Archive for February, 2013

Some more great links.

Radio Drama Reviews

Radio drama takes up a fair chunk of BBC Radio 4 and some of Radio 3 yet good reviews, indeed reviews of any kind, are hard to find. Most of the national daily papers have radio reviewers, but radio drama fights for attention among the vast output of all radio. Most daily papers will select a strong play for a preview mention if that individual radio correspondent is impressed. Reviews of the broadcast plays however are harder to find.

To some extent the internet has filled this gap and a couple of interesting, if somewhat eccentric sites are well worth logging on to.


This is a wonderfully entertaining site maintained by Laurence Raw, a man with a genuine passion for radio drama. He has reviewed virtually every radio play on air since January 2008. His reviews also include book readings and short stories. This site is unputdownable. It is also an invaluable resource with an A-Z listing of all radio plays and dramatists broadcast in this period.


You won’t have seen a site quite like this. The Diversity Website is devoted to the plays and drama broadcast on BBC Radio. You will find information about the plays, authors and directors, as well as some information about plots and actors. It has been online since 2002. The site is maintained by Nigel Deacon and, in case you have broader interests, you will also find good advice on a range of topics including, potatoes, wine-making and Go Kart racing! Where would we be without sites like this?


The Daily Telegraph, of all the national newspapers, probably takes most interest in radio and Gillian Reynolds is a top class reviewer.


I don’t know why it is but women tend to make the best radio critics (any suggestions why this should be, on a postcard please) and my favourite by far is Miranda Sawyer in the Observer. She has a natural feel for the medium and is always incisive and controversial. This is important as many people regard radio as somehow safe and homely when it can be anything but. This is a link to one of her best recent reviews. (If she wasn’t such an unrelenting feminist I’d be in love). Joke, Miranda. Honest. You are the best.


The best place for reviews of broadcast plays is at The Stage website. They review almost all dramas broadcast and are read eagerly by listeners and radio scriptwriters alike.


Read Full Post »

How to get commissioned

By John Morrison

By far the most important commissioner of radio drama is the BBC. Radio 4 in particular has a huge range of potential opportunities and its plays reach anything up to 1.5m listeners. Yet the opportunities it provides are sometimes overlooked by writers focusing on television and movies.

Radio playwriting provides many opportunities but it’s still very hard to be commissioned. In all writing there are far more writers than slots available.

Let’s look at the slots where drama can be heard on Radio4.

Radio 4 Drama

The Archers – this long-running soap opera totals 1 hour 15 minutes of air time per week, making for 65 hours a year

The Friday Drama – this is a 60 minute, post-watershed play. Right now it’s calledThe Friday Play, but is being rebranded.

The Saturday Play – a 60-90 minute play put on the afternoon

Woman’s Hour play – these are a series of five 15 minute ‘issues plays’ run over a week, during The Woman’s Hour magazine programme

Classic Serial – multi-part adaptations of contemporary and historical classics

The Afternoon Drama – an original 44 minute 15 second play broadcast every weekday – about 140 hours a year

Out of all those however, The Afternoon Drama is the only slot available to new writers. All the others have their own writing teams or are commissioned directly by Radio4. The Afteroon Drama is where we must turn our attention,

Understand the Radio 4 audience

I don’t want to be too prescriptive but it’s important to know just what type of an audience listens to the Afternoon Drama. They are mostly ABC 1s, they read the Daily Mail or the Telegraph, live in south-east England – mostly London- and are extremely well-informed. These aren’t my findings but the BBC’s own research. Of course all types listen to the Afternoon Pay but the majority of listeners fit this classification.

This audience is the backbone of Radio 4 and the Radio 4 audience is highly engaged and knowledgeable about current affairs. This means that plays that link with current affairs – or future current affairs – stand a better chance of getting commissioned.
The Radio 4 audience also loves reading, but it is highly unlikely that adaptations will be commissioned for the Afternoon Play, as the Classic Serial is already covers this territory. Instead, a different take on literature appeals to this audience.

Listen to Radio 4
Before writing for Radio 4 you have to listen to Radio 4’s plays. If you expect, tea and crumpets or “anyone for tennis” cosy dramas you couldn’t be more wrong. The Afternoon Drama engages with a huge range of topics and doesn’t shy away from the controversial. Very few subjects are really taboo. In my experience producers of radio drama want to be surprised and this is the perfect slot to take risks.

What makes a good Afternoon Play
As in all drama, the most important thing is story. No matter what the subject matter is, hook the audience into listening and the battle is won. A BBC producer described this slot as being “radio for curious minds”.

Plays that link into current affairs have a good chance of being commissioned. (upcoming elections, world events, environmental issues etc.)
Radio 4 listeners love history, but not “typical” historical biographies – the plays must reflect how people live now and be relevant to current society.

It’s only a personal observation but I would say that plays set somewhere other than places we our familiar with in television stand a good chance of being commissioned. Radio 4 likes to make plays set in Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe etc as long as the story is good.

Make the play challenging. Avoid monologues or soap operas
It must be a single play that stands on its own accord.
Write in your voice – don’t try to emulate another writer. The best plays are ones that you, the writer are “desperate to tell”
Take risks. The Afternoon Play has the freedom to tell powerful, challenging, irreverent and disturbing stories

Straight through-line narrative is the best. So avoid cross-cutting or multiple thread narratives.

Dialogue is all-important – radio plays live and die on dialogue. If your dialogue is not superb, your play will not get on the air
Each Afternoon Play is precisely 44 minutes 15 seconds long – no shorter, no longer. In reality then you must be very close to this. No-one can be exact but plays will be cut or have added incidental music to fill this slot exactly.

But most important of all make sure you have done the very best you can with your material before sending it in.

Get Writing. What is a writer? A writer writes.

Read Full Post »