Speech bubble ...
As Abigail Appleton, Radio 3's Head of Speech Programmes explains, she's touched by the BBC Proms as much as anyone else - but Proms programmes are only part of the paperwork cluttering her floor at home right now ...
I accidentally stepped on Sir Alan Ayckbourn this morning - a script for one of his dramas, I should add, not the man. For it's that time of year again, when much of the floor space in our house is taken up with piles of scripts and proposals that producers have put forward in our commissioning round for Drama on 3.
I like to spread them out as I think about the individual plays and the overall mix - hence the multiple trip hazards. Those we commissioned last autumn are now on air and I'm waiting to see if the shortlist I agonised over will live up to expectations. The current season looks the strongest in recent years but commissioning is far from an exact science and there's a fair bit of gut instinct involved.
Each season has its own mix of new writing and classics, established writers and new voices, large-scale productions and some, you hope, a little cheaper. Sometimes a proposal seems to have all the right ingredients on paper but doesn't quite work on air. At other times they turn out even better than you'd imagined. When producer Turan Ali suggested we adapt James Baldwin's seminal love story, Giovanni's Room, I was amazed someone hadn't done it before and snapped it up; but I didn't anticipate just how wonderfully witty and sincere Neil Bartlett's adaption would be. If you missed it, don't worry, we'll certainly repeat it. There's also a host of powerful stories coming up, from Brian Friel's intense chamber piece, Faith Healer to the epic narrative of Goethe's Faust, and some bold new writing.
Another of the hazardous piles of papers on the floor - you do have to tread carefully here until commissioning is completed and there's time to tidy - is a collection of Proms programmes. To keep, or not to keep, is an annual topic of discussion between my partner and me. Though at times we may both feel overwhelmed with 'stuff', we are both inclined to hang on to them. Thankfully, Sir Henry Wood - founder of the Proms - was clearly a hoarder too. A wonderful collection of his concert programmes, only recently rediscovered in the British Library, was the source of intriguing insights in last Saturday's feature, Sir Henry's Hoard. I was struck by the revelation that so many of the programmes, which came by subscription from across Europe, featured female performers and composers. Sir Henry Wood himself can be credited with introducing women into his Queen's Hall Orchestra, though when it came to the Proms they weren't allowed to play, as it was thought to be too tiring for them!
On the theme of listening highlights, I was completely fascinated by Bettany Hughes's feature Tracking the Aryans, broadcast on Thursday, in which a visit to the prehistoric site of Arkaim on the Siberian Steppe became a meditation on the complexity of understanding ancient history and the politics of archaeology, in particular the search to identify 'half of humanity's original mother tongue, Proto-Indo-European'. One of her contributors concluded that the intellectually healthy position was simply to accept uncertainty. A healthy position for a commissioner too, I think, as I admit to myself that writing this is a displacement activity and that I really must get back to reading those scripts.
- You can listen again to Tracking the Aryans for three more days, by clicking this link.