The World of Work - Radio Plays

It's not often stated that work can distort the personality, but most people employed in Britain, probably the most heavily regulated, inspected, and policed workplace in Western Europe, would not deny it. A guy who's likeable and reasonable in his private life can be quite different when working under orders.

The reasons are not difficult to see. Work creates stresses and conflicts of interest. If you're ambitious and a high-flier, stress may be inherent in the job, but at least you get paid for it. If you're lower down, there are other sources of discontent - perhaps you're dissatisfied with the work, or the pay, or perhaps you just resent the fact that you've got to waste your day in the service of people who show endless ingenuity in working out ways of wasting your time.

Why do we get paid for working? Ask a young person, especially at interview, and you'll be told about job satisfaction, fulfilment, opportunities, and other idealistic fancies. By the time a person has served a decade or so, the main reason he gets paid for working is likely to be that he does not want to be there.

This is a fertile area for radio playwrights. Within a closed environment, opposite temperaments have to occupy the same space. Conflicts can't be avoided; they have to be played out. It makes good radio.

Before we look at the plays, let's have some useful definitions...I don't know who said them, but they all stick in my memory:

Zeal - a nervous disorder affecting the young and inexperienced.
Youth - the period when a person knows everything, except how to make a living.
Xerox - a machine which can make rapid reproductions of human error perfectly.
Income - what you can't live without - or within.
Work - that commodity which expands to fill the time available.

OK; let's look at some plays......

1991(?) The Department, by David Williamson (Aus. Broad. Corp.)
1985 A Status Passage, by John Wilsher
1984(?) Two minutes to the top of the hour, by Michael Bartlett
1987 The Kingston File, by Steve Gallagher
1983 Skyhooks, by Alan Plater
1990 The unwieldy elephant, by John Graham
1983 Gliding with Mr. Gleeson, by Bernard Farrell
1980(?) Doris & Doreen, by Alan Bennett
1970 Test to Destruction, by R.D.Wingfield


Set within a Higher Education college. A tertiary teaching institution and inter-departmental politics. This was first presented on the stage in 1974. Before becoming a full-time writer, David Williamson was a lecturer in a Victorian College of Technology. His fascination with group dynamics and human interaction at staff meetings led to the writing of this play. It's set in 1967, and the academic staff of the Department of Engineering are about to meet in the Thermodynamics Laboratory. This play is a cracker....it's easily the best ABC play I've heard.

A teacher whose world of work threatens to become his entire world...Light drama with Jeremy Clyde, Garard Green, John Graham, Tessa Worsley, Gwen Cherril, Ronald Herdman, Ann Jameson, Jamie Roberts, Mia Soteriou, David Garth, Jane Leonard, Trevor Nichols, Arnold Darnan, Alan Thompson, Helena Breck, Christopher Scott, David Learner. Directed by Glyn Dearman.

I found this play terrifying. Rodney Wingfield considered it a 'nasty' play -it's about a social worker dealing with a person who turns out to be much more dangerous than expected. It has some very disturbing scenes. More information on Steve Gallagher page. Directed by Martin Jenkins.

Excellent play set in a University, about the extremes to which cuts in academic funding drive the members of an English department (with Jack May as a fearsome vice - chancellor always snapping at their heels). I don't want to spoil the play for those who haven't heard it, so have avoided mentioning the crux of the plot - which is quite hilarious and almost believable....

NETTLE BEER....c1985(?)
By William Grant. Philip is a highly qualified engineer who is made redundant at 40, before the opening of the play. Three years later, and he's keeping himself busy by re-planting the flowers, and re-repairing the clocks. But it's only when he gets a job on the black market that his troubles begin, not least because his daughter is a Social Security inspector. A play for four hands, if Nettle Beer was not originally a stage play, it should have been, as it has much of the mood of the darker side of Alan Ayckbourn. .....( Clive Lever)

Set in a local radio station. Two of the presenters can't stand each other; a very entertaining "closed environment" play.

Comedy set in an architect's office. Alan Plater writes about this from personal experience. More details about the play on his page. This is in my "top ten" radio plays.

An advertising executive who's being given the run-around by his good-for-nothing son, his spoilt daughter, and the mother-in- law from Hell. But even worms can turn. With Alan Barry, Doreen Hepburn.

DORIS & DOREEN....1980(?)
Typists and their gossip at a big company....

Taut little thriller...a man is interviewed for a position with a security firm. He doesn't seem to acquit himself very well, until..... With Robert Lang, Dudley Foster, Malcolm Tierney, Patrick Newall, Beth Harris, Patrick Tull, John Nightingale, Geoffrey Segal, Matthew Walters, Ian Thompson, Claire Ballantyne. Produced by Robert Cushman.

Nigel Deacon / Diversity website

All of the plays above are known to exist in VRPCC collections

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