This is a brief follow-up to my previous post about my enthusiasm for BBC radio drama, having recently visited the BBC studios at the Mailbox in Birmingham to sit in on a recording session of the BBC’s epic new World War One series, Home Front. This was followed on 31 July by the series’ launch at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery
I was invited in to the studio by Home Front Editor Jessica Dromgoole. Director for the day was Lucy Collingwood, and the Studio Manager Martha Littlehailes. Overall, I was struck by how the team worked together. This was a swift, smooth operation. No one appeared even slightly stressed. The way the team identified problems with the script or recording and tackled them was fascinating. Every scene improved slightly with each take – no scene requiring more than three – with tweaks to scripts and delivery made on the fly. Having said all that I did see people run on a couple of occasions; although rather than “bloody hell the train’s about to leave!” running it was more “hey look, there’s an ice cream van!” running.
A highlight of my visit was meeting playwright Katie Hims, writer of the episodes being recorded on the day. You’ll know from my previous post that the Hims/Dromgoole partnership has resulted in some of the radio plays I’ve enjoyed most, so seeing Hims in action amending her script and picking up tips direct from a writer whose work I’ve admired for so long was a real privilege.
The actors’ performances were remarkable, and I was pleased to meet Katie Angelou, who played Queenie in Hims’ award-winning Lost Property trilogy. I was even called upon to make a contribution myself! A congregation was required to give authenticity to a church scene. Studio Manager Martha was keen to use real people rather than an atmosphere from the sound library, so everyone available was whisked into the studio where a church was hastily constructed. I feel I played my role with great warmth and depth. Amen.
The series’ launch was a fabulous event held at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, attended by crew, cast, writers, BBC representatives and Birmingham’s Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress, no less. Those attending were given a preview of the first two episodes of Home Front followed by a Q&A session with some of those involved in the series’ production, during which we gained insight into the process of research and how the commission came to be.
Writing is something of a psychotic episode: there are people in our head; we watch what they do and listen to what they say and write it all down. Professionals in radio drama play “pretend” all day long. Put talented examples of the two together and magic’s bound to happen.
Home Front starts on Monday 4 August at noon, and is on every weekday, with an omnibus on Fridays at 21:00; there’s also a podcast, and episodes will be available on BBC iPlayer for 10 years. The quality shines thorough in the Home Front scripts I’ve seen and the samples I’ve heard. These will be great stories of life in Britain during World War One. Enjoy.