The Saturday Play: Murder in Samarkand, Radio 4
The Archers, Radio 4
Time-travelling Tennant gets everywhere
Sunday 21 February 2010
Craig Murray was the flamboyant British Ambassador to Uzbekistan who came a cropper in 2004 for campaigning against the torture and human-rights abuses with which that benighted country was riven.
The "evidence" gleaned was passed on to the Americans, who used it to help build up the fraudulent case for invading Iraq. Murray's passions were, and presumably still are, threefold: justice, whisky and women, and the terrific Murder in Samarkand told his story.
David Tennant played the title role with his customary joie de vivre, but one slight problem is that he's terribly typecast – not as Dr Who, but as himself. There was a statistic put out after Christmas about who'd hogged the small screen most over the holidays. The Scotsman clocked up 75 appearances in three weeks. In this instance he put in a fantastic performance, but his very vivacity was almost a distraction from David Hare's superbly brisk, no-nonsense script based on Murray's memoir.
Also distracting was the decision to make Murray Scottish; he went to Dundee University, and was later Rector there, but he was born and raised in Norfolk (he was at school with Stephen Fry). I listened to him on YouTube; he has a slight Scots lilt, but did he really start his famous cat-among-the-pigeons speech in Tashkent by quoting Rabbie Burns?
Phil Archer's funeral is on Tuesday, a week or so after his death, but more than three months after the death of Norman Painting, who'd played him since the pilot episode of The Archers, in 1950. His exit was handled beautifully. "Phil's got his music on," said wife Jill, home from an outing. "What's the betting he's having a nap?" She found him in his armchair, with Elgar's exquisitely somnolent Dream of Gerontius playing. The music slowly faded – no theme tune. It was a sad but marvellous moment. But listeners complained to Feedback that it was heavily trailed both on radio and in the Radio Times.
If one thing on the radio is safe, it's The Archers – unlike 6 Music. The BBC Trust's report came out on Wednesday; there'd been speculation that they might axe the digital station, presumably as a sop to the Tories and all the rest of those chatterati free-market thugs. In the event they didn't go that far; but they did issue some perplexing advice. Radio 2 has a big audience, they conceded, but needs to be more distinctive; 6 Music is distinctive but needs a bigger audience.
So each has to become more like the other. It's like telling Radio 1 to play more Grieg and Radio 3 to play more Gaga, or asking Premier Christian Radio for more death metal and Kerrang! for more God-bothering. The Trust, by the way – the BBC's governing body – is itself under threat from the Tories. They're suggesting a licence-fee payers' trust instead, which sounds vote-catchingly demotic but is probably unworkable. There wouldn't be an election looming, would there?
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