Aug 13, 2023
BBC Radio 4 celebrates 100 years of audio drama with raft of special programmes
To celebrate 100 years of audio drama, the BBC, an early pioneer of the form, and today the biggest broadcaster of audio drama globally, will broadcast a series of new dramas across September, with
To celebrate 100 years of audio drama, the BBC, an early pioneer of the form, and today the biggest broadcaster of audio drama globally, will broadcast a series of new dramas across September, with more to be announced later this year. The programmes will pay homage to the rich heritage of audio drama on the BBC, as well as looking towards the future.
Highlights include the first ever radio dramatisation of Italo Calvino’s playfully experimental novel, If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller, which will pastiche different styles of audio drama throughout the past century. It features Toby Jones (Detectorists, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny) and Tim Crouch (Don’t Forget the Driver) bringing to life a multitude of characters, and will be recorded in front of a live audience at the Contains Strong Language festival in Leeds.
The Poet Laurate Simon Armitage will be paying tribute to the BBC Radio Ballads – ground-breaking documentaries recorded in the 1950s, which weaved the voices of rarely-heard communities with songs written about their experiences, providing a unique record of life in post-war Britain – in his new drama The Ballad of Eldon Street. Armitage tells the story of a street in Barnsley through the voices of its residents, alongside specially-composed music from his band, LYR.
Kaleidoscope 3 will tell the story of early radio pioneer and First World War pilot Lance Sieveking, played by David Haig, through the perspective of a sound designer who, 100 years later, finds herself following Sieveking’s path in the air, and on the air waves. You Must Listen is a new adaptation of a lost radio drama by science-fiction legend Nigel Kneale, starring Reece Shearsmith, in which a solicitor's office has a new phone line connected, but the staff keep hearing a woman's voice on the phone. When an engineer is called to fix the problem, the disturbing truth starts to emerge.
The dramas will also look towards the future of audio drama with two plays from innovative contemporary writers. Slow Air, Dan Rebellato’s play about love, memory and intergenerational secrets, explores a curious geological formation in Sicily through which sound takes 32 years to pass. Radio Waves follows a spaceship tasked with tracking extra-terrestrial audio activity, which ends up finding stories closer to home, written by new talents Magdalene Bird, Jack Fairey and Mohsen Shah.
Nick Ahad will also present Stories in the Air live from the Contains Strong Language festival in Leeds, which will be a discussion of the elements that make a great radio drama.
Further centenary dramas will be broadcast in December, with details to be announced later this year.
Alison Hindell, Radio 4 Commissioning Editor for Drama and Fiction, says: "The past 100 years have seen huge changes in the world of audio drama, but the BBC’s commitment to this very special form remains the same. I’m looking forward to sharing these new dramas with Radio 4 listeners throughout September, which draw on the legacy of pioneering audio dramas from the past century, as well as showcasing some of the best work happening in the field today."
Full list of centenary programming throughout September 2023:
Ballad of Eldon Street – 16 September, 3pm - 4pm
A new form of radio ballad to mark the centenary of audio drama on the BBC. The story of this iconic Barnsley street told by the people who know it best, interwoven with specially composed songs written by LYR (Simon Armitage, Patrick J Pearson and Richard Walters).
Featuring contributions from Malcolm Bird, Ann Bunting, Alison Dixon, Wayne Johnson, Tegwen Roberts, Peter Roberts and Steven Skelley. Music performed by Simon Armitage, Patrick Pearson, Richard Walters, Matt Taylor, Beth Bellis and Mike Monahan.
Produced by Susan Roberts for BBC Drama North.
Slow Air – 18 September, 2.15pm - 3pm
A new drama all about love, memory and sound, with a science fiction twist. A play of whispers and promises, signals from the past and to the future, Slow Air is a hymn to sending out messages, stories, secrets and sounds into the air. A curious geological formation in Sicily creates a thick funnel of slow air, through which sound takes 32 years to pass. A young couple on honeymoon in 1991, Paul and Zoe, visited the site and whispered their hopes for a future lived together, imagining themselves making a return trip in older age. But eight years later Zoe died in a car accident. In 2023, Penny, their daughter, tries to persuade Paul to return to Crete. He doesn’t want to, but with an old flame’s unexpected help, Penny persuades Paul to go back to hear Zoe’s message. But will the message reach him?
Written by Dan Rebellato, award-winning dramatist and Professor of Contemporary Theatre at Royal Holloway.
Produced by Polly Thomas. A Naked Production for BBC Radio 4.
You Must Listen – 20 September, 2pm - 3pm
A solicitor's office has a new phone line connected, but the staff keep hearing a woman's voice on the phone. Engineer Frank Wilson is called to fix the problem, and gradually the disturbing story of the woman starts to emerge.
Originally broadcast in September 1952, You Must Listen was written by Nigel Kneale, one of the most admired English science-fiction writers of the last century. His Quatermass trilogy of science fiction serials continues to influence generations of admirers and filmmakers, among them Russell T Davies and John Carpenter. Before The Quatermass Experiment established his television career, Kneale’s radio drama You Must Listen paved the way for what was to come. It explores many of the same themes that he later addressed in Quatermass, The Stone Tape and The Road, of the paranormal coming into collision with modern science.
No recording of the original version of You Must Listen is known to exist, but fortunately Kneale kept a copy of the script in his archives, and this new version has been recorded to mark the centenary of BBC Radio Drama.
Produced and directed by Simon Barnard. A Bafflegab production for BBC Radio 4.
Radio Waves – 21 September, 2.15pm - 3pm
It is 2065 and Captain Avery Jones is on a solo voyage into deep space. Armed with a Sonophone, her mission is to try and pick up extra-terrestrial audio activity. But the Sonophone also receives all the radio waves emanating from earth and Avery finds herself tuning in to a myriad of stories. We listen in to Rhea, who is being interviewed by an android about her life story and eavesdrop into a virtual world where talent agency manager Suzy has to deal with the fall-out from her client’s public trashing of his sponsor.
In the centenary year of audio drama, Radio Waves looks forward, exploring the human impulses to narrativise our lives and taking a sideways look at the way current media trends interact with audio drama.
Executive Producer: Joby Waldman. A Reduced Listening production for BBC Radio 4.
Kaleidoscope 3 – 23 September, 3pm - 4pm
In 1928, radio pioneer and First World War pilot Lance Sieveking’s Kaleidoscope told the story of ‘the life of a man from the cradle to the grave’. Writing about the experience of using the Dramatic Control Panel/ the sound mixing panel for the first time, he said “I felt exactly as I felt on that cold bright morning when I had been told to take the aeroplane into the air alone for the first time. Exactly.” A hundred years later, sound designer Iris finds herself following Sieveking’s path in the air, and on the air waves.
Executive Producer: Joby Waldman. A Reduced Listening production for BBC Radio 4.
If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller, 24 September, 3pm - 4pm
Relax. Concentrate. Turn that phone off. Dispel every other thought. In fact let the world around you fade. You are about to listen to a radio adaptation of Italo Calvino’s iconic masterpiece If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller….
Enter a labyrinth of ingeniously inventive audio worlds as you, the listener, turn detective in your attempts to get to the heart of the story and so become embroiled in a trans-global conspiracy of rogue translators, lost languages and a disintegrating publishing house. An epic caper of disappearance, double crosses and beautiful, authentic romance.
A multitude of characters are brought to life by Toby Jones and Tim Crouch in BBC Audio Drama North's premiere of Italo Calvino's iconic postmodern novel, dramatised for radio by Tim Crouch and Toby Jones and directed by Nadia Molinari for BBC Radio 4.
If on a Winter's Night a Traveller has been recorded in front of an audience at the Contains Strong Language Festival at Leeds Playhouse as part of BBC's 100 years of Radio Drama Celebrations.
Stories in the Air, 24 September, 4.30pm - 5pm
Nick Ahad presents a discussion of the ingredients needed to make great radio drama, live from the Contains Strong Language festival in Leeds.
FKBallad of Eldon Street – 16 September, 3pm - 4pmSlow Air – 18 September, 2.15pm - 3pmYou Must Listen – 20 September, 2pm - 3pm Radio Waves – 21 September, 2.15pm - 3pm Kaleidoscope 3 – 23 September, 3pm - 4pm If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller, 24 September, 3pm - 4pm Stories in the Air, 24 September, 4.30pm - 5pm FK