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Writing Beauty of Britain

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Steve Saul | 12:27 UK time, Thursday, 7 April 2011


Writers Christopher Douglas (Ed Reardon's Week) and Nicola Sanderson talk about writing radio comedy Beauty of Britain and finding genuine humour in the most difficult and profound places...

"I've not got that thing that begins with 'D' where you forget stuff" was how our friend's dad put it. Most people's first experience of dementia begins when they hear (or say) something like that. And even though there's misery in store for everyone involved there's a strong thread of laughter running through the experience - or that's what we found anyway.

When we decided to write about this subject we wondered whether to tell the story from our point of view - the stressed-out relatives - or should we try to see the world through the eyes of the person living with Alzheimer's?

Should Scene One start in the office of two fascinating, slim, conventionally attractive, acerbic yet endlessly compassionate writers? Or should we create a confusing wobbly world of disembodied voices saying things that don't make sense? But that might seem like another series about boozing.

Some months after Chris's dad died, it occurred to us that there was a third point of view - that of the African care-worker who's parachuted into other people's family crises at a time when nobody's behaving very rationally. And that's how we came up with the central character of our show, Beauty Olonga.

Here is a clip of Beauty in action:

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Handily for us, Beauty has a forthright nature so we can say whatever we like about Britain and what's wrong with pretty much everyone who lives here - the dysfunctional families, the overheated houses, the cauliflower cheese addiction, disappointing church services, etc.

Even more fortunately we got Jocelyn Jee Esien to play Beauty, albeit under slightly false pretences. She agreed because we said we were recording on location. By the time she realised the locations were our house, the street and various disused offices and empty stairwells at the BBC it was too late for her to back out.

For this second series we've also persuaded the following to work in our bathroom, kitchen and back garden: Julia Mackenzie, Geoffrey Palmer, Felix Dexter, Clive Swift, Phyllida Law, Oscar James, Vicky Pepperdine, Morwenna Banks and Indira Joshi, Felicity Montagu and Patterson Joseph.

Exclusive celebrity gossip: reassuringly, Geoffrey Palmer's biscuit of choice is a milk-chocolate digestive, Vicky Pepperdine enjoys a decaff and Paterson Joseph brings his own tea-bags of Redbush tea."

Click here to listen to Episode 1 on iPlayer before tuning into the next show on Wednesday, 11.30 on BBC Radio 4.


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