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I'm a novelist and playwright, traditionally and independently published.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Another Small Radio Grumble

Yesterday, my play the Price of a Fish Supper was repeated on BBC Radio 4. And a couple of unsolicited appreciative emails from complete strangers came my way immediately afterwards. Which was nice. Unfortunately, on the same day, the producer to whom I had sent a couple of ideas, also emailed me to say that they had been comprehensively turned down. She had decided (rightly I think) to send a round robin email on this occasion, just so that we could all see that we were not alone in our misery! The Beeb had turned down a whole tranche of submissions from a group of experienced writers.
With more than 200 hours of radio drama to my name, and a couple of major awards for plays, I cannot get a radio commission for love nor money these days. I've said it before on this blog, and I'll say it again. I've moved on, do plenty of other things. And yes, it was probably time anyway. But I can't pretend it isn't hurtful and irritating, because it is. Especially when the odd piece that does somehow manage to squeeze under the wire is so well received. I'm convinced that Fish Supper only managed to be made because the reviews of the stage play had been so wonderful that it would have looked very odd if they had turned it down.
Actually, I believe the key word here is money. The way the fee structure works at the Beeb is that they pay more, quite a lot more, for experienced writers. As a playwright, I can see how this works, since producer/directors have to do a considerable amount of work with new writers. As an aside here, I should also mention that I can see no reason why the same tiered fee structure should apply to short stories. Either a story is good enough to be broadcast or it isn't. The editing involved is minimal and there's no reason - except one of economy - why a beginning writer should receive less than an experienced writer for a story.
Many years ago, when John Birt introduced 'producer choice' (which meant exactly the opposite) and the internal market, a great many experienced producers left the BBC and went independent, since so many dramas were being commissioned from outside the Beeb. The workings of that internal market were so crazy that I can remember being called up by continuity announcers asking how to pronounce my name. The Pronunciation Unit used to deal with such matters, but during Birt's reign, all such enquiries were charged to programme budgets, and it was easier and cheaper to phone me.
Then the whole climate changed again and the indies were left high and dry. Which perhaps serves to explain why so many of the dramas you will currently hear are barely dramatic at all. They are stories with bits of additional dialogue, and nobody in the building appears to know how to remedy it.
I keep thinking I'll give up entirely on radio, and I probably have. But just occasionally an idea comes along that seems to be wholly suitable for radio, (and I should know!) So I'm tempted to waste my time trying all over again. From the evidence of the round robin email - and that's only one producer - there are a lot of us out there.

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