Thursday, 18 December 2014

CHRISTMAS AT GREEN KNOWE

It was sixty years ago, in 1954, that Faber and Faber published The Children of Green Knowe, the first of six enchanting children's novels by Lucy M Boston, featuring imagined events in her ancient Cambridge family home, The Manor, Hemingford Grey.

Young Toseland (Tolly for short) arrives at Green Knowe in time to spend Christmas with his Great Grandmother, Mrs Oldknow. The house and its grounds soon exert a curious influence over the boy and it is not long before he finds himself encountering the spirits of three children – Toby, Alexander and Linnet – who lived at Green Knowe long before, during the reign of King Charles II.


Fifteen years ago today – 18 December 1999 – BBC Radio 4 broadcast my dramatisation of The Children of Green Knowe with Dominic Childs as Tolly and Patricia Routledge as Mrs Oldknow heading a cast that featured Bobby Williams, Jennifer Wheelan, Nicholas Hoult, Gavin Muir, Elizabeth Bell, Tom George and Gemma Saunders.

The specially-composed music was by the Fratelli Brothers and the play was directed by Marilyn Imrie.

Whether or not you know the books, hopefully you will enjoy hearing this delightful tale come alive as a piece of vintage radio magic.

It might even help you start to feel just a little bit Christmassy...


Here is a link to Lucy M Boston's books about Green Knowe and you can read all about the real Green Knowe (and how to visit) here.



Tuesday, 16 December 2014

CURTAIN CALL

Tonight on BBC Radio 2 at 11:00 pm: the eighth and final part of my celebration of The Musical on Broadway and in London's West End...



Saturday, 13 December 2014

KEEPING THE FLAME

Tomorrow's episode of The Once and Future King (BBC Radio 4, 3:00 pm), brings T H White's retelling of the Arthurian legend to an emotion-charged conclusion...

White takes his story from Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, but imbues the characters with a contemporary sensibility that makes their drama one with which we instinctively identify and sympathize.

My dramatisation is tightly focused on the central, conflicted trio of Arthur, Guenever and Lancelot and the impact of others – Gawaine, Gareth and Mordred – on their triangular relationship.


Paul Ready (Arthur), Lyndsey Marshall (Guenever) Alex Waldman (Lancelot)

The concept of there being a romance between Lancelot and Guenever (making a cuckold of the King) became a part of the legend through an old French poem entitled Lancelot, le Chevalier de la Charrette, written around 1177 by Chrétien de Troyes. It is now a vital ingredient of the myth and, via White's 20th Century re-telling, immortalised in the Lerner and Loewe musical, Camelot and its doomful ballad, 'I Loved You Once In Silence'...


Inevitably, it is human passions and frailties – the desire for love or, out of hatred, for revenge –  that ultimately brings about the tragic collapse of the fine ideals to which Arthur had once aspired with his dream of a Round Table of noble knights committed to the revolutionary concept of 'might for right'.

The episode title, 'The Candle in the Wind' is taken from that of the final section in the 1958 one-volume edition, The Once and Future King, and symbolically refers to the fragility of Arthur's transforming vision for society. 

Did White know that Maxwell Anderson had used the title Candle in the Wind for a 1941 Broadway drama starring Helen Hayes? Probably not, any more than the 1973 translators of one of Alexander Solzhenitsyn's plays knew it had already been used or, the same year, Elton John and Bernie Taupin when writing their song of the same name in memory of Marilyn Monroe and, later, re-writing it in memory of Diana, Princess of Wales.


Youth, beauty and celebrity are, of course, as transient as ideals may sometimes be and it is  interesting to note that The Once and Future King was much-loved by the late President John F Kennedy, also tragically cut down in his prime and yet, as we subsequently learned, as flawed a human being as the Arthur and Lancelot in the book he so admired. It was seeing the book listed as a presidential favourite that spurred Moss Hart to suggest that it might provide Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe with a follow-up to their triumphant hit, My Fair Lady.

The title song they were to write (as reprised at the end of the show) carries the elegiac lines...
Don't let it be forgot
That once there was a spot 
For one brief and shining moment 
That was known as Camelot...
As a result the Kennedy administration became known as 'Camelot' and  the history of JFK's reign as 'one brief shining moment'.

Those who have listened to the whole radio series may recall the appearance, in the first episode, of a young page named Tom... Well, in Episode 6, the young lad returns – as he does in the closing pages of White's novel where he is charged with the daunting task of shielding the candle from the wind that would so quickly put out its light. 

White's Tom was – in a final extravagant leap of the imagination – Thomas Malory, later author of Le Morte d'Arthur, but, in another sense, he is each and every one of us who as the story comes to an end is encouraged to keep the flame alive and pass on its glorious light to those who are to come...



You can hear 'The Candle in the Wind' tomorrow, Sunday 13 December, on BBC Radio 4 at 3:00 pm and on its repeat on Saturday 20 December at 9:00 pm and, afterwards, for thirty days on-line here.

There is more information about the series, T H White, the Arthurian legends together with interviews with the cast and myself on the BBC's The Once and Future King web pages.

And if you have missed the series to date, there's still two days catch up with the first episode on BBC iPlayer before Merlyn magics it into oblivion for ever...

Sunday, 7 December 2014

THE MAN BEHIND THE BOOK


This afternoon's episode of The Once and Future King takes T H White's saga based on the old Arthurian romances to a different level – a place where the human drama reaches a tortuous complexity with deceit piled on deceit and the emergence of a dark, tragic secret that has haunted Arthur for years and has fired the homicidal hatred of the King's bastard son, Mordred.

Shaun Mason as Gawaine and Joel MacCormack as his half-brother Mordred
in the BBC production, The Once and Future King

The way in which the story unfolds: revealing ever new twists and turns of human relationships that may be cast in the trappings of myth and legend but which are as modern as our own 21st century lives...  

It was what White had sensed within the pages of that earlier saga, Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur. As White later told a friend, it was in 1937 that he had picked up a copy of Malory's 1485 book (about which he written a thesis when at university) and discovered – or re-discovered – something potent about Malory's writing: 
I was thrilled and astonished to find that (a) The thing was a perfect tragedy with a beginning, a middle and an end implicit in the beginning and (b) the characters were real people with recognisable reactions which could be forecast... Anyway, I somehow started writing a book.
That book, published in 1938, was The Sword in the Stone and was described by White as "a preface to Malory" since it was about the childhood of Arthur, a topic passed over by Malory.

For quite some time, 'T H White' was, for me, just a name on the cover of that book – one of the  favourites of my youth. It was a year or two before "Stephen", my best friend at school to whom I shall be always indebted for his passionate advocacy of White's writing, introduced me to some of the author's other books...

First, the rest of the Arthurian cycle (The Once and Future King), Darkness at Pemberley, Farewell Victoria, Mistress Masham's Repose, The Elephant and the Kangaroo, The Age of Scandal, The Book of Beasts, The Godstone and the Blackymor, The Master and – aside from the Arthurian books – what I think of as two of his finest pieces of writing The Goshawk and England Have My Bones...

First published in 1936, England Have My Bones was described in a later (post-Sword in the Stone edition) as follows...
In 1934, T. H. White, while residing in the countryside of Britain and Scotland, began keeping a diary to record the unique delights and constant surprises which a city dweller happens upon when he leaves the world behind. That diary, published in 1936 by G. P. Putnam's Sons, invited rapturous comparison with such masterpieces of the outdoor experience as Izaak Walton's The Compleat Angler.
The poetry of fire, the mystery of trees, the marvels of trout fishing, the joy of the hunt and the delicious comfort of a blazing fire in a snug public house; the always miraculous change of the seasons, the thrill of learning to shoot, to fish, to fly a plane, to win at darts and watch a mare foal—all are recounted with a passionate enthusiasm in a wisely witty manner worthy of Merlin himself.
Only T H White could create images as indelible, phrases as memorable as these:
"The fisherman fishes as the urchin eats cream buns, from lust..."
"Dogs, like very small children, are quite mad..."
Here is the master wizard working his wonders in a magical setting. Bound to cast its spell over young and old alike, England Have My Bones is a volume to treasure.
Indeed it is...

Born in Bombay 1906, the initials 'T H' stood for Terence Hanbury (although he was always known to friends as 'Tim'); educated at Cheltenham College and Queens' College, Cambridge, he taught at Stowe School, Buckinghamshire, before becoming a writer.

In 1946, the author settled in Alderney, third largest of the Channel Islands, where he would live for the remainder of his life.

I recently acquired a postcard written by White to friends in the United States, showing his home on Alderney...



Thirteen years later, shortly before Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe's 1960 musical, Camelot, opened on Broadway with Richard Burton and Julie Andrews, the BBC arts programme, Monitor, travelled to the Isle of Alderney where Robert Robinson interviewed – or, rather attempted to interview – White.

Playful and elusive, White seems to be giving little away, although he does – almost inadvertently – reveal a very real sense in which the character of Merlyn in The Once and Future King clearly owes much of his irascible, mercurial personality to that of his creator!


As a dramatist, I am always anxious about whether or not I am entitled to make changes (sometimes additions) to a work I am bringing to radio and I took great comfort from White's answer to then question of who he reacted to the process of having his book adapted for the stage...
THW: Some people say, 'Are you doing anything about they're doing?' Well now, if you're being painted by an artist, you let him paint you and you don't lean over his shoulder the whole time saying, 'I don't squint as much as that!' I'm not interring with Lerner and Loewe; let them get on with it...

RR: Well, do you think they're going to interfere with you?

THW: No... Well, I don't mind if they do. If they think I squint let them say so!
I hope he'd have been as tolerant of my interferences as (according to Alan Jay Lerner's autobiography) he was of the transition of The Once and Future King into Camelot

 Richard Burton, Julie Andrews, Robert Goulet and Roddy McDowall in Camelot.
© Al Hirschfeld, The Margo Feiden Galleries Ltd., New York

Episode 5 of The Once and Future King are featured on the current edition of Radio 4's Pick of the Week. You can listen here.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

THE PLAY'S THE THING!

BBC Radio 2's repeat of the eighth-part series I researched and wrote about The Musical, continues tonight with 'From Page to Stage' in which Sheila Hancock explores some of the musicals that have succeeded (or flopped!) on Broadway and in the West End where the show's 'books' (as the libretti are known) have been literally drawn from the pages of some of the greatest novels by the world's greatest writers...


The Musical is broadcast on BBC Radio 2 at 11:00 pm and remains available on iPlayer (along with some earlier episodes) for 40 days.

And here's tonight's presenter, Sheila Hancock (along with George Layton and Brian Murphy), being interviewed by me a few days ago at The Cinema Museum as part of an 80th birthday tribute to the late Roy Kinnear...


ANOTHER YEAR...

...another birthday! But, magically, David Weeks never seems to age a day! Must be some sort of hocus-pocus!


HAPPY BIRTHDAY, DAVID!

Photo: Mark Hesketh-Jennings

THE LION'S SHARE

In tonight's episode of The Musical (BBC Radio 2, 11:00 pm), Julia McKenzie – who has starred in such Sondheim musicals as Follies, Into the Woods and Side By Side By Sondheim – explores some of the shows that have enjoyed such success that they've become permanent residents on Broadway and in London's West End while generated huge fortunes for their creators.

The programme also gives an airing to the legendary Forbidden Broadway productions which have mercilessly sent up some of this musical money-makers.



You can listen to the programme here.

Monday, 1 December 2014

WAITING ROOM

“You keep us waiting.
You, the God of all time, 
Want us to wait. 
For the right time in which to discover 
Who we are, where we are to go, 
Who will be with us, and what we must do."

– John Bell


“A prison cell, in which one waits, hopes…and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside, is not a bad picture of Advent.”

– Dietrich Bonhoeffer


ADVENT GREETINGS

Saturday, 29 November 2014

A KNIGHT TO REMEMBER

The name, Sir Lancelot, has a potency capable of conjuring many disparate images...






Maybe even something not quite so seriously heroic...


In 1940, during the first year of the Second World War, T H White published The Ill-Made Knight, his third book retelling the Arthurian myth and focusing on the character generally seen as the most noble, handsome and dashingly splendid of all the knights at King Arthur's fabled Round Table.

White's take on the heroic French knight was a radically revisionist one: accepting – as is told in many versions of the Arthur myth – that it was Lancelot's illicit love for the King's wife, Guenever that eventually initiated the destruction of Arthur's chivalric dream, the author sets out with the determination of a modern novelist, rather than a myth-maker, to explore the human complexities of the triangular relationship between the Knight, the King and the Queen.

The portrait that emerges is unusual: Lancelot is not the flower of manly beauty so often depicted, but an ill-graced, socially awkward, priggish character full of his own importance. The Ill-Made Knight of the title ('Chevalier mal fet') is not just ill-made in the sense of his ugly features but also in his perplexed relationships: his hero-worship of Arthur (with a suggestion of suppressed homoeroticism) resulting in an initial jealousy towards Guenever that makes their eventual tortured romance all the more weirdly inevitable.

The Ill-Made Knight was subsequently incorporated into T H White's one-volume compilation of his Arthurian romances, The Once and Future King and represents the basis for the fourth episode of my current Radio 4 dramatisation.

The BBC has recently posted a teaser introduction to the zealous young Lancelot (Alex Waldmann) from a scene where the would-be knight meets Merlyn (David Warner) and the old magician's enchantress bride, Nimue (Bettrys Jones). You can listen to it here.

You can hear the episode in full tomorrow, Sunday 30 November, on BBC Radio 4 at 3:00 pm and, again, on Saturday 6 December at 9:00 pm.

Earlier episodes are available on the BBC iPlayer but if you haven't caught up with the beginning of the saga, the clock is now ticking with just 17 days left to hear Episode 1: 'The Coming of Merlyn' before it magically disappears into the ether... Details of all the available episodes will be found here.


Also on air...

Tomorrow at 6:00 pm, BBC Radio 4 Extra are re-broadcasting another episode of Ray Bradbury's Tales of the Bizarre featuring my dramatisation of Ray's story, 'The Fruit at the Bottom of the Bowl', telling of a murder and the compulsive events that follow and which have such devastating consequences on the murderer...

I first read the story fifty years ago in the collection, The Golden Apples of the Sun, but it had originally been published in the November 1948 edition of Detective Book Magazine under the title 'Touch and Go'.


Introduced by the late Ray Bradbury, 'The Fruit at the Bottom of the Bowl' has a compelling central performance from Nigel Anthony as William Acton, the obsessed murderer. You will find a link to the transmission here and the Radio 4 Extra website also has details of all the earlier episodes, including two more of my dramatisations, Night Call Collect and The Jar.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

GIVING THANKS

FOND GREETINGS 
to all my
AMERICAN FRIENDS