Our January blog is about radio drama and is written by the Broadcasting Group Committee member, Ruth Brandon.
'Judging radio drama is pure pleasure.'
This has been my third year helping to judge the Imison Award, for a first original play by a writer new to radio drama.
I’ve spent most of my life writing books: novels, biography, and social history. But I’ve also written radio plays: in common with I imagine many others, my sole experience of writing drama. Somehow radio seems less intimidating than television, or film, or theatre. There’s so much of it – a new play every day! - and it’s cheap to produce.
So we write our plays and send them in. Or that’s what I did: listened to a play I liked, noted down the name of the producer, and sent my baby off. And got a reply, and got produced. Or (in another instance) got a reply, and constructive criticism, even if that play didn’t in the end get produced. And so learned a little bit about the pleasures and demands of writing drama, very different from less concise, less disciplined literary forms.
Sadly, this haphazard, wholly informal approach seems less and less likely to succeed. As staffing numbers and budgets are cut and cut again, producers have ever heavier workloads. That leaves less time to work with tyros; and radio’s vital role as a nursery and showcase for new writing is diminished.
In radio as everywhere else, it’s more and more necessary to know someone, or have previous experience, before you’ll be given a chance. Of the three winners we’ve picked on my watch, two were already part of writers’ programmes in a theatre – i.e., they’d already jumped the first hurdle, and achieved some recognition. (The third was Hungarian, and his play was put on by the World Service: his victory was received less than rapturously by the home teams.)
Judging radio drama is pure pleasure. The entries are delightfully short to read (imagine having to knock off a novel a day!) and wonderfully varied. Then we all bring our prejudices to the table: personally I can’t stand the ‘slice of life’ plays which unfortunately abound and which seem to have been taken straight out of some social worker’s casebook. But others love them, and at the judging meetings, uniquely in my experience of committees, people do actually, and amicably, change their minds.
But whatever our disagreements, all of us agree on one truly important thing. Radio is a fabulous medium, cheap, ubiquitous, and offering unique imaginative and technical possibilities, not to speak of audiences beyond the wildest dreams of most theatres or books. It’s cut out for new writing; and anything that limits its scope or availability is a ridiculous, philistine shame.
About the Imison Award
The Imison Award was established in 1994 to perpetuate the memory of Richard Imison and to acknowledge the encouragement, support and friendship he invariably gave to all writers, and particularly those working in the medium of radio.
The purpose of the Award is to encourage new talent and high standards in writing for radio, and it is awarded for the best original radio drama script by a writer new to radio.
Bill Nighy, patron of the Award, says:
'Acting on the radio was my apprenticeship when I was young and if anything should threaten BBC Radio 4, I would have to consider leaving the country. Radio is an essential part of our cultural identity and radio plays are mysterious and cool.'
Ruth began her career as a production trainee with BBC radio and television, then moved to ITV where she was a director on various current affairs magazine programmes. She has written for, inter alia, the Evening Standard, New Society, New Scientist, The Times and the TLS, and for some years contributed an anti-motoring column to the Independent.
She has scripted and appeared on many radio and TV programmes, and has published a number of books, both fiction and non-fiction, of which the most recent is Ugly Beauty: Helena Rubinstein, L'Oreal and the Blemished History of Looking Good, which has been translated into 6 languages. She has also written a radio play, Fishfall on 42nd Street. www.ruthbrandon.co.uk