To mark the centenary of the outbreak of World War One, Radio Lincolnshire producer Michael Hortin has worked with two lecturers from University of Lincoln Conan Lawrence and Andrew Westerside on the production of three dramas for BBC Radio Lincolnshire. The scripts dramatise the lives of a local family in a series entitled 'Leaving Home'. In this post, Michael explains some of the background to the broadcasts.

Thirteen months ago we at BBC Radio Lincolnshire joined forces with the University of Lincoln to mark the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of WWI by telling the story, through drama, of the Beechey Family from Lincolnshire.

All eight brothers served during the war, five of them were killed another left with life changing injuries. With many of their letters home surviving we felt we could produce something that had depth and would connect with people in the county.

The first part of the project was last Saturday, and a concert at the Arboretum  in Lincoln. Situated 100 metres from the Beechey's home during WWI it was an obvious starting off point for us, as the mother Amy would have almost certainly taken time to walk around the public park and contemplate her loss.

The one hour performance charted the family story from 1914 to 1918 and was centered on a cast of actors representing the families 13 brothers and sisters and their mother. Musical support came from from the Royal Anglian Regimental Band, the Military Wives Choir of RAF College Cranwell and a piper from Scunthorpe and District Pipe Band.

Co-ordinating a production like that may sound a challenge. Well it was for our Directors, especially when you consider they only had three hour for a rehearsal and sound check.

Despite doubts over a generator, heat getting the better of one of the choir and a water shortage that led to me making a supermarket dash thirty minutes before the first show we pulled it off. In glorious sunshine the performances sparkled and moved the hundreds watching as eight of Amy Beechey's sons marched to war and only three returned. With uncanny timing as they came home the bells of Lincoln cathedral tolled, as if out of respect for the fallen.

Members of the cast of the Leaving Home radio drama

For most projects you would think that might be enough, but either ambitiously or foolishly we have more to come.

On Sunday and Monday we will hold a site specific performance in and around the church in the small village of Friesthorpe, with the same partners and cast. We chose it as the family lived there until 1912, because the father of the family was the vicar at the church. The first performance, to the villagers,  will culminate in the recently restored church bells ringing for the first time in full for more than 100 years. With backing from BBC North a film will be produced of the performance and made available later this year. It also goes without saying that the drama and ceremony, like in Lincoln last week, will be broadcast live once again on BBC Radio Lincolnshire.

The next part of Leaving Home will then be an hour long radio play, telling the story of the oldest brother Barnard and his relationship with his mother Amy and one of his five sisters Edie. With two pupils from a local school joining to play the role of Edie and Bar in early life, It will be broadcast in full on the 4th of August.

A final important part of the Leaving Home project, thanks to the support of BBC Outreach and Social Responsibility, will be the screening of the film from Friesthorpe at a School near the Arboretum. In addition to showing off the performance to more people it will also help us cement an excellent relationship between the radio station and the community in the area which has been strengthened by this project.

Undoubtedly though a defining memory for me of the project came at dusk in Lincoln after the final performance of the day on Saturday. Two of Amy's grandchildren had travelled from across the country to watch it. As the sun set the actors, directors and myself met them a little nervous as to what they thought. We need not have worried, as explained they were moved and all the more proud of their family.  Watching our actors in period costume, who portrayed the Beechey family, talking to her grandchildren  1914 didn't feel so far away as 100 years were briefly bridged.

Michael Hortin is a producer at BBC Radio Lincolnshire

  • Listen to clips from the production of Leaving Home and find out more about the live performances on the BBC Radio Lincolnshire website.

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