Radio 4 to shed its cosy image with a 'sexy' Ulysses drama
New station controller wants to reflect the current period of 'turmoil and uncertainity'
Ian Burrell is Assistant Editor and Media Editor at The Independent, i paper and Independent on Sunday. He covers news from the whole media sector from television, press, radio and advertising to technology. His weekly column on the media appears every Monday in The Independent and i paper. He also writes on media, music and culture, including long-form pieces for The Independent’s Saturday magazine and the Independent on Sunday’s magazine, New Review. He is a regular presenter of BBC Radio 4’s What The Papers Say and a specialist commentator to Monocle 24 radio. He has contributed to most major broadcast outlets including BBC television and radio, CNN, Sky News, Al Jazeera and LBC. He has also written on media for GQ magazine. Ian has been reporting on the media industry for The Independent for more than a decade. Previously he was the newspaper’s Home Affairs Editor. He worked at The Sunday Times for five years, including as a member of the investigative Insight team, covering stories on political funding, industrial espionage and the arms industry. Previously he worked in ITV for London Weekend Television, on a weekly current affairs programme presented by Danny Baker. Ian trained at the Birmingham Post & Mail and was Regional Reporter of the Year in Press Gazette’s national awards.
Friday 01 June 2012
The controller of Radio 4 yesterday spoke of her bid to take the network away from "cosy" drama as she unveiled plans for a "sexy" dramatisation of James Joyce's Ulysses and the "longest-running drama ever," based around the centenary of the First World War.
Gwyneth Williams also promised a tribute to the Swedish fictional detective who she said had inspired the genre of the modern police procedural novel and been a model for characters such as Ian Rankin's John Rebus and Colin Dexter's Inspector Morse.
Martin Beck was the creation of husband and wife writing team Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo and Radio 4 will dramatise the entire 10-book series, which was written between 1965 and 1975. Ms Williams described the over-worked, disgruntled, middle aged cop Beck as a "grumpy old thing".
To support the Martin Beck series, which will start in October, the broadcaster Mark Lawson will present a 15-part series examining the cultural role of European fictional detectives, from Holland's Piet Van Der Valk to Spain's Pepe Carvalho.
Ms Williams also admitted she was risking controversy by commissioning a drama based on the blasphemy accusations against the Pakistani Christian Asia Bibi and the subsequent murder of the Governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, who defended her. Ms Williams said the drama, co-written by the BBC World Service journalist Owen Bennett-Jones, was sensitive "because it's about Pakistan and it's about a particularly sensitive issue in Pakistan".
She said that she wanted Radio 4 drama, which had been labelled as "cosy", to reflect the "period of turmoil and uncertainty" that listeners were living through. "The network's main task has been to uncover that and give people as many tools as possible to unpick it and understand it." Ulysses which will be broadcast in seven episodes over five and a half hours during Saturday 16 June has a "tremendous current resonance", she said, as it deals with ordinary "life in all its glory" against a background of momentous world events.
In what is the most significant project of Williams's 18 months as controller, the entire day's schedule will be given over to a "Bloomsday" dedication to Joyce's classic story of a day in the life of Dublin advertising agent Leopold Bloom. Mark Lawson will again be deployed, to take listeners to the Dublin settings featured in the novel and to provide introductions to the segments of drama by a cast of 24 actors.
Even the Today programme will give up part of its precious airtime to accommodating a dramatic episode in which Bloom (played by Henry Goodman) takes his breakfast. Jeremy Howe, the commissioning editor for Radio 4 drama, noted that although Radio 4 does not have a watershed, he was pleased that the sexually explicit soliloquy by Leopold's wife Molly fell conveniently into an evening broadcast slot.
He said: "I think it's important that we do Ulysses as it is written and not Ulysses-lite because that would be an offence to what I think is one of the greatest novels of the 20th century."
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