Writing Drama For BBC Radio

 

 

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BBC RADIO DRAMA October 1997

 

"As with all forms of story-telling that are composed in words,, not in visual images, radio always leaves that magical and enigmatic margin, that space of the invisible, which must be filled in by the imagination of the listeners"

Angela Carter. Preface to the Collected Plays, 1985

 

BBC Radio offers the freelance writer one of the largest and most wide-ranging markets in the world. The Drama and readings output covers: original radio plays; radio dramatisations of novels and stage plays; series and serials; poetry; features; serialised and single readings and short stories.

 

"The almost telepathic transference of images from mind to mind is the beauty and the glory of the radio play."

Martin Esslin. The National Theatre of Air, 1964

 

Writing for radio forces you and teaches you to stick to the channel, which is to say, the story -

David Mamet. Writing in Restaurants.


 

WHAT CAN A RADIO PLAY DO?

 

RADIO IS AN EXTRAORDINARY MEDIUM.....

 

In which the radio dramatist can work on the principle that anything which can be described can be imagined. A radio play can travel to and fro between centuries and continents. It can take place in aeroplanes, on board ships or in exotic locations. It can also take place within the confines of a single mind.

Since it is a medium of almost unlimited possibilities, it calls for great discipline of structure and awareness of the nuances of language on the part of the writer. The audience has to be attracted and its attention held by means of sound alone, without the assistance of the visual stimuli on which other media can rely. Deprived of light, colour, movement and all the devices which will support a play for the screen or theatre, the radio writer must conceive a rich variety of sound in order to stimulate the listener's imagination. Much of this must, of course, depend on the quality of the dialogue itself. If what is said is interesting and exciting, it will carry a play a long way. In addition, the writer needs to think of the other aural elements of sounds, music and, most important, silence. Pauses help the listeners to assimilate what they have heard and prepare for what happens next.

But of course speech will normally be the dominant element. It is in the dialogue that the writer will provide most of the essential information and this means that radio dialogue must often be more explicit than that written for a visual medium. On the other hand, the dialogue should not sound explicit or it won't seem natural. It follows that the art of dialogue on radio is, at its best, extremely sophisticated. In order to convey information without sounding artificial or stilted, the writer must consider the structure of scenes and the structure of individual lines with great precision. It is not simply a matter of stringing together conversations. A radio play may predominantly consist of dialogue but a radio play that was 'all talk' in a static conversational sense would be very boring.

 

GOOD RADIO IS VERY DIFFICULT TO WRITE

 

"Radio gives you terrific scope. You can be anywhere, in any century, in any place."

Sue Townsend, 1989

 

 

"It's like being plugged into a circulating library with an endless supply of new books."

Alan Ryan 'Sunday Telegraph' 1987

 

"The writer's business is to make excessive demands of his interpreters.

Donald Mcwhinnie 'The Art of Radio' Faber 1959

 


HOW DO YOU PUT IT TOGETHER?

 

1 ACT 1, SCENE 1 NO!

Radio has no "scenes' in the way a stage play has. A sequence in a radio play might be one line long, or last for 20 pages. But no single sequence should go beyond its natural length. Beware of boring the listener. Radio is fatally easy to turn OFF.

 

2 GEOFF, CAROL, ALICE, ROGER AND RICHARD ARE IN A CROWDED PUB WITH SOME OTHER FRIENDS NO!

The only means of establishing a character's presence is to have them speak or be referred to by name. If there are too many characters in a scene the listener will lose track.

 

3 GEOFF (LOOKING ANGRILY AT IRENE, HIS PALE FACE FLUSHED) 'I WILL NOT'. NO!

'Stage directions' for the producer's or actor's benefit are to be avoided. If it is important it should be there in the dialogue.

 

4 A CAR DRAWS UP. ENGINE OFF. DOOR OPENS AND SHUTS. FEET WALK TO THE FRONT DOOR. KEY IN THE LOCK. DOOR OPENS. FEET WALK DOWN THE HALL TO THE KITCHEN. 'I'M HOME DARLING'. NO!

 

Sound effects should be used sparingly. They should work with the dialogue. Out of context they will mean little. Effects are useful in setting a scene, but the signposts must be subtle.

5 GEOFF'S BREATHING IN THE PHONE BOX BECOMES MORE LABOURED; PAINFUL. BEHIND HIM A SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA, AT FIRST QUIETLY, PLAYS MAHLER'S FIFTH. BRING UP INTERIOR ALBERT HALL. YES, THINK IN SOUND!

 

A variety of sound is essential for holding the listener's attention and engaging their imagination. This variety can be achieved by altering the lengths of sequences, number of people speaking, space of dialogue, volume of sound, background acoustics and location of action. On radio, one room sounds very like another, if they're about the same size, but the difference between an interior and an exterior acoustic is considerable. The contrast between a noisy sequence with a number of voices and effects and a quiet passage of interior monologue, is dramatic and effective.

 


 

THE BBC RADIO DRAMA DEPARTMENT

Is the major source of Radio Drama production for the BBC. With production bases in London, Birmingham and Manchester. The Radio Drama Department is part of the BBC Drama Group. Other BBC Departments produce Radio Drama, and the National Regions have Radio Drama Production bases (in Belfast, Cardiff and Edinburgh). There is also a flourishing Independent market, producing Radio Drama for the BBC.

 

 

SUBMITTING A SCRIPT TO THE BBC RADIO DRAMA DEPARTMENT

 

The BBC Radio Drama Department receives over 5,000 scripts a year. Whilst every effort is made to give consideration to submitted material the department has to work to the commissioning briefs of the Radio Networks and at some times of year it may not be possible to respond to submitted scripts. The Department is unable to consider:

- Television scripts.

- Single plays that are submitted as a synopsis only.

- Drama Documentaries or Features.

- Proposals for Series and Serials which simply list book titles as being suitable for dramatisations

 

 

THE FIRST STEP

 

The first thing you need to decide is to whom you wish to submit your play. If you live in Northern Ireland, Wales or Scotland you should submit your script to your National Radio Drama Production Centre. If you live in England you can choose whether to submit your script to the London, Birmingham or Manchester Production Centres (addresses at the end of these Notes). Alternatively, If you hear and admire the work of a particular producer, you could send it direct to them.

 

 

HOW DO I SET IT OUT?

 

1 Scripts must be typed or printed. Hand-written scripts will be returned unread. Please use one side of the paper only.

2 If you have the choice, please use A4 sized paper.

3 Names of characters should be clearly separated from the speech and should be given in full throughout. You know who Mrs B. is but the reader might not.

4 Sound Effects, and other technical information should also be clearly differentiated from the speech.

5 Please attach a synopsis of the play together with a full cast list and brief notes on the main characters.

6 If you want your manuscript returned, enclose a stamped addressed envelope

 

 

HOW LONG WILL I HAVE TO WAIT?

 

Because we give careful consideration to the majority of submissions, a waiting period of several months is often unavoidable. If your play is returned to you we cannot engage in subsequent correspondence over the work.

 

REMEMBER

 

Always keep a copy of your script. We'll take care of it, but scripts can go astray. Make sure that all the pages are firmly fastened and numbered consecutively. (Rehearsal scripts number each speech, starting afresh at the top of each page, but that is not necessary when first submitting).

 

 

HOW LONG IS IT?

 

Radio plays often have to conform to a precise length (see programmes overleaf) but there is no way of measuring this by number of words or pages. Reading aloud against the clock, making allowance for effects, music and pauses, is the only reliable method.

 


GETTING TO KNOW RADIO PLAYS

 

It would be difficult to write a successful radio play without having a closer acquaintance with the form than can be given in these short notes. Obviously, the best way to become familiar with the possibilities of the medium is to listen to radio plays as often as possible, and decide what works well and what doesn't There are some radio plays available on cassette, but these are mainly recordings of established work.

Enquiries should be addressed to BBC Worldwide. (BBC Radio Collection, Room C231, Woodlands, 80 Wood Lane, London W12 OTT)

 

In the early years of Radio Drama, a number of excellent books about radio craft were written by Gordon Lea, Val Gielgud, Lance Sieveking and others. Later, Donald McWhinnie's classic work 'The Art of Radio' dealt with both theory and practice, related to a number of productions. You may also find useful 'Radio Drama' by Ian Rodger and 'Radio Drama' edited by Peter Lewis. There have been a number of more recent books dealing with certain aspects of radio drama and its theory - though none sets out to cover the basic principles of writing for the medium. Up until 1992 a volume of the best radio plays of the year - the Giles Cooper Award winners - was published by Methuen. While sadly no longer in print they do provide an opportunity to study the texts of successful plays and are available in libraries. There are also radio plays in the works of established writers such as Harold Pinter, Tom Stoppard, Samuel Beckett, Howard Barker, Giles Cooper, Angela Carter, Susan Hill, John Mortimer and others. Not all of these remain in print, but again most can be obtained through libraries.

In some respects, the most useful publication is Radio Times.

"Radio has really become the national playhouse. It is where people who don't go to the theatre turn to hear the rearrangement of life into drama, that curious process which can make sense of what happens, help with pain, heal through Laughter."

Gillian Reynolds. The Daily Telegraph, 1987


 

RADIO 4 and RADIO 3

Radio 4 is the main commissioner of Radio Drama for the BBC. The Radio 4 schedule is due to undergo a series of major changes in April 1998, designed to make the network more accessible to new listeners, while retaining its distinctive mix of features, documentaries, news and drama and readings.

 

THE COMMISSIONING PROCESS (R4)

Changes have also been made to the commissioning process. Historically the bulk of commissioning for drama was managed by Editors in the Radio Drama Department. All commissioning for Radio 4 programmes is now handled by a team of Radio 4 Commissioning Editors who have specific responsibilities for strands of the Radio 4 schedule.

The R4 Commissioning Editors, working with the Controller of Radio 4, have devised commissioning briefs for all Radio 4 slots. Commissioning for Radio 4 happens twice a year, in July/ Aug (offers for broadcast from the following April - September) and Nov/ Dec (offers for the following October - March).

Commissioning briefs for the following slots are included in these Notes:

10.45 am Serial (15’ episodes)

11.30 am Comedy Series/ Serial/ Single Play (30’)

2.15 pm Series/ Single Play (45’)

9.00 pm Single Play (60’)

11.00 pm Series/Serial/ Single Play (30’)

3.00 pm Saturday Playhouse (60’)

3.00 pm Classic Serial (60’)

Information on other slots can be obtained from BBC Radio 4 Commissioning, Broadcasting House, London W1A 1AA

 

Readings Slots on Radio 4

The Radio Drama Department provides many of the Readings productions (Book at Bedtime, Late Book and Afternoon Story) for Radio 4. Further information on the Readings slots can be obtained from: Readings Team, BBC Radio Drama, Broadcasting House, London W1A 1AA

The Archers

The Archers has a regular writing team of about 10. Each writer is responsible for all the episodes in a given week. Occasionally the writing team changes, and new writers are brought into the show. If you're interested in writing for the show, the best approach is to send in a CV. Don't bother suggesting storylines, or writing prospective episodes - this doesn't work on any soap. In any case, you're unlikely to be invited to write for the show until a vacancy crops up on the team. This could be months - and by that time the story will have changed!

Everything that is sent in will be read, and initially, they just want to know how you write, so send in something you think is appropriate. If they like it, then they'll keep you in mind for when a writer leaves the show. Vacancies are few and far between on the Archers, and you're likely to be on a very long list even if they do like your work.

Contact: Room 615 ,BBC Birmingham, Pebble Mill Rd, Birmingham B5 7QQ

 

RADIO 3

Radio 3 has one weekly drama slot, the Sunday Play. This slot does include a small number of new commissions each year. New commissions on Radio 3 are given almost exclusively to established writers. Information on other R3 slots can be obtained from BBC Radio 3 Commissioning, Broadcasting House, London W1A 1AA

 

BBC RADIO 4 COMMISSIONING BRIEF

SLOT: 15' Returning Series (Woman's Hour)

Day: Monday - Friday Time: 10.45am -1 1.00 am Repeats on: 19.45 weekdays

 

AUDIENCE PROFILE

Currently, around 550,000 listen; most of them have had Radio 4 on previously rather than just joining. The audience is composed mainly of middle-aged and retired women listening at home, but there are also quite a few retired men. The average age is 55. It is still not as 'middle-class' as during the news peaks. Housework is declining as a key activity for the home-based audience - listeners tell us they can allow themselves the odd treat or break.

 

EDITORIAL GUIDE

Radio 4 is scheduling an original 15' drama series each weekday as part of Woman's Hour. It will therefore be important to ensure that ideas for this slot fit both the editorial brief and the aspirations of the Woman's Hour team. These series must also be suitable to run as stand-alone repeats at 9.45 in the evening.

The series should be able to be sustained for 10 to 13 weeks. It will have a current repeat at 9.45 on weekdays to enable daytime listeners to catch up with episodes they might miss, as well as attracting a new evening audience. We still cannot assume that listeners will hear every part.

We are looking for a brand new kind of short form narrative. The structure will ideally be that of a series with individual stories in each episode or short term stories that mature over a small number of episodes. As with any successful long-running series, these should be combined with developing stories or situations that will mature over the entire run. Successful series should have sufficient impact and scope for development to return for further runs during the financial year 1998/9 and beyond. Provision for this must be taken into account when developing ideas.

Daypart: Morning

Ref: 40010/T/1045/WD

BBC RADIO 4 COMMISSIONING BRIEF

SLOT: Comedy narrative drama

Day: Monday - Friday Time: 11.30 am- 12.00 pm. Repeats on: Sunday 20.00

 

AUDIENCE PROFILE

Listeners are starting to return to Radio 4 as they come home and prepare meals. There are around 530,000 listeners, still mainly women, although men are returning. The profile is getting older as retired people who have left Radio 4 switch in again; the average age climbs to 57. Just under a million Radio 4 listeners are choosing other stations; they are mostly women at home, but some are working men in cars. Listeners say they would like to be 'revived', 'energised', 'cheered up' mid- to late morning.

 

EDITORIAL GUIDE

In this slot, Radio 4 will be introducing a lighter, more entertaining note to the mid-morning schedule. This will be a prime slot for narrative comedy, comedy drama or sitcom. Material proposed for this slot will need to strike the appropriate tone for the available audience: an older audience looking for relatively sophisticated entertainment.

Clear, simple plots and smaller casts should make it easy for listeners to follow the narrative, given that this is still quite a busy time of day. Strong main characters and situations that the audience will recognise are also important. It cannot be assumed that people will catch consecutive episodes - indeed many will still be dipping into Radio 4 when they can. This slot may a so prove an opportunity to build a programme around talent that we are particularly keen to attract to Radio 4.

Proposals for series on consecutive weeks or stripped across the week will be considered. Runs should be between six and ten episodes and the occasional one-off could also be considered. Successful formats should have the scope to return for further runs during the financial year and beyond.

Ref: 40013/T/1 130/WD

 

BBC RADIO 4 COMMISSIONING BRIEF

SLOT : Afternoon Drama

Day: Monday - Friday Time: 14.15 - 15.00

 

AUDIENCE PROFILE

There are currently around 400,000 listeners at 14.1 5; this may increase following The Archers move to 14.00. Most are listening at home, although the car audience is growing towards the end. Many will have come back to Radio 4 for The Archers at 14.00. The audience is mainly middle aged and retired women with very few retired men listening at this point. Some middle-aged working men are listening in cars. The audience is less AB than is typical for Radio 4.

Many listeners are resuming domestic activity (housework, gardening, shopping etc.) after the lunch-time break. Those who remain listening feel they can give a lot of attention to the radio and are more indulgent about listening - some plan activities such as sewing/ironing/paperwork to fit the play. 14.45 is a time when some parents/grandparents are getting ready to pick children up from school.

EDITORIAL GUIDE

This is a daily narrative strand. Aimed at the home audience, this slot will use the dramatic form to delight, surprise and inform listeners. The listeners' expectations will be of a complete story each day and that it will be imaginative, accessible and entertaining. The purpose of each play will be clear. The play will inherit the large Archers' lunch time audience (see above for profile). In order to hold listeners it is essential that the programmes have clear and beguiling openings and use their opening credits to set up the play and make listening as easy as possible. Dramatised features, readings or monologues, biographical, epistolary and poetic forms are all very welcome alongside original or dramatised comedies, romances, detectives and so on.

Groups of single plays on a theme or in response to an event or anniversary can and will be placed. But the essential criterion is that each play will be free-standing. It might be possible to strip programmes Monday to Friday in some circumstances, for example over a holiday period or as a special event. Proposals for clearly signposted but imaginative ways of using the 45' are sought. For example a mixture of poems, letters and dramatised scenes that reflect the life of someone, or a collection of short form dramas. Some 30' programmes could be scheduled.

Proposals for contemporary plays reflecting topical events can be offered throughout the year. The dynamics of the storytelling should be clear and well signposted. Overuse of sound effects and playing with form will be less suitable for this daytime audience which is listening while engaged in light housework or driving. However, the use of well balanced music is encouraged. The slot will aim to increase the listening in cars by ensuring that the programmes are not too complex in their use of sound or storytelling. We will consider proposals for programmes that need longer lead times than the commissioning cycle allows: for example, where there might be rights difficulties. Radio 4 will continue to broadcast the work of leading writers. To this end, and only with prior agreement of the Commissioning Editor, we will consider proposals for open commissions. Proposals will be considered for longer dramatic events on the following Bank or religious Holidays. The maximum duration will be 90' but events at 75' will also be considered.

Friday April 10th 1998 - Good Friday

Monday April 13th 1998 - Bank Holiday Monday

Monday May 4th 1998 - May Day

Monday May 25th 1998 - Spring Bank Holiday

Monday August 31 st 1998 - August Bank Holiday

Proposals aimed at a family audience and reflecting the holiday mood will be welcome.

Daypart: Afternoon

Ref: 4001 g/Ull 415/WD

 

BBC RADIO 4 COMMISSIONING BRIEF

SLOT: Evening Drama

Day: Friday Time: 21.00 - 22.00

 

AUDIENCE PROFILE

There are around 1 90,000 listeners, about a third of whom have just switched on with as many 7 men as women, oldish (average age 54). The social grades are fairly mixed. Around 1 2% of listeners are in cars. At this time of day they are mainly heavier listeners; 400,000 Radio 4 listeners are choosing other stations.

In the home, childcare has virtually ceased while some listeners are still pursuing hobbies. TV viewing peaks for Radio 4 listeners - about 60% are watching. Those staying with the radio are able to listen in a more concentrated manner than earlier with fewer distractions than earlier in the evening. Listeners appreciate an informative, wider perspective and mid-evening is seen as the natural home for 'heavy' factual programming.

EDITORIAL GUIDE

Radio 4 will continue to be the world's leading commissioner of new dramatic writing and encourage the best writers in the world to contribute to the network. The longer original play will be scheduled in The Friday Play.

Drama on Radio 4 plays a significant and dynamic role on the network. While many of our programmes focus on an analytical, reasoned and measured approach, The Friday Play will allow us to approach the world from a different perspective; it will allow us to test ideas and to hypothesise about human nature, public policy, the future of our world and our place in it from the safety of our imaginations.

Listeners will hear work from both established writers and writers new to the medium. While narrative must always be at the heart of the work, The Friday Play must develop the form of drama on radio both in terms of structure and sound. In its choice of subjects it will be provocative and stimulating.

It is assumed that the majority of pays will be original works but offers for adaptations of existing dramatic work or dramatisations work will be considered. In some circumstances it will be possible to place longer plays as part of a Radio 4 event or special day or evening. Please see the commissioning brief on Radio Events.

We will consider proposals for programmes that need longer lead times than the commissioning cycle allows; for example where there might be rights difficulties.

Radio 4 will continue to broadcast the work of leading writers. To this end, but only with prior agreement of the Commissioning Editor, we will consider proposals for open commissions.

Daypart: Evening Ref: 40053/V/2100/FR

 

BBC RADIO 4 COMMISSIONING BRIEF

SLOT: Evening Drama

Day: Monday Time: 23.00 - 23.30 Repeats on: 6 programmes in this slot

 

AUDIENCE PROFILE

There are around 340,000 listeners at 23.00, 100,000 of whom have just switched on (a further 160,000 switched off at the end of Book at Bedtime). The audience remains fairly old with an average age of 55; there are still slightly more women than men and still a fair number of ABs. There are around 800,000 25-54 year olds listening to the radio at this time of night.

Listeners are still going to bed; from 23.00 - 23.30 the proportion of Radio 4 listeners asleep rises from 50-60%. Radio listening is growing slightly, and by 23.30 only 20% of the Radio 4 weekly audience are watching TV.

Older listeners feel there is some justification in aiming at younger listeners at this time of night and that an 'alternative' tone is more acceptable here than at other times of the day.

 

EDITORIAL GUIDE

 

Late Night on 4

The schedule between 23:00 and 24:00 is designed to attract the 'younger' Radio 4 listener (30-50). The programmes should have a light tone and seek to entertain. Subjects such as sport, film and music will appeal to the interests of this audience. Comedy takes the leading role at this time, capitalising on the success of Late Night Opening and the new comedy at 18:30 on Thursdays.

The schedule recognises the ability of Radio 4 to discover new talent which appeals to this audience.

Drama

Late-night drama will be scheduled into Late Night on 4. This is an opportunity for a wide range of genres with a tone, attitude or subject matter that might not be appropriate for the weekday or weekend daytime drama slots. Offers for serials must have a strong narrative which makes this the ideal place for original thrillers, crime, and science fiction. It is unlikely that serials or series of more than six parts will be accommodated.

Single plays are also welcome, as are collections of single plays on a theme or linked by genre or writer. Offers for short form drama to fill the slot are invited. We will consider proposals for programmes that need longer lead times than the commissioning cycle allows; for example where there might be rights difficulties. Radio 4 will continue to broadcast the work of leading writers. To this end, but only with prior agreement of the Commissioning Editor, we will consider proposals for open commissions.

Ref: 40057/V/2300/MO Daypart: Evening

 

BBC RADIO 4 COMMISSIONING BRIEF

SLOT : Saturday Playhouse

Day: Saturday Time: 15.00 - 16.00

 

AUDIENCE PROFILE

The audience is currently declining in this slot - from 360,000 at 1 5.00 to 320,000 just before 16.00. It has an oldish profile (the average age is 56) and there are more women than men. It is also fairly upmarket with plenty of ABs. Car listening climbs to 15% by 6.00. Around 700,000 Radio 4 listeners are listening to other stations. Some Radio 4 listeners leave the home during this hour, hence the increase in car listening. Some at home are doing housework/DIY/gardening. 20% are watching TV.

Listeners particularly want "intelligent company" from the radio at this time (especially women) and they feel they can get more involved now. Many women, and some men, say they want an antidote to sport.

 

EDITORIAL GUIDE

The focus here is on enjoyment and escapism. (The Friday night play is more challenging and provocative. This slot is ideal for love stories, thrillers, detective stories and extraordinary personal stories of all kinds, contemporary or historical. There needs to be a strong plot, clear characterisation, and a simple enough programme texture to accompany all sorts of domestic tasks.

The tone should be warm and affirmative; this should be a moving and fulfilling experience. Examples of past plays which would work in this slot might include Writing Home to Mother by John Clifford, Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith, Diamonds by John Peacock, and Spoonface Steinberg.

These should be single plays, although they could, for instance, be linked across a month by a theme or author. They may be dramatisations of novels. From time to time this slot may be extended for a special event or performance, replacing part of Weekend Woman 's Hour. We will consider proposals for programmes that need longer lead times than the commissioning cycle allows; for example where there might be rights difficulties. Radio 4 will continue to broadcast the work of leading writers. To this end, but only with prior agreement of the Commissioning Editor, we will consider open commissions.

PROPOSAL TO INCLUDE

Full synopsis and information about how the story is told; details on the writer' s previous work; links to anniversaries, special events, book publication or stage performances (if any). Casting

Ref: 40080/W/1500/SA

BBC RADIO 4 COMMISSIONING BRIEF

SLOT: Classic Serial
Day: Sunday Time: 15.00 - 16.00 Repeats on: Saturday 21 .00

AUDIENCE PROFILE

At this time the audience is declining - there is a loss of 330,000 listeners between 1 5.00 and 1 5.30 and a further 230,000 between 1 5.30 and 1 6.00. The biggest switch-off is at 1 5.30 when 170,000 leave.

The audience has a relatively young profile with a below-average age of 51 by 16.00. More women than men listen and there is a good mix of social grades. The proportion listening in cars grows from 10- 15 % across the slot while 700,000 Radio 4 listeners are listening to other stations. Gardening continues to be the main activity - some are reading books, others are out visiting friends and family. Those at home want radio to take their mind off the tasks in hand - drama is seen as very appropriate.

EDITORIAL GUIDE

This slot is exclusively for dramatisations of works of narrative fiction that have achieved classic status. 'Classic' should mean that the work has won acclaim from succeeding generations of readers. Books that are cult successes, famous for their 'kitsch' element or not part of the mainstream, would not be appropriate. Beyond this, the definition of 'classic' should be as wide as possible to include works from around the world, from the 20th century and neglected writing. Offers might range from the popular British works of the 19th century e.g. the recent successes of North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell or Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte to contemporary international masterpieces from authors such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez or Gunter Grass.

If a book from the last 20 years is dramatised there should be some sense of event attached to the choice - perhaps that Radio 4 is predicting a classic of the future.

There could be occasions when the source work is not a novel - perhaps a collection of short stories (e.g. Dubliners), epic work (e.g. The Iliad) or traditional tales (e.g. Aesop/Grimm). Imaginative and creative treatments of the texts are welcome though they should be in direct proportion to the fame of the book for example a radical treatment of a little known novel would not be ideal. A strong, clear story is important, as is a plot structure that would work well when abridged ~ too many flash backs, time-shifts or changes in POV are not ideal.

We will consider proposals for programmes that need longer lead times than the annual commissioning cycle allows; for example, where there might be rights difficulties.

Proposal to include: A copy of the text; A brief synopsis of the text; a brief proposed treatment of the text which would include an indication of the intended style and tone and a brief glimpse of how dialogue and characterisations will be handled.

Ref: 40112/X/1 500/SU

BBC RADIO 3 COMMISSIONING BRIEF

SLOT: The Sunday Play

Day: Sunday Time: 19.30 or 21.30

 

AUDIENCE PROFILE

Up to 200,000. General Radio 3 audience, and those with a special interest in drama.

 

EDITORIAL GUIDE

The Sunday Play covers:

High Quality Classic Drama

New Theatre Productions

New Writing by leading writers

Radio 3 has a long tradition of commissioning leading writers (e.g Tom Stoppard, David Edgar, Howard Barker).

 


Writing Drama For Radio

 

Warning this is an old document check with the BBC for a newer version


This is the most current version of the above BBC Radio Drama Submissions Guidelines 2000

 


The submission requirements of the BBC Radio Drama department:

 

Submissions should be addressed to: Lucy Hannah, New Writing Co-ordinator, Room 6058, BBC Broadcasting House, Portland Place, London W1A 1AA

 

Radio 4 is the major commissioner of Radio Drama for the BBC. Historically, the bulk of commissioning for drama was managed by Editors in the Radio Drama Department. All commissioning for Radio 4 programmes is now handled by a team of Radio 4 Commissioning Editors who have specific responsibilities for strands of the Radio 4 schedule.

 

Please note
Writers should ensure that all submissions are clearly marked with their name and address or that of their agent. We do not read novels or stage plays which have not been adapted for radio. Please attach a synopsis of the play together with a full cast list and brief notes on the main characters. Names of characters should be clearly separated from the speech and should be given in full throughout. You know who Mrs. B is but the reader might not. Sound effects and other technical information should also be clearly differentiated from the speech

 


ACT 1, SCENE 1 - NO!

 

Radio has no ‘scenes’ in the way that a stage play has. A sequence in a radio play might be one line long, or last for 20 pages. However, no single sequence should go beyond its natural length - beware of boring the listener, radio is fatally easy to turn off.


GEOFF, CAROL, ALICE, ROGER AND RICHARD ARE IN A CROWDED PUB WITH SOME OTHER FRIENDS - NO!

 

The only means of establishing a character’s presence is to have them speak or be referred to by name. If there are too many characters in a scene the listener will lose track.


GEOFF (LOOKING ANGRILY AT IRENE, HIS PALE FACE FLUSHED) “I WILL NOT” - NO!

 

‘Stage directions’ for the producer’s or actor’s benefit are to be avoided. If it is important it should be there in dialogue.

 


A CAR PULLS UP. ENGINE OFF. DOOR OPENS AND SHUTS. FEET WALK TO THE FRONT DOOR. KEY IN THE LOCK. DOOR OPENS. FEET WALK DOWN THE HALL TO THE KITCHEN. “I’M HOME DARLING”. - NO!

Sound effects should be used sparingly. They should work with the dialogue. Out of context they will mean little. Effects are useful in setting a scene, but the signpost must be subtle.


GEOFF’S BREATHING IN THE ‘PHONE BOX BECOMES MORE LABOURED. PAINFUL. BEHIND HIM A SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA. AT FIRST QUIETLY, PLAYS MAHLER’S FIFTH. BRING UP INTERIOR ALBERT HALL. - YES, THINK IN SOUND!

 

A variety of sound is essential for holding the listener’s attention and engaging their imagination. This variety can be achieved by altering the lengths of sequences, number of people speaking, space of dialogue, volume of sound, background acoustics and location of action. On radio, one room sounds very much like another if they’re about the same size, but the difference between an interior and an exterior acoustic is quite considerable. The contrast between a noisy sequence with a number of voices and effects and a quiet passage of interior monologue, is dramatic and effective.

The best way to become familiar with the possibilities of the medium is to listen to radio plays as often as possible, and decide what works and what doesn’t. (See Radio Times for details).

 

There are some radio plays available on cassette, but these are mainly recordings of established work.

 

Enquiries should be addressed to BBC Worldwide, BBC Radio Collection, Room C231, Woodlands, 80 Wood Lane, LONDON, W12 0TT.


 

BBC Radio Drama Guide To Transmission Slots


(NB: These slots are subject to change. This is intended as a guide only).

 

RADIO 4


Monday - Friday 10.45 - 11.00 (repeat 19.45 weekdays)

Woman’s Hour 15’ Returning Series. Short form narrative. The structure will ideally be of a series with individual stories in each episode or short term stories that mature over a small number of episodes.

Monday - Friday 11.30 - 12.00 (repeats on Sunday and elsewhere)

Comedy Narrative. Reviving, energising and cheery. Light and entertaining comedy drama or sitcom.

Monday - Thursday 18.30 - 19.00

Comedy. Sitcom, broken comedy or sketch shows. Family entertainment.

Friday 18.30 - 19.00

Comedy - Satire

Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday 23.00 - 23.30

Comedy. Top comedy performers and writers. New comic ideas and forms. Sharp wit and intelligence rather than surreal.

Saturday 15.00 - 16.00

The Saturday Play. Enjoyment and escapism. Love stories, thrillers and extraordinary personal stories of all kinds.

Monday - Friday 14.15 - 15.00

Drama. Daily narrative strand to delight, surprise and inform listeners. A complete story each day that is imaginative, accessible and entertaining.

Friday 21.00 - 22.00

The Friday Play. Original new writing. Radical pioneering new work from established writers and writers new to the medium.

 

RADIO 3
Sunday 19.30 (time varies)

The Sunday Play. Radical drama, the classics, new theatre productions.


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The BBC Drama New Writing Initiative


The New Writing Initiative is a bi-media scheme to target and nurture new writing talent across BBC Television and Radio Drama.

What Does The New Writing Initiative Do?


Unsolicited Scripts

 

The Initiative accepts and assesses unsolicited scripts for BBC Films & Single Drama and Radio Drama. We receive around 200 television and radio scripts each week and competition is very tough. We can only take into development scripts that have a strong chance of being commissioned. All scripts are assessed for the potential talent of the writer, and the suitability of their script for BBC Drama.

 

Targeted Schemes

The Initiative is running various schemes targeting specific writers who come to our notice via a wide range of sources: the unsolicited script system, agents, play readings, contacts with theatres, film schools, etc. We do not invite submissions for these schemes. The schemes include a TV Screenwriter’s course, a Radio Drama writer’s group, developing links with new writing venues, various regional initiatives, and writer’s bursaries within BBC Drama.

We are constantly looking to target writers, of any age, with potential for BBC Television and Radio Drama to take part in these initiatives. You should let us know if there is a reading, production, or screening of your work and we’ll try to see it or ask you to send us a script. Open BBC competitions for writers are always advertised in the press.

 

How To Contact The New Writing Initiative


You can write to Lucy Hannah, Co-ordinator at: New Writing Initiative, Room 6058, BBC Broadcasting House, Portland Place, London W1A 1AA. Tel: 0207 765 0756 Due to the range of commitments and the number of scripts coming through the office we cannot enter into detailed discussions about individual cases over the telephone. Telephone only if you have an urgent inquiry.

 

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Bibliography: The Complete Radio Production Listing