Whither Radio Drama? (1999)

Donald Campbell writes : "A number of eminent critics have been voicing concern about what has been happening to the play "on air" since the April Revolution engineered by James Boyle.  Although the drama output is minor when compared to the rest of R4, it is, nevertheless, significant to a wide range of our members.  It may also have some significance for the shape of other areas of broadcasting.  The major and most serious change (bemoaned by some of us as well as Sue Gaisford, Gillian Reynolds and David Sexton - all respected critics) is the axing of the 90-minute play. 


At a stroke, this kills off the possibility of running classic plays (with a small "c").  The import of all this is that such past series as those offered in the "Christmas at Home" (William Douglas Home),  "Murder at Christmas" and "Crime at Christmas" slots will be denied us.  It also suppresses single 3-act classics such as "An Inspector Calls",  "Blithe Spirit" (or any of Coward's plays),  "The Winslow Boy" and countless others.   It demotes drama to a series of "quickies" of 60 and 45 minutes (and less). 


Now whilst time slots such as these can be handled well by a master of the genre like R.D. Wingfield, I would suggest that, on much more recent evidence, the ability to use satisfactorily such a time frame sits uneasily with some current dramatisers and playwrights.  The recent plays about (1) suicidal lesbians watching seagulls and (2) The Death of Paganini are cases in point.  The latter was partly transmitted in Italian, which, even with the insertion of a "translator" into the plot, seemed to me to be both perverse and a misuse of the 45 minutes allocated.


 Letters of despair have been despatched to various "interested" and "not-so-interested" parties at the BBC but, as I write (29th. June), no responses have been received.  Whilst I am not the only concerned party to worry at this niggling and fateful change, I feel that the transformed situation should be identified to all drama listeners.  Drama today - documentaries tomorrow? 


The most worrying aspect of all this was, and is, the recent suggestion by Gillian Reynolds that we should listen to radio drama now and in the near future "whilst it is still available".  Her knowledge and understanding of radio changes and the machinations of those involved in decision-making should be a concern for all of us".


(from VRPCC newsletter, 1998; reproduced by permission)




Roger Bickerton:  (1999):  The future of BBC Radio has been the subject of much comment in various newspapers, journals etc. over the last several months.  One wonders if "value for money" is now such an overriding driving force as to seriously threaten overall quality of output and whether cost savings will reduce the numbers of long-term, committed "radio people" within the organisation to a feeble rump.  Is it a matter of time before the Licence Fee is abolished, the BBC told to fight for its audience with all the Commercial operators and the concept of its being a Public Service finally abandoned?  Despite the gloom which always accompanies change, the Beeb can still broadcast items of startling quality which appeal, probably, to only a tiny audience, and the rationale for whose production harks back to the early days of "The Third".  I refer specifically to the "Troy" trilogy recently, and urge anyone with a remote interest in good drama to hear it.

Used by permission of VRPCC: thanks Don, thanks Roger.

Nigel Deacon / Diversity website

Back to top

Radio Plays
Wine Making
Cosby Methodist Church
Gokart Racing
Links to other sites
Contact Us