Inside Story: Radio that's licensed to thrill
Monday 03 December 2007
This is Air-Edel Studios, a former theatre near Baker Street in London, but for our purposes it is the office of M, the head of the British secret service. Later it will serve as various locations in Jamaica. Radio drama is about making movies in the mind. The actors imagine themselves in a situation and behave accordingly. Although people are used to the spectacular visuals of the James Bond movies, the dramatisation allows the listener to hear Bond's inner thoughts, his vulnerability and his strength, which is what you read in the original book too.
The niece of Ian Fleming and a successful actress in her own right, Lucy is best known for her role in the Seventies BBC drama Survivors, and plays a librarian in this play. Lucy is part of the Fleming estate's organisation of the celebrations to mark the centenary of her uncle's birth.
The scriptwriter. Hugh is a distinguished playwright and screenwriter who won Emmys for The Gathering Storm about Winston Churchill's marriage to Clementine, and for Concealed Enemies about the Alger Hiss case. His films include All Creatures Great and Small and 84 Charing Cross Road. He is an expert on the writing of Ian Fleming and it's very helpful to have him on set if he hears something he wants to express slightly differently he can do last-minute changes.
Director of the play and an award-winning actor himself. Together, he and I run the Jarvis & Ayres independent production company, which has made numerous radio plays for the BBC, including Alan Ayckbourn's Woman in Mind and Michael Frayn's Towards the End of the Morning. As well as working with the actors, the director is thinking about the soundscape that will need to be put in later to help create the effect for the listener. This is the moment when Bond is given the assignment to go to Jamaica to investigate the disappearance of a British agent. So you will hear outside the pouring rain of a cold, wet London before James jets off to the sunny Caribbean.
A consummate actor, John has this wonderful Old Etonian quality. This play is set in 1957 and the men in these secret service roles were ex-military officers. So the voice should sound military and old school, and John's does. He is currently appearing in the West End play Shadowlands.
Miss Moneypenny. She is a brilliant actress with a wonderful voice. You just know that Miss Moneypenny is cool, gorgeous and frightfully efficient the sort of woman who can run an office where nothing should go beyond the four walls. Janie's voice is low and elegant and you just sense the glamour. She's also in the stage play 'Shadowlands'.
James Bond. Our 007 appeared in the feature film Die Another Day, where he played the villain Gustav Graves, opposite Pierce Brosnan as Bond. Toby is also well-known for the part of Edward Fairfax Rochester in the BBC television adaptation of Jane Eyre. Eon Productions own the rights to James Bond, and they said they would give us permission to do this one-off, once-and-once-only dramatisation to mark the centenary of Ian Fleming's birth. They wanted casting approval of whoever played Bond and Toby was their No 1 choice and ours too. Fortunately for us, he was in London and he said yes. I can imagine that as an actor it would be rather appealing to say "My name is Bond, James Bond".
The Armourer. Peter is known for his role as a megalomaniac spin doctor in the BBC2 political satire The Thick of It. I think Ian Fleming based the armourer on a real secret service expert. Peter is very good at suggesting a man who knows a great deal about guns and has everything at his fingertips: the range of a particular type of gun, even the type of holster that's not going to inhibit the drawing of that weapon. For the secret service it's a practical conversation that happens daily, and Peter captures that perfectly.
The sound of rustling paper can ruin a take. So holding the script is quite a skill. Actors have different approaches to the problem you can see that John uses a file, while Peter, Jane and Nicky tear out the single pages they need. Toby is different again, using a chunk of pages as a firm base so that he can silently turn them over.
The two mics give stereo spread, so that you can sense movement from left to right. The actors will move around within six or seven feet of the microphone to give the effect of leaving or entering the scene. The circular thing in front of the microphone is a "pop shield" to stop the explosive pop sound that you sometimes get from a "P" or an "F".
This prop is used by one of Dr No's henchman to shout from a motorboat. Listeners recognise a difference between a loud voice and a megaphone, just as they notice the difference between the unwrapping of a parcel made from newspaper and one made from tissue.
If the actor needs additional information on a scene beyond that which is contained in the script, then the original book is the ultimate source.
An original 1957 telephone so that we can hear the authentic sound of the heavy receiver and the revolving dial.
This lights up when the engineer, Nick Taylor, signals that he is ready to record a take. There is a red light above the booth to show that recording is in process, and another red light outside the studio to warn people to stay outside or risk ruining a take.
This leads into the booth and also to a table stocked with drinks and nibbles. It is important to avoid rumbling stomachs because, amazingly enough, the microphones pick them up.
Jordanna Tin plays one of Dr No's henchwomen, Miss Taro. Dr No himself is half Chinese, half German and raised in New York, so we thought the best actor to play him would be David Suchet, who does not appear in this scene. Next in line is Inika Leigh Wright, who plays several roles, including the receptionist at the Blue Hills Hotel in Jamaica. At the back is myself, Rosalind Ayres, the producer. Schedule juggling is part of the producer's art: John and Janie are both in Shadowlands with Charles Dance at the Wyndham's Theatre; Toby Stephens is appearing in The Country Wife at the Haymarket. We have to work around their matinees and so on but at least we know they are going to be in London. To my left are Kosha Engler, who plays Dr No's henchwoman Miss Chung, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, who plays the Jamaican club-owner Pus-Feller, and Tom Bullen, the assistant engineer. At the front, in his headphones, is Nick Taylor, the engineer, who can tell you very quickly when something sounds wrong.
Chief of Staff, Secret Service. The son of comedian Leslie Henson, his TV credits include Fawlty Towers and EastEnders, and he has appeared in feature films including Vera Drake and Syriana.
The first radio dramatisation of Ian Fleming's 'Dr No' will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in April. Producer Rosalind Ayres tells Ian Burrell how the Bond classic will come to life without visual aid
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