Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The so-called radio independents

Gillian Reynolds devoted her column in today's Telegraph to the question Why won't the BBC give indie producers their due?

In my view, this is the same reason the NHS doesn't give nurses in the private sector their due: because they are NHS trained nurses who go have crossed over for the higher wages the private sector can pay because they haven't borne any of the training costs.

Radio independents are almost entirely ex-BBC staffers. Some also fail to pay writers and actors BBC rates.

Friday, March 26, 2010

ITV throws in the towel on The Bill

I'm sorry to say I told you so. ITV will pull The Bill in the Autumn after 27 years. Peter Fincham says it is because audience's tastes have changed. This critic says it is because audiences have grown tired of watching the dispirited parade of recycled soap actors traipsing through soap-up storylines written by hacks and directed, it seems, by somebody on the other end of a Twitter feed. The fatal misjudgement was to try and pretend this gloop was drama by giving it an hour-long slot on whatever night nobody was watching. When I think back over the great arching storylines - Don Beech, manic Gabriel and Carver's alcoholic decline - that it should end like this is another stain on ITV's already battered reputation.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Silent Sentry

I have just finished Chris Paling's The Silent Sentry. I acquired the book as a novel about BBC radio from a BBC insider but was completely blown away. How have I not heard of a novelist this talented? The Silent Sentry was published in 1997 and there have been other novels both before and since. How has he not won prizes? The writing is very accomplished, the characters both interesting and, in general, attractive. But it is Paling's willingness to engage with deeper, sometimes existential issues, which makes the novel so remarkable. Simply put, it is the best novel I have read in the last six months (and I read a hell of a lot). RECOMMENDED.

Big budget radio "drama"

As Radio 4 announces yet more cuts to its radio drama schedules, vast sums have again been wasted on the sainted Poliakoff and his illustrious predecessor Frederic Raphael. Gillian Reynolds discussed both in her column in The Telegraph today, and was infinitely more generous in her criticism than I would have been.

"The great whale of Stephen Poliakoff's Playing with Trains beached itself on Radio 4 on Saturday afternoon and left no space at all for the listener. Catch Part Two next weekend to hear what I mean. It concerns an entrepreneurial inventor (played with vim by Timothy Spall) whose convictions make him fall out of favour with industry, lose his children's sympathy and probably his fortune. So far, so Shavian, except it lacked even the remotest flash of wit and all too often might have been taken for some personal allegory of career eclipse. This piece was first done on stage. Maybe it came to life there. On radio it rumbled in vain..."

Personally I thought it was abyssmal, endless dreary talk, no banter, no action, no point. I am a massive fan of Timothy Spall but we know now why he is not a radio regular.

As for Raphael's Final Demands, which occupied six Afternoon Play slots (four-and-a-half hours, no less) over three weeks, Reynolds writes: "It could have been annoying, all those quips and puns, all those paths leading back to its protagonist Adam Morris being Jewish and what being Jewish means now, when he and his brother eat lobster while his daughter-in-law (who is also probably his brother's mistress) is converting to Judaism. Yet all Raphael's shifts of plot and focus work. His characters (and the way this superb cast played them) appear real because he sets them at an intentional distance by language and manner. We, listening, appear to work it out for ourselves because he, nudging, is telling us more than we think we are hearing. Well done, Pete Atkin, the director, for independents Above the Title. It takes a steady hand to make all that glitter turn to gold."

Now, I yield to no man in my loathing of Raphael's oeuvre. How anyone can stretch one thin idea over four decades and still get paid for it amazes me. But Reynolds is right about the production, absolutely entitled to credit Raphael's mastery of the radio form. I still don't like it but I have to - albeit grudgingly - admire it. Was it worth such a slice of Radio 4 airtime and budget in a slot that used to pride itself on being the shop window for emerging talent? That is another question entirely.

Friday, March 05, 2010

The first Alice in Wonderland

The British Film Institute has just posted their restoration of Cecil Hepworth's 1903 version online for free.

Their notes are also well worth reading. Go to: http://www.bfi.org.uk/nftva/work/alice.html

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Writer's Guild response to proposed BBC cuts

The WGGB blog contains an elegant response to the full panoply of Thompson's Tory-friendly cuts, but this was most relevant to my concerns:

A tiny fragment of the money would not only restore but reverse the shameful cuts in BBC Radio drama that in recent years have seen the abandonment of World Service drama, the crazy cancellation of terrific soaps like Westway and Silver Street, the imminent demise of the Friday Play and the dumbing-down of the Woman’s Hour drama slot into little more than a reading with interludes of dialogue.

For the full response go to:

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Five Days (and nights)

Michael Hogan, in today's Torygraph, makes the obvious snide remark that this second stripped serial from Gwyneth Hughes feels more like five months - but he has a point. The story is simply not compelling enough and after a promising start on Day One - when the Muslim girl jumping off a railway bridge straight into an oncoming train turned out to be a Muslim boy in burkha drag - the second ep certainly drifted. We are also supposed to share the desire of an alarming number of characters to adopt abandoned baby Michael without asking how the hell does a single white male (the formerly ubiquitous Cal Macaninch) get to foster such young children?

Talking of ubiquity, does every single TV drama have to star Morrisey? Don't get me wrong - he is a very good actor and this is his best outing since the last-but-one Doctor Who Xmas special - but can the BBC, as it goes about the so-called Biggest rethink in eighty years, please consider varying its casting policy to include at least one another furrowed-brow hardman lead?

Suranne Jones - the go-to-girl for resiliant but vulnerable female lead - is also excellent. Overall, the show is worth watching for the performances, including Bernard Hill and the priceless Anne Reid as the Plot B interest. Can't help thinking, though, that tonight's sting in the tail had better be a corker.

Pursuant to an earlier blog in which I said Life on Mars USA was a cracker, I must amend that to note that the last ep, cobbled together after the network passed on series 2, was possibly the worst show I have seen in quite some time. We're in Bonekickers/Big Top territory for crap. It all turned out to be a dream: Sam and the gang were actually in cryogenic sleep as they went into space on a gene hunt (geddit, geddit?). Keitel should have just walked away...