Voices on the BBC

I don’t know whether I agree with the boy who expressed a preference for radio “because the picture are better”, but the voices surely are. I’ve been delighting in the match of reader and text in the 1989 version of Mary Wesley’s The Camomile Lawn [link to page at the Guardian] over on BBC7, read by Sian Phillips, with full round tones and fine control of inflection and character. My only regret is that it’s an abridged version; the pacing at times seems a touch forced and the nuance lost.

In complete contrast of voice and subject, I’ve been tuning into “Old Harry’s Game”, also on BBC7, and wishing that I could accurately place Andy Hamilton’s accent, because I’m sure there’s a joke that I could be getting, if I could decode English accents. Hamilton, as writer and lead, plays Satan, the Prince of Darkness, etc, etc, in a clear, slightly nasal tenor, as a cocky young executive type who’s not quite as clever as he thinks he is. While he tries to solve the overcrowding problem in Hell by promoting virtue to humankind, there’s a newcomer down below with an eye on his job.

I missed mentioning “That Man Attlee” when it was on, but I’m sure it will come around again. It is one of Robin Glendenning’s political-historical plays, and I don’t mention it for the voice as much as for the writing, and in particular for the characterization of Attlee, the “little grey man” who was leader of the Labour party when it won its unexpected landslide victory in 1945. The play depicts the attempt of some of his ambitious colleagues to oust him from the leadership, and Attlee’s quietly expert re-channeling of those energies to best serve the Party’s vision. The play uses the same narrative frame as Glendenning’s play about Winston Churchill, “Playing for Time”, and I don’t think quite as effectively, but when the confrontation comes, it is riveting.

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