Ayckbourn's Airwaves (1988)This article was written by Alan Ayckbourn for the BBC Radio York magazine about his experiences as a Radio Drama Producer between 1965 and 1970.
I suppose my loyalty to radio really stems from the fact that, at least until the age of nine or ten, I never set eyes on a TV set. And when I did finally meet this latest threat to civilised living, I can't say I was that impressed. This grey and white flickering six foot cyclop with the four inch square eye seemed to possess none of the magic delivered by my beloved radio set. On a clear day, if the wind was right you could make out Muffin the Mule clomping about on top of a piano. Or a puppet with limited arm movement known as Mr Turnip who took an age to say anything. None of the comparable thrill to that of Norman and Henry Bones, boy detectives (so what if one of them was played by Patricia Hayes?); no trace of the sheer impossibility of Dick Barton Special Agent; none of the eccentricities of Toytown; not a flicker of the classic lunacy of The Goons; the improbability of Educating Archie (this was an era, would you believe, when ventriloquists could have a hit show on radio - did you see his lips move, listeners?). I was singularly unimpressed by this upstart newcomer. When was the last time you had to draw all the curtains to listen to the radio? When were you warned that too much radio could damage your eyes? And since when did a radio set pack in completely whenever a car passed by the house or a plane flew within twenty miles? Then, nearly twenty years later, I was to find myself actually working for the BBC as a Radio Drama Producer in Leeds. It still managed to retain most of the magic. Besides which I was to realise many of my fantasies. I was to work with the legendary Marjorie Westbury herself (amongst her hundreds of radio roles she was Steve, wife and accomplice to the great detective Paul Temple). To produce adventure serials starring Peter Coke (Paul Temple himself, no less) which shamelessly imitated those of my youth - ('Look out, behind you, Geoff!' 'What the. . .', 'AArrggh'. F/X body hits floor. Cross fade to helicopter.) Radio was and still remains the medium where the impossible can be made to happen once every second. The only limitation is the speed of the listener's mind itself in its ability to grasp events. And the average radio listener is quick. I know. In fact, he's top of the league table. Followed closely (of course) by theatre audiences who are similar to radio listeners only slowed down because of having to think in packs rather than as individuals. Next the film goer. Pretty slow, this one, preferring big pictures, lots of action and very few words. And last of all, the TV viewer. Of course. Where it all has to be said q-u-i-t-e slowly. And then illustrated with pictures in case he didn't understand the words. And then said all over again. How good to know, then, that in the face of all the forebodings, radio not only survives but flourishes. Even if, like live theatre, some of its most important outposts (for Local Radio read Regional Playhouses) remain threatened by short-sighted financial cuts. Be of good cheer, dear radio. Theatre has, remember, been 'dying' ever since the advent of the silent film and we're still around. And even flourishing a little. If there's a need, you somehow survive. And in your case, as in ours, the need is undoubtedly there. Greetings from your far flung outpost in Scarborough. Long may you broadcast. Long may you survive. (Any chance of repeating Norman and Henry Bones, by the way?)
Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn. Please do not reproduce without the permission of the copyright holder.