Melford's Axe
by Roderick Graham

Roderick Graham - Melford's Axe

BBC Radio 4: Saturday Night Theatre

Broadcast: Saturday 6th February 1988 @ 7:45 p.m.

In January 1749, Colonel Hacker finds that the hangman, Brandon, refuses to do his duty in beheading Charles I, set for the following day. He offered him money, a great deal of money, but Brandon's conscience and his courage have failed him. He is afraid that even in disguise he may be recognised and torn apart by the crowd. No matter his trade, Brandon is a civilian and cannot be forced to do it so the Colonel decides it will have to be done by the Regiment.

The Colonel calls in Captain Whittingham and Lieutenant Chard and tells them they have until the following afternoon at 1:00 to find a man. The two decide that a farrier would be first class and the best of them would be Sergeant Jack Melford. Jack, who has been with the regiment since he was a lad and bleeds loyalty, gladly accepts the honour to wield the axe on the tyrant, Charles I, but is shocked to hear that after the event he will have to leave the Regiment.

After the execution, Melford and his family are rewarded with money and land in Leicestershire that has a cottage and smithy on it. There, they will start a new life a prosper. Melford is warned not to tell anyone, even his wife, that it was he that chopped Charles's head off for if any royalist found out, and there are many in Leicestershire that sympathise with the Stuart's, Melford would be a dead man.

In the beginning, all seems to go well but an angst begins to eat away at Melford, the burden of carrying the secret of what he did. Did he do the right thing? The angst intensifies in August 1660 with the Restoration of King Charles II. Though a free pardon was granted to everyone who had supported the Commonwealth and Protectorate, exceptions were made for those who had directly participated in the trial and execution of King Charles I in 1649 - the Regicides - who were sentenced to death. The play centres on Melford's plight.

With Struan Rodger [Sergeant Jack Melford, a Farrier], Sara Kestelman [Mary, Jack's Wife], Christopher Benjamin [Lord Bolton], Peter Baldwin [Captain Whittingham], Kim Wall [Lieutenant Chard], John Samson [Colonel Francis Hacker], John McAndrew [Ben Melford, Jack's Son], Stephen Tompkinson [Luke Melford, Jack's Son], Michael Tudor Barnes [Samuel Pickett, a Lawyer], Michael Deacon [King Charles I], and Steve Hodson [King Charles II].

Other parts played by John Baddeley, Peter Craze, Anthony Jackson, and Steven Harrold.

Directed by Jane Morgan.

90 minutes.


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