The British Broadcasting, bbc radio 4 – Afternoon Play

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Masaryk University

Faculty of Education

Department of English Language and Literature

  1. The British Broadcasting, BBC Radio 4 – Afternoon Play

Bachelor Thesis

Brno 2014

Supervisor: Author:

Mgr. Lucie Podroužková, Ph.D. Pavlína Raabová


These bachelor thesis deals with the issue of traditional British radio drama program of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). It inquires into the history of the BBC and, especially, BBC Afternoon Drama program. It analyzes several plays of the Afternoon Drama program which were broadcasted in the course of several months. The thesis also follows up several important people who played a crucial part in history of the BBC itself or in a production of dramas for the Afternoon program. It offers a survey concerning the number of repetitions of each play and also the number of Afternoon plays per playwright during specific period of time.


Bakalářská práce se zabývá problémem tradičního Britského programu, rádiové drama, Britské vysílací korporace (BBC). Tato práce informuje o historii BBC a zejména o programu BBC, Odpolední drama. Poskytuje analýzu několika her, které byly vysílány v průběhu několika měsíců. Tato bakalářská práce se tak podrobněji zabývá několika důležitými lidmi, kteří jsou důležitou součástí BBC historie nebo v produkci her pro program Odpolední drama. Práce také nabízí průzkum zabývající se počtem opakování každé hry a také počtem her napsaných jedním dramatikem.

Pavlína Raabová

Key words:

Afternoon Drama, playwright, sound effect, acousmatic sound, in-sound picture, out-sound picture, broadcasting, adaptation

Klíčová slova:

Odpolední drama, dramatik, zvukový efekt, akuzmatický zvuk, zvuk v obraze, zvuk mimo obraz, vysílání, adaptace


Prohlašuji, že jsem závěrečnou bakalářskou práci vypracoval/a samostatně, s využitím pouze citovaných literárních pramenů, dalších informací a zdrojů v souladu s Disciplinárním řádem pro studenty Pedagogické fakulty Masarykovy univerzity a se zákonem č. 121/2000 Sb., o právu autorském, o právech souvisejících s právem autorským a o změně některých zákonů (autorský zákon), ve znění pozdějších předpisů.


I declare that I wrote this diploma thesis myself and used only the sources listed in the bibliography.

I agree with the placing of this thesis in the library of the Faculty of Education at Masaryk University to be available for academic purposes.

Brno, 19th April 2013

Pavlína Raabová


I would like to express my sincere thanks to Mgr. Lucie Podroužková, Ph.D. for her valuable comments and correction.

I also wish to thank Bc. Leona Doušková for sharing her interesting ideas about the topic.

Pavlína Raabová


The British Broadcasting, BBC Radio 4 – Afternoon Play 1

Prohlášení 4

Declaration 4

Acknowledgements 5

Contents 6

Introduction 7

1. History of the BBC 8

2. BBC Drama Department 11

2.1. Technology 12

2.2. Sound 13

3. Playwrights for the BBC 15

4. Dividing Afternoon Drama Plays 20

4.1. Dividing by episodes 20

4.2. Dividing by number of broadcasts 22

4.3. Dividing by the number of plays per writer 23

5. Analyzing Plays 25

5.1. Ganz’s family research 26

5.2. Anita Sullivan 32

Conclusion 39

The List of References 41

  1. Introduction

The thesis deals with the question of British traditional radio drama. For better understanding of the phrase ‘British traditional radio drama’ textual sources were examined and an analyse was carried out to find out the key historical points which helped the British radio to develop into such a strong public media and it is also necessary to emphasize the key people who greatly contributed to a development of British radio drama. It is also the objective of the theses to look at the quantity and quality of dramas produced by the BBC1 for the Afternoon Drama program. The core of these thesis is based on detailed analyzes of two contemporary playwrights whose plays were broadcasted in the Afternoon Drama program mentioned previously.

The first chapter of the thesis offers a concise survey into a BBC history with a focus on radio. It stresses out the importance of decisions which influenced greatly the evolution the British Broadcasting Company. It is beyond the question that the development of the BBC was also highly influenced by the British and worldwide politics especially the Second World War. For this purpose a survey, which included studying of textual sources either in print or on a website, was executed. On a very similar type of research is based chapter two which provides an overview of technical equipment its development and the impact it had on the production of BBC dramas.

To make the history of the British radio drama complete two playwrights, who are well-known by wide public for their contribution to playwrighting and therefore play a very significant part in this branch, were included. Chapter three is devoted to Samuel Beckett and Thomas Stoppard. In addition it examines an extract of one play from each playwright. In case of Samuel Beckett it is drama called Embers and as for Thomas Stoppard the play explored is Artist Descending a Staircase. It also partly outlines the work of a present day playwright.

A different type of survey was needed to fulfil the objectives of chapter four which deals with the quantity of plays broadcasted in the Afternoon Drama program. To answer the question at hand a survey was carried out over the period of five months. During this time a database of plays was created and brief survey conducted, based on the database, to express in figures the number of broadcasts of each play, the number of episodes in case of series and number of plays broadcasted per writer in the time period mentioned.

The database used in the previous chapter was reused only this time a deeper analyse was needed. Broadcasted plays ware closely analysed. This included taking notes while listening to a play and also research into the background of the play. By this is meant looking for all information possible. It comprises of positive and negative reviews, interviews and dramatist’s reason for writing a specific play. Adam Ganz and Anita Sullivan were chosen to illustrate the playwriting of present time.

  1. 1. History of the BBC

The BBC abbreviation stands for the British Broadcasting Company which had been founded in 1922. The consortium of the British radio manufactures advertised a manager’s position in a newspaper. The task was to manage a company that would create programs that could be heard only on their wireless and John Reith was the one who succeeded in getting the job. One of the first broadcasts was the wedding of Duke of York in 1923 who later became King George VI. In September of the same year a new magazine, Radio Times, was established by Reith and it was become immediate success. In 1927 John Reith was general director when the BBC changed its name to British Broadcasting Corporation. Lord John Reith kept working for the BBC until 1938. [npnd13] Up till this date there had been another thirteen men at the position of director-general. Today the position is filled by Tony Hall who has been with the BBC since 1973 starting as a news trainee. Over the next forty years Hall worked his way up the BBC ladder and in 2013 took up the position of director-general. [npnd14]

The BBC television service was launched in November 1936 but it did not take long before it was closed down in 1939 for the national security reasons for it was the outbreak of the Second World War. In those pre-war years television broadcasted only for one hour twice a day. One of its programmes was a live play. [npnd16] These were sometimes very innovative but always the most expensive program of that time. The television broadcasting was re-established again towards the end of the war. Even though the war was not the right time for the television service, it was, without a doubt, the right time for the BBC radio. [npnd16]

When the BBC launched the first high-definition television service, the threat posed by Nazi Germany was already evident, and plans for the closure of the service were laid well in advance of the declaration of war. The reason for the closedown was twofold; one, with resources at full stretch fighting the war, television for around 20,000 viewing families in London and the Home Counties was a luxury the nation could not afford; and two, the single transmitter at Alexandra Palace would serve as a direction-finder for enemy aircraft approaching London. [npnd21]
The last program broadcasted was a Disney cartoon and after that, on 1 September 1939, the BBC television stopped it’s transmitting. Still, the transmitter was looked after by engineers and later on in the war it was used to send signals that would confuse the enemy airplanes.[npnd16]

Before the war the BBC radio had signed an agreement with Newspaper Proprietors Association which entitled them to broadcast news at no earlier time then at six o’clock in the evening. The six o’clock news was broadcasted in Received Pronunciation English only, so the world came to know the language as BBC pronunciation. Throughout the six years of war the BBC radio became the main source of information for many people because the newspapers were scarce. According to Havers “The BBC has reputation that has been built upon its achievements during the Second World War” [Ric07]. Broadcasting at the beginning of the 2WW2 was mainly informational but as no one new for how long the war would be on a spirit lifting programmes started to appear. During the Second World War there was a significant expansion of broadcasted programs. New programs were educational, informational and they were beneficial to the public. Forces Program and entertaining program, was not intended only for soldiers but to a wide public as well. Very popular become programs about gardening and health. The partisans throughout the Europe were listening to BBC transmission. Denis Gifford emphasizes the importance of radio:

Previous to the advent of radio, the primary source of information came via the newspaper--a medium that offered news that was far removed from real time and, in some cases, days old. The importance of radio to the public was unparalleled throughout the "Golden Era" of radio--roughly the 1920s through the 1940s. Iconic photographs of families gathered in front of the radio, listening intently to entertainment, sports and news programming, provide a vivid understanding of the magic of the radio broadcast. At the time, there was no rival to the immediacy of the radio signal. It transported listeners to the front lines of World War II and, just as importantly, zipped them across town for everything from instant election results to sports scores. [Den85]
The first came on air in October 1939 and it was aimed at children and called the Children’s Hour. There were several music programs broadcasted as well and in January 1942 Desert Island Discs has its debut. [npnd20] Nevertheless the vast majority of broadcasts concerned the serious matters. There was no censoring except for three fields and they included the weather reports, whereabouts of the members of the Royal Family and names of the military regiments. [npnd15] It was the truthfulness and honesty of the war reports that made the BBC name well known all over the world.
In 1939, and throughout the second World War, the wireless was king, radio ruled supreme and a man with a cultured accent saying, ‘and here is the news’ meant only one thing: the British Broadcasting Corporation – the BBC – London – facts – information – and, most importantly for nearly everyone, it meant… THE TRUTH. [Hav07]
Today there are many BBC radio stations which can be divided into several categories; national radio stations, regional radio stations, English local radio stations and BBC international radio station. [npnd18] Each station is aimed at a different audience and offers a different type of programs. There are eight national radio stations. BBC radio 1, BBC radio 2, BBC radio 3, BBC radio 4 were first on air 30 September 1967. BBC radio 1 Extra, BBC radio 4 Extra, BBC radio 5 Live, BBC radio 5 Live Extra Sport and BBC 6 Music were launched at a later date and some of them only replaced former radio stations. For example the BBC radio 4 replaced the BBC Home Service and its sibling the BBC radio 4 extra was formally the BBC radio 7 station. The BBC 4 has programmes which include news, talk and drama whereas the BBC 4 Extra is mainly aimed at comedy and drama. [npnd19]

The BBC Radio 4 schedule is very easy to follow. The week days and the weekend days have a certain pattern. To be more specific, programmes like The Archers, Woman’s hour, Afternoon play and You and Yours are on air from Monday to Friday at the same time while over Saturday and Sunday the program pattern changes. For example The Desert Island Discs is broadcasted every Sunday at 11.15 and Saturday play is on at 14.30 every Saturday. BBC radio 4 Extra uses greatly the BBC radio 4 archive or extended version programmes like the Desert Island Discs. [npnd17]

For the purpose of studying English I have been listening to BBC programs for many years now. The most useful radio station proved to be BBC Radio 4 which uses a wide range of register variations in its talk and plays. Nevertheless, to look closely at all BBC radio 4 programmes would prove to be task too big for this thesis therefore I choose to explore BBC radio 4’s Afternoon Play. Radio Drama in England has become a tradition over the years of BBC broadcasts. There is no other country with a radio tradition for drama and therefore I feel that it is a great opportunity to inquire into tradition of British radio drama.

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