When I was young, I had never thought about writing for anyone but myself. The idea that I could be egotistical enough to think that someone would want to read anything that I had written had truly never occurred to me - that is, until I was challenged to do otherwise. This extraordinary turn of events came about in 1961. At the time I was a young travel agent clerk in the offices of Sir Heny Lunn Limited in the Edgware Road, London, sharing a flat just across the road with two actors, who both went on to become very distinguished in their own careers in acting and directing. My annual earnings were £600, which didn’t really give me many opportunities to eat at the Ritz, but I did manage to get the occasional free airline ticket which I used to great advantage!
However, as I wasn’t in ‘the business’ (meaning the business of acting or writing or directing plays), I used to spend hours listening to my two flat-mates talking about this person’s performance and how good or badly directed this or that was, and so I assumed quite innocently that I too could do the same. How wrong I was, for when I launched into criticism of plays I had seen on television or heard on the radio, or the films I had seen, my two flatmates rounded on me with that challenge: ‘Well, if you so know so much, try writing something yourself!’ I swallowed hard, retired to my bedroom in a sulk, and wondered how I was going to redeem whatever dignity I had left. If you want to know how I faced up to that challenge, and how it led to my giving up my job as a travel clerk to struggle for a full-time writing career, then please email me.
I spent many happy years writing on and off for radio, and was lucky and grateful enough to have a great number of plays, series, and serials produced by Audrey Cameron, John Tydeman, and David Spenser. I look back with great affection to my days in radio, not only because of the talented and considerate people who worked in BBC Radio Drama in those days, people like John Tydeman, Peter Bryant, Keith Williams, Richard Imison, and of course my long-time friend David Spenser, but also because writing for radio taught me how to use my imagination, how to use the spoken word with no help from background sets, how to present a character to my listeners and let them decide what those characters looked like, just the same as I can now do in writing novels. Make no mistake about it, radio is a wonderful training ground for the writer, and I hope that those who have the power of commission in radio drama today will never fail to encourage the fertile minds of those who have so much to offer.
Here then is a chronological list of my work in BBC Radio Drama:
‘THE GOLD WATCH’ (1961)
A thirty minute play based on the extraordinary circumstances of my own father’s retirement.
‘THE BEANO’ (1962)
A day out for the customers of a pub in London. But tensions rise when granddad causes one or two problems.
‘THE FLAG WAVERS’ (1964)
The world’s superpowers prepare to go to war when a tiny island appears out of the sea and is claimed by a poor young fisherman who is just passing by on his way to immigrate in South America. A comedy satire.
A young East German schoolteacher practising at a London comprehensive school is falsely accused of hitting a pupil over the head with a heavy textbook. A tale of post-war prejudice.
‘THE SLIDE’ (1966)
A seven episode science-fiction serial about an earthquake in the south of England. Starring Maurice Denham, Roger Delgado, David Spenser, and Miriam Margoles. Produced by John Tydeman. Now just released on CD by the BBC for inclusion in their Classic Radio collection.
‘KILL THE PHARAOH!’ (1967)
An eight episode adventure thriller serial set in modern Egypt. Elizabeth Warwick, a London doctor in the National Health Service, finds her holiday to Cairo and the Valley of the Kings in Luxor soon turns into a nightmare of international crime and intrigue.
‘WAGGONERS WALK’ (1967)
A three month writing contract on the BBC’s daily radio soap opera.
‘EYES OF THE BUDDHA’ (1972)
A ninety minute adventure thriller for SATURDAY NIGHT THEATRE. Produced by John Tydeman. In his London flat, Paul de Vries receives a postcard with a plea for help from his father, whom he hasn’t seen for years. But his father died a long time ago. Set on the island of Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon).
‘SHADOW OF THE PHARAOH’ (1972)
Co-written with David Spenser. A six episode adventure thriller serial set in ancient Egypt for the childrens’ programme series, FOURTH DIMENSION, telling of the attempt to assassinate a future young Pharaoh. Produced by Graham Gauld.
‘SHADOW OF THE NILE’ (1974)
Co-written with David Spenser. A six episode adventure thriller sequel to ‘SHADOW OF THE PHARAOH’. Produced by Graham Gauld.
‘ESCAPE TO LLASA’ (1973)
A ninety minute adventure spy thriller serial for SATURDAY NIGHT THEATRE. The security forces of MI5 and the Soviet Union’s KGB form a strange and exceptional alliance to regain a valuable ancient document in the remains of a crashed airliner in the mountains of Tibet. Starring Terry Scully, Mary Morris, and Rolf Lefebvre. Produced by John Tydeman.
‘THE FALL OF MR HUMPTY’ (1975)
A forty-five minute ‘Nightmare for Radio’, a horror ghost story about a strange meeting on the last train of the night. Starring Timothy West.
‘LOOKING BACK’ (1975)
A sixty minute autobiographical play about an old soldier who has kept a traumatic secret from his wife and family about his time in the trenches up front during the first World War. Starring Arthur English.
A sixty minute play specially commissioned to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. The story of a man, born during the Diamond Jubilee celebrations of Queen Victoria, who forms a club for people who have been burdened all their lives with the bizarre names their parents gave them to celebrate other important events. Starring Jack Warner, in his last play for BBC Radio.
A ninety minute psychological ghost play for the Monday night Radio 4 slot. Why is an American woman living in London constantly haunted by the spirit of her dead British husband? Starring Honor Blackman, Bessie Love, and Nigel Anthony. Produced by John Tydeman.
‘THE TRAINS DON’T STOP HERE ANYMORE’ (1978)
First in a trilogy of ninety minute autobiographical plays about my own family, eventually completed and broadcast in their entirety twice in 1987 under the umbrella title: ‘OUR FAMILY’. For SATURDAY NIGHT THEATRE, and starring Nerys Hughes as my mother, Letty, Nigel Anthony as my father, Oliver, and Wendy Richard as Auntie Vi. Produced by John Tydeman
A ninety minute dramatisation for radio of H. Rider Haggard’s legendary novel about the immortal Ayesha – ‘She who must be obeyed’. For SATURDAY NIGHT THEATRE, and starring Elizabeth Bell, Derek Godfrey, and Joseph O’Conor. Produced by David Spenser.
‘NIGHT OF THE WOLF’ (1984)
An original ninety minute gothic horror play about a werewolf on the loose in the Fenlands of East Anglia. Originally commissioned as a starring vehicle for the American film actor, James Stewart, but eventually starring Vincent Price and his wife Coral Browne. For SATURDAY NIGHT THEATRE, and subsequent BBC audio tape.
‘DON’T TALK TO ME ABOUT KIDS’ and ‘DOWN BY THE SEA’ (1987)
The second two ninety minutes autobiographical plays about my own family, broadcast individually, and then repeated with ‘THE TRAINS DON’T STOP HERE ANY MORE’ under the umbrella title of ‘OUR FAMILY’. Again starring Nerys Hughes, Nigel Anthony, and Wendy Richard. Second two plays of the trilogy produced by David Spenser. ‘OUR FAMILY’ was later dramatised as a novel for Headline Book Publications.