I’m just back, knackered and happy, after recording a radio play. Radio is always a delight for those who work in drama; the team is small and accepting, no one is there for the money (there isn’t any – well – not to speak of) and the atmosphere is both relaxed and yet professional.
Although I’ve written several plays for the BBC, they’ve always been recorded in a studio. I’ve never done one ‘on location’ ie recording in a garden when the script says ‘garden’ and in a street when the script disobligingly says ‘street’. It’s not quite as simple as that might make it seem – the street we recorded on was under a Heathrow flight path, while the script was talking about a quiet village…. the garden of the script was under a powdering of snow (with the lovely crisp silence that involves) whilst the garden we were standing in was bee ladened, heavy with sunshine, full of birdsong….
When there wasn’t a Virgin Atlantic flight roaring overhead, someone was cutting a hedge, or drilling concrete or excavating a basement for swimming pool. Yes, it’s that sort of area; if you’re not a millionaire or a national treasure, you just can’t live there. Neighbours include hedge fund managers and, paradoxically, Imelda Staunton, Jim Broadbent, Dame somebody or other from the theatre, Sir someone else from the world of film… But it was fun, the cast was delightful, and I am a happy bunny.
The play was recorded in the home of our sound engineer, a big rambling family home that’s always been used as a studio/work base, first by his late dad, a distinguished sound engineer in films, and now by him. The engineer’s mum, a lady in her 90’s, is quite used to a cast of 5 and a production team of 6 filing past her as she eats her lunch in her kitchen. She doesn’t turn a hair as we traipse up to the bedrooms in search of a different atmosphere to create a pub, or a post office or a village hall. She’s seen it all before and just smiles benignly, as if this was the most normal household in the world. And to her it is.
The cast arrives by ten and works through to seven, with maybe a half hour break for lunch in a local cafe (no expenses scandal here, TV commissioners are paid 240k a year plus expenses, bonuses, pensions etc, but this little crew buys its own sarnies).
I know that this gentle rhythm of vocational work can’t go on for ever; one by one the traditions of the past are being abandoned, some for good reasons and some with the regret of everyone, out of necessity. I’m just very happy that I was able to spend two days with a small group of dedicated and (sometimes) eccentric people, a step away from the ‘norm’ of life, creative people who remain quietly passionate and do fabulous work for little reward, largely unsung, work which entertains and encourages millions.
I must have been on a hundred sets, from Hong Kong to Tulsa, but this has to be one of my favourites: