Jake Yapp gets to grips with writing topical sketches for BBC radio
Listen to the sketches mentioned in this article:
It is 8.26 am and I am trying to think of something funny to do with the Archers and young people. And I have another half an hour or so before the sketch I haven’t yet written will be played out on national radio.
It’s a faintly nerve-racking job. I mean, it’s not like working in A&E, or, far worse, doing supply teaching, but it’s fairly hairy at times. My job is to make sketches for the BBC 6Music Shaun Keaveny Breakfast Show. And I make them fresh on the morning of broadcast, each one-two minute sketch delivered from scratch in about an hour. Here’s how it works.
My alarm goes off. I try to crawl out of bed without disturbing my girlfriend Lucy – although Maisie the cat sees to that. Depending on the weather, and how cold the flat is, I pull on my usual classy work attire: tracksuit trousers, a t-shirt, socks and a dressing gown. It is a hot look. And it screams ‘Media Professional’. I traipse downstairs to the spare bedroom, and sit down at my laptop. It is already on – it came on several minutes ago. It’s on a timer thing. This whole job relies on streamlining and systems – partly because of the fast turnaround, partly because I am a lazy sod.
The Email arrives from the 6Music production team. They have been up for ages, bless them, in Western House, scouring newspapers for stories for the show: ‘Morning. Found this story of the new Archers spin-off for “youngsters”. We were thinking of some crunk version of the theme tune then some kids saying “blud” quite a bit. Something like that? And a podcast trail pls. Thanks Jake!!!!’
This is my brief for the day. There’s a link in the email to the news story, about the launch of the new youth-oriented spin-off from The Archers, Ambridge Extra. My mind starts churning. I decide to go for a straight spoof. But it will take time to do it right. So I decide to do the podcast trail first, and save the Ambridge Extra spoof for later.
I start thinking about the podcast trail. There’s a daily Shaun Keaveny podcast, and pretty much every day I am asked to make a trail to promote it. It’s a really broad brief. I can do it about pretty much anything I like, as long as I crowbar in some reference to the podcast.
I find this harder in many ways, than the sketch. I like having a brief – the more restrictive the better, in many respects. The vast, wide expanse of ‘anything’ makes it almost impossible to write. How do you choose the best idea when the ideas are unlimited?
William Gallagher (left) and Jason Arnopp discuss their experiences writing Doctor Who audio dramas produced by Big Finish
Jason Arnopp: I'd always admired Big Finish as a fine example of a company which grew itself from scratch, pulling off that tricky combination of fannish enthusiasm and real professionalism, while building an empire of spin-off full-cast audio drama. I'm a lifelong Doctor Who fan and was interested in audio - in particular, the atmospheric possibilities of that medium. So I contacted Big Finish script editor Alan Barnes, told him about the films I'd written before and threw an outline idea for a story at him. It was the creepy, Blair Witch-esque affair that would become the title-story of the anthology The Demons Of Red Lodge & Other Stories. To my delight, he not only liked it, but didn't want any changes to that outline. How did you get the job yourself, William?
William Gallagher: It sounds quick and obvious in retrospect, but I was working on a BBC drama project and got the chance to write for Moray Laing, editor of Doctor Who Adventures magazine. You can't have a good lunch with me without gathering somehow that I am a drama nut and that I adore radio drama, so shortly after I started there Moray introduced me to Alan Barnes at Big Finish. I pitched a couple of ideas and though I think it must've taken a couple of years, one of those fitted what he was looking for in this CD and I was commissioned to write Doing Time last January. And I tell you, the day I wrote my first line of dialogue for the Doctor I genuinely got a shiver. I didn't expect that. What is it about Doctor Who?
Jason: Doctor Who is absolutely ingrained, hard-wired, into so many people's childhoods. It probably made many of us want to be writers in the first place - that was certainly true for me. And I think that when you find yourself writing for an incarnation of the Doctor with which you grew up (in my case Peter Davison), that Doctor's voice comes quite easily, if not effortlessly, to mind. But yes, I definitely felt that shiver. After that, you just get on with the business of serving the story and the characters and the audience well, don't you? You'd written radio drama before, whereas I had worked in radio sketch comedy, so had a few new things to learn, particularly when it came to making scene transitions clear. It's easy enough to do it, but harder to do it without shouting exposition at the listener and starting each scene with "Doctor, look - we've walked into a forest at night, with dense trees!"
William: Scene transitions were easy for me because I hear the story that way: not as a sequence of separate scenes but one whole. I started out in BBC local radio producing packages and learnt to build sequences. I enjoy knowing just when to cut and just when to linger. Plus, radio audiences are very, very fast at picking up the tiniest clues and I am that audience myself: I've heard gorgeous plays where scenes change mid-syllable and I've heard plenty where they don't. But then in post-production Big Finish added a piano piece to the end of a particular scene and it was exquisite. Just a perfect transition. I will ask for them in all future scenes, everywhere. The much harder, newer thing for me was that it's not Doctor Who unless you have a monster: I believe fervently that the best monsters are people. So I did write a roaring monster but I made him a side character while I concentrated on a very human villain. You're a horror writer, did you find monsters easier than I did?
Jason: I do like a bit of horror – all right, a lot of horror – and so monstrosities tend to parade from my brain with some ease. I do believe that Doctor Who always needs a monster and these generally must be as menacing and alien as possible. I take your point, though, that sometimes a human(oid) villain such as The Master or Davros can be more interesting – there's certainly more of a debate to be had between them and the Doctor. Happily, the show often enjoys the best of both worlds, with seemingly human villains who transform into all kinds of abominations, and I follow that tradition in The Demons Of Red Lodge. I'm certainly glad we both got to visit Big Finish's studio on the day that our stories were recorded. I had a great time watching Peter Davison (The Doctor) and Sarah Sutton (companion Nyssa) saying my dialogue – how did you enjoy the experience?
William: It was embarrassing. I've just produced a Radio Times video that involved filming a clutch of star names and I was entirely blasé (or, as I believe others call it, professional). But standing there in Big Finish's studio I think I convinced Peter Davison I was a starstruck fan – because as we first shook hands I spotted Sarah Sutton behind him. I had such a crush on her when she was Nyssa in the TV show and when I was somewhat younger than I am. Such a crush that the studio day ended with her saying ‘Thank you for a lovely script’ to me and my replying, quite suavely ‘Gibber’. Otherwise it was perfectly normal. To be serious, it's a smart production and I am enjoying working with them, enjoying getting drama on its feet and collaborating not as the writer who never shows up but all of us together and hands on.
Jason: I must also confess to a little gibbering in that studio. There, that feels better. And yes, Big Finish is great for encouraging that collaborative process. In the world of film, I've been lucky to form an alliance with the brilliant director Dan Turner. After making a couple of shorts and developing various projects together. we shot a horror film called Stormhouse last year, on which I was writer and executive producer. The latter title, in this case, basically means I have much more creative input and control than the average writer. I must admit that, while writing audio, I often miss that ability to tell all with a single image. Audio and audio/visual drama are very different beasts, but with equal strengths. Chief among the audio medium's advantages, of course, is unlimited visual budget.
William Gallagher can be found on Twitter as @wgallagher.
Jason Arnopp on Twitter as @jasonarnopp.
The Demons Of Red Lodge & Other Stories is out now on CD and download from Big Finish Productions
The Writers’ Guild has signed off on a revised version of the BBC Radio Drama Agreement, which covers commissions for Radios 3 and 4. This formalises a number of changes that have been negotiated and agreed over the past few months. These include:
- A new form of special abridgement combining elements of abridging and dramatisation. This is already in use for some Woman’s Hour dramatisations and could be used for other drama slots. The minimum commissioning rate is 55 per cent of the main RDA rate.
- A concession allowing the Woman’s Hour slot to be commissioned at per-minute rates for the actual length of each episode, currently 13 or 14 minutes, instead of the “slot-length” commissioning that applies to all other drama and comedy slots. The minimum for Woman’s Hour is 10 minutes per episode.
- Plays on Radio 3 and 4 can now be made available as podcasts. A small additional fee of 1 per cent of the original fee will be paid to the writer. The BBC has just started podcasting a Play of the Week, available for seven days following transmission. The Guild hopes that before long most radio plays will routinely be podcast in this way.
- A growing catalogue of archive radio plays and other material is being made available in a download-to-own format. These are available from www.audiogo.co.uk – formerly the BBC audio books service, now a separate company. The normal list price for a play is £3.69, although most titles are currently offered at half-price. Writers receive the same royalty as applies to releases on CD or tape cassette. New titles for download are being added at the rate of about 25 per month.
As reported a few weeks ago, the annual update of BBC radio minimum fees has now been implemented. This happened four months late because of disputes involving other unions and discussions are continuing over backdating the increases to August 2010 or making a compensatory adjustment at the next review in August 2011.
The Radio Drama Agreement is jointly negotiated by a Forum comprising the Writers’ Guild, Society of Authors, the agents’ trade body the Personal Managers’ Association, and the BBC. Repeats and commissions on BBC Radio 7, shortly to be relaunched as Radio 4 Extra, are covered by a different agreement which is due to be revised later this year.
Update (21.04.2011): In response to a question posed via Twitter here is an explanation of the new rates for Women's Hour
The Woman’s Hour drama will be paid “per minute” instead of “slot length” which means that the writer will receive 13 or 14 times the per-minute rate, not 15 times as per the notional “slot length”. (Slot length payments remain for all other BBC radio drama). This was (reluctantly) agreed in return for the creation of a new minimum rate for the “special adaptation” technique used in some (but not all) Women's Hour drama, in which a book is basically abridged but with some scenes dramatised. This is cheaper to produce because it takes up less acting and production time. The new rate is 55% of the basic rate for original drama, whereas prior to the new agreement these commissions were outside the Radio Drama Agreement and paid at ultra-low abridgement rates, with only the actual drama scenes enhanced to RDA rates (possibly as little as one-third of the commission). The 55% rate is available if the same hybrid technique is used for other slots, but as far as I am aware this has not actually happened yet.
Jane Berthoud, the Head of BBC Radio Comedy, and writer Dave Cohen discuss the state of BBC radio comedy and the opportunities for writers
What sort of health is BBC radio comedy in?
Jane Berthoud: I think it is in very good health actually. The figures on Radio 4, which is where most of our stuff goes, are going up, particularly the figures at 6.30pm. We’ve also launched a Radio 4 Comedy Of The Week podcast and that went straight to the top of the iTunes charts. And Gwyneth Williams, the new Controller of Radio 4, has announced a new slot for comedy that will start in October on Sundays. So, generally, yes, I’d say we are in pretty good shape; though that’s not to say there aren’t places that we need to make improvements.
And Dave, as writer for radio comedy, what’s your perception of how things are at the moment, and how things have changed over recent years?
Dave Cohen: BBC radio continues to make shows by very well known people that are very successful, so in a good way it hasn’t changed at all. I think the big change is that in the past there were more routes for people to get into comedy, but BBC Radio is now almost the only place for writers starting out.
And what about the kind of comedy output that BBC Radio is doing now?
Dave: Over the past 20 years, with the rise of stand-up, the writer-performer has become much more important. When I started in the early 1980s, there were a few of us who were writing and performing, but generally the writer was king.
Writers' Guild disappointed by 'complacent' attitude to drama
The BBC Trust service review of Radio 3, Radio 4 and Radio 7 has concluded that the challenge for all three stations is gradually to extend their ‘core appeal of audiences without jeopardising their distinctiveness.’
There is relatively little criticism of the stations in the report and, while the Writers’ Guild’s submission to the review process is cited a number of times, little or no account seems to have been taken of the objections raised.
On last year’s decision to axe the Friday Play, for example, while objections from the Guild, the Voice of the Listener and Viewer and RadioCentre (the trade body for commercial radio) are noted, the report concludes that ‘the members of the creative community that we spoke to felt that the loss of the Friday Play would not unduly affect Radio 4’s ability to deliver a range of high-quality and distinctive drama.’
Speaking after publication of the service review, Guild General Secretary Bernie Corbett said that the approach to Radio 4 drama in particular was ‘remarkably complacent, with serious concerns simply brushed aside. While more thought seems to have been given to comedy, no particular conclusions are reached.’
Corbett continued: ‘The vandalism of axing the Friday Play, and the inexorable year-on-year drop in the number of hours of radio drama produced, are both glossed over in a few lines. The Guild will continue to campaign for these dismal trends to be reversed.’
Drama on Radio 3 is defended in the review. In its submission the Guild pointed out that the kind of cutting-edge drama often found on the Radio 3 is increasingly rare on Radio 4, and though the review does not explicitly accept this it does say that the Trust expects ‘Radio 4 to maintain a wide variety in terms of subject matter, formats and the tone of its drama.’
On comedy the review asserts the importance of finding new talent. ‘We believe that having a healthy mixture of established and new comedy in both the early and late evening slots is important to the overall Radio 4 offering. We encourage Radio 4 to continue to take risks and generate fresh and new ideas with its comedy programming and accept that some of the new comedies may not always succeed.’
Radio 7 receives a great deal of praise in the review. ‘Evidence from our audience research, public consultation and Audience Councils reveals that listeners have a great affection for Radio 7. In our public consultation, the majority of respondents thought that the speech programming on Radio 7 was of very high quality, with comedy and drama praised most often... although there was some concern about the level of repeats.’
BBC Radio has increased its rates for Talks and Features with effect from 1 February 2011.
The rise is 1.26 per cent, in line with staff increases, bringing the key rate for a radio feature (seven minutes or less) to £292.18.
The increase was delayed because of the BBC’s disputes with the NUJ and BECTU and the BBC has undertaken to take this into account at the next fees review, due in August this year.
Read the full details of the new rates for BBC Radio Talks and Features (pdf)
The Society of Authors and Writers’ Guild would have issued a reminder that submissions for the Imison and Tinniswood Awards must be received by 4 February 2011.
The Imison Award (£1,500) encourages new talent by rewarding the best original radio drama script by a writer new to radio. The work must have been first transmitted in the UK in 2010, and must be the first dramatic work by the writer(s) that has been broadcast.
The Tiniswood Award (£1,500) honours the best original radio drama script broadcast in the UK in 2010.
Further details, including application forms, can be found at www.societyofauthors.net/prizes-radio-drama-broadcast.
Why BBC World Service drama must be saved, by radio drama producer Gordon House
Given that I spent much of my professional life working initially as producer and then as Head of the small BBC World Service Drama team, it is hardly surprising that I feel so dismayed by the announcement that from April next year World Service will no longer be broadcasting drama in their schedules. Well, that’s not strictly true; they will still transmit the winning plays in the biennial World Service play competition, but how can these prize winners feel valued in splendid isolation, with no regular output of drama against which to compare their work?
The World Service management has decided ‘with a heavy heart’ that finances are so precarious, drama must be sacrificed. I sympathise with the predicament faced by Craig Oliver, the English Controller of Global News. (Not a title, incidentally, to inspire those working under him in non-news areas!) For too long programme budgets have been salami-sliced to spread the misery evenly amongst different programme areas. While an entire year’s World Service drama budget would hardly keep the National Theatre open for a week, drama – because of its talent costs – is expensive in pure radio terms. How tempting it must be for a Controller reviewing a financial spread sheet to think of it as an expendable luxury in these cash-conscious times.
But does that justify killing off a whole genre?
A petition has been started to Save The BBC World Service Drama.On 23rd Sept ’10, the BBC announced that it is axing its world-renowned World Service Drama effective 1st April ’10. ...
The strategic, economic and humanitarian case for World Service Drama’s continued existence is overwhelming and undoubtedly well known to the British authorities.
However, World Service Drama has always been a vulnerable and easy target when there is a sacrificial lamb to be had, as most of its 40 million plus worldwide audience is outside the British Isles. As such the listeners cannot have much of a say as stakeholders in the service as their voices are so dispersed around the world. They can only silently lament the far-reaching consequences the decision of the British authorities has on their literary output and intake around the world.
This online petition aims to address this status quo by using current innovative online technology to provide a platform for these voices allowing them to express their grave concern for the fate of their much cherished and loved BBC World Service Drama, which has become an iconic world literary heritage to them.
Here's the full text of the Writers' Guild's response to BBC Trust service review of Radio 3, Radio 4 & Radio 7
1. The Writers’ Guild of Great Britain is a trade union with over 2,200 members, representing professional writers in TV and radio; theatre; film; publishing; writing for children; videogames and multimedia. We invited our members, and in particular members of our Radio Committee, to contribute their views and this response is based on the replies we received. In addition we encouraged Writers’ Guild members to participate directly in the consultation as individuals. The members of the Writers’ Guild Radio Committee are all experienced writers of (and some performers in) radio drama and comedy, and most comments concern Radio 4 as that is the primary producer of new radio drama and comedy.
2. The pleasures of Radio 4 include the certainty that there will every day be several programmes that will challenge, inform or entertain. The sheer scope of subject matter covered by Radio 4’s documentaries and factual output is breathtaking. For a writer, it is a constant stimulus to the imagination, arouses curiosity and sparks ideas. It is noteworthy that a forthcoming cinema film about the 1970s struggle for equal pay was inspired by an edition of Radio 4’s The Reunion. There are many things BBC radio does right – and we are grateful for that. However the programming is a touch comfy. This may arise not from recognition of the audience – the BBC is probably right in its assessment of the audience as over 50, white, middle-class – but from a mistake about what that audience is capable of appreciating. It is patronising to assume the audience can’t cope with the shock of the new or the bold. Nobody ever died from being offended.
3. The BBC should do its best to protect and encourage radio drama. Radio drama is unique and irreplaceable: if it goes, we won’t get it back. An hour-long original radio drama costs a fraction of the amount needed to make an hour-long drama for TV, but the medium gives the writer infinite possibilities. One of the things that attracts writers to radio is the scope it offers. It deals with a broader range of subjects, and approaches, than TV. Writers are free to experiment – and fail. They should continue to enjoy this freedom.
4. We have noted with great concern the phasing out of the Friday Play on Radio 4. It is almost the only “post-watershed” slot on the channel, giving writers an opportunity to write about challenging subject-matter. At a meeting in March 2010 Mark Damazer defended the decision to axe this slot partly by saying that the Saturday Play was being expanded from 60 to 90 minutes and the aim was to make it “event” drama – something you’d buy a ticket to see if it was being produced in another medium. So far this has not happened (perhaps the 90- minute big-hitters are still in production and are yet to be broadcast). There could be greater slot variety – for example, a place for longer dramas (90 minutes-plus).
5. There has also been some downgrading of the Woman’s Hour Drama. The particular brief for writers in this slot, now called Special Adaptations, is still the subject of negotiations; but the way in which it is broadcast is also a cause for concern. Normally each episode of a WHD receives two broadcasts, at 10.45 a.m. and 7.45 p.m. The evening repeat – which is probably the one that most working people hear – is frequently knocked out of place and has to make way for the apparently unending History of the World in 100 Objects or some other factual programme. Some WHDs have a kind of omnibus repeat on the Friday in the Friday Play slot, some have two broadcasts daily and some have only one. It seems inconsistent and random. An omnibus repeat of WHD on Radio 4 would be welcome.
The winners have been announced of the annual Imison Award and Tinniswood Award for radio dramaThe Tinniswood Award
Honouring the best original radio drama script broadcast in 2009, the Tinniswood Award went to Ivan And The Dogs by Hattie NaylorAlso shortlisted were:
- The Moment You Feel It by Ed Harris
- Cry Babies by Kim Newman
- Vent by Nigel Smith
- People Snogging In Public Places by Jack Thorne
The prize of £1,500 is donated by the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society, and the judges were Sheila Goff, John Tydeman and Katharine Way. The Award is administered by the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain.
The Imison Award
Honouring the best original radio drama script by a writer new to radio, broadcast in 2009, the Imison Award went to The Road Wife by Eoin McNamee
Also shortlisted were:
- The Lady Of Kingsland Waste by J Parkes (Highly Commended)
- Trying by Erin Browne
- Fifteen by Deborah Wain
The prize of £1,500 is donated by the Peggy Ramsay Foundation. It is judged by members of the Society of Authors’ Broadcasting Committee (David Docherty (Chair), Mike Bartlett, Nazrin Choudhury, Alison Joseph, Nell Leyshon, Karen Liebreich, Sue Limb, Karl Sabbagh, Colin Teevan and Nick Warburton).
Radio drama cuts
Speaking at the awards reception to an audience containing many of the UK's leading radio drama executives, as well as the new Controller of Radio 4, Gwyneth Williams, leading radio producer Gordon House lamented the recent cuts to drama output on BBC Radio 4 and the cessation of drama output for BBC World Service. The guest speaker, Rose Tremain, echoed these sentiments and also called for more 90-minute drama time-slots to be made available.
Gordon House, Hattie Naylor, Rose Tremain, Eoin McNamee and Gwyneth Williams
(Photo: Alison Baxter)
Archers writer Jo Toye explains how her passion for the programme led her to write the first ever ‘Miscellany’ of the show
‘You’re writing what?’
I couldn’t understand why people were so surprised that there was a book to be written based entirely on the archives of The Archers – to me it wasn’t just an interesting idea, but an obvious one: a ‘Miscellany’ of what had been established about Ambridge and its inhabitants over nearly 60 years. When I started work on the production team in 1980, The Archers continuity system was typed and handwritten on thousands of index cards (20,000, in fact). They were kept in a set of miniature wooden filing drawers with domed brass handles, labelled with such things as : ‘Characters living: A ’ (there were a lot of As, obviously) or, more ominously, ‘Dead and Gone’.
The cards had been the idea of the programme’s first production assistant back in 1951. In those days there were only two writers – not much room for confusion, you’d think. But guess what ? Writers, though following agreed storylines, have a nasty habit of making things up.
Writer One had patriarch Dan Archer announce that his favourite meal was steak and kidney pie; Writer Two had him favouring chicken and leek. The only solution was to record not just major events – a plane crashing into Dan’s barley or Phil’s romance with Grace – but also the fact that Dan smoked a pipe, was vice-president of the cricket club and always wore a nightshirt, never pyjamas. I goggled at all this information. I’d come to The Archers late: it wasn’t a listening habit in my childhood, partly because we’d lived abroad. I first heard the programme at university, when I shared a house with people who’d grown up on it and who, away from parents and the dreaded conformity they represented, now found it a sort of comfort blanket.
At first I had little sense of the significance of the first script I worked on in studio – the death of Doris, mother of Phil, mother-in-law of Peggy and ‘Gran’ to the rising generation of Shula, David, and Elizabeth (Kenton was away at sea and rarely heard). But I soon realised. A distraught listener phoned to ask where to send the wreath and when a DJ from a mid-Western radio station (the news had spread across the Atlantic), started ringing up for a daily update on Ambridge events, such as the fallout over the pickled walnuts in that year’s Flower and Produce Show. (These bizarre conversations continued for more than a month, until the day John Lennon was shot, on December 8, 1980. Unaccountably, that was deemed a more pressing story.)
Jeremy Front explains how he came to adapt The Charles Paris Mysteries by Simon Brett for BBC radio
Radio 4’s comedy drama series The Charles Paris Mysteries kicked-off when I was approached by Executive Producer, Sally Avens. Sally had already directed several of my plays and some Classic Serials I’d dramatised, but the inception of this project was unusual because it already had a star name, if not contractually committed, then at least attached in principle.
Bill Nighy had expressed an interest in playing the louche, lascivious actor-cum-sleuth at the centre of Simon Brett’s novels. I was working on a short piece at the National Theatre with Sally when she asked if I’d read some of the books with a view to taking one as the basis for a single play. It was also at the National that she introduced me to Bill, and he seemed up for the idea.
It was decided that I should update Charles’s world in order to get the maximum comic potential from the life of a hard-drinking, not very successful jobbing actor of a certain age. I also wanted to build on the complicated, semi-detached relationship between Charles and his estranged wife, Frances (played by Suzanne Burden).
Adapting the work of a dead novelist has its own problems, not least of which is making the work your own whilst staying true to the spirit of the original. If I take liberties (and I’m sure have) with Evelyn Waugh or Anton Chekhov, I may incur the wrath of their devotees, but the authors are unlikely to accost me outside Soho House. Simon and I had never met, but I knew he was very much alive and well. I was assured, however, that he (and the BBC) had given me free rein to go with my instincts and take the radio version in whatever direction I felt it should go.
In the end this meant keeping the basic structure of the murder mystery plot, over which I storylined and a whole new parallel narrative for Charles, Frances and Paris’s useless agent, Maurice (Jon Glover). The upshot of so much change was that all the dialogue and Charles’s laconic narrations would be new and original writing.
As I worked on the first 60-minute Saturday Play, the dynamic tension between this central trio strengthened and it soon became clear that these three characters would lie at the heart the comedy and would drive any further instalments, should we get a re-commission.
A Series Of Murders was the first one-off play. It was well received within the BBC and, to my relief, by Simon despite the fact that not a line of dialogue came from the book. After that, the drama department asked if I’d like to do another and gave me the option to repeat the one hour single format or go for a series of four half hours. I opted for the latter, and not just for the obvious reasons. Sally and I felt there was a lot of fun to be mined from the relationships at the centre of the story and the extra time would allow me space to expand Charles’s disastrous private life without sidelining the mystery plot. The first series was Sicken And So Die and as the tone developed I decided that I wanted the music to be an integral part of the storytelling rather than merely incidental stings. It certainly helped set the pace and punctuate the action, but the largely 1960s-era tracks were carefully picked from what I imagined to be Charles’ personal record collection. Charles is a one-time hippy with a rock and roll counterculture back-story and the music reflected that. Sometimes it played with the mood, sometimes it acted as an ironic counterpoint. I have to admit, I have had a lot of enjoyment choosing tracks and matching them to each scene.
Subsequent series have been Murder Unprompted, The Dead Side Of The Mic and the current ‘Cast In Order Of Disappearance. In the process of writing nine hours of this show (to date) I’ve been in the fortunate position of knowing exactly who is going to be speaking my lines. One of the advantages of working with a regular cast is spending time in their company and becoming attuned to their voices and how they relate to one another. The virtue of this is that I know how Bill, Suzanne and Jon will deliver a line and because I can completely trust them, it also allows me to omit dialogue for an eloquent ‘performance moment’.
A Series Of Murders and The Dead Side of the Mic are available on BBC Audio.