Hurrah for adventurous radio feature-making
We've a long interview with Martin Amis coming up in Night Waves next Thursday - the occasion of course is his new novel which is already stirring up debate and I'm looking forward to hearing his conversation with Philip Dodd.
But it was something Martin Amis wrote some time ago that came to my mind earlier this week. It's a short story, and I've not read it for a while, but I remember it inverts to wonderful comic effect the worlds of Hollywood and poetry publishing - so that screenplay writers submit their work to little magazines and poets are flown to Los Angeles first class. It struck me that Amis might have chosen radio feature-makers instead of poets for this absurd reversal of fortunes when on Tuesday night I was listening to independent radio producer Alan Hall introduce the first event from a new organisation - In The Dark.
He described radio documentary makers as occupying a territory between journalism and art. For those of us that love the crafted radio feature, that's often its great strength but lack of easy categorisation may also contribute to its relatively low profile against other cultural forms plus of course the nature of the medium. In the Dark aims to challenge this and is devoted to celebrating and enriching the culture of radio documentary and claiming a place for it alongside film and TV, photography, journalism and the arts.
It was formed last year by a documentary filmmaker turned radio enthusiast, Nina Garthwaite, who plans a series of public listening events aimed at creating a community of discussion and criticism around radio feature-making. Tuesday's event also marked the beginning of a partnership with the London International Documentary Festival which has inspired her. It was a hugely enjoyable and thought-provoking night packed with radio professionals and listeners from this country and abroad. I was rather relieved it wasn't held completely in the dark but the lights were certainly dimmed low as we sat back to listen whilst looking, someone said afterwards, as if we were all gazing up at an invisible screen watching the programmes in our heads.
Though the main event was 'Mighty Mac' a prize-winning documentary from Ireland's RTE, the evening began with a couple of shorter extracts from seminal programmes including, to launch it all, an extract from Monument - 'The Twist' composed by Ian Gardiner and produced by Alan Hall in 1993. This programme launched Radio 3's Between the Ears series and went on to win a Prix Italia. I admit to having felt rather proud in this international company that Radio 3's longstanding support for adventurous radio features was being acknowledged in this way.
This coming Saturday the latest Between the Ears takes as its theme a moment in Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard once described as the most significant sound effect in world drama. Within the programme the theatre director Tom Morris talks about the incredible power of sound in theatre claiming 'the ear is often a freer gateway to the imagination than the eye.' It's a sentiment that would have gone down well at In The Dark.