BBC Drama at AudioGO – About Hugh Costello

11 Jan

Guest Author: Jan Paterson – AudioGO Publishing Director

One of the great things about being Publishing Director at AudioGO is listening to so many good programmes from BBC Radio and elsewhere, especially when the writer is a former work colleague.

Hugh Costello

Hugh Costello

Hugh Costello was a writer and editor at BBC History Magazine, who had the office next to mine when we were BBC Audiobooks.  Hugh has now written a number of plays for Radio 4.  Much of his drama work focuses on the economic and political crises in his native Ireland, and on controversial aspects of the Catholic Church.

I asked Hugh about his interest and motivation for his dramas;

“I am fascinated by the rituals and traditions at the heart of large and powerful institutions – and few institutions are more fixated with tradition than the Catholic Church.  This is part of its appeal, of course, but also causes problems. The church’s slowness to respond to the sexual abuse scandals was due in part to its inflexible structure and its tendency to view itself as an island of morality and truth in a sea of secular relativism. I’ve just finished a new Afternoon Drama called The Fewness of His Words, which tells the story of an English Catholic priest who has jumped bail and is living in hiding in a monastery. A fellow priest is sent by the Vatican to persuade the fugitive to give himself up and face justice for the abuse he perpetrated against children many years before. I don’t intend the piece to be a gratuitous attack on the church – one of the priests in it is a good and rational man. But it does set out to explore the self-justification and sophistry that have characterised the response of many churchmen to the scandals.”

As well as writing for Radio 4, Hugh has numerous screen credits to his name, including BBC series such as Holby City and The Ambassador, and the HBO drama Bernard and Doris, starring Ralph Fiennes and Susan Sarandon, for which Hugh was nominated for an Emmy award in 2008. But he says he does not see TV and radio as mutually exclusive. “The beauty of writing for radio is that you can tell less obviously mainstream stories, and in more adventurous ways. It is by its very nature a writers’ medium, and a great theatre of the imagination. My play Conclave, about the election of Pope John Paul II in 1978, brought together 100 elderly cardinals in the Sistine Chapel. On screen this would have been an enormous – and expensive – logistical headache. But on radio, you can let the listeners’ imagination do the work. It gives you enormous scope as a storyteller.”

Hugh’s interest in John Paul II has continued – he is currently writing a biography of the Polish Pope for the History Press. “John Paul was a remarkable man, a force of nature who modernised the institution and inspired huge personal devotion. But he was also a divisive figure whose reactionary views on issues such as contraception alienated many Catholics. He was a contradictory and controversial figure – in other words, the perfect subject for a biography.”

So far AudioGO have released four of Hugh’s plays, and there will be more forthcoming.  You can see these four on the AudioGO website.

I found Hugh’s writing to be very accessible, the subjects he has chosen are controversial and yet are handled sensitively.  I would recommend the plays to anyone interested in Ireland, history, the Catholic Church or who just wants a really good listen.  I hope you will agree.

Good Listening.

Jan Paterson

Publishing Director

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