Radio plays - my top ten -
David Hawley, VRPCC

As one of the comparatively younger members of VRPCC, I began listening to Radio Drama in the late 80s with "A Study in Scarlet" and "The Sign of the Four" (Merrison and Williams' first foray as Holmes and Watson) and have been an avid listener ever since. As a result, you will see that most of my Top Ten were broadcast in the 1990s, but I have been able to listen to classic radio productions both through BBC7 and the kind offices of fellow-members of the Circle, to whom my grateful thanks.

I don't collect any particular genre; my interest is varied, ranging from Crime and Thrillers to Sci-Fi and plays with supernatural themes.

1. FATHERLAND, by Robert Harris...1998
An atmospheric thriller dramatised by John Dryden, and set in an alternative dimension where the outcome of the Second World War took a very different turn, with Germany having won and Hitler about to celebrate his 75th birthday. The suspicious death of a retired German civil servant leads Berlin detective Xavier March to an investigation which enables him to uncover a terrifying secret. Anton Lesser as March sounds a little too young for the role, but this is a first-rate adaptation from an award-winning dramatist. The play was also broadcast in an extended version with extra scenes the following year - was this a radio first?

2. MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY, by Charles Nordoff & James Norman Jones...1995
Bert Coules' dramatisation tells the story of Fletcher Christian's mutiny in order to set up a new colony on an uncharted island. Oliver Reed is excellent (although a trifle "OTT") as the tyrannical Captain Bligh whom Christian casts adrift in an open rowing boat.

3. MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS by Agatha Christie...1992
Even though it is one of the most well-known and celebrated stories by the "Queen of Crime", there is something about this production which seems to compel me to listen to it over the Christmas season. One of John Moffat's best Poirot performances to date.

4. DEADFALL by R.D.Wingfield...1987
My Top Ten could not be complete without at least one of R.D. Wingfield's cleverly plotted thrillers. Of those I have heard, this is one of my favourites. The story concerns an explosives expert, Harry Davis (played by Bob Peck), whose past career comes back to haunt him. A wonderful play by the master of the unexpected twist.

5. THE HORN by Stephen Gallagher
Based on his own short story,, this was, for me, one of the highlights of the "Fear on Four" series. Three men meet in a roadside hut to seek shelter from a freak snowstorm but are unprepared for the horror which is buried close by. John Castle, Peter Gunn and Philip Sulley play the motorists who put their lives at risk when they follow the sound of the horn.

6. BLEAK HOUSE, by Charles Dickens
Another cracking dramatisation by John Dryden and a Sony Award winner in 1999. I'm not, as a rule, a big fan of Dickensian adaptations, but this had me hooked from the emotionally-charged opening scene. Dryden gave the productiion his usual documentary style, which means that the listener has more of a "fly-on-the-wall" perspective. The cast is headed by Michael Kitchen as John Jarndyce and Claire Price as Esther Summerson. A fine piece of radio drama.

7. ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST, by Ken Kasey...1995
I enjoyed this production of Kasey's anti-authoritarian novel so much that I felt it warranted inclusion in my Top Ten. It tells the story of R.P.McMurphy, a subversive patient who leads a rebellion among the inmates of a crually repressive mental institution. Bob Sherman gives an excitable performance as McMurphy and Margaret Robertson is equally good as McMurphy's nemesis Nurse Ratched.

8. ONLY THE GOOD DIE YOUNG, by Shaun Prendergast ...1992
The 6-part techno-thriller was broadcast on a late Thursday evening and kept me enthralled for five weeks. On the night of the final episode, however, a thunderstorm resulted in a power cut, and had me searching high and low for batteries. Therefore, I missed part 6, and it was 12 years before I was able to hear this final part of my "Holy Grail", forwarded to me by a fellow-member of VRPCC. Although I was slightly disappointed by its conclusion, the play was well-written by Prendergast (who seems to play about a dozen roles) and concerns the suspicious death of a computer whizzkid and the investigation by his fiancee, Kim (played by Siriol Jenkins) to discover the truth. Kenneth Cranham is superb as the head of a sinister agency hellbent on stopping Kim by whatever means possible.

9. BIRDSONG, by Sebastian Faulks ...1998
One of my favourite books (I must have voted for it about 50 times during last year's 'Great British Read'), the story is both a touching romance and an unflinching war story set in France both before and during the First World War. The radio adaptation was able to capture the very sombre mood in the trenches and the horrors of war as experienced through the eyes of the story's main character, Stephen Wrayford. I requested that it be broadcast on BBC7 and, to my surpirse, it was - on Armistice Day, 2003.

10. THE LEGEND OF ROBIN HOOD, by John Fletcher ...1992
Although the casting of John Nettles in the titular role might have seemed a surprise choice, John Fletcher's play crams just about every fable of Robin Hood into 90 minutes, and adds a few new ones, in a very good production by a versatile and multi-faceted writer.

David Hawley

This article originally appeared in the VRPCC newsletter, "The Circular Note", December 2004. Many thanks, David, for your permission to use it here.

Nigel Deacon / Diversity website

All of the above plays known to exist in VRPCC collections

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