BBC Radio Young Writers: 25 Years On

It’s 25 years since radio’s first Young Playwrights’ Festival. It was a call to arms for young writers, aged between 15 and 30, to send in their scripts to BBC Radio Drama and write for radio for the first time. By way of celebration, drama producer Jeremy Mortimer has put together a season of ten specially chosen plays from festivals over the years, for BBC Radio 4 Extra.

Jeremy also went back to talk to some of the writers involved: Benjamin Zephaniah (Hurricane Dub), Hattie Naylor (The Box), Abigail Docherty (Listen to my Inside Mind), Roy Williams (Homeboys), Craig Warner (Great Men of Music) and Andrew Wallace (Burn Your Phone). He spoke to directors, Claire Grove and Jeremy Howe (now Drama Commissioning Editor) and the former Controller of Radio 4, Michael Green.

As part of the season, BBC Radio 4 Extra is also rebroadcasting the comedy show that launched the first festival, in 1988: The Word Made Fresh. It was compered by Alan Cumming and Forbes Masson, and features an early radio appearance by Steve Coogan.

Background

Over the course of 3 festivals (writing competitions) in 1988, 1991 and 1996, over 80 writers had their work broadcast for the first time on BBC Radio.

Jeanette Winterson and Benjamin Zephaniah were already established. But the festivals commissioned first plays by a very distinguished group of writers who went on to write further plays and novels. The list includes April de Angelis, Parv Bancil, Craig Baxter, Maya Chowdhry, Beatrice Colin, Pearse Elliot, Tobias Hill, Gary Mitchell, Abi Morgan, Hattie Naylor, Anthony Neilson, Jeremy Raison, Roy Williams, Craig Warner, Sarah Woods.

Radio Drama drew on eight different production centres. Actors featured included Norman Beaton, Alan Cumming, Maurice Denham, Philip Davis, Michael Sheen, Charles Gray, Ian Dury and Mary Wimbush.

Context

“I thought we ought to take a few risks”

(Michael Green, ex-Controller, Radio 4)

In a short feature broadcast prior to The Word Made Fresh, we hear Jeremy Mortimer, who ran the first festival in 1988, putting the festivals in context. Right from the start the aim was to encourage writers from all over the country, from all walks of life. Jeremy began by visiting schools, colleges, theatres and writers’ groups. He met Hattie Naylor in Bristol. He visited Eton, Sunderland Polytechnic and the Theatre Royal, Stratford East. The only thing the final and successful list of plays had in common was an originality of voice and an imaginative approach to the medium.

“Radio Drama really got its act together in terms of commissioning new writing...that legacy is still evident in the Radio 4 schedules today,”

(Drama Commissioning Editor, Jeremy Howe, producer in Belfast in 1988)

Broadcasts and listen online with BBC iPlayer

The plays are broadcast on Radio 4 Extra between 12 - 18 October 2013. Each play is also available to listen to online for 7 days following the first broadcast.

See the full schedule of broadcasts and catch up on BBC iPlayer

The Plays

Hurricane Dub

Written by Benjamin Zephaniah

The Word Made Fresh

The Word Made Fresh was a comedy show, hastily put together by producer Clive Brill.  The show featured a young Steve Coogan, in what is possibly his first ever radio appearance, as the character Duncan Thickett. It also featured Simon Munnery, with poems from Lemn Sissay, music from Miles and Milner, with Alan Cumming and Forbes Masson aka Victor and Barry as comperes.

Great Men of Music

Written by Craig Warner

Homeboys

Written by Roy Williams

The Box 

Written by Hattie Naylor

Burn Your Phone

Written by Andrew Wallace

Listen To My Inside Mind

Written by Abigail Docherty

Once In A Lifetime

Written by Sean Moffatt. Directed by Jeremy Howe.

Caught

Written by Sarah Woods

The Colours of The King’s Rose

Written by Antony Neilson

A Sweet Dessert

Written by Abi Morgan

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