Writing a Radio Soap Episode

Here is an account of what happened when I wrote an episode of a radio drama for BBC Radio Newcastle. It may be of interest to those of you who are considering radio work, although this is not a blueprint of radio procedure. 

*     *     *

In the summer of 2006 I received an email from a friend with details of a project being undertaken by BBC Radio Newcastle. The plan was to produce a radio soap called Jordan Road and sample script submissions were invited. I sent off a short conversation between father and teenage son about tattoos and I was invited along to the Barrack Road studios to work on my own episode of the soap. I had been to the studios before to do an interview about my first book, but going up in the lift into the inner sanctum was new territory to me.

Other writers were already present and we chatted idly until the production team called us all into a conference room. We sat around a huge table and went through the usual preliminary of standing up in turn, blushing and stating our names and previous works. This wasn’t too bad for me because there was one familiar face present at the table; one of my fellow writers, Jamie Diffley, used to work for the Newcastle Evening Chronicle and he had actually visited my flat to interview me for a feature on my Newcastle United book. So, with everyone introduced and complexions back to their normal pallor, we set about creating our soap.

Jordan Road was to be a residential street in a multicultural area of a northern city. We began with the bare bones when Yve, the producer, drew two parallel vertical lines on a whiteboard. This was Jordan Road and, like a twist on the game of Monopoly, we had to drop buildings onto it. There would be a church and a mosque, a school and a pub and a convenience store, and what about a taxi office? We added buildings until pretty soon we had a good idea of what our street looked like. The next stage was to work on our episodes.

After an hour or so of planning and summarising our scripts we reapplied the colour to our faces by standing up in turn and outlining our stories to the others. Then we were called one at a time into a room to discuss our scripts with Yve, and Gez, the script editor. My own story, titled Unlucky for Some, got a thumbs-up and after everyone had been seen we all headed home to write our scripts.

Three weeks later we all met again at the studios, this time brandishing our works. We went through our scripts with Gez and Yve, tweaking and modifying until we had a finished article.  Job done.

I received notification that all the parts for the soap had been cast and production would be starting soon. I also received two cheques, both stamped with the BBC logo. When I paid these in at the building society the teller said, “Ooh, BBC, eh, what are you, an extra?”

“No,” I said, “I’m a writer.” I then had to sit down for ten minutes till my head had returned to a size that could get through the door.

But it was true. Here was a script I’d written that was about to be performed, recorded and then broadcast on radio. You can hear the episode (and all the others) by clicking this link, although you do need RealPlayer to listen. There is also a lot of information about the project and, if you go to the bottom of the page, a link to photos of the cast at work (the actors from my episode are pic number 6).

http://www.bbc.co.uk/tyne/content/articles/2007/03/02/jordanroad_feature.shtml

A few months after the project we were invited to the Live Theatre in Newcastle to discuss feedback with the producer and one of the heads of BBC North. We also discussed what we had learned from the experience, which, certainly in my case, was quite a lot.

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About Joe Young

Supposed writer from the north-east coast of England.
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