Now on the Air: Charles Dickens, E. F. Benson, and Daphne du Maurier

Well, this is one for the minisodes generation: my weekend’s literary line-up, the CliffsNotes edition. Radio, like television and the movies, has often been accused of serving condensed milk from prize-winning cash cows grazing in the public domain, of chopping up the meat of literature into bite-sized morsels for ready consumption. There’s still plenty of that going on, even though far more than chopping and condensing is involved in the process of adaptation, an art of translation too often dismissed as mere hackwork.

I’ve been scanning the Radio Times for dramatic radio series now or soon playing on BBC Radio 4. As usual, I am woefully late to catch up. Since BBC radio programs are available online for seven days after their original broadcast, I’ve only got a few hours to take in the second and final instalment of the Classic Serial “Down and Out in Paris and London,” based on the autobiographical writings of George Orwell. I missed the first part; but the second one promises to take me to London in the 1920s, with a young Orwell as guide.

Also about to be removed from the archives are the first chapters of Mapp and Lucia, a serial based on E. F. Benson’s 1931 novel, which contains this peculiar exchange about mastering the difficulty of being hard of hearing:

“Mrs. Antrobus’s got a wonderful new apparatus. Not an ear-trumpet at all. She just bites on a small leather pad, and hears everything perfectly. Then she takes it out of her mouth and answers you, and puts it back again to listen.” 

“No!” said Lucia excitedly. “All wet?” 

“Quite dry. Just between her teeth. No wetter anyhow than a pen you put in your mouth, I assure you.”

Then there is Dickens Confidential, a series of six plays fictionalizing the life of the author in his “role of a campaigning newspaper editor.”

Upcoming this weekend is the first of a two-part adaptation of My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier (whose “Birds,” migrated to the wireless, I observed here a while ago). The motion picture version of du Maurier’s 1951 thriller was subsequently soundstaged in the Lux Radio Theater and broadcast on 7 September 1953. The author’s 100th birthday is being celebrated this year. She is currently the subject of several radio documentaries in which the settings of her stories are revisited in today’s Cornwall (to which I devoted a few posts last year).

That’s what I’ve got earmarked for the weekend. Time now to trade in the gems of literature for the gams of Betty Grable, whose Pin Up Girl I’m screening tonight. “Don’t Carry Tales Out of School,” indeed.

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