So anyway I’ve been reading Simon Elmes’ book (And Now on Radio 4: A Celebration of the World’s Best Radio Station, London, 2007), and I have to say that although I agree with the general premise (World’s Best… etc), it is a somewhat disappointing book to actually read.
Elmes is an insider, a documentary maker at the BBC, and he writes like one. Although he discusses the programmes and the characters, what he seems most interested in is the schedule – the logic of what show follows which, and why. As a result the book is peppered with references to papers and reports from the 60s and 70s (and beyond) regarding how Radio 4 should be shaped, what and who it is for, and what should be done about it. His heroes therefore are the controllers and managers.
Which is more than a little annoying – as, pace the write-in campaigns and complaints that exercise the middle-England listeners when a favourite programme like The Archers or Gardener’s Question Time is shifted by a gnat’s crotchet – this is quite dull stuff. Hard to get through. And its embedded in the book - gives it its' structure. It also results in an abiding emphasis on the news and current affairs strands on the network, which punctuate and to a degree give form to the Radio 4 day – but which for me are not the shining jewels.
The feel of the book is dry, managerial, dare I say bureaucratic. As a result it is miles away from the tone of the network itself. Sigh. A sad, missed opportunity. Doubtless there is a role for a book like this, but it isn’t the one I wanted to read.
We went to see a production of the Canterbury Tales by a group called Mappa Mundi from Theatr Mwldan. It was really good fun, and in its own way quite true to the original.
The five pilgims (Pardoner, Wife of Bath, Miller, Reeve and Nun) plus the Host tell their stories in the Tabard, not on the road to Canterbury. The stage is fairly minimalist, with blocky tables and benches being reorganised to create the settings for each story. The show opens with an abbreviated life of Chaucer, just so that we had a little context - but fairly irreverently done:
Chorus: I heard he also spoke Ancient Greek.
Actor playing Chaucer (clearly panicked): Kebab!
The first tale they start on is the Squire's Tale - told by the Reeve. It is done with verve, and some formality; rather than being stopped he just forgets how the story goes. Which is a good way to start, with the Miller corpsing off to the side.
The Reeve gets a second go at a story, and this time it is his own Tale of how two students "quit" a greedy Miller (referred to as the "windy Miller" by one and all in this production because of his smelly farts). The story, already basic, is managed fairly efficiently. A small joy for me came at the end; the rumpus when the night-time activities of the students is discovered is conducted to the background of the Benny Hill chase music.
This is quickly followed by the Pardoner - his Prologue and his Tale. The former as a gospel revivalist, absolutely straight and wonderful. The Tale, done pretty much as the original, with much dry ice and a looming figure of Death played by the Pardoner himself. This was in some ways the segment that was "messed about with" least. But none the worse for that.
And the, on come the chickens. Told by the Nun, the NPT is changed around a lot, but what's not to laugh at when the actors dress up as Cock and Hens and go around making lots of "Pkaark" noises? The story is a little different (no element of tricking the Fox into opening his mouth), but the dream remains and the whole its still hugely amusing. The moral is kept the same as the original at the end.
I thought we'd had a crammed-full first half after that lot, and the second half would just contain a couple of tales. The obvious ones being the Wife of Bath's Tale and the Miller's (not least because we were promised "Red-Hot Pokers" at the start of the play). Both big, complex stories, and we'd have the Wife's Prologue too.
So imagine my suprise when the second half began with the Host - bedecked as a cod-medieval minstrel - telling Sir Thopas. A nice touch having Harry Bailey blur with Chaucer but still not what I anticipated at all. It was done in rumpty-pumpty rhyme with some entertaining Two-Ronnies-ish jokes, and the last punch line didn't work - so altogether fairly close to the original.
After which (I think, by memory - I could have got a lot of the sequences slightly out), the Pardoner has a nother go at generating some income but is roundly caught out by Harry Bailey. And then the Wife of Bath. Her Prologue was fun - with all of her (stupid, gumby, gormless) Husbands waiting on her at once rather than serially, to good dramatic effect - although there is no differentiation of them, and the fifth seems just as subservient as the others. And her Tale done pretty straight.
After which, I expected to see the Miller's Tale. But no, what came next was a star-studded series of musical numbers starring one of the pilgrims dressed as Amy Winehouse on a catwalk. Lots of Techno and Hip-hop, with slighly modified words.
Yup, you've guessed it, the Tale of St Cecilia.
The Tale (told by the Nun) was done pretty much verbatim. Just in the style of 21st Century pop rather than 14th Century Saints' Lives. Yet I found myself thinking how just appropriate it was. To a degree, the tales of the saints fitted the celebrity niche - with the incidents of their lives told and retold, and used to "sell" the Church. But not to make too much of that - It was just huge fun.
Leading to... Under Milk Wood. The company are Welsh, and there had been a couple of moments of Celtic fringe before this point. But when they went into a spoof of the Dylan Thomas play for voices, complete with Captain Cat and the other characters, I was a little lost. But slowly it transmogrified beautifully into the Miller's Tale (at last!). Again, they had hacked the plot around (no flood and the fart in a different place), but it worked, and there was a rude word, and everything.
And as with the parts, the whole. The whole evening had been in differe tstyles and used different genres, just like the Canterbury Tales themselves. A really enjoyable updating.
One of the many short and quite nondescript streets around Nunhead, Barforth Rd. is unexceptional in almost every way. Unexemplary mid-Victorian semi-detatched houses and some more modern stock built on bomb sites, I guess.
It does, however, have quite a wide array of trees.
I love the way in which the red autumnal colours of this tree play against the roof of a nearby house:-
At the same time, one or two of the front gardens have what I would call show trees, which don’t seem to notice that it is Autumn at all:
But they are easily overwhelmed, for me, by the great bare, hulk of the horse chestnut over the road: