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.

Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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.

    Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

    Finding the names for America’s shame

    The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears