The Week In Radio: A flying success from the stiff upper lips

Like most stereotypes, the British stiff upper lip is way past its use-by date. The reticence in the drama of Terence Rattigan, whose centenary it now is, might as well be coming from another planet compared to the emotional incontinence of today. At a time when every passing thought becomes a tweet and marital differences are arbitrated by Jeremy Kyle and a couple of bouncers, we look back at Rattigan's repressed English characters with a kind of astonishment. Compared with the shouting and weeping we're used to in radio drama, where even the Archers moan endlessly about "coping", Rattigan's conflicts are played out with exquisite understatement and restraint. But then, when the emotion finally seeps through the cracks in those upper-middle voices, how potent it sounds!

Fittingly, the BBC has exercised a certain amount of restraint with its Rattigan season, unlike its recent Bob Dylan extravaganza. Yet it's perfect for radio and Drama on 3 has done him proud. Still to come is a very impressive performance of The Browning Version with Michael York, followed by In Praise of Love and Cause Célèbre. But first off the blocks was Flare Path, his sombre drama about fighter pilots, starring Rory Kinnear as the hapless pilot Teddy, whose wife, Pat, finds her actor ex Peter Kyle, turn up on the night of a bombing raid.

How hard it is to say what you mean – an idea that has exercised great minds from Wittgenstein onwards – lies at the heart of this drama. The actor lover, played by Rupert Penry-Jones, represents the difficulty of being sincere. "Actors are funny blokes," someone comments. "Never seem to be themselves, do or say anything naturally". A Polish airman can't speak proper English, yet his devastating last letter is the play's most haunting declaration of love. Especially poignant, given Rattigan's RAF past, is the jokey argot bomber pilots use to mask the horror of conflict. Aircraft go into "the drink", and a raid is a "do". Pat, played beautifully by Ruth Wilson, says, "How I hate all this polite airforce understatement. Isn't there a better word for it than a do?" But then if people actually said what they meant, where would we be? Certainly lacking in the drama department.

David Hare has suggested our current Rattigan jag is all about recessionary conservatism. "In right-wing times, right-wing art flourishes," he said, and it's all of a piece with Downton Abbey. This seems odd to me. Since when has balancing self-expression with restraint been right-wing? And as for not saying what you mean – ask David Mamet. It's not that Rattigan advocates compromise, failed relationships, or putting up with things. But his skill as a dramatist means you're as likely to have your heart shredded by what his characters don't say, as what they do.

At first glance, Little Platoons, featuring a bunch of west Londoners having screaming matches about secondary education, couldn't be further from Terence Rattigan. And yet (though on reflection this might apply to all Radio 4 plays) this was also a drama of the emotional middle class. And given that it tackled modern politics head on, would presumably meet with David Hare's approval. Rachel is a teacher at the local Mandela school, but her estranged partner wants their son to go to a grammar school. "You fear the kids at Mandela are just a little bit too brown," she rages, yet she still checks out the new free school, run by a group of the local "squeezed middle". Steve Waters' writing is witty and totally recognisable – right-on Lara describes Steiner education as "a bit iron-your-own-muesli"– and he does well to turn agendas into real characters. Co-incidentally, the horrors of school were explored by Rattigan in 1946 in The Winslow Boy, which is proof, if it were needed, that tearing your hair out about secondary education is nothing new.

News

literature

News
Dermot O'Leary attends the X Factor Wembley Arena auditions at Wembley on August 1, 2014 in London, England.

television

News
news
Arts and Entertainment
At this year's SXSW festival in Austin, Texas

Music Why this music festival is still the place to spot the next big thing

Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished
tvReview: The latest episode was a smidgen less depressing... but it’s hardly a bonza beach party
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig as James Bond in Skyfall

Mexican government reportedly paying Bond producers for positive portrayal in new filmfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Disney’s flying baby elephant is set to return in live-action format
filmWith sequels, prequels and spin-offs, Disney plays it safe... and makes a pachyderm
Arts and Entertainment
Nazrin with Syf, Camden
photography
News
The QI Elves photographed at the Soho Theatre. They are part of a team of researchers who find facts for the television programme 'QI'.
people
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv0-star review: Sean O'Grady gives it his best shot anyway
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss