Additions and updates for Chapter 1 Radio Drama is Born and In Its Cradle & The Preface

Writing Audio Drama by Tim Crook published by Routledge 31st March 2023

Book Description

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.

Chapter One

This is a webpage providing updates and additions for Chapter 1 ‘Radio Drama is Born and In Its Cradle’ from the book Writing Audio Drama by Tim Crook and published by Routledge in 2023.

The BBC began transmitting radio plays from 1922. The chapter proves that early pioneers and experimentalists were preoccupied with the same issues, debates and concerns that worry radio and audio drama directors in the present day.

Methods and techniques of writing what was known as ‘the microphone play’ confirmed, identified and consolidated the unique potential and special characteristics of drama that could only be listened to. 

This is a foundation chapter using newly researched history of radio playwriting to root and grow the branches of the succeeding themes covered in the book.

Subjects covered include the problems with stereotypes, the importance of writing for the ear and not the eye, the work of British playwright David Pownall and his dramatization of the BBC’s first full length production of a William Shakespeare play in 1923, BBC advice and guidance past and present, and analysis of what early practitioners learned worked best on the radio.

Preface Page

Companion Website Resources Page xII

Companion Website Resources Chapter 1 Page 24


On page 3 at line 10 the League of Coloured Peoples’ periodical/magazine has been wrongly referred to as Link. It was actually titled The Keys. The author unreservedly apologises for this error.

Extracts from An Epiphanous Use of The Microphone by David Pownall. The script of this brilliant play is included in a volume published by Oberon in 1998 which also includes the plays: Beef, Ploughboy Monday, Flos, Kitty Wilkinson, and Under The Table. The volume is still in print and can be ordered online from Bloomsbury Books. See:

Extracts selected and analysed in the printed text for the purposes of criticism and review, scholarship and learning.

Analysis on page 9, paragraph 5:

CHAMBERLAIN: We will be listening carefully – very carefully
REITH: Of course. In time we hope everyone will.
CHAMBERLAIN: Don’t want this radio thing of yours to fall into the wrong hands.
(Pownall 1998:24)

Analysis on page 10, paragraph 3:

REITH: ‘A brushstroke of sound is all we need to start our play. Then, out of chaos and mayhem comes calm … music … reflection …love. D’you catch my drift?
NESBITT: Oh, I do, I do!
REITH: The charm of the language. The power of simile and metaphor and oxymoron. The rhythm of human life beating through the decasyllabical blank verse. We must cut the play by an hour.
NESBITT: An hour!?
(ibid 41)

Analysis on page 10, paragraph 4:

STUDIO MANAGER: (Talk back) We’re about to start. Just a little closer to the microphone, please, sir. When you step away, tread softly.
REITH: How does a storm tread softly?
(Muted laughter)
STUDIO MANAGER: (Talk back) Ssssh. Going ahead in five seconds Mr Lewis 5 –
4 – 3 – 2 – 1 –
ANNOUNCER: Twelfth Night, by William Shakespeare.
(REITH blows into the microphone and creates his storm)
(ibid 58)

Analysis on page 11, paragraph 2:

NESBITT: But a whole hour!
REITH: We won’t hold their attention.
NESBITT: Perhaps we could read it faster?
REITH: No – no gabbling! The wireless has many distractable folk among its listeners. They don’t have either the background, the education, or the inclination to stay two hours and fifty minutes, even with such excellent company as Shakespeare.
NESBITT: Shall we call it Sixth Night?
(ibid 41)

Analysis on page 11, paragraph 3:

REITH: (Coldly.) You’d oblige me by doing as I ask Miss Rose.
OLIVIA: (Very upset.) I can’t do it!
REITH: Miss Nesbitt, will you calm this person down. Tantrums are not my forte.
OLIVIA: That won’t be necessary. (Pause.) You are a microphone, Major. You are the universe.
REITH: Proceed.
(ibid 39)

Analysis on page 11, paragraph 5:

REITH: Answer me this – when you come to Act Three, Scene Four will you, as an actor, be wearing cross-garters?
MALVOLIO: Well…I’m not in costume, am I? I’m standing here with a script in my hand. (Pause.) I see what you mean.
REITH: With your inner eye – you see what I mean, you mean?

Analysis on page 11, paragraph 6:

OLIVIA: Go call him hither
(Sound of MARIA leaving.)
OLIVIA: I am as mad as he.
If sad and merry madness equal be.
(Footsteps approach.)
MALVOLIO: Ho-ho-ho-ho!
OLIVIA: Smilest thou?
MURIEL: What’s the difference between a smile and a laugh? (Laughs.)
(ibid 59)

Analysis on page 12, paragraph 3:

BURBAGE: My part needs building up. I could improvise another five minutes finding this letter. Do my short-sighted business. Drop it a few times. There could be a wind. I could chase it. Or you could double the length of my soliloquy.
SHAKESPEARE: It’s not really a soliloquy, Dick. It’s a man reading a letter to himself, and there’re interjections from other characters.
BURBAGE: Yes, I wanted to talk to you about them. Are they necessary?
SHAKESPEARE: I determine your stride, Dick!
(ibid 30)

Analysis on page 12, paragraph 4:

OLIVIA: I am as mad as he
If sad and merry madness be. How now Malvolio?
(Footsteps approach. Groans.)
BURBAGE: Sad, lady! I could be sad: this does make some obstruction in the blood, this cross-gartering …
(Burst of laughter.)
SHAKESPEARE: (In his head.) They’ve cut three lines, the bastards! But it worked, somehow. It worked.
(Cross on laughter into applause.)
(ibid 59)

Analysis on page 12, paragraph 6:

QUEEN: How did you know about the yellow hose and cross-garters?
SHAKESPEARE: It’s a very strange thing, but I can’t remember.
QUEEN: Gossip, probably. Thinking about it – if I’d actually been able to see at that point, it might have been too painful. The man Burbage doesn’t have the looks my Robert had – though Malvolio has features of his character. Vanity. Oh, how vain he was.
(ibid 61)

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