Radio Plays: Politics

Ambrose Bierce's definition of politics was "A Strife Of Interests Masquerading As A Contest Of Principles" in his "Devil's Dictionary" of c. 1907, and nothing much has changed since then to persuade me that this should be updated.

Those who wish to scrutinise the expenditure of our elected representatives for 2007-2008 should visit http://www.telegraph.co.uk/mpsexpenses for a comparison of their words and actions

Meanwhile, on the subject of radio plays, there are three main categories, or four if we include comedy.

1. A play which is or which approximates to a drama-documentary. Real-life characters, and a serious attempt to reconstruct real events, with the best evidence available. Sometimes slight alterations are necessary; drama is drama, and the audience has to know where it is, but the events portrayed are essentially true.

2. A play containing real characters but the story is fictional. There are numerous plays based on attempts to assassinate Hitler, for example; "Rogue Male" by Geoffrey Household is well known.

3. A play containing fictional characters; for example, "The House", by Christopher Lee. Realistic, based on a good knowledge of the political system, but any resemblance to actual politicians or events is coincidental.

4. Comedies making political points or satirical comments about politicans - 'The Men from the Ministry', 'Yes, Minister' and 'Flying the Flag' are well-known examples.

Politics does not have to be party politics. In the West we are currently being subjected to a great deal of fiction from Government and its agencies on 'man-made global warming'. You will be aware of other examples.

The politics of the Energy industry is fascinating and repays serious study. I have followed the subject since the mid-seventies and am including here plays about Energy which have a political slant.

*The first sentence of my introduction is a quote from R.Bickerton, VRPCC newsletter, Sep 03


The Crossing....2015
(AD Wed 4 February 2015) In a future and fictional UK which has left the EU there are tricky negotiations over the borders between Eire and the UK, especially Northern Ireland. - AW.

The Right Honourable....2013
(Saturday Drama 2 November 2013) A political thriller involving a newly elected female MP. I found the title confusing because the term "Right Honourable" is reserved for members of the Privy Council, which the new MP is not. - AW.

1 Jan 2013 Saturday Drama: The Letter of Last Resort
By David Greig;originally commissioned and produced by the Tricycle Theatre as part of a cycle of plays 'The Bomb - A Partial History'. The Letter of Last Resort is a hand-written letter from the Prime Minister to the commanding officer of each of Trident's submarines. It contains instruction on what action the commanding officer of the submarine should take in the event that Britain is obliterated by nuclear attack and all those in authority deceased. The letter can only say one of two things: retaliate, or, don't retaliate. Each new British prime minister must write the letter upon taking office. More notes about this play on the David Greig page.

By Michael Eaton. Sept 09. Violence from the IRA in the 80s and 90s, and the Major government's attempts to deal with it.

Interesting comment on the BBC messageboard by 'h.b.', which I summarise here: "Albert Reynolds's reputation precedes him, but I wonder if he's actually quite the Somerville & Ross 'begob, top-o-the-morning, a thousand oirish blessings on yer' fixer as was portrayed in this play.

More reliable was the characterisation of John Major by Michael Maloney who neatly captured Major's cadence and rhythm.

Another comment by 'r.a.' followed:

Albert Reynolds and John Major came across convincingly, and, as portrayed here, they gain some admiration, given that politics is such a murky business; the art of the possible, attempting to unravel knots of incalculable complexity. Interesting to hear Mr. Reynolds's phone call to President Clinton, concerning Cahill, and the apparent welcoming to the White House of Gerry Adams, hailed as a "great international statesman" (holy mackerel!) by some politicians there. We await the release of official documents.

Radio Times described the play as 'exploring the events which led to the Downing Street Declaration in 1993, examining the personalities which shaped this moment in history'. Cast: Michael Maloney, Dermot Crowley, Patrick Drury, Thomas Wheatley, Michael Cochrane, Lloyd Hutchinson, Matthew Marsh. Producer Nicholas Newton, director Nicolas Kent.

15 Jul 09. Based on an extract from Quintin Hogg's diaries. In 1964 a gang of students at Aberdeen University had attempted to kidnap the Prime Minister, Sir Alec Douglas-Home, who had temporarily taken over the leadership of the Conservative party after the ill-health of Harold MacMillian. This is a dramatic reconstruction by Martin Jameson of what might have happened. The cast: Tim McInnerney as Sir Alec, Chris Starkie, Benjamin Askew, Michelle Duncan, Grainne Dromgoole, Annabelle Dowler, David Hargreaves. Producer Jeremy Mortimer. More on 2009 plays page.

POWER PLAY....2009
22-23 Jun 09, afternoon play. The fascinating story of the collapse of ENRON, the biggest power company in the world. Done as a drama-documentary. Producer Sarah Davies. By Margaret Heffernan. More on 2009 plays page.

8 Jun 09. Political play about the last days of the Callaghan government and the beginning of the Labour Party's years in the wilderness under the shadow of Mrs. Thatcher. The main character in the play is 'Alf', an elderly MP in poor health who is almost too ill to attend the House for crucial votes. With Geraldine McEwen, Julia Ford, Laura Mowat, Robert Lonsdale, Philip Jackson, Janice Aqua, Jonathan Tafler. Producer Claire Grove. Afternoon play, 45m.

By Paul Dodgson (R4, 1415, 8-9 Oct 07), broadcast on two successive days, told the true story of what happened at Windscale in 1957. This was a time when America and Britain led the world in nuclear technology. Britain was developing its own atomic bomb, using plutonium produced at Windscale in its two atomic piles. But during October 1957, there was an accident during routine maintenance. It was usual, at regular intervals, to allow the graphite core to heat up slowly, to release the energy which builds up when it's irradiated. But the core became dangerously overheated. (This highly political play - nuclear power has always been a political football in the uk - is covered in some detail on the Energy plays page).

Seeing It Through....2007
4 Nov 07. 90m. R3. By Neil Brand. Imagine if Alastair Campbell had recruited Tom Stoppard, JK Rowling, Ian McEwan and Jeanette Winterson to write patriotic literature supporting the war in Iraq. In 1914 Charles Masterman used the literary and artistic elite to unite the nation against the common enemy. Wells, Bennett, Hardy all did their stuff. A fascinating unknown story of WW1, essentially true.

Cast: Masterman ...... Michael Maloney, Jean ...... Clare Corbett, Lloyd George ...... Robert Pugh, HG Wells ...... Sam Dale, Frances Stevenson ...... Honeysuckle Weeks, Frank ...... Sam Pamphilon, Dwyer ...... Ben Crowe, Robert Donald ...... John Dougall, Arnold Bennett ...... Simon Treves, Thomas Hardy ...... Peter Marinker, directed by David Hunter.

By Tilly Black. Afternoon Play. 27 Oct 06. It is 1956, and Elizabeth Gooding is growing up in the privileged ex-patriot community of Port-Said in Egypt, where her father runs a thriving ships chandlers business. As tensions mount after President Nasser nationalises the Suez Canal, the unfolding political drama is seen through the eyes of the 10-year-old girl, whose holiday diary over that summer of 1956 tells a poignant human story alongside the public events that are changing the political map for ever. This play is as much about one child's incomprehension of the political forces that are changing her life as it is about the Suez crisis. Cast: Elizabeth ...... Holly Bodimeade, Khalid ...... Omar Berdouni, Henry Gooding ...... Richard Mitchley, Kate Gooding ...... Jenny Coverack, Miss Watkins ...... Jacqueline Tong.

BORN FOR WAR....2006
By David Pownall. Afternoon Play. 26 Oct 06. The Suez crisis exposes deep divisions within a Liverpool family - already haunted by the loss of too many young men. Cast: Dennis ...... Mark Arends, Mavis ...... Maureen O'Brien, Job ...... Sam Kelly, Flower ...... Annabelle Dowler, Vivien ...... Clare Corbett , Guy ...... Paul Bazely. Director Martin Jenkins.

30 Apr 06, by Robin Glendinning. Play about the turbulent events within the British Broadcasting Company, led by John Reith, during the nine days of the General Strike in May 1926. The very early days of the BBC. Cast: John Reith ...... Stuart McQuarrie , Stanley Baldwin ...... Bill Wallis , Winston Churchill ...... Alex Jennings, Peter Eckersley ...... Adam Levy, JCC Davidson ...... Nicholas Boulton, Archbishop of Canterbury ...... Geoffrey Whitehead, Newsreel Voice ...... Sam Kelly, BBC Newsreader ...... Peter Donaldson , Ramsay MacDonald ...... Christian Rodska , Muriel Reith ...... Alison Reid . Producer Gordon House.

That Man Atlee....2005
By Robin Glendinning. 9 Jul 05. Everyone thought the 1945 General Election, 50 years ago this month, was a shoe-in for Churchill. This play captures the drama of the events surrounding the election that shaped post-war Britain.

On the day of the count Labour are expecting to lose, but as the results swing their way and the Party smell power, Herbert Morrison tries to unseat his boss Clement Atlee. In a bout of political infighting that makes Blair versus Brown look like a tea party, an unlikely victor emerges to lead Great Britain into a Socialist future. Cast: Clement Atlee ...... Bill Wallis, Ernest Bevin ...... David Calder, Herbert Morrison ...... Matthew Marsh, Harold Laski ...... Philip Franks, Vi Atlee ...... Diana Berriman, Flippy Atlee ...... Katherine Heath, Alison Atlee ...... Amy Clifton, Janet Shipton ...... Alison Reid , The Home Service ...... David Collins, Journalists ...... Chris Donnelly, Paul Mohan. Directed by Jeremy Howe.

Playing for Time - three days in May 1940....2005
by Robin Glendinning, R4 1430 29 Jan 05. A play about Churchill, who's been Prime Minister for a fortnight and is having to face up to the greatest defeat of the British Army at Dunkirk. He's challenged by the War Cabinet over the way he's conducting the war. If he loses the argument, he'll lose the premiership. Stars Robert Hardy as Churchill; cast includes Ronald Pickup,Jeremy Child, Geoffrey Whitehead, Bill Wallis. Director Jeremy Howe. .....ND, VRPCC newsletter.

THE DUEL, by Michael Samuels....2004
R4, 1430-1600, 3 Apr 04. This play is based on the conflict between Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and the miners' leader, Arthur Scargill, 1983-1985. Miners went on strike in protest at pit closures, stayed out without a ballot, and supported Scargill right until the end. Ultimately he was defeated by the better tactics of his opponent. This was a wonderful piece of drama; David Threlfall played Scargill and Patricia Hodge was Margaret Thatcher; Jeremy Howe and Isobel Eaton directed.

    BBC publicity: The fight between the Prime Minister and the leader of the National Union of Mineworkers is one of the defining battles of Twentieth Century Britain. At stake were two totally different views of society.

The miners' strike bitterly divided the people. Hundreds of coal mines, a hundred thousand miners out on strike, a government intent on discord and the breaking of union power, thousands of police battling their fellow citizens on government instructions. It was also a highly personal clash between Scargill and Thatcher; the latter with strong memories of the downfall of the Heath government in 1974. That they treated the dispute as a fight to the death is shown in the way both resorted to imagery from the Second World War. Scargill said that the policies he opposed were the first steps on a road which would lead to the concentration camps (I couldn't quite follow his logic, but that was never his strong point); Mrs. Thatcher called the stance of the Labour Party "appeasement". We do not hear the story's real end - how the dispute ultimately destroyed both its architects - but the play is an outstanding piece of docu-drama. Listen to it. ......(paraphrased from a longer article by Danny Kelly in Radio Times, 3-9 Apr. 04)

By Charles Wood. 3 Nov 03. The play explores the illicit pact which ignited the Suez crisis. Prejudice, secrecy, plotting and misdirection lie at the heart of Britain's actions in the Middle East. With Geoffrey Palmer, James Fleet, John Standing, Corin Redgrave.

Jonathan Smith's return to favour was marked by THE LAST BARK OF THE BULLDOG (R4, 1430, 21 Jun 03). It was about the last few years of Churchill's career, and the crisis of June 1953 when he suffered a stroke during his last period in office as Prime Minister. Benjamin Whitrow was superb as Churchill, and he was ably supported by Sian Phillips as Lady Clementine, Michael Cochrane as Lord Moran, Robert Portal as Jock Colville and Emma Callender as Winston's attractive young nurse. The director was Bruce Young.

...........A second series of adaptations of C.P. Snow's epic novel sequence Strangers and Brotherswent out during June 03. (R4, Classic Serial, 4 instalments beginning 1st June). Episode 1 was about the development of the first atomic pile in England, in the race to beat Germany to the atomic bomb. (see also Neil Brand page - Manhattan Project). Episode 2 covered the aftermath of the Bomb and the first years of the Cold War. Next we had an academic scandal and cover-up based in a Cambridge college, with a physicist accused of faking evidence, and finally "The Corridors of Power", about a Tory politician who enlists Lewis Eliot's help to formulate a nuclear policy which will advance his own career. These stories are truly outstanding, as are the dramatisations. The cast included David Haig, Tim McInnerney, Jeremy Child, Hugh Quarshie, Geoffrey Whitehead, Jonathan Coy, Sean Barrett, Clive Merrison, Peter Blythe, David Acton, David Tennant, Iain Glen, Juliet Aubrey, David Leonard, John Carlisle, Christopher Rozycki, Julia Watson...this list is getting too long .......Ronald Pickup, Jeremy Swift, Rolf Saxon, Avril Clark, Richard Firth. The directors were Sally Avens & Jeremy Howe, as in the previous series. Are there further volumes?

The first sequence of C.P.Snow's novels, which deals which scientific and college politics, is reviewed on Jonathan Holloway's page (q.v.).

The Secret Parts....2000
By Eve Brook. R4, Afternoon Play, Mon 29 May 00. Local government and politics but also an excellent thriller involving murder and corruption. Produced by Jonquil Panting. It was dramatised by David Edgar (Eve Brook's husband) from her unpublished novel, "The Secret Parts", written two to three years before her death from cancer in 1998. More about this on The Secret Parts page.

Friday Play 5 Feb 99. By Robin Glendinning. During the Second World War, or `the emergency', as the Irish call it, a German captain lands in Ireland and has many comic and bizarre adventures trying to recruit the help of the IRA to invade Britain. With Patrick O'Kane, Stella McCusker and Alan Barry. Director Roland Jaquarello.

Deep in the Heart of Nowhere....1998
By Graham White. Not sure how fictional this one is....Afternoon Play, 14 Aug 98. In 1871, the nation became obsessed with the terrible suffering of a tiny Devon village at the hands of the `Nymet Rowland Savages', a family of depraved and lawless peasants. A century later, a very different account emerges - one of political corruption, media manipulation and public hysteria. With Bob Peck, Emma Fielding and Steven Waddington. Director Cathryn Horn.

Hidden Identity ....1998
Fiction: A political thriller by Gary Brown, in three parts: 10 Aug 98. Afternoon Play. In Leeds in 1936, a Jew infiltrates the local fascists, thereby setting in motion a series of events that reveal dark personal and political secrets. With Linal Haft, Russell Dixon, Thelma Ruby and Jonathan Tafler. Director Andy Jordan.

17 Aug 98. 2: Jacky succeeds in infiltrating the Blackshirts, but is his hidden identity secure? With Daniel Isaacs, Stuart Richman, Linal Haft, Lloyd Peters and Thelma Ruby.

24 Aug 98. 3: Just as Jacky's undercover operation succeeds, a tragedy at home leads to the revelation of painful family secrets. With Daniel Isaacs, Stuart Richman and Linal Haft.

Stopping the Rising ....1997
Monday Play 8 Dec 97. By Robin Glendinning. Dubliner Tom Hennessy, a survivor of the Easter Rising of 1916, is struggling to write a commemorative speech as the current Troubles begin. He remembers how he and others wanted to stop the rising and how their failure to do so altered the course of history.

Monday Play, 1 Jun 92. Christopher Reason's play about an ambitious local councillor. It won the 1992 Writers' Guild Award for best original radio play. Also, Siriol Jenkins won the Radio Times Award for Best Actress. ....Jim

compiled by Nigel Deacon / Diversity website

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