Radio silence

by Louis Barfe

It takes a lot for me to bother listening to an afternoon drama (BBC Radio 4, weekdays, 2.15pm), but last week, Radio 4 cracked it with a listings blurb that had me scratching my head. All of the actors listed were former controllers of the network, all but one of them deceased. Names like Tony Whitby, Clare Lawson Dick and David Hatch, with Monica Sims being the only living being on the list.

The programme was billed as a remake of the Dweller in the Darkness by Reginald Berkeley, a supernatural piece that first aired in 1925, and which was remounted many times in the Savoy Hill years of the BBC. However, we were told, ‘all is not what it seems.’

Well, quite. What we heard, cutting into The Archers’ signature tune with no announcement (and none afterwards either), was When The Pips Stop by Oliver Emanuel, the story of two orphaned sisters living on a remote Scottish island, in their own desert island discs without the good weather. Despite having only each other for company, they haven’t spoken for two years. The silence is only broken when the radio stops working.

Worse still, Radio 4 stops working, the one network guaranteed to keep going in the event of a national emergency. The worst is assumed. When the daily boat fails to arrive, the fears magnify. A blinding flash from the mainland and thousands of eider fleeing seem to confirm doom.

It was a tad self-referential at times, but even that was redeemed with an amusing section with a reverie about money box presenter Paul Lewis’ voice. This leavens the exploration of depression, self-harm, self-loathing, dependency and being trapped. I won’t spoil the plot any further. If you’re intrigued, I recommend a listen. Yes, you read right. me, recommending a Radio 4 afternoon drama. I thought the end of the world would come first.

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