.

The Three Hostages....2003
Dramatised in two 60m episodes. Richard Hannay has retired, and is now Sir Richard, and is becoming a staid family man when he's paid a visit by his old boss. There's a problem which only Hannay can solve. Will he take on the job? It involves rescuing some hostages from a gang of international criminals. An exciting adventure story starring David Robb as Hannay, Haydn Gwynne as his wife Mary, and Clive Merrison as Sir Walter. Also stars Michael maloney, Souad Faress, Christian Rodska, Andrew Harrison, Bew Crowe, Gordon Reid, Emma Callender; directed by Bruce Young.

Inspector Rebus-The Falls....2003
A modern crime thriller based on Ian Rankin's novel, featuring Inspector John Rebus, and dramatised in two 60m episodes. When a wealthy banker's daughter goes missing from Edinburgh University, Rebus has difficulty getting information....it's difficult to know whether the student has been murdered, kidnapped, or has just run away. The discovery of a carved wooden doll inside a six-inch coffin and a game of cat and mouse on the internet offer vital but dangerous clues. Cast: Ron Donachie as Rebus, Paul Young as the narrator, with Gayanne Potter, Gerda Stevenson, Sarah Collier, John Shedden, Patrick Moy, Chris Young, Finlay Welsh, Alec Heggie, Joanna Tope. This dramatisation is part of the BBC Radio Collection. The play was directed by Bruce Young.


One of BBC 7's favourite dramatists is Bert Coules and, from his wide range of radio work, his personal favourite is his three-part dramatisation of J.B. Priestley's Lost Empires. Apart from Sherlock Holmes, Bert gets more enquiries about this dramatisation than any other. Lost Empires was broadcast from Jan 20-23, 04. The novel is set in the last years of pre-World War England and follows young Richard Herncastle as he embarks on a life of adventure, joining his uncle's illusionist act on the variety stage, and awakening to the worlds of love and sex. The dramatisation has an excellent cast which includes Tom Baker and Bridgit Forsyth. Director: Kate Rowland.

originally broadcast as the Classic Serial 18 Sep to 2 Oct 1994. The BBC7 repeat:

Tue 20 Jan, 10:00 - 11:00 60 mins Overtures And Beginners: Richard Hearncastle takes the position of a magician's assistant to his uncle.

Wed 21 Jan, 10:00 - 11:00 60 mins First Night: The trials and tribulations of the artistes behind the scenes of a travelling variety show. Tom Baker stars.

Thu 22 Jan, 10:00 - 11:00 60 mins As his uncle works on a new illusion Richard begins to feel a prisoner. The final episode in this powerful story of magic and theatre.

......information sent by Greg Linden

Dramatisation by Bert Coules of a story by Val McDermid. Late one night, some students find the body of a girl. 25 years later the police re-open the unsolved case. The students see this as a chance to clear their names - until one of them dies in a fire, and another in a burglary. An excellent thriller. 60m. Not to be confused with 'Distant Whispers', by Garry Lyons - another exciting thriller where a murder case is re-opened a generation later.

Mar 08; classic serial in two 55m episodes. Adapted for radio by Bert Coules, with David Robb as Richard Hannay and Clive Merrison as Sir Walter. Producer Bruce Young.

The adaptation attracted favourable comment on the BBC messageboard; for example, from "j"...(which I've summarised and edited)

    Spiffing! Hannay once more fighting single-handed against the Fritzies, but now the moral rot in Britain seems to be caused by the Conchies instead of the dastardly Jews....

    I believe he wrote propaganda in WWI, and this can be heard in the scripts. All the 'good sorts' who are invalided out can't wait to get back to the Front to give the Hun 'what for'.

    Totally politically incorrect by today's standards; rampant stereotyping, oozing gung-ho, but such good fun!

By Bert Coules. A Sherlock Holmes story inspired by Arthur Conan Doyle. R4 1415 5-6 Apr 2010. Clive Merrison again in the title role, with Andrew Sachs as Dr. Watson. 90m.
    from the BBC messageboard: ......I see that Clive Merrison is again in the title role. He is absolutely brilliant as Sherlock Holmes - easily the best Sherlock on radio I have ever heard (they include John Geilgud, Basil Rathbone and Carlton Hobbs). Like the equally excellent John Moffat as Poirot, Merrison has made the role his own on radio.

    Bert Coules replied: .....I hasten to second the praise for Patrick Rayner, whose contribution to the shows - and many, many others besides - has been vast and wonderful, and who unfailingly makes my scripts sound much better than they really are.

    Yes, we've had two Watsons: in the Conan Doyle dramatisations the late and much lamented Michael Williams, whom one online commentator called "quite simply the best Watson there has ever been, in any medium", and in all of the Further Adventures his successor Andrew Sachs, who had large shoes to fill and did so superbly.

    And yes, Clive Merrison has been the one fixed point in a changing age, the centre and focus of the whole enterprise with its four producers, three directors, eleven writers, six producer's assistants, many musicians, vast string of guest stars and supporting casts, and fantastic technical crews who regularly and magnificently transform dingy, unatmospheric studios into fog-bound streets, windswept moors and a cosy firelit sitting room in Baker Street.

    What a pleasure and a privilege it is to have worked with them all.


      Another listener commented: .....Very well written. Nice, intriguing story. Good peformances. Clear narrative. Pompous where it needed to be, actually quite moving in places too. Top hole!!!

      In an earlier posting, Bert wrote a little about his 'Holmes':

      .......in common with most actors on radio, Clive Merrison gives what you would call a complete performance, with facial expressions, gestures, movements, the lot.

      The various scenes are set up so that the cast can move around the sets just as they would on stage or film, so apart from the fact that they're holding scripts in their hands and that there's no proper scenery, furniture, costumes or lighting, a radio drama recording session isn't actually that much different from a TV or movie session.

8 May 2010 An English Tragedy
By Ronald Harwood. Adapted for Radio by Bert Coules. Afternoon Play. The true story of Second World War traitor John Amery. Based on actual events at the end of World War Two. May 1945: victory in Europe, and a Labour landslide. English traitor John Amery is arrested in Italy and brought back to London for trial. If convicted, he faces the death penalty. But his father is a senior politician; surely the Establishment will look after its own... John Amery ..... Geoffrey Streatfield, Leopold Amery ..... Derek Jacobi, Bryddie Amery ..... Isla Blair, Warder/ Sergant ..... Christopher Knott, The Major / Judge ..... Pip Donaghy, Dr Rosemary Pimlott ..... Melanie Jessop. Directed by Philip Franks. Producer Frank Stirling. Indie (a Unique production)

11 May 2011: Afternoon Drama - Father Brown: The Secret Garden
By G. K. Chesterton.Dramatised by Bert Coules. Paris, 1911. A dinner party given by Aristide Valentin, Chief of the Paris Police, is disturbed by the discovery of a stranger lying murdered within the grounds of his high-walled garden. Who is he? How did he get there? And which of the distinguished guests has committed the gruesome crime? Time for Father Brown to step forward. Intuitive and unassuming, his unremarkable exterior conceals a profound knowledge of human frailty. Who better than a priest to understand the nature and prevalence of evil? Cast: Father Brown ..... Richard Greenwood, Brayne ..... Angus MacInnes, Valentin ..... Liam Brennan, Dr Simon ..... Jimmy Chisholm, Lord Galloway ..... Paul Young , Lady Galloway ..... Eliza Langland, Margaret Galloway ..... Francesa Dymond, O'Brien ..... Robin Laing. Producer Kirsteen Cameron.

6 Apr 2011: Afternoon Drama - Early Belt and the Present
Murder mystery set in India in 1709. A young servant, Early Belt, accompanies a group of superstitious English merchants as they transport a vast wagon train of goods to Delhi. The wagon train - known as The Present - is an incentive for the Indian Emperor to grant free trade throughout the land. As the convoy crawls across India a merchant is found murdered. Stories quickly spread of a sorceress locked inside an enchanted cabinet somewhere within the convoy. When a second merchant is killed the rumours turn to hysteria. It falls to Early Belt to solve the mystery. Written by Richard Pitt with additional material by Bert Coules. Early Belt.....JAMES ANTHONY PEARSON, John Surman.............DAVID HAYMAN, Dr Hamilton..........JOHN SHEDDEN, Prof Peters ..............RALPH RIACH, Merchant 1 ...........KENNY BLYTH , Merchant 2...........BRIAN PETTIFER, Merchant 3.........MARK MCDONNELL, Emperor .............UMAR AHMED, Beda Belt...........LUCY PATERSON. Producer: Bruce Young.

Bert Coules provided us with another Sherlock Holmes tale based on passing references in Conan Doyle's books. THE MARLBOURNE POINT MYSTERY (R4, 1415, 7-8 Jan 13), broadcast on successive afternoons, was set in and around a disused lighthouse on a remote stretch of the Kent coast; the scene of a bizarre double death. Holmes and Watson investigate. These tales get better and better and show great invention. Clive Merrison and Andrew Sachs were Holmes and Watson, and James Laurenson was Mycroft, Holmes' smarter brother. It was also good to see the writer included in the cast (the postmaster). The producer was Patrick Rayner. (.....ND, Diversity website review, Sep 2013.)

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