Frivolous Monsters

Finally, a Success

At this time BBC Radio Drama launched their biennial competition – the Alfred Bradley Bursary Award (ABBA), the self-styled most prestigious radio drama prize in the country – to encourage new radio writing in the North of England. The winner was to be awarded a cash bursary, mentorship, and to get their script produced as an afternoon play on Radio 4.

Radio 4 and 2

Farrell formed a special splinter group, for those in the writing group who wished to take part, and I produced a 45 minute physics-filled drama about Einstein being visited by time traveller which I hoped would have been educational, funny, and used time travel as a medium with which to shine a light on a modern-day celebrity culture.16

I did not win, nor did I bother the celebrity judging panel much, and I eventually found out that the winning script out of the 417 entered was about a kid with acne; the one two years previously about a suicidal girl living on a council estate. I kind-of got the idea that me and Radio 4 drama weren’t exactly on the same wavelength.17


At last, a success, when I managed to gain a writing credit on Radio 2 through the late-night comedy show Parsons and Naylor’s Pull-Out Sections which paid for topical gags. I’d recorded the episode in hope, as I had every week, and thus it was walking around the streets of Atherton whilst listening on my old Sony Walkman that I first heard my name read out in the credits.

The first step on the ladder.

I always seemed to dwell on the negatives, however, and the downside of this was that I hadn’t actually heard any of the material I’d submitted in the preceding half hour. I listened again – nothing – and I could only imagine that something I’d sent in had been recorded, in front of the live studio audience at The Drill Hall in London, but had then been cut out of the broadcast programme for reasons of timings…or because nobody laughed.

Either that or one of my namesakes was getting in on the act and making a better fist of it than me.

Reviewing what I’d sent in, for this last episode in the series, I considered that my most-likely submission to achieve near-success was:

A seventy nine year old from Lytham St. Anne’s has been told he can no longer return the sand that blows from the beach into his seafront garden. And if he continues to do so he’ll be charged with fly-tipping and sent to prison.

What has it come to, in twenty-first century Britain, where our pensioners still have to loiter about, without attracting suspicion, and shuffle sand down their trouser legs in order to escape incarceration?18

I held onto the forlorn hope that the BBC department sending out the payments would have been fooled by the credit list of contributors, when they sent out the cheques, and that I could have benefited from last minute changes and the bureaucracy between departments.

It transpired that they weren’t so daft.

Thus, as it was, one mighty second of Radio 2’s illustrious history of broadcasting to the nation since 1967 had been taken up by me.


Meanwhile, in Costa, things still went on and one day I got to witness a Father on one of the tall stools near the entrance giving his toddler a bottle of cola, who then proceeded to drop it whilst clambering down. The Father quickly set about grappling with the fizzing, spewing, bottle on the floor, forced open the doors of Costa, and tossed it out into the street, before hastily pulling the door shut again, as if it were a live hand grenade. This is just another one of the things you see in real life.



16 – Interestingly, perhaps, in the treatment for What a Difference… it contained the line “two linear journeys that just don’t happen in the same order”. This was sent out a whole six months before the first appearance of the character River Song in Steven Moffat’s Doctor Who episode Silence in the Library wherein began two linear journeys, which played out over several years, that didn’t happen to occur in the same order.

17 – Sarah McDonald Hughes, the actress from my first short theatre piece who played the schizophrenic teenager, whom I never got to meet, also entered and her script Maine Road was highly commended by the judges. Et tu brutes?

18 – True story, mostly. 79 year old Arthur Bulmer of Lytham St Annes was reported as having to spend £500 a year on workmen to remove the sand in his garden, drifting in from the beach across the road, after the local Council told him he couldn’t simply repatriate it; even though, as Bulmer maintained, his sand was cleaner than theirs because his didn’t contain any dog muck.

I’ve often tried to work out how to write this story – the absurd combined with the fantastical – as a short film script under the name Escape, playing on the double meaning which I worked very hard to contrive. Still, not good enough for Radio 2.


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9 thoughts on “Finally, a Success

  1. Not sure about Radio 4 Drama – think the pendulum has swung from totally stuffy and strangled to yo, let’s all get down with the kids! Better luck with the timing of your book.

    • As my writing aims and hopes and expectations have moved about so have my habits. I used to listen to pretty much all the afternoon plays. Found all the ones about adultery depressing. I haven’t listened to many recently though.

      I’m not sure what market my book is aiming for…I’m thinking it’s a British David Sedaris in that it’s just humorous stories about life from someone you don’t know.

    • That, I dread. I’m not sure I’ve got the personality or the sight reading skills. I have admired sight reading with some actors I’ve met. It’s definitely a skill. I think that people who sell books these days are expected to do that sort of thing, even if not on the Sedaris level.

      • Yes, looking at all the Literary/Book Festivals these days, it seems like many authors have to perform to one degree or another. I think that is a bit harsh seeing as writing is such a different skill often solitary and private.

  2. I seem to remember Will Self making disparaging remarks about the standard of plays on Radio 4. I’ve occasionally had the misfortune to listen to some of them, and I would say that not being selected should be seen as being a commendation on your writing abilities. Well done you!

    • Well that’s one way of looking at it, but it doesn’t bring in the rewards of having them produced. I have heard some terrible ones…really terrible…but don’t think that should be the bar that they set.

  3. That story about the sand sounds like a scenario Samuel Beckett might have come up with – if I’m remembering my Eng. Lit. correctly.
    I seldom listen to radio plays but am underwhelmed more often than not when I do. Having said that, I’m gutted I missed the one about the kid with acne.

    • I always get Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter confused. But with Waiting for Godot and things like The Birthday Party or The Caretaker I could see it fitting both.

      The play, so you can look out for it, was ‘Playing the Game’ and is about a teenage boy who has to negotiate a number of issues including his dad’s growing relationship with his aunt after his mother’s death, his ambitions to be a footballer, school bullies and acne.

      The previous winner ‘Abigail Adams’ was described: “When Abigail falls off the top of her tower block whilst painting a picture for her parents’ anniversary, she contemplates her misfit teenage life”.

      Collect them all.

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