War of the Worlds

BBC production 2017

Adaption Melissa Murray

Director Marc Beeby

Actors: Blake Ritson



This is the third BBC radio version of the Science Fiction classic although the 1950 production has been destroyed like so many of the corporation’s early dramas.

Of course the one that still resonates down the years is the Orson Wells American airing in 1938 that scared the pants of listeners thinking it was a real-life Martian invasion.

What was particularly interesting for me is that I was reading David Lodge’s fictionalised account of HG Wells life while this was being aired. Quite a contrast. While his books are full of clean-cut leading characters the man himself was a salacious sexual predator.

It’s amusing in a way, he was a small tubby man with unremarkable looks but clearly wealth and position were as much a magnet to some ladies then as they are today.

Wells’ first marriage to Isobel was a letdown for him – his voracious lust was not matched by his wife who lay back and thought of England rather than enjoying the physical side of their relationship.

Robert, our hero in this story, seems to have a somewhat sterile relationship with his wife Margaret. When the pair meet up at the end after both thinking the other had perished at the tentacles of the Alien invaders, it was an oh-so-English how-do-you-do and shall-we-have –a-cup-of-tea.

The production is strong on soundscape as you would expect from the BBC with eerie mechanical clanking denoting the presence of the Martians. Sticks pretty faithfully to the book.




Cricket beside the seaside

Lancashire v Middlesex 9/6/17

Trafalgar Road, Southport.

Lancs won by 8 wickets




It had it all – a sun blazing on my baldy pate, a washed out day fit for gumboots or goloshes and two other days that at times required a jumper and an overcoat. The cricket weren’t bad either and even though just three days of play were possible, the Red Rose were able to inflict the champions first defeat in 21 outings.

There is something unique about outground cricket, especially at the seaside. But Birkdale is the posh bit of Southport, far from the commotion of the funfair or the whiff of fish and chips.

The cricket ground is not far from the golf club which will host the Open championship in July.

Birkdale has wide rolling boulevards and most homes have their own driveway – nevertheless at the southern approach the authorities have imposed a staggering mile-long parking exclusion zone.

I can’t quite make out if this is to funnel motorists to the designated car park zone (fiver a go and throw in a lengthy hike) or to ensure the top cops and senior Town Hall officials who inhabit these parts are not disrupted by the hoi polloi. One thing is certain, it is not on traffic management grounds.

At the ground there is something of a queue. Given the heightened atmosphere over security I imagined there was a frantic scrabble for exploding sandwiches.

In the event it was an alcohol search. A table had been put up for the contraband and was groaning with two cans of cider.

An old lad in the queue recalled the 1981 encounter with Middlesex at this very venue when the lines snaked down Trafalgar Road and the beer ran out by 2 p.m as Clive Lloyd knocked a few into the leafy avenues. The occasion? A day off for the common people while Charles and Di tied the knot.

A couple of temporary grandstands had been erected and chairs and benches dotted the ground which backs on the rail line ferrying passengers between Liverpool and Southport.  Even though a sign stated that no dogs were allowed on the ground I spied Jack Russell eager for a book signing to commence.

The first day really was a scorcher, ice creams and Crabbie’s ginger beer  being gobbled up greedily. Three chaps behind me were debating various matters relating to the game but the foremost question seemed to be when to get the first ale in.

‘Is the sun over the yardarm?’ one asked. ‘Who knows’ quoth another. They decided on 11.45.

After a slurp of lubrication they embarked on the highlights of their careers in organised cricket – top scores of 24, 20 and 9 respectively.

In the meantime the Londoners appeared to be ruing the decision to bat as wickets quickly fell. At lunchtime there were rumours of dark mutterings from the Middlesex players about the pitch.

I took a stroll around the boundary and bumped into an old colleague from Trinity Mirror. Inevitably it descended into him bemoaning his lot – forced to work from home on a rota made for a Roman galley slave. And one of the lads had to take a 25% pay cut! Imagine having to survive on 90 grand a year in austerity Britain.  

Middlesex were skittled for 180 but cynical Lanky lags merely looked to the heavens when Davis and Livingstone departed in the opening over. The ship was steadied to leave Lancs 123-4 at the end of day one.

In contrast to sunburn weather on the first day, the following was a complete washout. Not many ice creams sold or £4 sausage barms for that matter.

Day three was decisive and particularly innings from MaClaren (75) and Bailey (58) which  propelled Lancs into a lead of 129.

I disappeared due to family commitments but was back on day four when Middlesex were struggling to build a lead with four wickets left.

This time the weather was a mixture of overcast condition and blue skies but still very much on the parky side.

Still a good crowd in but with an air of inevitability about it. The champions cobbled together a lead of 107 which was never enough to make a game of it. Lancs won by eight wickets with Hameed showing a glimmer of form by painstakingly making his way to 38. While most players are greedy for runs the young man ekes them out in miserly fashion, almost unhappy at having to leave his defensive pose.

A great day out is outground cricket and I am pleased to say Lancashire have also played at Liverpool and Blackpool this season. Sir Ian Botham has also made noises about taking Durham back out into the heartlands. Surely its time Yorkshire eyed up some of the haunts they abandoned? Eyy up lad, there’s nowt like it.





WE – Yevgeny Zamyatin

Anton Lesser, Don Warrington

Adapted by Sean O’Brien

Directed by Jim Poyser


If Wells and Verne are the fathers of science-fiction then Yevgeni Zamyatin is the Godfather of dystopia.

The Russian penned this masterwork in the years following the Bolshevik revolution and in it we find the themes of depersonalisation and the triumphant rise of bureaucracy and totalitarianism.

The influences on Orwell, Huxley and Levin are self-evident.

In this radio adaption Anton Lesser takes the lead character D503, the chief engineer of the Integral, a spaceship being built to conquer new worlds.

Lesser is a superlative radio performer and brings a fragile sense of himself which is ruthlessly exploited by 1-330, a rebellious female who drinks, smokes and flirts.

We discover that outside the glass city is a green wall cutting off inhabitants from nature – and the band of humans intent on wrecking the system. Parallels with Logan’s Run and This Perfect Day are obvious.

The production and eerie space-filling music demonstrate BBC radio drama at its best.



Resistance – a plague drama by Val McDermid

Writer: Val McDermid

Actor: Gina McKee

Producer: Susan Roberts



Val McDermid created a bacterial doomsday scenario after attending a workshop that included a presentation on the failure of antibiotics by the chief medical officer Sally Davies.

The workshop organised by the Wellcome Trust resulted in this three-pater for Radio 4.

The action takes place in the North East with the bug from a dodgy sausage at a music festival spreading panic and mayhem.

Given the setting it was surprising that there are so few local accents except for the main character Zoe Meadows played by Gina McKee. Now Gina was born a few miles from me but she put on a really exaggerated Geordie-type accent that quite frankly grated all the way through.

Still, it’s an exciting fast-paced story but I’m not giving the game away!

The Birthday Party – Pinter

Toby Jones

Stephen Rea

Henry Goodman

Maggie Steed


Producer/director Gary Brown for Radio 3 Drama


If a radio drama can sometimes rise or fall according to the quality of its cast then this version of Pinter’s is simply triumphant. Toby Jones is fast becoming the go-to man in either radio or television but he is just one part of some brooding and consummate performances.

Irish actor Stephen Rea and Henry Goodman are the menacing visitors who visit a rundown seaside boarding house to confront Jones’ character Stanley – but for what reason is deliberately left obscure. However Goodman at Nat Goldman, the gangsterish Jew, is supremely unsettling with his bleak and sometimes comic delivery. Maggie Steed is a delight as the landlady in a production which is a worthy successor to its various previous incarnations.



The Curious Case of #TheManWhoMistookHisWifeForAHat

A recent series of curious but unremarkable events led me to remember a slim volume sitting in the lower-reaches of one of my bookshelves. On the cover is an illustration; in the palm of a hand are three dominoes and in the night sky above is the constellation of Orion. The dots on the dominoes resemble the pattern of stars above. The book by Arthur Koestler is titled ‘The Roots of Coincidence’.

I leafed through it, reminding myself of its contents and in particular the theories of biologist Paul Kammerer who contends that events in the universe are connected by waves of seriality.

Carl Jung also coined the term synchronicity when pondering what appear to be random coincidences.

Events had unfolded a few days previously. It was a dark and threatening Sunday afternoon, rain in the air and a breeze whipping up from the river. Going to watch cricket or to take a cycle ride held little appeal.

I peeled  spuds and parsnips, simmered a few bones and left some brisket of beef in the slow-cooker. Not much sport on the box and  the internet red light was blinking on the router so Amazon Prime was not available. Terrestrial TV it was.

What a choice; The Simpsons,  showjumping, an American crime forensics drama and an old movie. I switched to the film which had just started. Awakenings. Robert de Niro and Robin Williams in a slow-paced drama about hospital patients in a long state of catatonia being awakened by a drug usually used for Parkinson’s. The effect is temporary however and the patients’ lapse back into their previous state but not before enjoying the bitter-sweet experience that is life for one last time. Most movies I watch these days I reference via the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) on my mobile phone.

I switched the phone from wi-fi to mobile data and scanned the available information on Awakenings. Adapted from the book by Oliver Sacks. Hmmm that rang a bell. I looked him up. A British neurologist working in the Bronx who had administered large doses of the drug Levodopa  and brought patients suffering from encephalitis lethargica, or sleepy sickness,  back to life. So it was a true story.

It seems Sacks specialised in writing about his clinical experiences. The reason I vaguely knew his name was due to his most celebrated work:      

‘The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat’. This referred to another medical syndrome involving recognition.

The name of that book had somehow embedded itself into my brain cells at one time or another.

I made a note on Google Keep on my phone where I keep a list of books to buy or borrow from the library. I also awarded the movie 6/10 on my IMDB scoring list. I have never found out why you can’t award fractions such as 6.4.

Outside, drumbeat patterns of rain rattled the windows for most of the afternoon and my newly-planted spring flowers looked  sodden and forlorn. I moved the lettuce container into the leaky garden shed which was already dripping over the plastic covering cardboxes of old books, CDs and VHS tapes.

In the kitchen I used the bone broth and brisket juices to make a rich gravy while the meat rested. I plated up and poured a small glass of Shiraz while listening to the cricket – apparently it was sunny at Trent Bridge – and watched droplets meander down my kitchen window.

That evening I tuned into the Radio 3 drama slot to see what was being aired. It was My Own Life which included a piece read by Joss Ackland on the final words written by….Oliver Sacks.

A few days later I was in one of the three or four local libraries I regularly visit. I returned Richard ll and Hilary Mantel and scouted for any of  Sacks works, unsuccessfully. I had been attending a weekly course on creative writing and was expected to produce a short story during or at the end of the six week programme.

I had read Mantel’s ‘The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher’, a collection of short stories, that were, nothing short of tedious. It was interesting to read the comments on

Goodreads, another Amazon site dedicated to book lovers.  Clearly devoted fans,  absolutely effusive. I left a few negative replies, my main point musing how enthusiastic the response would be if these stories were read as if from an unknown writer.

I returned  the book via the automatic machine now installed in some libraries, presumably part of the unrelenting campaign to oust people from their jobs. Mind you, in this part of town at least they have to employ a security guard. The baldy bouncer is none too friendly though. The other week I left my laptop momentarily in the computer suite as I searched for a book next door and he collared me, eyes popping, loudly berating me for enticing thieves; ‘they’ll rob you as soon as look at you round here’.

As I was dispatching Mantel into the letter-box mouth of the machine and marvelling that for the first time the patio doors were open into a garden area, I was touched on the elbow. A chap was in my face, carrying books under an arm, round-faced with glasses, straggly grey-hair.

‘Look at this’, he said, gazing about,  ‘It’s not like Liverpool is it?’. No, I agreed. How could it be? Liverpool’s jewel of a library has had £50m lavished on it. He seemed vaguely familiar. I noticed the shaking hand and recalled I had sat next to him at the medical centre some time ago. I didn’t mention it, no point encouraging him and off he went.

I thought it might be an idea to try another volume of short stories and went to the section where they are all kept. I toyed with Julian Barnes,  Ali Smith and JG Ballard. I like Ballard but his unremittingly bleak vision of an apocalyptic future sometimes needs light relief. Of course his vivid and imaginative prose is sublime but impossible to replicate.

I decided on Chekov. I’d never read any of his short stories but he was reputed to be a master of the art. I do like Russian literature but I realised that much of my experience had come from listening to BBC radio dramas and adaptions rather than actually reading the works. I mean, how many of us have time to trudge through ‘War and Peace’. However you can notice with some long and complex works that abridged versions cannot give you the full flavour of the text.

Not like say a Pinter play which is the same on the page as it is on the stage or to the ear.

I borrowed a book called ‘The Undiscovered Checkov’, so called because many of his earlier stories in Russian had not been translated into English before.

The young master, who came from poor stock, was a prolific writer. In his early days he bashed out the stuff  like crazy just to bring some cash in. You think of him as a genius but even he would pay friends and family to come up with ideas, even plots.

One very short story is about when the American actress Sarah Bernhard visited Moscow. A simple but brilliant idea – actually ideal for social media now – involved different views of her put forward by people telegramming each other.

You can easily imagine doing this using Twitter of Facebook but Chekov came up with this more than 130 years ago (check).

I think magazine subscribers at the time found him readable as he was full of observations and vignettes rather than producing simple stories with a start, middle and end.

During the days following my visit to the library I was busy with one thing and another. One evening, I dined late and watched Newsnight. Donald Trump in hot water again, this time for yet another conspiracy involving Russians. Clearly his intention to ‘drain the swamp’ in Washington had incited the swamp-dwellers to get in a few shots. I wondered how long he would last.

I went off to bed and decided on a few pages of Chekov. I read the story about Sarah Bernhard and another set on a train. I then backpedalled to the introduction page, penned by an American actor.

I hadn’t heard of the guy, an American with a distinctive name called Spalding Gray. I Googled him on my phone. It’s always a bit uneasy when you read words that appear in your head immediately and then learn the writer died soon after penning them.

Gray had suffered injuries in a road accident while visiting Ireland in 2001. He suffered a broken hip and fractured skull which left him with a huge scar on his head. But just as damaging was the depression he sunk into. Gray’s work was personal, he liked to bare his soul in monologues. Later he struggled to come to term with his injuries.

One night in January 2004 he took his children to see Tim Burton’s Big Fish, a fantasy movie about a dying father and his son. It ends with the line: ‘A man tells a story over and over so many times he becomes the story. In that way he is immortal’.

After seeing the movie Gray disappeared. Two months later his body was dragged from the East River and it was assumed he had probably thrown himself off the Staten Island ferry.

Gray had sought medical help following the accident. His neurologist later said that his patient seemed to crave some sort of creative suicide. The neurologist was Oliver Sacks.

Broken – Jimmy Mcgovern – Corbyn – BBC

I’m quite amazed that the BBC decided to air Jimmy McGovern’s hate letter to Tory Britain during the frenzy of an election campaign. However the old nanny reared her head before the credits had barely finished rolling as BBC News  at Ten opened with an astonishingly vicious attack on Crobyn. His crime? To forget a figure – and that was apparently the day’s headline news. You can just imagine some of the besuited twits at Broadcasting House thinking ooeer this Broken is a bit political let’s try and even it up.

Scouser McGovern revisits his hometown to deliver a vitriolic piece of drama about austerity Britain. priest Sean Been and single mum Anna Friel are caught up in the maelstrom – Friel gets sanctioned for 13 weeks ensuring she can’t feed her kids. At the end she delays announcing the death of her mother so she can pick up the weekly pension to buy food.

Far-fetched? maybe it is in the Home Counties but from where I come from desperate people would scour the obituaries seeing if they knew anyone who had died and left a job behind.



Freelance writer and blogger

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