Friday 19 March 2010, 15:33
Drama on BBC Radio 4 is in rude health. The network continues to be the biggest commissioner of original dramas in the UK with 650 hours of drama and readings this year alone. Recent plays illustrate the breadth and ambition of our output: David Hare's Murder in Samarkand, starring David Tennant; Lenny Henry's Othello; and the entire le Carré Smiley series, featuring Simon Russell Beale. We continue to attract the best writers and performers to work on the network.
However, there has been some publicity recently about the decommissioning of the Friday Play. Let me fill in the background. We used to commission 32 fresh plays a year for 9pm on Fridays. The other 20 weeks were repeats of earlier Friday plays. But while our aim is always to offer original drama of the highest quality, we work to a budget and sometimes have to make difficult decisions about where to invest. Rather than spread the budget more thinly over all our drama strands I decided to decommission a single strand - the Friday Play. This will enable us to maintain investment in the quality of the hundreds of plays we broadcast elsewhere across the network. The Friday Play was reduced to 12 new plays last year, before being decommissioned this year.
The thinking behind this being that not only does the Friday Play have the smallest drama audience, but that the best plays we commissioned for the Friday Play strand will also find a home elsewhere, whether on Saturday afternoons or on weekday afternoons. We will continue to commission challenging scripts that examine difficult and contemporary realities. Every now and then there may be a theme or a treatment that just won't work in a daytime slot, in which case we will run it on Friday night. It will be a rare occurrence but let us see what transpires. I should add that drama is not disappearing from Friday nights: we will be scheduling a mix of drama repeats and omnibus editions of narrative history series.
Radio 4 remains absolutely committed to original drama. Looking forward to the next few weeks alone you can hear: a new production of Stephen Poliakoff's Playing with Trains; Goldfinger, played by Sir Ian McKellen and supported by an all star cast; and the 1980s season, including three new plays by Ian Hislop and Nick Newman, Danny Brocklehurst and Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais. As a matter of course over the next year there will be nearly 200 single plays. And the opportunities for new writers on the network remain unrivalled - the Afternoon Play alone will premiere the work of around 40 first- and second-time writers for radio next year - some of whom we hope will be the heirs of Stoppard, Pinter, Orton et al...
Mark Damazer is Controller of BBC Radio 4
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