Richard Wortley:

For Rosamund



I have written this introduction after the epilogue, no doubt a normal method but although five books of mine have been published I am out of practice.

A final rinse of the text determines a drop more detail with my lateral thinking trying to convey some of the atmosphere behind performances on the radio. Earnest artistes, scripts in hand, can occasionally be shown on television but this never pushes any buttons for me.

Here I am also offering a sketch for a much larger project which is not origami or under-water basketry...

I have spent a great deal of my life in radio drama and if I declare my veteran status it is in the name of media social history. I need to share a 'secret garden' world I believe to be under-explored.

I thrive on paradox and was convinced at one time that drama on the radio would receive the same fate as silent films, a fine form of entertainment which is now strictly in memoriam with Kevin Brownlow's 'The Parades Gone By'.

Television has not killed radio drama although it is still a costly business in relative terms. I once wrote a letter to the Times saying Hollywood's 'Gone with the Wind' could have paid for eight hundred radio plays, but that argument no longer washes.

Give or take the odd 'Horspiel' from Germany and some gallant expansion in Eastern Europe, radio drama or at least art drama is in heavy retreat. The BBC still supplies the UK with quantity but its near monopoly threatens a complacency. Remember how much the advent of Channel 4 freshed up BBC TV drama.

By 1940 USA radio had produced many a ripping yarn in addition to the sensational 'War of the Worlds' (Orson Welles 1938). But by 1970 the home chicken coup had been thoroughly slaughtered by the television 'fox'.

It is also an art form only really practised by or for the BBC. I have abandoned the sterile debate over is 'it' more like 'the stage' or more like 'the movies' ('half the volume twice the intensity').

Radio is radio and although imagination is one of my sacred cows I dispute the old cliche of the 'scenery' being better. Verbal images, yes! I would also like to dismiss the notion of a golden age between the cat's whisker and the mini- disc. Today is simply different but the storytelling goes on.

Where we lose out is the history. Thirty-seven years ago I met the BBC Scottish producer Audrey Cameron. Her 'eureka' moment she claimed was discovering movement off-mic as antidote to 'talking heads'.

A man moves across a room to look out of a window. She directs this character to trail his voice away from the microphone accordingly. Small steps, giant leaps for wireless drama. And sitting down for sitting down.

Watch your script rustle... that specially manufactured soft paper for page turns; yeh ... history.

I like titles, three types- 1. A title that tells you exactly what to expect, 'Hard Times' (Charles Dickens), 'Room at the Top' (John Braine). 2. A title which echoes another image, 'On The Other Hand' -The autobiography of Fay Wray. 3. The pun - 'Scrambled Ego' by Clement Freud, though he never actually used it.

My title is quite dull.

I was recently at an enchanting small birthday party, an actress who has contributed much to radio drama. The guests were ninety per cent 'actors'. The wine flowed and the anecdotes flew. They would have found a cracker. A spider's web mentality, I believe these fourteen thousand five hundred words have found a shape. However I remind myself that many other actors, special colleagues and plays that mean a great deal to me have not been mentioned; or production atmospheres - impish voice in studio - "I'm a coiled spring, Richard, ready to go". He knows who he is. Six degrees of separation, seven plots in the world, no on-line, no mouse double-clicked, spin another thread...

As I've said before, it is a further reflection on my part that the names Judi Dench and Miriam Margoyles seem to appear several times whereas many other favourite artists and colleagues of mine have not been mentioned. This is the accident of a free-range memory; another day it could have been a quite different list.

This website contribution aims to be impressionistic and personal. It is impossible to condense forty-four years as an attempted specialist in one branch of one medium, i.e. radio drama. So I shall try some edited highlights with an emphasis on writers and actors and reflecting less the technical needs on which all these plays depend.

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