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BBC Radio
Posted on Sunday 14 July 2013 at 10:07 am

Rachael's Week in BBC Radio Vol. 25

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I'm grabbing a bunch of random one-shot plays or dramatizations of only a couple of episodes this week. There's a bunch of stuff I'm grabbing just because the plot description seems vaguely interesting and a bunch more I'm getting on the strength of an actor like one program with Patrick Stewart, two with David Tennant, and one with Benedict Cumberbatch.

Listened to 7 to 13 July:

Undone Series 1
This is a fun sci-fi sitcom about parallel universes with an emphasis on the side-by-side cities of London and Undone. The concept is similar to Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere for those familiar with that, but the execution is very different as this is just light and silly. It took a bit for the program to find its legs and get the basic world building out of the way to make room for more interesting plots, but once things got going I rather enjoyed the last few episodes. There are more series and I'm definitely going to give them a go at some point.

In the Red
Adaptation of a ridiculous crime/mystery black comedy novel from the 1990s. I very much enjoyed this. The main character is the crime correspondent for BBC Radio and poking fun at the BBC generally and BBC Radio more specifically (e.g. Stephen Fry playing the head of BBC 2 with its popular music hated his own station because he is too sophisticated for that pop crap the masses seem to enjoy) is an important part of the program. It started a bit slow and there are three storylines that are only sort of tied together, but this was over three hours so there is plenty of room for developing characters and a mystery even with so many plots. There are three additional runs of this (In the Balance, In the Chair, and In the End) and I will eventually listen to them all I'm sure. I'll probably take a long break before diving into another one though as I've been warned they are repetitive and formulaic so apt to induce boredom if consumer too close together.

The Pillow Book Series 1
It is a bit odd to call this a series as it was aired within the weekly 15-Minute Drama . There are five episodes but the whole thing is really a single one hour and fifteen minute play. There are, as far as I know, five separate series of The Pillow Book. They are all mysteries based on a sort of record book kept by a young woman who lived in the imperial court in Japan in the late 900s and early 1000s. It is a very different setting than most mysteries so in that sense the story was rather refreshing. The problem is that one hour and fifteen minutes doesn't provide much time for both exploring the setting and its characters and the solving of a mystery. Oh well. I did enjoy what was here with this one and would recommend it. I'll certainly listen to more at some point and maybe once I get through all five I'll feel like I'm getting more of the deeper development I want. One series is available for purchase at AudioGo but I haven't bought it and the description doesn't make it sound like it is this first one. I think it might be the most recent one, number 5, but I'm not sure.

Comedy Panel Shows
The News Quiz 81:2 and 3: This week's episode, 81:3, was absolutely hilarious. I kept cracking up and had to explain to my new roommate, who was pretty OK with it as she is a fan of TV shows like QI and Would I Lie to You so she's on board with the general BBC comedy panel show idea even if she's not familiar with the radio ones.

I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue 59:2: Fantastic episode of one of my favorite silly comedy panel shows. ISIHAC is one of my favorites in large part because it is completely ridiculous. It is more about poking fun at the very idea of comedy panel shows than being anything specific and just bounces all over the place. Some of the regular "games" don't do much for me, but they move through so many different things each episode, something I love is sure to soon follow. See below for an example and more...

In Search of Mornington Crescent: Mornington Crescent is one of the regular games on ISIHAC and it sucks if you think it is real and expect it to make sense but is amazing if you realize what is really going on. The idea of Mornington Crescent is that players have to call out London Tube stops based on complicated rules until finally one player can call out "Mornington Crescent" to win. There are complex rules that remain the same then there are special rules that vary (e.g. UKIP rules so no using stations with European or other foreign sounding connections). The reality is that there are no complex rules and anyone can say anything and the joy of the "game" is in the pretending that there is something more happening than just calling out random places, the debating the best moves, the arguing over whether or not a move is legitimate or allowed but unsportsmanlike or whatever, the congratulating each other and oohing and ahing over an especially brilliant move, etc. That said, there are people who think there are real rules and who want said rules from the BBC so they can play Mornington Crescent at home. Part of the BBC's response to those requests was this program, a fake documentary about the history of the development of the game (going back to medieval monks and the streets of London before being chased underground figuratively and literally by Cromwell) and the rules, though somehow the bits about the rules keep cutting out ;) I listened to the thirty minute original "documentary" and loved it (highlight: Michael Gambon and Judi Dench acting out an old play with a game played within it that ends with Gambon calling Dench a bitch for trapping him and winning the game). AudioGo has an extended two hour special that includes this documentary and which I have just bought and will probably listen to before next week's post.

Downloading 14 to 20 July:


The Hound of the Baskervilles (Sat Drama) by Steven Canny and John Nicholson
I'm cheating here. I actually already have this play as I bought it ages ago from AudioGo (one of the rare ones available at the UK site only not the US one). I just want to draw everyone else's attention to it because I love it so very much. This is a complete spoof / satire of Hound specifically but also just the larger world of Holmes including pastiches, fan theories, etc. It is just silly nonsense sure to delight any Holmes fan willing to laugh at him/her self.

Craig Murray - Murder in Samarkand (Sat Drama)
Craig Murray was a UK ambassador to Uzbekistan in the early 2000s. He was removed from his post and there are all kinds of disputes as to why. Was he too politically active, calling out what he saw as totalitarian and repressive acts on the part of an ally nation and underhanded tactics of the UK and the US in the early War on Terror, thus embarrassing his bosses or was he engaged in scandalous behavior like using embassy funds to hire prostitutes? This play from 2010 is based on Murray's own memoirs, so I suspect I know which angle it will take and it is worth noting that all of the more scandalous charges against him were dropped. David Tennant plays Murray.

John Steinbeck - Of Mice and Men (Classic Serial)
Adaptation of one of Steinbeck's two classic novels of the Great Depression in the US 1930s. David Tennant again.

Nich Warburton - Last Days of Grace (Aft Drama)
So apparently England is currently coming down from its Wimbledon tennis victory high just in time for the epic cricket match that is The Ashes (NB: all my knowledge of The Ashes comes via Douglas Adams and The Hitchhiker's Guide). Maybe because of that, BBC is re-airing this play about some cricket dude from the early 1900s who wikipedia tells me is "considered by many historians to have been the greatest cricketer of all time." I'm really not sure about all this but, hey, maybe I'll learn something and it's got Benedict Cumberbatch in it.

Double Jeopardy (Aft Drama)
This is a play about efforts of director Billy Wilder and writer Raymond Chandler to adapt Jame M Cain's novel into a film in 1944. It is available from AudioGo and I've been debating getting it for some time. Having the chance to hear it first is fantastic and will certainly get me to buy it immediately if I enjoy it. Patrick Stewart plays Raymond Chandler.

Hugh Costello - The Forgetting Curve (Aft Drama)
Thriller about a psych expert who helps a murderer walk free then has to face the consequences. I'm a bit on the fence about this one as I suspect it could rub me the wrong way, but I'm willing to give it a go.

When I Lost You (Aft Drama)
Play about a young man who leaves his draft of his novel on a train and the young woman who finds it and reads it. sounds like it could be an interesting quiet, slice of life kind of thing.

Rachel Joyce - Feather (Aft Drama)
Random play that sounds like it could be interesting. I know nothing beyond the BBC description: Fern believes in magic, Father Christmas and the Tooth Fairy. She is collecting feathers because they can make wishes come true, and Fern has a very big and important wish.

Lottie the Mermaid
Ridiculous play about a mermaid coming to land and getting involved in a local community or some such. Sounds like fun.

One-Week Multi-Episode Programs

Hammond Innes - The Doomed Oasis
Innes wrote a ton of mostly adventure stories and I know I read one ages ago but every time I look at a list of his works or otherwise try to figure out what I read. nothing specific rings a bell. Maybe someday I'll figure it out. In the meantime, this is an adaptation of a story about trying to save a much-needed desert oasis, which I'm reasonably certain is not the Innes I read, assuming I'm even correct in thinking I read something.

H. E. Bates - Fair Stood the Wind for France (Classic Serial)
Adaptation of a novel about a British aircrew on the ground in occupied France during World War II. Sounds exciting and stars Rory Kinnear and Tom Goodman-Hill so that's lovely.

Henry James - The Ambassadors (Classic Serial)
Two episode adaptation of James's classic novel about staid respectability versus enjoying a carefree life.

Multi-Week Multi-Episode Programs Starting this Week

Dick Barton - Special Agent: The Cabatolin Diamonds
Dick Barton is a classic radio era recurring series character. He is something of a spy or secret agent having thrilling adventures. I've never listened to any, I'm just generally familiar with the idea and looking forward to actually giving it a go.

Married Series 2
This is one of those where I've got series 1 but haven't listened to it yet. I'm just taking series 2 so I can have it if I like the first one.

Artists Series 2

Comedy Panel Shows
This week, It's Not What You Know, I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue, and The News Quiz are all somewhere in the middle of their latest runs. I've Never Seen Star Wars Series 3 is starting a repeat run. I've currently got series 1 and series 5 and I really enjoy this show overall though it very much depends on each guest. I'm looking forward to getting 3.

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


failte_aoife at 2:57 pm on 14 July 2013 (UTC) (Link)
Great recs! I had Murder in Samarkand once but never got round listening to it and then it got lost in my hard-disc crash so YAY! And I will alweays download anything Holmes-related...
I also will probably never understand the rules of cricket and know only what I picked up in various British media but I have heard of WG Grace (Mark Steel, one of my favourite comedians did a series of lectures on 'people with a passion' about lots of different people (from Hannibal to Marry Shelley) and Grace was one of them, he does seem like a fascinating character so I'll give that a try).

I somehow had a non-fiction/comedy week. Apart from The News Quiz and the first episode of 'It's not what you know' (enjoyable and I also thought the scripted jokes were better than last series) I tried out an episode of 'What's the story', one of the BBC-comedy podcasts I d/l-ed after Radio Downloader went down. It's similar to News Quiz but it simply didn't convince me. I can't even put my finger on it, it was simply a bit dull.

Then I listened to an episode of 'Laughing in all the right places'. Jo Caulfield interviews different comedians every episode and in this one it was Henning Wehn. He's not one of my favourite comedians but it was enjoyable listening to them discussing German vs. British/English stereotypes.

I also listened to 'The Sash my father wore' a documentary about the Protestant-Irish marching song of that name. It was interesting but even for me sometimes a bit confusing and I do know a bit about Irish Folk songs but they simply threw around a lot of different titles and jumped back and forth between them.
bratty_jedi at 11:10 am on 15 July 2013 (UTC) (Link)
You having heard of Grace before puts you one up on me. I did a quick skim of his wiki entry when I saw the play on the Beeb's schedule, but that is the extent of my knowledge of him.

I can never make up my mind about Henning Wehn when he is on the panel shows to which I listen. Somedays I find him funny, but most of the time he just seems rather one-note. Everything he does is about being the German doing UK comedy without much of anything else to it. At least, everything in which I've encountered him he's been that way.

That's disappointing about the song documentary. When you started talking about it, I thought it sounded interesting (I have a soft spot for folk songs and any kind of protest music) but I know basically nothing about Irish music so I'm afraid I'd be completely lost.
failte_aoife at 1:54 pm on 15 July 2013 (UTC) (Link)
I know what you mean about Wehn. The first few times I heard him I found him quite cringeworthy, too but then he did a bit on German/English footbal rivalry & the famous Wembley-goal (I think it was on The Unbelievable Truth) that had me in stitches and since then I somewhat warmed up to him. He somehow reminds me of Alfons, a French Guy who does Comedy in Germany and also relies a lot on German stereotypes of the French and German-French relations. I guess a French person watching him would find him just as cringeworthy as I found Wehn the first time and to people outside he could easily look like a 'one trick pony'.
In short, I think Henning Wehn only really 'works' in the UK and possibly for Germans with a certain sense of self-awareness/ability to laugh about themselves.

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