The Week In Radio: Bedtime stories that are still the stuff of dreams


Where would radio be without literature? Stuck with hours of dead air, that's where. Just as we cram our shelves with books at home, so radio commissioners use them to grout the gaps between news programmes, science documentaries and The Archers. Look at the schedules and you'll see them all over the place, being discussed, dissected, dramatised or simply read out loud, Jackanory-style.

Not that I'm complaining. Being read to is one of life's greatest pleasures, the aural equivalent of being handed pyjamas fresh from the tumble dryer. For those of us who were read to by our parents, it catapults us straight back to our early childhood. Even now, as a grown-up and with offspring of my own, no sooner do I hear the words Book at Bedtime then I start sucking my thumb and whining for my blankie.

If having a writer or actor read a book is a treat for listeners, for producers it must be the greatest gift of all. So intimate, so magical, so... cheap! You can just picture them, clipboard in hand, bundling Julian Barnes into a studio with his new book and a six-pack of Evian, and barking "...and don't come out until you've finished!"

This week's late-night lullaby, by which I mean Book at Bedtime, is Polly Samson's Perfect Lives, a series of elegantly interlinked stories that capture the misplaced ambition and the broken-heartedness of middle-class life. Claire Skinner was an obvious choice to read the opening tale of a well-to-do wife and mother Celia Idlewild, even if it was a stretch to picture her offspring not as the warped little charmers on Outnumbered, but as sleepy, sloppily attired teenagers seemingly oblivious to the cracks in their parent's marriage. The early morning scene in Celia's kitchen pointed to an existence straight out of the White Company catalogue: the cosy dressing gown, the sputtering coffee machine, the window looking out on to a beach. But an egg posted through the letterbox was a strange and unwelcome reminder of her husband Graham's dark secret: a child born to another woman. Graham, it was discovered, had been making furtive visits to see his other daughter. There was no happy ending here, just a sense of suppressed fury, conjured by a handful of words and Skinner's husky voice in your ear.

The mystery of words on the page was articulately unpicked in Talking Books, in which Razia Iqbal talked to Alaa Al Aswany, the Egyptian author of The Yacoubian Building, and in Open Book where Mariella Frostrup interviewed the writer and poet Sarah Hall about The Beautiful Indifference, her first collection of short stories. While Aswany discussed extracting drama from real-life political events, Hall reflected upon the challenges of providing a physical and psychological landscape within her fictional narratives, and stressed the importance of creating "a feasible world where the atoms seem real".

Take away this "feasible world" and broadcasting a novel can be like draining the colour from a painting. In Classic Serial, a ghastly demolition job had been done on Henry James's 1903 book The Ambassadors, about a middle-aged editor dispatched by his widowed fiancé to retrieve her wayward son from Paris, replacing the dense prose with creaky, over-explanatory dialogue. Dramatisations needn't always be this laborious, as an excellent adaptation of Vasily Grossman's Life and Fate proved earlier this year, but I'd rather have listened to the book as it was written, and not the am-dram version. More often than not, the cut-price approach works best. A book and a voice is all you need.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment

Will Poulter will play the shape-shifting monsterfilm
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Paul Hollywood

'Whether he left is almost immaterial'TV
Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May


Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before