Writing Audio Drama offers a comprehensive and intelligent guide to writing sound drama for broadcasting and online. This book uses original research on the history of writing radio plays in the UK and USA to explore how this has informed and developed the art form for more than 100 years.
Audio drama in the context of podcasting is now experiencing a global and exponential expansion. Through analysis of examples of past and present writing, the author explains how to create drama which can explore deeply psychological and intimate themes and achieve emotional, truthful, entertaining and thought-provoking impact. Practical analysis of the key factors required to write successful audio drama is covered in chapters focusing on audio play beginnings and openings, sound story dialogue, sustaining the sound story, plotting for sound drama, and the best ways of ending audio plays. Chapters are supported by online resources which expand visually on subjects discussed and point to exemplary sound dramas referenced in the chapters.
This textbook will be an important resource for advanced undergraduate and postgraduate students taking courses such as Podcasting, Radio, Audio Drama, Scriptwriting, and Media Writing.
The content of all the companion web-pages for this project is in the process of development, and completion is expected 31st July 2023 following the publication of the printed book 31st March 2023. Many thanks for your patience and consideration.
Giles Cooper Award winners
Best Radio Plays of 1978
During this year 450 original radio plays were commissioned and broadcast by BBC Radio.’s domestic services.
Is It Something I Said? A play for radio by RICHARD HARRIS with Peter Jeffrey as Mr Wallace John Hollis as Arthur Hilda Kriseman as Stella.
A hotel room in Paddington, a suspicious guest and a proprietor who is far from unobservant …
‘ You book in – you put your full name and address and your phone number – I’m surprised you didn’t put your next of kin and be done with it. Then you pay in advance and when I offer early-morning tea, you refuse it. No one refuses early-morning tea. It’s one of the joys.’
‘ haven’t done this sort of thing before.’ Directed by CHERRY COOKSON.
Biography published in the volume: ‘Richard Harris is 44, and was born and bred in West London. Grammar school-educated, he worked as an insurance clerk before doing National Service in the RAF – an experience that must have shaken a few marbles because on resuming civilian life he was given the sack from job after job. Dividends would seem to have been payed in 1959 however when he wrote his first play and sold it to H.M. Tennent Globe Productions. Since then he has written innumerable television plays and series episodes, many films, and eight plays for the theatre, two of which have been staged in London. A television play – Reasonable Suspicion was published in the ‘People In Conflict’ anthology series. Is It Something I said? is his first radio play.’
Episode on a Thursday Evening by DON HAWORTH with John Hollis as Tom and Terry Scully as Jerry. The dilemma of two owners of a seedy local cinema faced with a bomb scare and the adverse publicity it will bring to the sale of their property. To evacuate or not … ?
TOM: If they could get buildings evacuated on the strength of a phone call they could paralyse the civilised world from a telephone box.
ROSE: You’ve got to keep a sense of proportion. There’s scores of spoof calls every day. It’s a fashionable yobbo’s hobby. The big hotels and banks and whatnot don’t react any more and we wouldn’t here if it happened again. Pianist MARTIN GOLDSTEIN Director RICHARD WORTLEY.
Biography published in the volume: ‘Don Howarth was brought up at Burnley, Lancashire. He served in the RAF and then worked in several parts of the world as a journalist, first for print and later for broadcasting. For the past twelve years he has divided his time between writing plays for radio and making documentary films for BBC television. Almost all his drama has been written for radio, though stage and television adaptations have been made of some of the plays. In all he has written twenty, which have been broadcast in thirty-five countries. Of his recent work, On a Day in Summer in a Garden won the Imperial Tobacco Award for Radio in 1976 and Events at the Salamander Hotel won the Play of the Month award of the Deutsche Akademie der darstellenden Künste in April, 1977. A collection We All Come to it in the End was published in 1972.’
With Jill Balcon, Julian Glover and Sarah Badel. A remote guest house in the Peak District, a haunting tune from a musical box, and an insane craving for revenge turn a happy Easter holiday into a terrifying nightmare. Directed by Kay Patrick. (Julian Glover is a member of the RSC)
Jill Hyem – Remember Me, 04:00 01/04/2018, BBC Radio 4 Extra, 90 mins. https://learningonscreen.ac.uk/ondemand/index.php/prog/10ED7A25?bcast=126421849
Biography published in the volume: ‘Jill Hyem was born in London. She trained at the Webber-Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art and worked as an actress on stage and in filsms, radio an dtelevision. While in repertory in High Wycombe she wrote a revue in which she also appeared. She sold her first play to radio wile acting in a long run in the West End. She has subsequently written many radio plays including A Shape Like Piccadilly, Equal Terms and Thank You, all of which were later produced on television. She was also one of the originators of the radio serial Waggoner’s Walk, to which she still contributes. She has written for the cinema (Leopard in the Snow), for television (the Angels series as well as plays) and has published two stage plays. But radio remains her favourite medium. Married to a social worker, her plays often have social themes and have been used by various orgnisations such as the Samaritans as poart of their training course. Remember Me is her first excursion into the realms of horror.’
Halt! Who Goes There? by TOM MALLIN with and Stella Tanner as Mrs Rubin MRS RUBIN: Listen…. You been in the Army? Yes! OK. Imagine yourself on sentry duty. Its night. Dusk. You’re on guard. OK? You hear a footstep. Friend or foe you wonder. How you going to find out?
The imperious Arnold Butterworth goes to a convalescent home after a cancer operation. He meets the other patients in a sad story laced with ironic humour.
Directed by RICHARD WORTLEY This was the last play written for radio by Tom Mallin and the eighth’to be broadcast. The author died tragically in December 1977.
Biography published in the volume: ‘Tom Mallin was born in 1927 in the Midlands. After boarding-school he was a student at the Birmingham College of Art. His education having been interrupted by military service, he moved to London where he married the painer Muriel George. In 1955, together with their two sons, Simon and Rupert, they moved to Suffolk where Tom earned his living as a picture restorer. As the age of thirty-five, he began to write. With the production of his firs stage play, Curtains, in 1970, he became a full-time author. Although he continued to write stage plays, – The Novelist, As Is Proper, Mrs Argent, and novels – Dodecahedron, Erowina, Knut, Lobe, Bedrok, his work most regularly appeared as radio drama. The BBC has so far broadcast Curtains, Downpour, Rooms, Vicar Martin, The Lodger, Two Gentlemen of Hadleigh Heath, Spanish Fly, Hald! Who Goes There? and Rowland. In the fifteen years before his sudden death in 1977, Tom Malin wrote over forty plays and novels.’
Daughters of Men by JENNIFER PHILLIPS with and KATE: I know you never finally admit responsibility for anything. You just sit there, don’t you: A little tin statue, a graven image, waiting for it all – sacrificial offerings – whatever they might be. A bit of steak and kidnev, a devotional display, some wholemeal bread, garlands, a hole in one, a severed head, a firstborn child … DAVID: How is she?
KATE: Go and look at her – if you like.
But the nature of responsibility is overall more subtly distributed in this ironic study of marital breakdown. Directed by RICHARD WORTLEY
Biography published in the volume: ‘Jennifer Pillips has had over forty of her plays produced. She has had four of her own comedy series- two on radio and two on television, and was the first woman in this country to be employed as a comedy script writer. Her first full length stage play The Backhanded Kiss was produced at the Pheonix Theatre, Leicester in 1969. Three years later Bodywork was also produced at the Hampstead Theatre Club. Her play Instrument for Love directed by Liane Aukin opened the first women’s theatre festival at the Almost Free Theatre. Nikolas Simmons directed her next full lenth stage play at the Haymarket Studio Theatre in Leicester. As is the case with many British playwrights, Jennifer was given her first break by BBC Radio with a play called Fault on the Line which starred Beryl Reid and Pat Hayes; she continues to be given opportunities to write plays as diverse as, for example, Stone Boy and Blow Your House In for Radio 4. A stage version of Daughters of Men opened at the Hampstead Theatre Club in January 1979.’
Polaris by FAY WELDON Grass Widows The Attack Team: On board the Polaris Missile Submarine. Christmas Eve dinner is eggs a la Grecque. goose with prune stuffing and chocolate mousse. At home in her inaccessible crofters cottage Meg is enjoying sausage and mash and contemplating several months separation from her newly-married husband. Directed by SHAUN MACLOUGHLIN.
Biography published in the volume: ‘Fay Weldon was born in Worcestershire, brough up in New Zealand, educated at St Andrew’s University, is married with four children and lives in Somerset. She has written half a dozen novels – among them Down Among the Women, Female Friends and Remember Me, all of which went into paperback – several stage and radio plays – of which Spider won the Writers’ Guild Award for the Best Radio Play of 1973 – and upwards of twenty plays for television. Among these are The Visiting House, Office Party and The Tale of Timothy Bagshot, as well as a six-part adaptation of Pride and Prejudice for BBC-TV and contributions to series such as Six Women and Upstairs Downstairs.’
John Arden’s Pearl was additionally and unanimously voted one of the best radio plays of 1978 by the judges and recognised with a Giles Cooper award.
It was broadcast on both Radio 4 and Radio 3, but it was not included in the Giles Cooper Award winning volume of scripts because Eyre Methuen had already contracted to publish it separately.
Pearl. A play about a play within the play by JOHN ARDEN with Elizabeth Bell. Peter Jeffrey, David Calder. Music composed by STEPHEN BOXER
‘I find nowt now in the whole of England fit for the tip of my pen. We spoke once to the whole people. But these days we have rejected the home-spun jackets, the square-toed shoes, and the forth right word of the godly tradesmen. And by God, they’ve rejected us. There are those in Parliament have said openly they’d close down every playhouse if they once attained full power. And I want them to attain full power.’ TURNER (crumhorns, flutes, recorders). EPHRAIM SEGERMAN (viols, cittern, lute), BILL NICKSON (percussion), STEPHEN BOXER (psaltery, lyre, dulcimer) Directed by ALFRED BRADLEY BBC Manchester
Best Radio Plays of 1979
During this year 500 original radio plays were commissioned and broadcast by BBC Radio.’s domestic services.
Typhoid Mary by Shirley Gee. ‘Look at my hands. Are they any different from yours? Eight fingers, two thumbs. No strange marks on the backs of my hands, no devil’s kiss, none on the palms. No spreading stains – see little crosses – they mean something. I can’t remember what. Lines of my heart, my head, my luck, my life – quite long, my life. And here’s my destiny. Fate has something up her sleeve for all of us, but she’s a very special trick for me.’ Other parts by BRENDA KAYE , JONATHAN SCOTT and members of the cast Directed by DAVID SPENSER (Rptd: next Sun at 2.30)
Biography published in the volume: Shirley Gee trained at the Webber-Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art and was an actress until her marriage. Her first play Stones was runner-up in the Radio Times Drama Bursary Award and was broadcast in 1974. Then came The Vet’s Daughter (an adaptation) in 1976, Moonshine in 1977, in which Rosemry Leach won Best Acress in the Imperial Tobacco Awards, Typhoid Mary and Bedrock in 1979. All her plays have been directed by David Spenser. Typhoid Mary was a BBC Italia Prize entry for 1979 and received the jury’s Speial Commendation. It also won the Society of Authors/Pye Award for Best Original Play of 1979. She is married to actor Donald Gee. They have two sons, Joby (13) and Daniel (12) and live in London at World’s End.
Carey Harrison: I Never Killed my German BBC Radio 3 First broadcast: Thu 9th Aug 1979, 19:30 on BBC Radio 3 by CAREY HARRISON with Maurice Denham as Willy and Stephen Murray as the Bishop of Frankfurt
Willy Benefer is a retired registrar of births, marriages and deaths, living in a large house on the fringes of Ipswich. His daughter, Juliet, now divorced and footloose on the Continent, sends him a Protestant Bishop who, it transpires, has fallen in love with Juliet. But the Bishop has also lost his Faith, and it is this that most disturbs Willy. Music composed and directed by SIDNEY SAGER Flute player SEBASTIAN BELL Directed by SHAUN MACLOUHLIN BBC Bristol.
Bob wakes up one morning and parked outside his house he finds a juggernaut containing a vast quantity of scent. It seems like a gift from the gods…
A famous old-style ham actor involved with Restoration Comedy and domestic depression undergoes a change of mood as he climbs into his sumptuous costume …
Directed by RICHARD WORTLEY long wave only
Attard in Retirement by JOHN PEACOCK with George Cole Rosalie Crutchley Patricia Hayes Margot Boyd and Mark Dignam. Walter Attard was an accountant – very sound but in no way startling. He lived a quiet life and when he retires he regrets the fact that he never took any risks, either in business or in his private life, and that he’s ended up with nothing. He’s definitely an unlikely hero for a thriller, but, at the age of 60, life starts to be exciting for Walter.
With ERIC ALLAN , PETER BALDWIN , PETRA DAVIES , ALAN DUDLEY , MICHAEL GOLDIE , JOSIE KIDD and EVA STUART Directed by JANE MORGAN
Caring for the mentally handicapped brings its pains and its pleasures which outsiders seldom understand. (Mary Wimbush is a National Theatre player) Miriam Margolyes. Director: Richard Wortley.
Best Radio Plays of 1980
A new play for radio by Stewart Parker (BBC Scotland/BBC Northern Ireland)
(Harry Towb is a National Theatre player) Directed by Robert Cooper.
Waving to a Train by MARTYN READ and A summer day. late in June 1953. The kind of day that exists only in memory.’ Richard looks back on this special childhood day.
Directed by DAVID SPENSER long ware only. (Michael Jayston is in ‘ Private Lives ‘ at the Duchess Theatre. London)
Martyr of the Hives by PETER REDGROVE Curious about the apparently mystical qualities of bees, Henry goes in search of the mysterious founder of a bee-cult. But he is unaware of the true horror which lies at the root of the mystery of the man’s disappearance…. and BOYS FROM CLIFTON COLLEGE, BRISTOL Directed by BRIAN MILLER BBC Bristol.
‘That man told me a story about two children who once were happy here and then became two murderers…. What happens in the mind of anyone who wishes to destroy? Don’t you think we should root our heads out of the sand and wonder just once in a while? What is the truth about people who are so far beyond the pale?’ BBC Northern Ireland. Director: Robert Cooper
Cast:- Milly: Prunella Scales; Mr Malseed: Michael Spice; Mrs Malseed: Penelope Lee; Strafe: Maurice Denham; Dekko: Jonathan Scott; Arthur: J.G. Devlin; Kitty: Sheila McGidbon; Cynthia: Sylvia Coleridge; Red-haired man, as an adult: Michael McKnight; Red-haired man, as a child: Jonathan Furphy; Woman, as an adult: Maggie Shevlin; Woman, as a child: Jennifer Wright.
Best Radio Plays of 1981
Peter Barnes: The Jumping Mimuses of Byzantium
Don Haworth: Talk of Love and War
Harold Pinter: Family Voices
David Pownall: Beef
J. P. Rooney: The Dead Image
Paul Thain: The Biggest Sandcastle in the World
Best Radio Plays of 1982
Rhys Adrian: Watching the Plays Together
John Arden: The Old Man Sleeps Alone
Harry Barton: Hoopoe Day
Donald Chapman: Invisible Writing
Tom Stoppard: The Dog it was that Died
William Trevor: Autumn Sunshine
Best Radio Plays of 1983
Wally K. Daly: Time Slip
Shirley Gee: Never in my Lifetime
Gerry Jones: The Angels They Grow Lonely
Steve May: No Exceptions
Martyn Read: Scouting for Boys
Best Radio Plays of 1984
Stephen Dunstone: Who is Sylvia?
Robert Ferguson: Transfigured Night
Don Haworth: Daybreak
Caryl Phillips: The Wasted Years
Christopher Russell: Swimmer
Rose Tremain: Temporary Shelter
Best Radio Plays of 1985
Rhys Adrian: Outpatient
Barry Collins: King Canute
Martin Crimp: Three Attempted Acts
David Pownall: Ploughboy Monday
James Saunders: Menocchio
Michael Wall: Hiroshima: The Movie
Best Radio Plays of 1986
Robert Ferguson: Dreams, Secrets, Beautiful Lies
Christina Reid: The Last of a Dyin’ Race
Andrew Rissik: A Man Alone: Anthony
Ken Whitmore: The Gingerbread House
Valerie Windsor: Myths and Legacies
Best Radio Plays of 1987
Wally K. Daly: Mary’s
Frank Dunne: Dreams of Dublin Bay
Anna Fox: Nobby’s Day
Nigel D.Moffat: Lifetime First broadcaster BBC Radio 4, 26th May 1987, with Rudolph Walker as Archie. Directed by Philip Marten. Recent profile of Nigel D. Moffat on the production of his stage play Mamma Decemba.
A morally ambiguous comedy by RICHARD NELSON Michael believes he is doing a favour for the Polish emigre writer, Janusz, by translating his book. But whose cause is he serving? Directed by NED CHAILLET
The Village Fete by Peter Tinniswood. When Nancy and her brother, sister and father move to the countryside everything goes wrong. They discover a 22 per cent gas leak, their house needs re-wiring and re-roofing. Nancy doesn’t mind; she likes organising. But then Winston, the local poacher and handyman, takes over and invites Nancy to the village fete. Directed by Shaun MacLoughlin BBC Bristol Stereo
Best Radio Plays of 1988
‘This is the army, you know! They expect you to do as you’re told here!
Cyn, Dawn and Myra fight their own private battle against an institution which doesn’t seem to care. They tolerate loneliness, boredom and poverty to help their husbands ‘get on’. But when the men come home all macho and matey, who do they vent their frustrations on? Military adviser DAVID HOUNSLOW Directed by SUSAN HOGG BBC Manchester. Stereo
Just Remember Two Things…. It’s Not Fair and Don’t Be Late written and narrated by Terence Frisby with and ‘A few days after the last British soldiers left Dunkirk, when my brother Jack was 11 and I was 7, we became evacuees – “vaccies” – and were carried off to another world, to my other childhood.’ Directed by MATTHEW WALTERS. Stereo.
One of a season of six plays by leading playwrights broadcast both on Radio 4 and on the BBC World Service.’The day I stopped talking was one of those perfect days we have in England. They come in the spring and in the autumn, differently, the one full of entrance, theotherfull of exit…. I’d spoken to them all, in turn, carefully, loving them all; like suicide in a way, to stop talking.’
(Radio 4 and World Service production) Stereo. Director: Robert Cooper
The Dirt Under the Carpet by RONA MUNRO. The early-morning routine of two Aberdeen office cleaners is disrupted by a bizarre event. From this emerges a wry whodunit.
Directed by STEWART CONN BBC Scotland. Stereo
Ted’s down at the betting shop, just like every Saturday. But this one’s a bit special; it’s his 55th birthday. He’s not asking for much to celebrate – just a win on a dream accumulator bet – but will Apple Blossom oblige? Dave Sheasby’s drama stars Malcolm Hebden as Ted, Marlene Sidaway as Jane, Ray Ashcroft as Dave, Louis Emerick as Wesley, Colin Meredith as Povey, Philp Whitchurch as Billy and Christine Cox as the Tannoy. Produced at BBC Manchester by Tony Cliff.
A recorded off transmission copy of some of this play has been available to listen on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SELHpZUVaN8
Best Radio Plays of 1989
By ELIZABETH BAINES. Di’s battered old baby buggy becomes a symbol of her hopes and fears as she faces the challenge of having her first baby at the age of 40. Directed by SUSAN HOGG BBC Manchester. Stereo.
Christine, a farmer’s wife in Northern Ireland, wonders if she should leave. Narrator – Stella McCusker. Directed by Jeremy Howe. O Ananias, Azarias and Misael BBC World Service First broadcast: Fri 28th Dec 1990, 02:30 on BBC World Service
The Stalin Sonata by DAVID ZANE MAIROWITZ With and ‘Secretary Stalin’ gives the Moscow radio station 24 hours to make a Mozart recording of his favourite pianist. She is in prison with her fingers smashed. Pavel Ilytch ….IAN TARGETT MARY NASH (piano) Directed by RICHARD WORTLEY
Eating Words Richard Nelson ‘s 1989 play, winner of a Giles Cooper Award. With Edward Asner
John Woodvine. Two old friends get together twice a year for lunch. This year, as they drink their way through London, it seems that Sam has written a novel which has outraged his wife and Henry is not at all well. with David King,Vincent Brimble , John Bull , Elizabeth Mansfield , Simon Treves , Joe Dunlop , Christopher Good and Danny Schiller Director Ned Chaillet. Stereo (R)
By Where the Old Shed Used to Be by CRAIG WARNER. Goaded and tortured by her step-sisters, kept prisoner and starved by her stepmother, Sarah’s dream is to escape and build a new life of joy with William by where the old shed used to be. But in this, the real Cinderella story, revenge comes first. Other parts played by HUBERT TUCKER, ANTHONY DONOVAN, WENDY BRIERLEY and SIMON TREVES. Music composed by SIMON JEFFES and played by members Of the PENGUIN CAFE ORCHESTRA. Technical presentation by MIKE BURGESS. MARTYN HARRIES and CHRIS DOMAILLE. Directed by ANDY JORDAN BBC Bristol
Best Radio Plays of 1990
The Machine:- At the beginning of the 17th century, Ned Prynne invents a machine to record the human voice and fears the church will accuse him of stealing souls. He earns his living by capturing “masterless men” and selling them, and does not know which story to tell to history …
Written by Tony Bagley. Director Alec Reid
A Butler Did It:- With Bernard Hepton Anna Massey. Beneath his immaculate exterior Honeyman, the butler, is plotting the downfall of his master’s house …Written by David Cregan. Director John Tydeman
Death and the Tango Byron and Jeff are two young men with obsessions: the tango and Renaissance philosophy. Though modern-day Birmingham has little to offer them, they soon find themselves on a journey to end all journeys. A fantastical comedy by John Fletcher. Music Vic Gammon Director Nigel Bryant
Song of the Forest: Soon after her marriage Helena is paralysed in a diving accident. Jacu, a capuchin monkey from the Amazonian rainforest, is trained to help quadriplegics. But inside the primate is the soul of a South American Indian girl … Written by Tina Pepler. Music by Elizabeth Parker of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop Director Shaun MacLoughlin
With Dinsdale Landen as a low-lifer whose brother has been elected Pope. A comedy by Steve Walker. Stereo Director: Peter Kavanagh.
Best Radio Plays of 1991
The Words are Strange:- Tom is a radical teacher in a reactionary school, where the entrepreneurial spirit would consign poetry to the dustbin. Written by Robin Glendinning.
Director Eoin O’Callaghan. Stereo
John Purser ‘s Carver is set in the mid-16th century; it contrasts the radiance of Robert Carver ‘s music with the earthiness of his character and the destructive force of the reformation.
Music: Taverner Consort , director Andrew Parrott. Director Stewart Conn
In the Native State:- Tom Stoppard ‘s new play for radio is set in two places and periods: India in 1930 and England in the present day. With Peggy Ashcroft and Felicity Kendal Excerpt from Up the Country by Emily Eden read by Auriol Smith. Director John Tydeman
Mickey Mookey: Josh Bullen is a very bad boy and Mickey Mookey is on his trail.
Figure with Meat:- When Colin died he was thinking of his favourite painting, Francis Bacon ‘s portrait of a laughing cardinal surrounded by carcasses of meat. But will Colin become one of those carcasses? Written by Craig Warner. Original songs composed by Craig Warner. Musical direction and additional composition Stuart Gordon. Gospel pianist Will Gregory. Director Andy Jordan