Ayckbourn Talks: Radio Leeds (2011)

On 13 August 2011, Alan Ayckbourn was interviewed by Liz Green on BBC Radio Leeds about Aklan's experiences as a Radio Drama Producer for the BBC between 1965 and 1970. This following is an edited transcript.

There was indeed something special happening as you say at
BBC Leeds, certainly during the time I was there in 1965 - 1970, though the special something started a few years before I arrived and continued for sometime after I left to return to theatre.  The 'something' was almost entirely down to one man, Alfred Bradley, who started single-handedly a revolution in largely northern-based radio dramatic writing. 

In fact my own post was created specially to help to cope with the avalanche of newly submitted scripts which had accumulated as a result of Alfred's growing reputation as a nurturer and champion of new drama.

The sixties was an exciting period for radio drama, especially regionally. And most especially that which emanated from the small Leeds studio. Its output was phenomenal.  During my first year for instance I was personally responsible for producing approximately 50 radio plays - half hours, sixty and ninety minuters for radio 2 and 4 and occasionally radio 3. Some we produced exclusively for BBC North but the majority for the main national network.

Since this was the era when Radio Drama was strong and thriving with television still in its comparative infancy, the domestic demand was considerable. The powers that be in London and Manchester were currently pre-occupied with their new television 'toy' and radio was increasingly overlooked or ignored by many top ranking administrators. Which of course allowed us on the shop floor, as it were, considerable freedom of choice, independence and flexibility.  In later years, for instance, once I'd settled in, I took to booking a cast, largely locally based from nearby reps, to record, say, an officially commissioned Afternoon Theatre play already scheduled for transmission in a month or two's time but then retaining the team of actors and studio technicians for an additional day to record a short additional extra production, unscheduled and thus technically non-existent.  Some of our most interesting work was done this way. If the rogue piece turned out well, we would offer it up to the network and more often than not it was subsequently transmitted. If not, it was conveniently "lost".

The advantages of working out of Leeds were various. Not only were we regional, i.e. well away from London scrutiny, we were also a sub-division of that region, thus away from the gaze of even Manchester. Also the Leeds studio was excellent acoustically. A converted chapel it had a fine atmosphere and qualities that many more modern, state of the art studios including those newly built in Manchester, lacked. The building was also in terms of manpower, small. Everyone knew each other and the departments were generally supportive of each other. This was also the time when tape as a recording medium finally replaced the old fashioned wax disk on which radio plays were recorded up to that time. This offered a new found flexibility to recording. We were among the first I believe to record, when necessary, out of sequence besides also doing out of studio location recording.  All the advantages of film with a fraction of the cost. Also, unlike film, tape was reusable. 

I learnt a lot from those days. As a director who was previously from theatre, I learnt the virtue of speed and economy. With two or three days to produce a finished product fit for broadcast, you couldn't afford to hang about!  As a writer, serving as a script editor and sometimes commissioning new plays from scratch or via submitted synopses, one learnt objectivity and to be dramatically articulate. Alfred always used to say, it wasn't enough to return a script to a writer that you felt was rubbish with no comment. You owed it to him, as a producer, a written explanation as to why you felt it was rubbish. Subsequently, I brought that speed and objectivity to bear, I trust, on my own work.

Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn. Transcription copyright: Simon Murgatroyd. Please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder.