Niamh Cusack (Molly Bloom); Henry Goodman (Leopold Bloom); Andrew Scott (Stephen Dedalus) - some of the cast of Radio 4's upcoming dramatisation of Ulysses
"What did you do in the Great War Mr Joyce?" "I wrote Ulysses. What did you do?"
A defining work, a sensuous celebration of life and the everyday, Ulysses inspired Tom Stoppard in his play Travesties and continues to move anyone who discovers it. I know it will inspire Radio 4 listeners when we play the book across the schedule throughout the day on June 16th in its 90th anniversary year. The dramatisation is by Robin Brooks and features a cast of 24 led by Henry Goodman, with Andrew Scott, Niamh Cusack and Stephen Rea. It is produced by Jeremy Mortimer. And Mark Lawson will guide us through the day - from kidneys in the Today programme to sex and Molly Bloom late at night.p>
What better time than now to turn from the grand political and economic narrative to the inner life and the personal, drawn so beautifully by Joyce? Now is the time for culture and the arts to make their presence felt on Radio 4 - not only as a way of deepening the current affairs agenda (such as for instance with the Naguib Mahfouz trilogy which we ran at the time of the Arab Spring last year, or Squanderland, the drama featuring Stephanie Flanders about the Eurozone or Blasphemy And The Governor Of Punjab - a forthcoming Friday Drama) but in their own right and setting their own agenda. We are living through times of economic and political turmoil and I hope the Reith Lectures this year, soon to be presented by the eminent academic and thinker Niall Ferguson, will begin to analyse through history our institutions as a starting narrative through this uncertainty. Economists and politicians are struggling to formulate answers (and even questions) so let us turn to arts and culture.
We have rich offerings on Radio 4 and Radio 4 Extra and perhaps they can give us a glimpse into the future and provide nourishment and enjoyment in times of hardship and decline. What light might artists shed on the direction of our society? What are the preoccupations of culture now? And what distractions and enjoyment are on offer? Let Radio 4's cultural heart beat more strongly than ever. What about an Artist in Residence? Let's open up our airwaves and online space to artists in all areas as a playground and make them welcome as never before. I have already found broad support for this idea from friends of Radio 4 like Marina Warner, Andrew Motion, Antony Gormley, Brian Eno and Ruth Padel; who else might like to join in?
This is our thinking so far: Melvyn Bragg will launch the year in January 2013 with a 9am series analysing culture and its role in society, looking at Matthew Arnold and his ideas about active culture and others. And we will highlight drama, writing, poetry and film in the course of the year, making the most of our prolific daily drama and reading slots, our many arts documentaries, Open Book with Mariella Frostrup, The Film Programme with Francine Stock, A Good Read with Harriett Gilbert, Bookclub with Jim Naughtie, Saturday Review with Tom Sutcliffe and our flagship daily arts programme, Front Row, with Mark Lawson, John Wilson and Kirsty Lang. Melvyn Bragg, Andy Marr, Libby Purves, Kirsty Young and many others such as Will Self, who is currently presenting A Point of View, add regular shine to our cultural coverage. We will have short films, made for Radio 4, explore character in drama in a Day Of Character, with leading writers choosing their favourite characters and updating them; we hope to follow So You Want to be a Scientist with So You Want to be an Author...
And we have other plans - for an Orwell season, a season titled Dangerous Visions - Dystopia Now featuring JG Ballard, with an introduction by John Gray and, this autumn, for a narrative history of European Detectives, presented by Mark Lawson, where we look at Europe through its favourite fictional detectives, from Montalbano to Wallander. Underpinning this novel approach to Europe, we will dramatise all ten of Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö's Martin Beck novels - little known but acknowledged by those who do know as the inspiration behind the currently popular Scandinavian thrillers and many others besides, including Ian Rankin's Rebus. You heard it first here on Radio 4 - Martin Beck, played by Steven Mackintosh, the undiscovered and unlikely, acerbic hero of European crime.
Gwyneth Williams is the Controller of BBC Radio 4. Ulysses will be broadcast on Saturday 16 June, in seven parts throughout the day. The dramas will be available to download.