Entertainment & Arts

BBC Radio 3 commissions 70 works for 70th anniversary

The Third Programme
Image caption Conceived as being "unique in freedom from routine", Radio 3 began as the Third Programme in 1946

BBC Radio 3 is to celebrate its 70th anniversary this September by commissioning 70 new works.

The station is searching for seven composers to create 10-minute works; while a writer in residence will contribute several new pieces.

The season will also include a new play based on a recently-discovered Joe Orton story, and a radio revival of Harold Pinter's The Birthday Party.

Both playwrights were championed by the station early in their careers.

The Visa Affair will be based on an unpublished story by Orton, which was uncovered by his sister and passed on to playwright Jake Arnott.

The tale, based on the torturous process of applying for a US visa endured by Orton, will be woven into "a new kind of multidisciplinary drama, in which Arnott also draws on letters, archive, newspaper reports and personal testimony" to investigate the world Orton lived in.

"What excites me about this project is the opportunity to dramatise a hidden work: Orton's own encounter with the kind of absurd bureaucracy that he brilliantly depicts in his plays," said Arnott.

Image caption Joe Orton's first ever play was broadcast on the Third Programme in 1964

"We helped Orton to be heard for the first time," added Radio 3 controller Alan Davey."And now we're going back and giving life to something [forgotten]."

The 70th anniversary marks the birth of the BBC's Third Programme, launched on 29 September 1946.

Writing in the Radio Times at the time, director general Sir William Haley explained: "The Third Programme will have no fixed points. It will devote to the great works the time they require. It will seek every evening to do something that is culturally satisfying and significant."

The network was incorporated into the fledgling Radio 3 in 1967 and has become a national institution - championing The Proms and BBC Young Musician competitions, but also commissioning new drama and thought-provoking documentaries.

Other events planned for the anniversary include:

  • Three established composers to write a "substantial work" to celebrate the station's birthday
  • Winners of the Proms Inspire competition to compose new "fanfares" for Radio 3
  • The Present Experiment - a satirical play about the launch of the Third Programme, written by Robin Brooks
  • New productions of Samuel Beckett's radio plays, recorded in binaural (surround) sound
  • A tribute to film critic and broadcaster Philip French
  • A revival of the "radio poem", previously championed by producers of the Third Programme
  • Composers to write pieces inspired by Radio 3's surroundings, described by Alan Davey as "sound art for radio"
Image caption Many of the new commissions will champion new talent

The station also announced it would be extending its New Generation Artists Scheme - which helps up-and-coming musicians reach the next stage of their career - to support budding young conductors.

And some of Radio 3's most popular programmes will be broadcasting from a "pop-up glass studio" on London's South Bank, allowing passers-by the opportunity to watch presenters like Sean Rafferty and Clemency Burton-Hill in action.

Davey said the initiative was "driven by one concern - to draw from the spirit of the Third Programme in a contemporary way - to ensure our audiences can connect with remarkable music and culture."

Related Topics

More on this story

Around the BBC