Team Harry


I enjoyed this book. It's extremely well ghost-written by Pulitzer prize-winning journalist J. R. Moehringer, and it shows. 

I'm not much of a royalist. Think it would be better if we had the kind of low key monarchy that you find in other parts of Europe, instead of ours with all its pomp and circumstance and hangers on. But the thought of an elected President Johnson is discouraging. 

All the same, I have a great deal of sympathy for Harry and his wife. I know the royals are immensely privileged but the price for this young man, at least, seems to have been just too much to bear. I am, of course, pretty much alone in this among my friends. Even - or perhaps especially - among the dyed-in-the-wool royalists, who will never read the book. 

Meghan had a raw deal from the media. It's not hard to find the evidence, if you look for it. Everything from the crazy comparisons between Meghan and her saintly sister-in-law to the exploitation of her rather vulnerable father. But even I, approaching this story with a certain amount of sympathy, didn't realise the full extent of the press intrusion on Harry, from the day of his birth, through the death of his mother, to the present day. Comparisons with other members of the family make no sense when it comes to the 'spare' - Diana's son.  Privacy is an impossibility when the press are determined to hunt you down. Even in the army, (where among other things he learned to fly a helicopter in record time) the media found him, casually and deliberately exposed his presence, and carelessly put those serving with him at risk. 

There was and remains no way in which this couple and their children could ever maintain the kind of low, private profile that people keep telling me should have been their aim. Maybe it should, but the media simply won't allow it. Therefore, the only option is to come out fighting. It may not be advisable. But it's all too human. 

This is the story of a sweet natured boy, who lost his mother in an appalling and public way at a young age and who has been unable to properly process that bereavement. Who has never been allowed to process that bereavement. Whose every adolescent and young adult error has been picked over by the world's press and is resurrected at every opportunity. No saint, no demon, no fool either. If a dysfunctional family is one where 'there's no open space to express your thoughts and feelings freely' then the Royals certainly are dysfunctional, and Harry has seldom been allowed any space at all. 

Incidentally, and inexplicably, his father and his brother seem to persist in calling him Harold, when his name is Henry. As in God for Harry, etc, etc. That Henry. So why? It doesn't sound much like a pet name, an affectionate family nickname. The only Harold that springs to mind for an oldie like me (and, presumably, Charles too) is young Steptoe, stymied at every turn by a demanding father. 

We're on Team Harry in this house.
Read the book. You might just find it enlightening.  

Ben Hur - At Last!

It's taken the BBC a very long time to get this out on audio but here it is at last. My dramatisation of Ben Hur was - almost unbelievably - made back in 1995. If not exactly a cast of thousands, it has a big, brilliant and very starry list of actors. Where else can you hear Sam West, Jamie Glover, Michael Hordern, Freddie Jones, Michael Gambon, Phyllis Calvert and many more, in one space, with specially composed music as well? 

They really don't make them like that any more. 

Alas, the great producers I worked with back then: Glyn Dearman, Marilyn Imrie, Hamish Wilson, are all gone and soon after that production, I found that my face no longer fit as far as radio was concerned. I had younger producers who wanted to work with me, but no proposal was ever accepted. At first, I would say, 'well you can put it forward if you like, but I fear you'll be wasting your time' and I was usually right. Eventually, I realised that, after more than a hundred hours of produced radio drama, the time had come to move on, so I did. It was hard as far as income was concerned, but very good for me as far as work was concerned, because it made me focus on theatre, but more importantly, on fiction and non-fiction writing, with some success. 

Besides, the great days of radio drama were ending, and I don't think they'll ever come back. Big productions of the classics, such as Ben Hur, Kidnapped and Catriona, The Bride of Lammermoor, Treasure Island, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, all of which I dramatised back then, could still be made and disseminated on audio,  but I don't think the budgets to pay writers, actors, skilled technicians and producers are there. Besides,  I suspect many of the unique radio skills of producers, sound engineers, radio actors (it's a very special talent) and dramatists have been lost. Which is a pity. 

Ben Hur was made at the old BBC studios in Maida Vale. Glyn had approached me to see if I would be prepared to do it and I'd jumped at the chance. It was a more demanding project than I'd thought it would be, not least because the original novel, while a wonderful story, was written in a sort of archaic pseudo biblical English and had a plot with significant holes in it. Holes that had to be filled, without damaging that fine story. Back then (unlike, say, the recent Great Expectations dramatisation) while recognising that we were working in a different medium, with its own demands, we did respect the original text as far as we could. So just as in my dramatisation of Kidnapped, we really had to find a way to make David climb that perilous tower at the House of Shaws, we couldn't possibly do Ben Hur without the chariot race. Even on radio. You cheat listener expectations of well loved stories at your peril.

I think we managed it, mostly down to some fine acting and directing, but an equally brilliant sound picture from Wilfredo Acosta. I remember that when I was deep into writing that scene, my PC crashed, and I had to do it all over again. I type so fast that back then, I routinely caused the computer to throw a wobbly. Doesn't happen now, thank goodness.

Working with such stars presented its own set of problems and challenges too. With a big radio drama project like this, you don't record in sequence. Often, actors will have other commitments that the producer has to work around, so scenes from different parts of the production will be recorded on the same day. I often thought that the production assistant had the most difficult and unenviable job of the lot, co-ordinating all this. She must have had  nightmares about getting to the end of a production only to find that a key scene with, say, Michael Gambon, had been missed out! 

Glyn Dearman was a pleasure to work with. Ben Hur stands out in my memory as one of the highlights of my radio career and that was, I think, largely down to his eccentric and charming personality, his ability to make difficult things seem easy, his extraordinary talent. 

They don't make them like him any more either. 

 David Rintoul and Paul Young in my and the late Marilyn Imrie's dramatisation of Kidnapped