Radio 4 to broadcast 13-hour 'Lord of the Rings' again

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The Independent Online

BBC Radio 4 is to capitalise on the popularity of one of this Christmas's cinema blockbusters, The Lord of the Rings, by broadcasting a 13-hour version of the epic, made 20 years ago.

And the BBC is confident its own version, made for a tiny fraction of the £190m spent by Peter Jackson on his three-part movie, will more than hold its own. "It's a completely memorable experience," Helen Boaden, Radio 4's controller, said yesterday at the launch of her Christmas and spring schedule.

The adventures of Middle-Earth will run on Radio 4 on Saturday afternoons in the new year, hot on the heels of the cinema film release on 19 December. Both versions star Sir Ian Holm. He played the young hobbit Frodo in the radio version 20 years ago and will be seen in the role of Frodo's older cousin, Bilbo Baggins, on screen.

As befits one of the 20th century's greatest imaginative works, the film of the first part of J R R Tolkien's triology, the Return of the King, has gathered a cast of acting's A-list talent just as the BBC did in the 1980s.

For the radio, Sir Michael Hordern was Gandalf, a role now taken on film by another theatrical knight, Sir Ian McKellen. John Le Mesurier played Bilbo in 1981, with Sir Robert Stephens as Aragorn and Bill Nighy as Sam Gamgee.

The cast for the movie, filmed in New Zealand over the best part of two years, includes Christopher Lee and, unlike the radio adaptation, a clutch of female stars including Cate Blanchett and Liv Tyler.

The radio version was adapted by the writer Brian Sibley who was so enthusiastic about the project that he was given the go-ahead even though he had never written for radio. The recording became one of the first released on tape and CD by the BBC's commercial arm and became the biggest seller of all titles in its spoken word collection, with 100,000 copies sold worldwide. It will be re-released in three parts to coincide with the broadcast. Film cast members who had never read the book were given the BBC tapes to listen to. Jane Morgan, the BBC's producer, said: "I would say it's better to have your own picture of the hobbits than to see somebody else's. But I shall go and see the film with great interest."

Ms Boaden also announced new productions including a 25-part dramatisation of Victor Hugo's Les Miserables, starring Patsy Palmer, the former EastEnders actress, and the first performance of a play on the 1982 Falklands War which was banned by the BBC 15 years ago. The Falklands Play, by Ian Curteis provoked an internal row and was never broadcast after Mr Curteis refused to change the script.