More Milestone Reflections; or, Quo Vadis, broadcastellan?

Well, I have been away taking pictures. Taking pictures away, to be precise. It was an entirely manual engagement with the arts, involving nothing more than hauling some large canvasses—paintings by the late British artist David Tinker—for an upcoming exhibition. The things we do for a meal and a daytrip to a place where sheep are outnumbered by people (in this case, Cardiff). It so happens that the artist’s widow is Tracy Spottiswoode, who writes for television and radio. She is currently working on a radio play for the BBC, based on a story related to her by her father. It is an incident in the life of Hollywood actor Robert Vaughn, who found himself caught up in the turmoil of the Prague Spring while filming on location in Czechoslovakia, anno 1968. Considering that another successful radio writer, silent film music composer Neil Brand (last seen on UK television in Paul Merton’s Silent Clowns series, which concludes today with a portrait of Harold Lloyd) is coming to visit this weekend, I decided to give writing for the medium another try and return to my own audiodramatic tinkerings (first and last hinted at here).

I have written much about radio, but never for it. And since this 200th entry into my journal marks another milestone (the last one having been contemplated here) it is a convenient moment to reflect on my writings, their uses and purposes. “Quo Vadis” is meant here as a way of mapping out a way, of asking myself what to do next with and within this forum, another opportunity of looking back, listening ahead, and saying thanks to all those who have been reading and commenting over the past five months. Writing in such a marginalized field—and writing in such a marginalizing style about it—can be a rather lonely pursuit.

Perhaps I am craving a larger audience than I am enjoying here; but writing an audio play (for the first time since high school) is merely another creative response to my ongoing engagement with radio. And, if the lacking response to Larry Gelbart’s recent radio satire “Abrogate” (as discussed here) is any indication, there may not be a large audience—or a large vocal one—for such writing either.

That said, there will be less of me, here, in the next few weeks, weeks that will involve gathering new impressions elsewhere, in London and New York City. As you may recall, when last I was in New York, I very nearly went out of my mind going in search of a wireless network to post my writings—not the kind of part in the theater of the mind I had in mine.

The recent acquisitions you will find on my bookshelf (including Arch Oboler’s Fourteen Radio Plays, Abbot’s Handbook of Broadcasting, and Wylie’s 1938/39 and 1939/40 Best Broadcasts, all pictured above) provide models and instructions for the wireless tyro. Today’s writers can learn a lot from the old practitioners, restraint as they were by commercial ties. Radio plays can be talky and tiresome, so intellectual as to become insipid. A healthy dose of melodrama and a helping of sound effects sure liven things up. At least, I hope they will in my efforts at soundstaging. I might exhibit some of my experiments in radio writing on my podcast site.

So, if you enjoy plays for the ear—or derive pleasure hearing about someone struggling to give prospective listeners an earful—you might find my forthcoming discussions about aural storytelling and sound effects of some interest. Please stay tuned . . .

4 Replies to “More Milestone Reflections; or, Quo Vadis, broadcastellan?”

  1. Harry, I think at least in the UK and perhaps worldwide (vicariously through the BBC), there is a larger audience listening to radio plays than you might think.Certainly, in the U.S. that is NOT the case sadly enough, but I would have thought living where you do you would have a stronger sense of a listening audience.Regarding your upcoming discussions, looking forward to reading them.


  2. Quite a wonderful collection of radio books. I have the Arch Oboler volume in your photo – but none of the others! I suppose living in a non-English speak country makes it harder to find such titles by chance.But do you have: Friedrich Dürrenmatt \”Gesammelte Hörspiele\”?But generally, the German radio plays I\’ve heard have fit your description: \”verbose and dry, so intellectual as to become insipid.\”I object most to the pompous use of language. People should speak in a radio play as they speak in everyday life. Those are the script\’s I\’ve enjoyed best (whether in radio, film or plays). I think the most amazing and compelling radio play measured on that requirement is the Quiet Please episode Berlin 1945.


  3. Spiegel und Echo (pictured) is the only German radio play collection I have in my library, although I do have two books on German radio drama in photocopy: Knilli and Schwitzke, who treat US radio drama with disdain, if at all. I mentioned Biedermann a while back, but only in passing.


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