BBC Radio 4

    Bringing old favourites to life: illustrating Radio 4 drama

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    A while back I posted about why we use illustrations on iPlayer for key radio programming (on the BBC Internet blog). In short we want to avoid galleries of largely unknown faces which don't really hook the listener as much as a well-executed illustration.

    When we come to illustrate dramas which feature popular and loved characters we are posed with a dilemma - we want to give depth and feeling to the drama without personifying the character too much. The mind's eye is a wonderful thing which conjures up its own distinct image of how Arthur Dent in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy or Ruth Archer from The Archers look - it's not the job of the illustration to give a face to the characters, its job is to nod to their characteristics.

    You'll have seen two illustrations recently for Rumpole and the Penge Bungalow Murders and The Complete Smiley, both on Radio 4. I'll hand over to my picture editors Javier Hirschfeld and Dominik Klimowski who commissioned these illustrations:

    The Complete Smiley (Commissioned by Javier Hirschfeld):

    "I thought of the illustrator Swava Harasymowicz since there is something of the classic spy/gangster Hollywood movies in many of her works. I focused on the role of Smiley rather than John le Carré himself. Smiley's a spy who should not be easily recognised by the people that see him so we decided to go with the film noir look and feel to create that classic spy scenario. Below are Swava's drafts and the explanations of them." The illustrator writes:

    "The main rough would use 'slices' suggesting blinds with the figure - half-seen, half-not-seen - within them, sort of layered. There may be very faint outlines of cities too, or a close up of a spy-like man with a lighter instead of a gun (apparently he had a favourite lighter). In both cases there would be colour - not monochrome.

    "We opted for the blinds option because this would add mystery and this way the character's face will not be as prominent, therefore not identifiable with Sir Alec Guinness or with Simon Russell-Beale. Smiley will be defined by the spy look, the papers and the silhouette, since he is always in the shadows and must never be seen."

    Rumpole and the Penge Bungalow Murders (Commissioned by Dominik Klimowski):

    Steph von Reiswitz was the natural choice when commissioning an illustration for the 'Rumpole' series on Radio 4. She has illustrated numerous radio programmes for us including 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame' and the 'The Complete Ripley'. Her idiosyncratic style fits perfectly with these 'period' dramas and it is further backed up by a knowledge of the material. If there is one thing more reassuring than an illustrator who is keen to research the content we are promoting, it is one who is familiar with it already.

    The illustration was made specifically to be generic so that it can promote any of the Rumpole stories. His features, the décor and the props are all carefully considered and I think this is where illustration will always win out. The image has been created from thin air. It does not rely on an actor, or a specific setting or action, all of which would make it too specific and interfere with our imaginations. Instead it is an image as original as the one each of us carries in our mind's eye when we turn on the radio and listen to 'Rumpole and the Penge Bungalow Murders'.

    Ashley Stewart-Noble is a Senior Content Producer at BBC Future Media & Technology

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