Why Radio Drama is better than TV

I am often asked why I prefer radio drama to television. Here I have summarised my reply to a recent inquirer.

Dear Kate

You ask me about why I prefer radio drama when we tend to be dominated by visual media.

I have always liked radio drama's treatment of ideas. Good ideas clearly expressed don't need pictures. The dramatic impact may be diminished or even trivialised by them.

Here are some examples of drama where pictures would be extremely intrusive:

The conflict between Bundy major and Bundy minor in Giles Cooper's “The Disagreeable Oyster” - two halves of the same man having to live in the same body and work out a compromise.

The unknown and never-seen intruder in Alan Plater's 'The What on the Landing'.

The moment in Jill Hyem's 'Remember Me' when the elderly woman answers the 'phone and realises that the person who wrecked her life will shortly be at her mercy.

The dock plants in Don Haworth's “On a day in a garden in summer” talking to each other when they see the gardener with weed killer.

The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams; a remarkable piece of imaginative writing, hugely successful on radio and broadcast several times; a pale shadow of itself when televised.

Scott Cherry's 'The Book of Shadows', where a demon is conjured up by a master of the occult and frightens several people to death. The quiet menace of this play is quite unlike anything on television.

'The Stones of Muncaster Cathedral' by Robert Westall, where a medieval demon, bricked up in the church tower centuries ago, causes havoc.

'Who is Sylvia' by Stephen Dunstone – scientists experimenting on bugs, from the insects' point of view.

'Barnstable' by James Saunders, where a family chats on and on, oblivious to the fact that their house is falling down.

'The Point of the Story' by Perry Pontac – a story within a story within a story and back again in 45 minutes.

All of the above are superb works of the imagination, stimulating the listener to visualise and think and wonder what will happen next. Powerful images in the mind; a good radio writer puts them there directly, with economy of words and relying on the imagination of the listener, who must concentrate. Try interrupting a listener in the middle of a play - if it's any good, you will probably receive a very irritable reply - you have just done the equivalent of putting the cinema lights back on at the moment when Celia Howard is saying goodbye to Trevor Johnson in 'Brief Encounter'.

A young boy wrote to Trevor Hill, the producer of 'Children's Hour' and countless other programmes, in the 40s, saying 'the pictures are better on the radio'. I can't think of a better way of putting it.

The TV drama programmes I see (a couple of hours per year in relatives' houses at Xmas; I don't have a tv) seem in contrast to be brash and superficial, dominated by aggressive imagery. There is no subtlety. They do not stimulate the imagination. There is nothing for the viewer to do, other than spectate.

I hope these few notes go some way towards answering your question.

Nigel Deacon / Diversity website

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