The Stage's website has an interesting - if brief - interview with Radio 4 controller Mark Damazer in which he outlines plans to bring returning drama to the station. Radio 4 broadcasts serial drama, everlasting rural soap The Archers and single plays. But Damazar believes there's no reason why his station couldn't embrace returning drama as TV does: “We are talking six or eight pieces with big story arcs but which also work so that each episode can stand alone in its own right. I want productions where listeners know the characters and know their strengths and weaknesses. What I want is the radio equivalent of Our Friends in the North, Cracker or Prime Suspect. This is an obvious gap in the station’s portfolio. ”
Couldn't agree more. Returning drama series seem to be something of a holy grail for TV at the moment, it's bizarre that Radio 4 doesn't have more returning drama series. When I contributed to the Island Blue series of linked plays broadcast by Radio 4 back in June, I was sad to say goodbye to the character I'd created for it. He had a distinctive voice, a world view I wanted to explore further. I guess that was part of the reason I adapted the radio play into a short film script for my screenwriting MA course, it was a way of keeping the character alive.
Perhaps the lack of returning drama series on radio is a function of the current commissioning process. Perhaps it's simply a gap that has either never been addressed or stressed before. Whatever the truth of the matter, it would open up interesting writing opportunities if Radio 4 does push deeper in this direction.
I enjoy writing serial and returning drama. One of my most exciting challenges was being offered the chance to write all four stories for the second series of Sarah Jane Smith audio dramas by Big Finish. The money was pretty poor, considering the amount of time and effort I poured into the project - but that didn't matter. Indeed, when producer John Ainsworth phoned me up to ask if I was interested, I forgot to ask how much the project paid. I wanted the chance, the fee was largely immaterial.
While I was writing the SJS audio dramas, the central characters changed and grew, and so I did too. After scirpting four hours of drama featuring the core cast, it was tough putting an end to their adventures. Of course, I didn't create Sarah Jane, she was devised by the production office of Doctor Who and brought to life by the wonderful Lis Sladen. I'm looking forward to seeing The Sarah Jane Adventures, finding out where the character is headed.
I've been invited to take part in a radio drama lab next month. It'll be interesting to see if the drive for returning drama serials ges mentioned at that. A key part of the mentoring project which I'm lucky enough to be part of revolves around returning drama serials. Hopefully the work I'm doing for that will stand me in good stead for the radio drama lab. Yes, there are fundamental differences in writing for TV and writing for radio, but there are far more shared characteristics to the two media.