Saturday Afternoons on Radio 4

What has happened to the Saturday afternoon drama slot on Radio 4? It used to be a haven of entertainment, in a slough of sporting despond. When television was offering a choice between football (sometimes remarkably similar versions of the same game) rugby or - God Help Us - darts, you could always rely on Radio 4 to come up with the equivalent of Midsomer Murders - a good old fashioned detective story, or maybe a romance, an adventure or a ghost story. Sometimes I would listen to it while I was proof reading, or sorting out the miscellaneous boring paperwork that seems to accumulate on my desk all week. Sometimes it would accompany cooking (nice) or cleaning (nasty), especially if we were having visitors. Sometimes it would come with me down the garden - at low volume of course - to help with the weeding. It was almost always a pleasure - a well made, popular drama with a strong cast. Saturdays feel (and for most of us are) different from other days of the week. I am pretty much challenged in one way and another all week long. I'm not looking for a challenge on a saturday afternoon.
But of course, the Beeb is prone to fixing even the unbreakable, never mind the unbroken, and they appear to have fixed the saturday play, good and proper.
The last few weeks have seen an influx of stage plays either badly adapted or worse still, not adapted at all. Just recorded. And I know that pots and kettles spring to mind here, because I have a radio production coming up which is an adaptation of my own stage play. But at least I can write for radio, and know what the medium demands.
Honour, by Joanna Murray Smith, was last week's offering. I've never seen it on the stage, and it could be that it is a completely different animal when the visual qualities, and intimate atmosphere of a theatre are added to the mix. But as a radio play it seemed slow and pretentious. The old middle class guy fell for the young predatory middle class woman and left the nice, creative middle class wife who had sacrificed everything for him. The characters kept repeating each other's lines, ever so slowly, for added effect. It drove me wild with frustration, until, in a classic illustration of what an old radio producer of mine labelled the "shit - click" effect, I switched off and played the Pogues instead. Bring back proper radio. Bring back radio drama written by experienced radio writers. Not just me, either. I've served my time, and while I still love the medium, I'm not actively seeking commissions. But I know that there are lots of damn good radio dramatists out there who are. Down with docu-dramas interspersed with those awful 'expert commentaries' that wrench you kicking and screaming out of your willing suspension of disbelief. And down with theatre plays unless somebody who knows and loves the medium has 'translated' them first. Anything else short changes writer and listener alike.

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