Ben Hur and the Beeb

One of the last dramatisations I ever did for BBC Radio 4 was Ben Hur as a classic serial. I worked with the late and much missed Glyn Dearman on it and it was never going to be a simple project. The original novel tells a very good tale, but isn't an easy read - it's written in a sort of mock archaic language for a start, and then there are several large holes in the plot. The film gets in the way as well. Hard to forget Charlton Heston whipping up those horses. 'How on earth will you do the chariot race?' people asked me, but in fact that was one of the easiest scenes to write - so much sound and excitement involved, that it almost wrote itself. The serial was first broadcast some years ago - Glyn died in the late nineties - and was repeated on BBC7 last week, or at least I think it was, because the BBC budget doesn't stretch to informing writers about repeats on BBC7! I think somebody may have mentioned it to me some time last year, so long ago that I have forgotten when. The first I heard of the actual repeat was when somebody emailed me to tell me how much he had enjoyed it, and to ask me why he couldn't buy it on CD from the BBC. Why indeed? It was a starry production (Jamie Glover and Sam West as Ben Hur and Messala, among others) by a top producer, I reckon it was a pretty good dramatisation - and the sound picture was created by Wilfredo Acosta, a man of enormous experience and talent. At the time, we got lots of letters, congratulating us. Above all, it was a tour de force for Glyn, who managed to keep the whole complex concept in his mind, and produced and directed a drama which was entertaining, and moving, with a new interpretation of a very familiar story. But for some reason, the Beeb decided that they didn't want to release it. I have never managed to figure out why.

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