Sunday, November 30, 2008

And the winner is...

The recent glut of awards yielded the following results in the world of radio drama:

The Tinniswood Award for the best radio drama script broadcast in the UK between January 1 2007 and December 31 2007 went to Memorials to the Missing by Stephen Wyatt.

"This intermingling of fact and fiction makes for a poignant play which is perfect for radio and a play, not without humour, of great emotional power. All the judges privately confessed that it reduced them to tears." Personally I thought it superficial and exploitative.

Colin Teevan's Glass Houses was highly commended. "An exceptionally painful, but beautifully and economically written duologue about the break-up of a marriage between an increasingly psychologically disturbed husband and his much-suffering wife, in which the lives of their two young children are very much at stake." I haven't heard or read this play but - albeit with a concern about the limitations of 'duologue', which I find to be literally only one better than monologue - very much wish I had.

The Imison Award for the best play by a writer new to radio went to The Magician's Daughter by Adam Beeson.

"A lovely, entertaining, amusing and taut play with a mystery at its heart and wonderfully light characterisation. It travels skillfully in time, making excellent use of radio in its storytelling and plays, as stage magic often does, with what is real and what we choose to believe." In other words, it's a take on The Prestige and Death Defying Acts (see below, July 20 2008).

The shortlist for the radio play section of the Writer's Guild Awards (all of which I have read because I was a judge) were:

Cavalry by Dan Rebellato (which I hated and my colleagues loved). "Four men are waxing saddles, cleaning spurs, polishing bridles and weapons. They are preparing for battle, but which one? And which century are we in?" "Funny, angry, original" - Daily Telegraph.

Cuba by Jennie Buckman and Ulises Rodriguez Febles (which I quite liked but which my colleagues didn't rate highly) "The ailing Fidel Castro presides over a unique society on the brink of change. Norma, who last visited Cuba in 1978 with theYoung Communists, wants to relive the ideals of her youth before it's too late. Jesus, born in 1978, will do whatever it takes to achieve his dreams." "Two writers - a younger Cuban man, Ulises Rodriguez Febles, and an older British woman, Jennie Buckman, who visited Cuba in 1978, - colloborated on this play about idealism and lost youth through translator William Gregory." - Daily Telegraph.

Mr Larkin's Awkward Day by Chris Harrold (which we all accepted as probably the best of a pretty poor selection and which therefore won). "One morning in September 1957, Philip Larkin receieves a very official looking letter which sends him into a spin. It informs him he is being investigated under the Obscene Publications Act, and that he may have to appear in court." "Pick of the day." - The Guardian.

Insight into the heyday of radio features

From the Daily Telegraph obituary of Stella Hillier, published November 26 2008:

Stella Hillier, who died on November 10 aged 93, had a long, active life in broadcasting and journalism that spanned two hemispheres; once, as BBC Radio's Features Organiser during the 1950s, she dragged the poet Dylan Thomas out of the pub to complete Under Milk Wood, and helped to get it on the air.

An only child, Stella Wedderburn Ogilvie Hillier was born on November 13 1914 at Weston-Super-Mare, and educated locally and at finishing school in Switzerland. Having joined the BBC West of England service as a junior secretary in Bristol in 1937, she was advised by Frank Gillard, then an occasional contributor to BBC Bristol but later to become Managing Director of Radio, to go to London. This she did in 1938, a time when the BBC was very much a masculine stronghold. Girls were not expected to climb the career ladder, nor were they expected to continue working after marriage. The Second World War changed this philosophy, and Stella Hillier took her chance as many male employees enlisted or were sent abroad as war correspondents.

Encouraged to take a production course at the BBC Training School in Marylebone (where she later lectured), she spent part of the war years working on Radio Newsreel in the bunker-like building of 200 Oxford Street whilst London was bombarded by doodlebugs. "We had some very nasty moments," she recalled later, "but there was a strong camaraderie amongst us all, and getting the programmes on the air made broadcasting, even in those conditions, deadly serious but very exciting."

After 1945 the BBC hierarchy decided to split the amalgamated Radio Drama and Features department into two separate entities. Val Gielgud (brother of John) headed Drama; Features, led by Laurence Gilliam, pioneered a new medium in broadcasting, the radio documentary.
The Features department, launched to explore the possibilities of combining poetry and drama to tell stories of fact rather than fiction, embraced, under Gilliam's imaginative leadership, a rich variety of literary figures, some working as contributors, others as producers and writers. They included Louis MacNeice, Dylan Thomas, DG Bridson, Douglas Cleverdon, Rayner Heppenstall, Christopher Sykes and René Cutforth.

The problem of harnessing these creative, sometimes erratic, people required firm overall control. Stella Hillier was the ideal person to take on the new post of features organiser to maintain some discipline in a department where inspirational talent tended to ignore deadlines, and financial restraint was not always a major consideration in producing exciting programmes. Her strength lay in bringing a sense of economic realism to dealing with budgets and an aptitude for successfully arguing her case in meetings and smoothing impatient egos.

On occasion Stella Hillier would extract her writers from The Stag, the pub across the road from her office (she had a good view from her window), to make them finish their scripts and get into the recording studio. She often said that some of the best radio programmes were devised while propping up the bar in The Stag or in The George, just around the corner in Great Portland Street.

Her down-to-earth realism was useful in dealing with Dylan Thomas, who was commissioned to write several scripts for Features but often missed his deadlines. The writing of Under Milk Wood – which had its first full airing in Douglas Cleverdon's production on the Third Programme in 1954, a few months after Thomas's death – was completed in Stella Hillier's outer office, after she had winkled him out of The Stag. "Dylan was always in dire straits," she said, "but he was soon to go on a lecture tour in the United States, and finishing the script would mean he had something to read to his American audience." The Features department's historic recording with Richard Burton as "First Voice" became a landmark play, won the Italia prize for radio fiction in 1954, and was later adapted for stage and film.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Radio Prix 2008

The Prix Italia for best original radio drama went to Santo Subito, ARD Germany, written and directed by Eberhard Petschinka, produced by Heidemaire Boewe. “The Jury was impressed by the beautiful writing, the fine central performance and the extremely high quality of this production. With great sparsity, it tells the story of a search [for] a miracle and the solution offered. The play is clever, elegant, highly innovative and funny in its approach to its subject. It opens up new vistas for radio drama and points to new directions for paradigm renewal.”

Best adapted radio drama was A True Story, HRT Croatia, directed by Jasna Mesaric, produced by Nadia Zoricic. “The Jury was thrilled by the humour of this adaptation of the work of Luciano of Samosata and by the originality of the approach to an ancient work. In its freshness, the sureness of production and its wonderful dramaturgy, it effortlessly brings an old story to new audiences. The Jury loved its playfulness, its characterisation and its sophistication as it took us on a magical journey into the ancient world of science fiction.”

The Jury chose to make special mention of Baudolino, Slovak Radio, "which it regarded as exemplifying a very high standard of technical production."

Santo Subito also won the Prix Europa.

RADIO DRAMA Santo Subito - Chronicle of the Appearance of the Actor Roberto Benigni before the Vatican Beatification Commission of October 2005 / Santo Subito - Gedächtnisprotokoll eines Auftritts des Schauspielers Roberto Benigni vor der Seligsprechungskommission im Vatikan vom Oktober 2005Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk - MDR / ARD, Germany; [co-produced by ORF]

The Prix Europa also gave a special commendation to Oxygen by Ivan Vyrpaev, directed by Dmitriy Nikolaev for Radio Rossii (Russia).

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Commander v Underbelly

Having already seen Episode 4 of Spooks (strange how I enjoy watching it but can't remember a damn thing about it later), I gave The Commander - The Abduction a go over on ITV1. Having avoided the series hitherto, because I find Lynda La Plante's contempt of women disturbing, this was better than expected. The role suits Amanda Burton, albeit she is not the protagonist of this particular three-parter. The show is entirely carried by Mark Lewis Jones. The story is emotive and compelling - for once (thus far) no absurd rape subplot for the heroine. The direction, however, was truly awful, with a drunk POV sequence stolen from Mitchell and Webb and Poundshop special effects - there was a DTs effect that would have shamed Blake's 7. Gillies MacKinnon, who wrote and directed the excellent Small Faces as recently as 1996, should be utterely ashamed of himself.

Over on FX, home of all that is best in TV drama series, Underbelly showed exactly how it should be done. Apparently based on real, recent events in Melbourne, the show exemplifies visual story telling. Our protagonist is asked why someone with his promise is still a uniform cop - the next time we see him, he is a detective, as simple as that. The production is savvy - the music evokes Morricone (Once Upon a Time in America) at one moment, then affectionately mocks Nino Rota (Godfather II) the next. Brilliant.

Twas always thus...

"The reasons for the frequent failure of social democracy are psychological as well as economic. In undeveloped countries where there is no middle class, social democracy has no real basis; feudalism decays and peasant revolts are inevitable. In the industrial West a class has grown up which preserves the inefficiency and immorality of capitalism; its political leaders paint a utopian picture on the hustings and promise reforms which cannot be achieved except over a long period of time. The representatives of the electorate find in front of them an apparatus of government and a series of decisions already made by the past government and which demand their signatures; short of destroying the whole apparatus of administration and running a risk of complete social breakdown, they have no option but to carry on the existing system; only slight modifications are possible. They are not dishonest; indeed they are often idealists of scrupulous integrity. But they have a foot in both camps. They are themselves more or less comfortable beneficiaries of the system they have promised to change and they are as unrevolutionary as any Tories. They have in all good faith promised changes whose implications they themselves can only view with horror."

A serious pundit on the New Labour betrayal of expectation? Nope - Kingsley Martin, editor of The New Statesman 1931-60, writing in 1965.

Kingsley Martin (1966) Father Figures: A First Volume of Autobiography 1897-1931. Hutchinson, London (Penguin paperback 1969)

Monday, November 03, 2008

More on Ross/Brand

Further to the Brand/Ross affair, Stephen Glover in The Independent offered this (very true) observation: "The BBC employs a small army of “comics”, usually male and middle-aged, who specialize in vulgar and scatological humour calculated to appeal to the young."

[Stephen Glover: A new battle between generations threatens to undermine the BBC’s values, www.independent.co.uk Monday Nov 3 2008