Magazine article The Spectator

Revolting Listeners

Magazine article The Spectator

Revolting Listeners

Article excerpt

A rare but threatened species, in dire need of a campaign to save it from extinction, could be heard on Saturday night. Stages of Independence, showcasing the work of ten African playwrights, is likely to be one of the last-ever original World Service productions when the threatened cut to its budget goes through. Twenty-six BBC reporters and cameramen were rushed off to the Chilean desert to film what was undeniably a fantastically dramatic story. But were that many really needed? Meanwhile, a staple output of the BBC, and part of its Reithian mission - free access (at the touch of a button, and no longer at the cost of a licence) into the mind's interior, to the interplay of voices, words and the imagination - is under threat. Once drama's gone, we'll never get it back.

When Marion Nancarrow took over as head of World Service drama in 2001 she was mistress of two-and-a-half hours of drama production each week. Now she has just 12 hours a year, and even that is in imminent danger of being abolished. In her office at Bush House hangs a picture that was sent to her by a group of builders in an African village. It shows them sitting around a wind-up radio, listening to the latest edition of Westway, the World Service soap which ran for eight years, was heard by millions in places as far afield as Timbuktu and Qaqortoq, but was cut off in its prime in October 2005 in an earlier budgetary crisis. Twice a week the builders listened together in their lunch break. What did they love so much about a series set in a doctors' practice in west London? The telling of stories, listening in to other people's lives. It's something that all cultures share, no matter how sophisticated they become, as Neil MacGregor has revealed so compellingly in The History of the World in 100 Objects.

Why, though, do we need special World Service productions when Radios 3 and 4 create so much drama each week? Because the World Service tackles different issues, and in a very particular way, says Archie Graham of Tiata Fahodzi (the British African Theatre Company), who is setting up a website campaign to save World Service drama (www.savethebbcworlddrama.com).

Last year, for instance, seven writers from the Middle East were brought together in Qatar for a workshop, out of which emerged an hour-long drama about life in the region.

We might think that the issues raised by Al Amwaj (The Waves) would only be relevant in Palestine, Israel, Doha and Saudi Arabia. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.