Another Nail in the Coffin of Radio Drama


A happy group of radio people, back in the day.

RIP the 'post Woman's Hour' radio drama, cancelled by the powers-that-be at the BBC, another little piece of creativity, another source of work for writers and actors, lost to the overwhelming dominance of  News and Current Affairs. I wish it really was news, because it isn't, is it? It's endless speculation about what might happen, followed by a tiny snippet of actual news, followed by equally endless analysis not just of what did happen, but what should or could have happened had things been different, and - clambering on that speculation treadmill all over again - what might happen in the future. 

More often than not, I switch off R4 these days. I'm sick of the sameness of it all and the lack of courage and the lack of - well - the lack of dramatic skill. 

I used to write for this medium, loved it and listened to it all the time. I have 100 + hours of radio drama to my name, much of it original contemporary drama, with some major dramatisations for the old Classic Serial slot: Ben Hur, the Hunchback of Notre Dame, Kidnapped and Catriona. 

My last production was a radio version of my stage play, The Price of a Fish Supper. I had to take all the swear words out, but it worked pretty well with the same actor and director who had been involved with the original production. That was back in 2008. After that, I was frequently asked to submit proposals. For a while, I had producers queuing up to work with me, but when not a single proposal ever got through, I abandoned radio altogether and started working on fiction and non fiction. I've never looked back in a professional sense. But I do look back a little sadly at the amount of talent and expertise that the BBC seems to have jettisoned - including one of the best producers they ever had, my friend, the late and much missed Hamish Wilson who had won significant awards for his work, but was still made redundant while less talented colleagues stayed on. 

This is, as the Polish saying goes, not my circus and not my monkeys. Not now. But I still care about the medium and it all sounds a little cut price these days. Back in the olden days when I was a young dramatist, I remember Hamish sending back one of my scripts with the comment that I needed to 'orchestrate' a bit more. And 'be careful with the narration' he said. Narration is a handy device in a drama. But it has to be used sparingly. I needed to dramatise. To show rather than tell. You can learn how to do it for radio, but only if somebody more experienced is there to teach you. I hear far too many radio dramas these days that don't seem to be dramas at all. They are some weird hybrid in which people report events and dialogue, saying 'he said/she said' - even while saying it. The result is a string of half dramas in which the narrator does all the heavy lifting. 

The single credible reason for cutting the post Woman's Hour drama, a nice creative punctuation to the day, was to save money. We certainly don't need more current affairs. But another fifteen minutes of worthy interviews comes a whole lot cheaper. They say they'll be ploughing that saving into other productions. 

Aye, right, as we say in Scotland. 

Flowers and Books

Flowers and books

 It has been a wretchedly cold spring, here in the west of Scotland, so that everything is happening in the garden a few weeks later than it should. The elderly and very cautious Golden Noble apple tree at the bottom of the garden, that is on a two year cycle anyway, now has lots of blossom on it. So perhaps we'll have apples in the autumn - lovely, big, golden cooking apples that are so sweet that they need no sugar. 

We've struggled on through Covid - and we're not out of the woods yet. We're both fully vaccinated now. Three cheers for the NHS and an efficient Scottish government. Brexit is still the misery that it ever was, but our government remains defiant, and I believe we really are moving towards independence and either rejoining the EU or an alliance with the Nordic nations, with whom we seem to have so much more in common than we do with our immediate neighbours to the south. But perhaps in time the whole upheaval will make us better neighbours than we are at present. 

I'm working intensively on a new book now. It's called The Last Lancer, all about my Polish grandfather and his extraordinary family. I'm hoping to have a good first draft finished by the summer. Meanwhile, as ever, there are other ideas hovering, and nudging at me. I say 'as ever' but that's not strictly true. For somebody who spends a lot of time inside my own head, with characters of my own creating, I've found lockdown a trial. I've missed meetings with friends and I've missed hugging them more than I can say. And that in turn seemed to make my brain sluggish and unimaginative. A worrying lockdown lethargy. 

Most of all, though, I've missed my son, whom I haven't seen since the Christmas before last. I go to sleep missing him and wake up missing him. We chat online, of course, but it's not the same. And it's certainly not the same as a hug. A couple of weeks ago, he moved to Stockholm from Barcelona where he had been working. 'Getting a bit closer,' said a friend. I think he already likes the city very much but more than anything else right now, we want him to be able to come home for a visit, later on in the summer. There are thousands, perhaps millions of us in this situation, missing children, parents, grandparents, and new grandchildren in other countries. And it hurts. Every time I hear somebody going on about needing a holiday, I think - well, you want a holiday, and so do I. Very much. But there are so many of us who need to see our much loved relatives, and time is marching on.

Meanwhile, flowers and books keep me sane. Many years ago, my dad painted some furniture for his and my mum's bedroom. After they died, I took the big wooden chest, with its bright Polish flowers. You can see it in the picture above. It sits in the room where I work. It's very useful - and I treasure it. It's good to have a link with the past, especially when, as I am now, you're trying to write about a family history that sometimes seems so exotic and bizarre as to be the stuff of fiction rather than fact. Working on The Last Lancer - coupled perhaps with the advent of spring, however late and chilly - seems to have triggered other ideas too. Let's hope it continues!