Monday, January 28, 2013

BBC Audio Drama Awards 2013

It only took the BBC 88 years to recognise the form it invented in 1924,  This is the second year, officially titled 2013 but self-evidently recognising plays broadcast in 2012 (or a little before - it's like under-21 football in that respect).

The full details can be found here.  The headlines for me are always in regard to scripting.  The writing highlights were:

Best single play, On It by Tony Pitts.  Best serial, The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum, Heinrich Boll, abridged for radio by Helen Meller.  Best adaptation, A Doll's House, Henrik Ibsen, adapted by Tanika Gupta.  Imison award for a first radio play, Do You Like Bananas, Comrade? by Csaba Szekely.  Tinniswood award for best radio play, Kafka the Musical by Murray Gold, himself a former winner of Imison.

Congratulations all round.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Ripper Street, Spies of Warsaw

It's been a month since my last post.  There is a reason for the hiatus.  For us non-metropolitans at this time of year culture is pretty much confined to TV, and British TV has never been worse.  The Guardian described last night's schedules as the worst ever but I can't agree.  The worst ever was Christmas Eve.  Oh how we would have rejoiced to see half-forgotten minor celebs belly-flopping into Luton Pool (ITV's pitiful Splash!) for our festive entertainment.  Instead we got a feeble repeat of the pathologically unfunny Vicar of Dibley.

Things have not improved greatly since the turn of the year.  Ripper Street (BBC1) is now on its fourth episode and is by some way the best of a very bad lot.  It is a BBC America co-production and this shows in its casting: Matthew Macfadyen, Jerome Flynn and minor US TV actor Adam Rothenberg.


The premise is that this is Whitechapel six months after the last Jack the Ripper killing.  DI Fred Abberline, who led the investigation, has gone (and I for one wish he hadn't come back to ruin the first episode) and his successor, Macfadyen, is using radical new techniques (forensic science) to restore confidence.  Ex Pinkerton, ex army medic Rothenberg has taken up residence in one of the cells to gleefully slice up bodies.

It's anachronistic, very violent, and pretty much tosh.  But it's beautifully done tosh.  The performances are tremendous - only Macfadyen can make a bowler hat look cutting edge - and the principals all have deep back stories which are only hinted at week-by-week.  Some critics say it is misogynistic but I would suggest that it is in fact misanthropic.  Everybody outside the charmed circle is up to no good.  Episode 1 was about pornography, 2 was an updated Fagin (staggering performance by my fellow Lancastrian Joseph Gilgun), and 3 was biological warfare.  I don't care if tonight is aliens, I'll still watch.  Actually I think it's about the early days of the Tube.

The other highlight of January thus far has been Spies of Warsaw, hidden away on BBC4 despite starring David Tennant and a script by Dick Clement and Ian la Frenais.


A dramatization of Alan Furst's 2008 novel, the tenth in his Night Soldier series, it's set predominantly in Poland in the lead up to the war, with Tennant as an attaché (spy) at the French embassy in Warsaw.  The problem with the TV version was structural.  Fresh Films, the maker, sold two feature-length episodes; Clement and la Frenais felt that episode 1 must end with our hero being caught and carried off by the Germans, even though this was summarily resolved five minutes into episode 2.  And they hadn't got enough material for the rest of the running time without incorporating what felt like a very abridged version of the subplot.  Nevertheless this was quality entertainment, well acted (with lots of Polish actors, all with impeccable English) and beautifully shot by director
Coky Giedroyc (The Hour).

One thing these dramas had in common was a merciful lack of the usual suspects, casting-wise.  They are all in series 2 of Death in Paradise (BBC1) which is already past its sell-by date.