Radio Plays : Science and Scientists

By Paul Dodgson, writer and composer, broadcast on two successive days in late 2007 - the story of the Windscale fire. Detailed remarks about this play are on the REVIEWS page for Dec 2007.

........... We had a superb play by John Fletcher entitled Ebola Attack about events which happened not long ago in a rural hospital in Nigeria; another one about the separation of Siamese twins, and a highly entertaining play about Kinsey and how his report came to be written: Mr Sex. ........ND, VRPCC newsletter, Dec 2004.

9 Oct, World Service: an account of a story which actually happened. Ebola broke out in the Lacor region of Uganda a little over three years ago. The fact that it didn't reach the wider world is due to the heroic behaviour of the people in this drama, led by Matthew Lukwiya, the senior doctor at Lacor hospital . Not a barrel of laughs - though there are quite a few - but ultimately an uplifting story.

Einstein in Cromer....2004
(R4 1415 12 May 04) was a pleasant story based on Einstein's stay in Norfolk a few years before World War II. Written by Mark Burgess, it's about his being forced to flee Germany in the wake of Hitler's rise to power. He develops a strong relationship with his hosts, and he learns to look at the world in a different way through the simple honesty of a local man. Einstein was a great communicator, and this comes through. David Suchet played Einstein, Robert Harper was Douglas, and the other cast members were Jean Trend, John Evitts, Trevor Nichols and Trevor Littledale. The director was David Blount.

Broadcast on successive days, 30-31 Mar 04. The story of the world's first heart transplant operation. Christiaan Barnard, with his team of surgeons, transplants the heart of young Denise Darvall into 50-year-old ex-boxer Louis Washansky in Cape Town, South Africa, in December 1967. Written by Jonathan Holloway and narrated by Rosie Goldsmith. More information on Jonathan Holloway's page.

By Rob John. A young boy wants to meet Yuri Gagarin... it's 1961.

A second series of C.P.Snow's STRANGERS AND BROTHERS (beginning R4, 1502, 1 Jun 03), dramatised by Jonathan Holloway, covered the period from the 1930s to the 1960's. Lewis Eliot mixes with the scientists involved in the design of the English atom bomb; the episodes were completely absorbing: the building of the atomic pile and the isolation of metallic plutonium, the political pressures, and the rival American project, culminating in the two nuclear explosions in Japan. We then moved forward, where a member of the government sees political advancement if he pursues a "ban the bomb" policy. His stock rises rapidly, but ultimately he comes unstuck. The episodes were jointly directed by Jeremy Howe and Sally Avens, and there was a distinguished cast including David Haig, Tim McInnerney, Geoffrey Whitehead, Sean Barrett, Clive Merrison, Hugh Quarshie and Jonathan Coy.

Peacemakers was the story of the last days of Alfred Nobel (R4, 1415, 3 Jan 01). Written by Melissa Murray, it dramatised a meeting between the dying Nobel and the Baroness Bertha von Suttner in a Vienna hotel. She tries to persude him to leave some of his vast fortune to establish a Peace Prize. Most of Nobel's money came from the invention of dynamite, a safe form of the earlier explosive nitroglycerine. Jeffery Dench played Nobel and Carolyn Pickles the Baroness.

Bread from the Air, Gold from the Sea....2001
was another chemical story (R4, 1415, 16 Feb 01). Fritz Haber found a way of making nitrogen compounds from the air. They have two main uses: fertilisers and explosives. His process enabled Germany to produce vast quantities of armaments. (The second part of the title refers to a process for obtaining gold from sea water. It worked, but didn't pay) There can be few figures with a more interesting life than Haber, from a biographer's point of view. He made German agriculture independent of Chilean saltpetre during the Great War. He received the Nobel Prize for Chemistry, yet there were moves to strip him of the award because of his work on gas warfare. He pointed out, rightly, that most of Nobel's money had come from armaments and the pursuit of war. After Hitler's rise to power, a "grateful" government forced Haber to resign from his professorship and research jobs because he was non-Aryan...

Many men of high intellect and bold spirit who made their names famous in the Middle Ages came from poor families. One such individual was the physician and alchemist Philipp Theophrastus von Hohenheim, known as Paracelsus, who was given a radio biography on R4, 10 Mar, 2102, in Mercury, Sulphur and Salt, by Beatrice Colin. Paracelsus was the king of experimenters; he believed nothing unless he had seen it or done it, and even went into the metal smelting laboratories to learn what the fashionable academics of his day despised- Chemistry. He is known for using mercury compounds to fight syphilis, which was otherwise incurable. Paracelsus says, in "Paragranum" (1565) of self-satisfied medics: "Heaven will create other physicians who will recognize the four elements...they will know the mysteries and possess the tinctures. ...where will you clowns dwell then, after the revolution?" A subject as interesting as this cannot fail to make good radio. The cast included Mark McDonnell as Theo and Crawford Logan as Erasmus, and the director was Patrick Rayner. An earlier treatment by Mark Barratt (The Peacock's Tail) went out in April 1991.

Not sure if this is the correct title - but the play is a docu-drama about the relationship between Barnes-Wallis, the inventor of the amazing "bouncing bomb" (tested on a reservoir just outside Uppingham - the Eyebrook, I think) and the girl he was to marry. The play is based on letters found by his daughter after his death, after a long and happy marriage: Barnes was seventeen years older, and yet they had fifty-four years together. He had the gift of making difficult things seem simple...just listen to the way he explains the principles of calculus to his fiancee. Written by Ray Brown.

Interesting biographical play. Galton was Darwin's cousin, and just as smart.

The story of William Perkin, inventor of mauve, the first aniline dye. In five readings, R4, 13-17 Nov 00, read by Tom Baker. From the book by Simon Garfield.

by Neil Brand. A female physicist goes in 1942 to work on the Manhattan project - nuclear fission. Docu - drama; excellent. R4, afternoon play, 22 Mar 00.

Documentary - drama about the troubled Indian mathematician. 16 Feb 00.

.............As for factual material, we've had the excellent Romans In Britain (R4 1600 6x30 min. finishing 6 December) and a superb edition of Science Now on the discovery of the transistor (R4 2000 18 December) and On Giants' Shoulders, a radio biography of Faraday (R4 2030 10 December). .............ND, VRPCC newsletter, Dec 1997.

By John Pilkington. A play about Alfred Nobel, his love of explosives and his discovery of nitroglycerine. No casting details, unfortunately; my tape runs out at this point...45 minute Afternoon Theatre. note added by JP: 60-minute original drama, directed by Cathryn Horn, R4 1996 (rpt 1998). Radio South Africa 1996.

Nigel Deacon / Diversity website

Asterisked plays known to exist in VRPCC collections

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