The more I work in the medium of radio – sound – audio, the more I realise how perfect a platform it is. As part of the process, I’ve been listening to a lot of radio plays, the good, the bad and the indifferent. Both drama and comedy work very well in a purely audio setting. Far from being a dead medium or for that matter, even a dying one, radio is likely to go on and on. The reason for this is that budgets which have a tendency of spiralling out of control in film and TV are far more relaxed when it comes to radio production. Less is spent on making a radio program and so much more can be used to procure good calibre cast members. Many people who never listen to the radio will be unaware that many of their favourite actors from television can be found in numerous radio dramas and comedies. Lenny Henry for example made four series of the BBC radio 4 sitcom Rudy’s rare records. This is easily one of his better shows, but largely undiscovered by the bigger part of the population. Another big comedy TV name Sally Philips, of Smack the pony fame, can be found starring in Clare in the community, another popular radio sitcom, now in its eighth series. This show also has Liza Tarbuck and Gemma Craven in the cast, both well known names from TV. Dramas too are very popular and can be about anything and set anywhere, as they always take place within the listener’s mind.
Drama on radio also attracts big names such as Tim Pigott-Smith, Sue Jenkins, as well as the ubiquitous David Tennant. These names pulled from this week’s radio listings. Why do actors love radio? I think Lenny Henry summed it up perfectly, when he had this to say concerning his experience recording Rudy’s rare records, on his blog “I love the recording day – we meet up in the afternoon for our final read throughs. Tweaks are done in an adjacent room with myself and Dan, Paula and Katie and then suddenly a very groovy audience – a mixture of Radio Four listeners, and lots of Caribbean / African / Asian people who have probably never been to a radio recording before. The laughter you hear is real – there are no ‘canned’ additions.”
Actors love not having to learn a script, believe me that is liberating and saves a huge amount of time. What else appeals to the actor? Well for a start there is no makeup, no costume and they get to just turn up and act using their voice, which is a true art form. Like theatre, it isn’t the money, but the art which attracts the major players to this medium. Add to this one last but very important thing from the actor’s viewpoint, they have the chance to take on different roles, roles which casting directors will shy away from, instead preferring to safely typecast, because of the huge sums riding on TV shows. So radio really is a dream job for any actor who cares about the profession.
This week I found myself writing for radio and the difference between television and radio is huge. I had not really thought about radio for a very long time. In fact the last time I wrote anything for the medium was many years ago. I have found it such an exciting experience. All too often there is a tendency to look down on radio performance as somehow archaic. We often form mental pictures of post war families huddled around huge radios listening to Tony Hancock or The Goon show. It all seems pointless working in a medium which on the surface appears to offer only a part of a genuine entertainment package. In a superficial sense, it can appear to be just the soundtrack, like a TV show minus its picture and therefore only half of the whole.
Radio is in fact something very different from television or film and is more akin to theatre. With radio for example, the listener must concentrate on the events unfolding and must use their own imagination in order to interpret the imagery suggested by the sounds and voices heard. It is like the fourth wall in the theatre. Every member of every audience enters into an unspoken agreement when they take their seats. That agreement simply states, that there is an invisible wall, behind which the actors live their lives, oblivious that they are being observed. . Radio asks that we act as eavesdroppers, listening to events somewhere out of sight, but which we can still become fully engaged with. Television and film give us something very different. With these mediums we have no need of full attention, we can be disengaged and still follow on-screen events, as is our whim. Quality film and TV will of course hold our attention and make us believe, even carry us along, making use of our emotions and leave us touched. However all too often we are only half the way there and leave the experience still wanting, not quite satisfied.
Radio, like theatre calls for our full engagement. We must focus on the unfolding events and pay close attention, or risk being confused by our wandering thoughts. Because of this, we invest so much in the event, that we are carried with it, providing it is quality of course, otherwise this type of medium will lose us very quickly. I have been working on novels and a screenplay and switching to radio has really made me stop and think. The last few days have given me so much of an appreciation of how powerful, how intimate and perfect radio, as a medium can be. From an actor’s point of view I can see the sheer intimacy of using the voice as a tool to reach the listener and just with words, paint pictures using the listeners own imaginations. I love the thought that with only voices, sound effects and music, we can be transported through time and space and made to experience anything which the writer has created and the cast and crew brought to broadcast. Writing in for this medium has certainly given me food for thought.
Having decided on starting this blog, I find myself confused as to how to begin. I think being a writer or perhaps I should say, thinking like a writer, tends to confuse things. Most writers and certainly those who talk about the craft, tend to agree about one thing. That one thing is that we tend to be more than simply thoughtful and imaginative people, we are not just sensitive souls, as some would have it. We are obsessed with things most people would not even consider worth their attention. We are inward and deep thinking. We are also generally concerned about our own work, not how good it is, but rather is it good enough. I think for most of us and certainly in my case, it comes from childhood. I would show my scribblings and it was never seen as good enough. My spelling would be picked up or my use of a wrong word, my handwriting slanted too much and I allowed my letters to fall off the line. Over and over I showed my creations and each time I would be told no, not like that. Those well meaning adults, grownups who wanted to show the way and make me a model child and pupil, those people missed the point. I didn’t want their opinion on my schoolwork; I wanted an opinion on my creations. I see the world differently than many people do. I’m not saying I’m clever or gifted, because I’m really not. What I’m saying here, is that I write to get those strange thoughts out. My mind is always thinking of situations and characters. A snatched conversation on a train can lead to a story. An everyday commonplace newspaper article might act as a seed for a book. All the time my thoughts string together connections and it’s from these connections that my work appears. Life, my life is never boring or mundane, because from it spring the forces of creation.