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Writing for Radio

Initial Thoughts

Jot down any radio programmes you listen to - and the station.
(If you never use the radio, say why)

What are the differences between watching a programme on the TV and listening to a
programme on the radio?
(Consider sports coverage, music shows, documentaries, the news, chat shows and
any other genres you can think of)

If you were a playwright, how would you alter your work to suit the radio?
(Think about how you would show a change in location, or events on stage when no-
one is speaking, for example)
Language on the radio is a form of SPOKEN TEXT

Spoken texts are quite sophisticated in that you have to be aware of the background
and the foreground. In the background you have to consider sound and directions. In
the foreground you consider the actual script, what is said. In a slide show and talk on
looking after your hamster, you would have to script what is said (foreground), but
you would also have to include when to turn onto the next slide, and what would
appear on that slide, maybe you would want to indicate when something is stressed, or
perhaps you would introduce other props and materials. All this is background. On the
radio, the same applies - there is a script and there is also background sound (sound
effects, ambient noise, music etc.)

TASK ONE:
A sample radio drama script is reproduced below. It is taken from a booklet called
'Writing for the BBC'. Read the extract and answer these questions.

Questions.

1. What are the brackets and underlining for?


2. What is the significance of the capital letters?
3. Who’s “mike”?
4. How do you know it’s the man that has broken through the bushes?
5. Why has the man breathed sharply in line 4?
6. Why is “Approaching” underlined and in brackets line 8?
7. Why is “just” underlined, line 12?
8. How is the scene change managed between line 19 and 22?
9. How do you know Miss Tree is the old lady mentioned in line 10?
10. What does “Fade up” mean?
11. “Exterior acoustic”?
12. “Close acoustic”?
13. “Crossfade”?
14. “Hold to establish”?
TEXT TYPE: RADIO SCRIPT

(FADE UP EXTERIOR ACOUSTIC. SKYLARKS HEARD DISTANTLY.


CLOSER TO, THE RUSTLING OF BUSHES AS A MAN BREAKS
THROUGH.)

Man: (Close to mike, pants heavily)


Johnson: (A little away) You’re late.
Man: (Sharp intake of breath)
Johnson: You are precisely two minutes and fifty seconds late.
Man: There was a hitch. The train was late. Where the devil…
(BUSHES RUSTLE AGAIN)
Johnson: (Approaching) Right behind you. I was waiting.
Man: I told you the train was delayed. I came as quickly as I could.
Johnson: And the old lady?
Man: It’s all right. She just caught it.
Johnson: Just caught it.
Man: (Wearily) First class compartment, three carriages from the front, corner seat
facing the engine. A non-smoker, of course. Just as you said.
Johnson: Good.

(A PAUSE)

Man: So what now?


Johnson: So what now? That’s all. You’re finished.
Man: Finished? But I thought-
Johnson: (Softly) I said, you’re finished.

(A PISTOL FIRES CLOSE TO MIKE. CUT TO THE SCREAM OF A SIREN AS


A DIESEL TRAIN RUSHES PAST.
CROSSFADE FROM CLATTERING WHEELS TO INTERIOR OF TRAIN, A
CLOSE ACOUSTIC IN WHICH TRAIN NOISE IS MININMUM. HOLD
BRIEFLY TO ESTABLISH)

Miss Tree: (Gently, close to mike) Young man.


Young Man: I beg your pardon?…Oh I see.
Miss Tree: Thank you so much. But it is a non-smoker. I always make a point of
insisting, you know. Trains nowadays are so dirty anyway, don’t you think?
TASK TWO

The following is taken from Spoken Word, a Radio 4 program presented by Michael
Rosen, the “I” of paragraph 2.

Script the background that you think best suits the foreground. Think about sound
effects, music etc. Think about accents. Name the speakers.

Then a powerful demon a prowler through the dark nursed


hard grievance. It harrowed him to hear the din of the loud
banquet every day in the hall, the harp being struck and
the clear song of the poet telling with mastery of man’s
beginnings how the almighty had made the earth a
gleaming plain girdled with waters.

Part of 'Beowulf' translated by Seamus Heaney. As the


Anglo Saxon poet must have realised, you can’t travel far
in this country without encountering water. For some this
winter it will be an invasion, and the water will change
their landscape and their lives, reminding us that the
place where water and earth meet is never stable and
fixed and indeed there are stretches of terrain that are
really a mix of both. So while I’ve been keeping my
powder dry our reporter Phillipa Budgeon has been getting
muddy with agricultural expert Colin Dib. Tania Styles from
the OED drops in with some history starting in the bog.

It’s first recorded as a topographical surname in the early


14th century when documents would mention one Johnnes
atte Bogge, literally John who lives at the bog. The word
itself is probably a loan from one of the Celtic languages
spoken in the British Isles. Scots Gaelic and Irish have a
likely word boggach in the sense marsh, which in turn
comes from the adjective bog meaning soft.
So we’re walking along the riverside the River Thames and
as we come to a fairly wet bit of land it seems an
appropriate time to talk about the word bog.

Well I think most folks know what a bog is, it’s a wet
horrible area where the land is absolutely saturated with
water and all the organic matter all rots down in a very
anaerobic and rather smelly and nasty situation. Bogs by
and large have disappeared from this country. They
disappeared but continue in the language for example the
phrase 'in the mire', the word mire is another word for
bog. Interestingly quag is another word for bog but
quagmire is yet another one. To me that’s a rather deeper
sort of situation. If you’re in a quagmire you’re probably up
to your armpits rather than up to your knees.

The word morass for bog a marsh or an area of muddy


land was borrowed into English from the Dutch word for
marsh, morass. It first appears in literature in the work of
John Barber

“and as he thought richt swa did he


and went him down to the morass
and the water that runnen was
and in the bog he found a place
well streyt and well boldrad was
for the water they passed had”

Because of their terrain the Dutch were masters of land


reclamation technology in the late Renaissance period and
Charles 1st invited the Dutch embankment engineer
Cornelius Vermidan to England to begin draining Yorkshire.
He began draining the Cambridge fens in 1630 and the
workmen he brought with him used their own terms which
quickly caught on in eastern north of England.

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