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BBC Radio
Posted on Sunday 24 February 2013 at 7:32 am

Rachael's Week in BBC Radio Vol. 5


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Listened to this week was so much wonderfulness... Copenhagen, Kafka the Musical, Harry in the Underworld, etc.
Next week I'm most looking forward to a Rumpole repeat, a newish panel show, and a Bronte dramatization.

News of interest before I get going on the usual: BBC recently had a competition where new writers could submit a script for a radio play. The two winning plays, which will be produced and broadcast as part of the regular Afternoon Drama lineup, and a sitcom, which will be given a try with a pilot episode, were announced this week. You can read about them here. I think both plays at least sound interesting and am looking forward to them. There isn't much information on the premise of the sitcom so that's a bit harder to judge.

I use a program called Radio Downloader to download hours of stuff every day (I can't recommend RD enough) and will possibly never listen to a great deal of it. I often listen to things for the first time months after they air. Because of that, I do two things in these BBC Radio posts.

(1) Listened - I'll discuss all the shows I listened to this past week. Some of these may be newly aired things but many may have aired months ago or, if they're things I sought out to buy, might not have aired for years. I will include links to the BBC website for everything and to AudioGo for anything available for purchase. AudioGo is the official site for BBC Radio and is almost always cheaper than iTunes, Amazon download, etc. If you don't already have an account there and want to enter my email (brattyjedi at gmail dot com) as the recommender the first time you buy something, I can get points good towards free downloads :) If something isn't available for purchase, you don't have it downloaded, and based on my comments on it you'd really like to listen to it, let me know and I might be able to help.

(2) Downloading - This will be kind of a look ahead to what I've set up to be downloaded in the upcoming week with thoughts on why I selected it.

Listened to 17 to 23 February (mostly in order of preference, best to worst):
Copenhagen
This is one of the best works of historical fiction, if not the singular best, I've encountered in any medium. It is mind-blowingly brilliant and I can't recommend it highly enough to anyone who hasn't already heard it (which I realize many of the regulars around these parts have already done). In brief, it is about a 1941 meeting between physicists Bohr and Heisenberg and the question of whether or not Heisenberg was trying to build a nuclear bomb for Germany, which of course at the time meant for Hitler. What makes it so mind-blowingly brilliant is that it embraces messiness. History is complicated because people are complicated. We don't like that in our stories. We like stories to have nice, pretty narratives with beginnings and endings and, perhaps even more, we like to have heroes and villains, or at least protagonists and antagonists. Maybe it isn't even that we like that from our fiction so much as it is the easy thing to do in fiction. This forces historical fiction to simplify and reduce the complexities of life far more so than even just the idea that you are putting years and years of reality into a two hour story. The best historical scholarship tries to allow for that complexity of life even while explaining things and bringing it into focus. Historical fiction almost always just ignores that problem in order to get to a dramatic ending. Copenhagen throws all that narrative and heroes nonsense out the window and fully embraces the messiness of human emotions and motivations. There isn't a clear resolution and there aren't heroes and villains, but there is drama and pathos and there are people constantly being pulled in 1,000 different directions, some of them for high minded ideals and some of them for the baser realities of daily existence, and trying to come to grips with who they are and what they believe is the right thing to do in an incredibly difficult situation. This isn't a story of right and wrong. It is a story of people, philosophy, personalities, and physics. Oh, yeah, and it is wonderfully acted. Benedict Cumberbatch fantastically delivering all his stirring, impassioned speeches as Heisenberg, Greta Scacchi as Bohr's wife largely acting as the foil and getting her own in quite well, Simon Russell Beale as Bohr often acting a peace maker, yada, yada, yada. Whatever. Needless to say, this one is on the top of my "Buy it as soon as it is available!" list.

Kafka the Musical
This one aired a while ago, before I started using Radio Downloader, and wasn't for sale so I was rather disappointed to have missed out on it when I learned of its existence. Last Sunday, failte_aoife let me know it came out for sale on AudioGo recently and I bought it and listened to it that day. It was really quite good. It feels very labyrinthine and appropriately Kafkaesque, basically a highlights tour of moments from Kafka's life retold as they would be in a Kafka story. There are mentions of several Kafka stories, starting with the Metamorphosis most explicitly, but the overall feel of the piece was the most reminiscent of The Trial for me. I'd recommend reading that if you aren't familiar with any or much of Kafka's work before giving this a listen, if you want to get the most out of the play, but I think there is enough here to be enjoyable without it and with little to no knowledge of Kafka. There is another story, a non-Kafka story, that popped into my head a few times while listening to this, but I don't think I could mention even the author, let alone the title of the story, without giving away a bit of a spoiler to anyone familiar with it so I'll just hide it behind this handy LJ spoiler tag. [Click at your own peril.]I think it is possible to interpret Kafka the Musical in a way similar to Ambrose Bierce's An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge. That is certainly not the only possible interpretation, but I think the possibility is presented within the play. The acting is of course fantastic. I say of course because David Tennant plays Kafka and won last year's Best Actor BBC Audio Drama award for the role.

Michael Butt - Harry in the Underworld
This is a fun little thriller play. It is about an author struggling to write his next novel. In order to experience life and perhaps find some inspiration or motivation, he decides to convince two burglars to kidnap him. Nothing goes according to plan, if there even was a real plan. It's good for a laugh and worth a listen if you want something slightly darkly comedic or if you like Richard E. Grant who is the big name actor involved. I might or might not buy this one if it becomes available.

Rumpole and the Primrose Path
I've read some Rumpole books and enjoyed them and have been working on collecting the radio dramatizations with Timothy West as Horace Rumpole. This is the first of the, thus far, 18 adaptations (both first made and first I've listened to). I bought it from AudioGo as a collection with stories 2, 3, and 4, all from 2003. This four story collection is, as far as I can tell, the only of the West Rumpole adaptations available for purchase. I enjoyed it character wise but felt the mystery was rather lacking. It was not only obvious who did it but I just didn't really care. From what I remember from the books I read ages ago, this is par for the course: you do Rumpole for Rumpole, who is always delightful, while the plots can sometimes be good but aren't always. I'll certainly listen to more and let y'all know which I think have plots worthy of the characters. See downloading this week for more on the Rumpole collection as a couple of old episodes are repeating soon. Oh, side note for anyone who enjoyed Prunella Scales in the role of Martin's mother on the recent Cabin Pressure episode, or who just enjoys Prunella Scales more generally, she is the real-life wife of Timothy West and plays Rumpole's wife Hilda in this series.

The Listening Room (Saturday Drama)
This was a sort of psychological thriller set in a not too distant dystopic future. The main character is a woman who works in the titular listening room, basically a phone service people can call to tell their problems to someone who will just offer a sympathetic ear. The problem is one caller tells her more than she wants to know about what the UK government is really doing, majorly immoral and illegal acts. The questions are if it is true or not and if so, what is she going to do about it. The play spends too long on the first part and not nearly enough on the second for my preference, but overall it wasn't bad.

The Party, Party
This is a sticom from the 1980s that reaired recently. I downloaded it based solely on this description at the BBC website: Surreal political fantasy with Hugh Laurie. What more could I possibly need to know to justify giving something a shot? I've only listened to the first three of six episodes so I'll have to get back to you next week with my thoughts on the ending. Thus far, it is ok but not fantastic. There are two main things going on in the story. The first is basic political satire with a new party emerging and somewhat accidentally electing a bit of a twit to be Prime Minister and a town of average people watching the events and slowly getting sucked into them. The second is where the surrealism of the description comes in. Things get a bit postmodern with the characters / actors being aware that they are characters / actors, with scenes devoted to teaching them how to act in radio such as using the sound of their fading footsteps to indicate someone leaving, arguing with the narrator and each other over motivations and characterizations, and the like. It felt a bit like hanging out in Book World for anyone who has read Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next books, but neither the behind-the-scenes conceit nor the actual plot are as well developed here as in even just the first of those books. There is definite potential, and I think episode three was better than one and two, so I'm hoping the second half picks up even more now that all the pieces are in place.

Martyn Wade - Another Shakespeare
This is a play about the forgery of Shakespeare documents, including a supposed new play, in the eighteenth century. It is told from the point of view of the young man who made the forgeries, explaining his motivations. And it is boring. Incredibly boring. Basically as mind-numbingly boring as Copenhagen was mind-blowingly brilliant. Did I happen to mention it bored me?

Various Episodes of Panel Shows
I didn't really listen to any of the panel shows this week. I've been kind of busy, trying to settle into a new routine, and my mood has been more along the lines of rocking out to music than giggling at silly panel antics.


Downloading 24 February to 2 March:
John Mortimer - The Antisocial Behaviour of Horace Rumpole
Of the current 18 Timothy West versions of Rumpole that I mentioned above, the first 10 are just West while the most recent 8 (the newest having aired in December) have West as Old Rumpole relating a story from early in his career with Benedict Cumberbatch playing Young Rumpole. I have 12 of the total 18, including all 8 with Cumberbatch, so I'm missing 6 (with much thanks to shezan for helping with some of this recently!). This is a collection of two of the ones I'm missing: Rumpole on Trial and Going for Silk. The first is airing this upcoming Saturday and hopefully the second will be next week, but that hasn't been said for sure yet. Hopefully soon I'll only be missing 4 of the complete collection (Rumpole and the Teenage Werewolf and Rumpole and the Right to Privacy sometimes collected as Rumpole's Return and Truth Makes All Things Plain and The Past Catches Up with Us All sometimes collected as Rumpole and the Reign of Terror if anyone has them or knows of a good way to hook me up with them since I can't find them to buy anywhere).

Charlotte Bronte - The Professor
It's a dramatization of a Bronte novel. I'm not sure I can add much to that.

Nicholas Monsarrat - The Cruel Sea
Dramatization of a World War II novel focusing on the fighting in the Atlantic. The author based the novel on his own experiences during the war. The adaptation won for Best Use of Sound at this year's BBC Audio Drama Awards so it should be a good listen.

Jo Anderson - The Understudy
Not much to go on here. Sounds like a mystery / thriller dealing with actors and the Victorian era. It is a repeat originally from, I think, the 1990s.

Sheridan Le Fanu - Schalken the Painter
I've heard good things about Le Fanu, have a couple of his books on my To Read list, and have a dramatization of his Uncle Silas that I've downloaded and need to listen to at some point. *sigh* Too much stuff! This is a reading of a story, which I typically shy away from in favor of dramatizations, but the story sounds amazing so I decided to go ahead and get it. The brief description of the story from wikipedia: "'Strange Event in the Life of Schalken the Painter' (1839), a disturbing story of a man returning from the grave to claim his bride in the old folkloric motif of the demon lover. This tale was inspired by the atmospheric candlelit scenes of the 17th-century Dutch painter Godfried Schalcken, who is the hero of the story."

World of Pub Series 2
Sitcom. I have series 1 downloaded but haven't listened to it yet. I'm just adding series 2 to the list so I'll have it if I like the first whenever I get around to it. Good thing I have large hard drives!

Dilemma
This is a panel show I'm likely going to add to my list of ongoing downloads. It is on series 2 but I missed series 1. Sue Perkins in the host and she presents her guests with ethical dilemmas. Straightforward enough. This actually started last week but I spaced out on it then. Episodes 1 is still available for download through Wednesday.

Running Dramas
BBC Radio has several weekly or daily programs that do various original radio plays or dramatizations. The main ones are Afternoon Drama, Saturday Drama, Drama on 3, 15-Minute Drama, Classic Serial, and The Wire. This week I'm most looking foward to a Saturday Drama airing on Friday (yeah) about a medium in 1870's London, starring Bill Nighy. Nothing else is really jumping out at me. I'm particularly disappointed that the Classic Serial starting this week, The Grapes of Wrath, just aired in September. I understand reruns, but that seems a bit too recent to me.

Standing Panel Show Subscriptions
Whatever episodes of the following panel shows happen to air in any given week are always on my download list: Act Your Age, Heresy, I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue, I've Never Seen Star Wars, Just a Minute, The Museum of Curiosity, The News Quiz, The Unbelievable Truth.

Anything good y'all listened to recently or looking forward to next week?

Comments:

aoife
failte_aoife at 4:21 pm on 24 February 2013 (UTC) (Link)
This on everything you said about Copenhagen. Historical fiction (and I think especially about the Third Reich) does love to have things black and white (or at least in not that many shades of gray) and Copenhagen doesn't do that, doesn't judge the actions of the characters.
I need to re-listen to it soon (thanks to broken headphones and a bus-neighbour who felt the need to shout loudly about Obama and Kennedy I missed bits in the middle).

This week I listened to quite a lot of episodes of Banter a panel-show with four comedians who have to guess each others top 3 in various categories. It was nice because it had quite a lot of panelists how usually don't appear that often in other shows (and as always panel-shows are good background-nice as you don't have to focus on it that much).
Then I listend to Devices and Desires, and adaption of a P.D. James-novel, I downloaded a while ago, however I wasn't that fond of it. I simply got confused with all the characters...even though I listened to the whole of it in 2 or 3 days. Perhaps I wasn't on top of it because of my cold but when the killer was revealed I had a hard time remembering who exactly that was and how they were involved in the story in the first place XD

Rachael
bratty_jedi at 9:01 pm on 24 February 2013 (UTC) (Link)
WWII era stuff definitely is the worst about good vs evil. I understand there really was one clear wrong, but that doesn't automatically make everything the other side does right, or make it all done for the right reasons, and every German from that time doesn't equal Hitler.

I'll have to look into Banter. I'm not familiar with it despite my general knowledge of panel shows.

I've read James's Children of Men and one mystery a long time ago but I can't remember which. I wasn't that impressed by either so I've shied away from the BBC adaptations. Are you generally a James fan?
aoife
failte_aoife at 10:02 pm on 24 February 2013 (UTC) (Link)
Yes. There are very few books/films/etc. that admit that ambiguity or even centre the whole plot around the point that there's no right or wrong.

Banter is a bit older (well 2005-ish, I think) and seems to have run only for 3 seasons. I only discovered it because Will Smith (the English comedian) is in quite a lot of the episodes (I really like him and usually he's quite a rare guest on panel-shows).

No(t yet) ^^. My mother loves them and it's one of the series I've been meaning to check out for ages but simply haven't gotten round to, yet. I thought the play would be a nice start but I was wrong (I must say that it really might have simply been the wrong medium...what I got from the story wasn't that bad but I simply couldn't remember the voices of so many characters and again it was something in the middle of a series, I didn't know at all...I should remember looking basic things up on wikipedia, the next time I listen to something like this again...)


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