Mission Statement:

Audio drama is one of the most intimate and expressive dramatic mediums, rivaling theater and film in poetic, visual, and narrative qualities. Many people are unaware of this - a stigma lingers that "radio drama" is a scratchy, cartoonish thing of the past, as if people thought that cinema ended with silent movies, unaware of all the great films made since that time. In reality, audio and radio drama is the great frontier of modern theater - with subtle, intimate performances and powerful, gripping stories.

My aim is to promote a discussion of the art, sociology, theory, and future of this remarkable artistic form. The current state of audio drama is precarious, but through careful consideration of how content is presented, distributed, and interacted with, I believe that the radio and audio drama community can grow and prosper and reach an even wider audience.

Monday, March 5, 2012

R.C. Scriven and his Radio Plays

In the last several weeks, I have searched for R.C. Scriven, the blind/deaf poet and playwright from Yorkshire.

His work appears to have great acclaim in the world of radio drama – David Wade offers a glowing description of his work in the Drakakis book British Radio Drama. Wade calls him an “exceptional figure” in the world of radio drama. His, work, he says, “has a powerful melodiousness and an intense visual quality, which would do credit to a man in full possession of his hearing and his sight.”

Here is an excerpt from the same book, a passage from All Early in the April:

[ fade up the slow start of a steam train]

The train departed dead on Bradshaw time.
Late summer and early autumn work so blended,
The swallows seemed reluctant to depart.
The leaves were dark- even the leaves of the lime.
As the smells of all green things blend after rain,
Field merged with wood and wood with a country lane.
down at the perspective of a half-century
I see, I see
that landscape, caught by an artist's brush,
for one brief power - and eternity.
Somewhere between South Milford and Leeds, long ago
the train ran out of that landscape and was lost.
Was it at Micklefield? Was it at Barnbow?
No, No. The point's impossible to trace .
the line is marked in time, but not in space,
an invisible, intangible boundary I crossed
with the kingdom of boyhood, I shared with Wilfred, ended.

[ the train stops at the terminus ]

Granny met me, stooping to imprint kisses of white heather, and love, and peppermint.

My, how you've grown! Let's have a look at you.

How's mother, Granny?
Granny, I've got a friend.
His name is Wilfred Kemp. I like him no end.
He climbed the tallest tree you ever knew.
Wilfrid could climb a church tower if you wanted to.

[ cross fade the terminus with an old cab horse ]

Here is the information I have compiled for the Audio Drama Wiki:

R.C. Scriven entry

There is more information available about his early life, as it is the subject of many of his plays and also of his 1977 memoir Edge of Darkness, Edge of Light. I do not yet have a copy of it.

What there is little to no information about is his work for radio and his later life. I'm not even certain that the list of radio plays is complete. It is compiled from the list found in the published version of The Seasons of the Blind, which came out in 1974. But there may be more, as I'm unsure of the year of his death. As it stands, A Blind Understanding is the last radio play I have any record of.

Dr. Rosemary Sandford, the editor of the deafblind magazine Open Hand, offers additional insight in her series of articles on Scriven, but even for her, the trail goes cold toward the end. What we know is that he and his wife continued to struggle in poverty and relative obscurity, even after the publication of his memoir.

That Scriven is completely unknown today is somewhat surprising, given the quality of his work and the dramatic narrative of his life. The only online resource for information about him is the Diversity entry. From Nigel's work, at least we know that a few of the plays still survive in recorded form. The majority, of course, have not been archived by the BBC.

I would like to invite anyone with information about R.C. Scriven to email me at modernsoundling at gmail dot com. I'm particularly looking for details on his radio plays or perhaps a way to contact his son Mark.

Although I realize that recordings of Scriven's radio work are unlikely to emerge, perhaps it would be possible to find and preserve the scripts of his unpublished radio plays, or even publish them in an on-demand book format.

I'll conclude with two things: an excerpt and a link.

An apropos passage about winter, from The Seasons of the Blind:

Narrator: And children, blasé, weep hot tears, heartfelt,

when unabominable snowmen melt.

And underneath earth's tattered winding-sheet

life, germinating, stirs in the winter wheat.

And my heart lifts at a high, far sound...

(the wing beat and the cry of wild swans pass)

Wild swans!

Their out-thrust necks like swords of Roman bronze,

I see them, in my mind's eye, making wing

over pastures, naked woods and ploughland-swell

whose names in memory sing.

Over the flooding Wharfe and Burnsall Fell -

but not yet North, North, North, at the call of Spring.

(fade up a cold wind)

Year after year, with engines dread, Winter lays siege to Snowgatehead.

A farm – a cottage – and aught else

save naked sky and naked fells,

most beautiful and as austere

as abstract truth in a man's head,

and yet as real as concrete,

as boulder rock to booted feet.

The sleet comes over the fell crests

driven as from arbalests

Frost engineers a grim device

And lastly, a link:

A Blind Understanding by R. C. Scriven – click to download

It is the only recording I have of his plays, perhaps not his best, but it must suffice.

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