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Charles Norton – Dick Barton Live (blog)

3 Oct

Dick Barton LiveSunday 16th June, 2013
Dick Barton – Special Agent LIVE

I’m hugging a dustbin. I’m in the back of a cab on my way to the Y Theatre in Leicester and the dustbin is important. Ten hours from now we’re going to be using it to help create some sound effects in a new full-cast audio recording of Dick Barton – Special Agent. I’ve asked the taxi company to send the biggest cab they’ve got. It’s got to be big enough to take not only the huge aluminium dustbin, but also a big wicker basket, several wine bottles, some big sheets of glass, a tray full of gravel, half a dozen costumes, a four foot long echo chamber and a load of other bits and pieces that will be used to recreate the experience of being in an early fifties BBC radio recording studio. Just as it would have been back in 1951, the cast will meet for the first time this morning. They’ll rehearse the script for the first time this afternoon. And they’ll record it for the first (and only) time this evening. The recording will be live in front of 200-strong audience and none of us has ever done anything like this before. The cab that eventually turns up is far too small and that’s why the dustbin is currently wedged between me and the dashboard.

The cab drops me on the pavement outside the Y Theatre. The place is deserted. I put the bin inside the wicker basket and can just about manage to shuffle inside with it and most of my bags. I take my chances and leave a wooden captain’s chair and the echo chamber to sit outside on the kerb for the moment, while I check in. The echo chamber is actually a chromium-plated pedal-bin, screwed to a camera tripod, with some artfully arranged knicker elastic inside it and I hope that the chances of anyone stealing it from the roadside are pretty slim.

The Phoenix Arts Centre (just round the corner from the theatre), where we’re having the read-through in a hired room. The cast aren’t due for another half-hour. This should give me plenty of time to see the caterers, lay out the room and be ready to meet the cast as they arrive at 11.30. However the cast arrive very early and the caterers aren’t here at all yet. I collapse into the foyer with my hundredweight of carrier-bags and go over to meet them.

15.40 PM
I leave the cast in the capable hands of our director (Rob Thrush) and wonderfully alert script supervisor Emma Shelley, to wrap up the readthrough and rehearsal and eat up the rest of the food. Meanwhile I walk back over to the theatre to help set up with our sound engineer, Bob Smith. The readthrough has been a lot of fun. Everyone gets on terribly well and a startling amount of innuendo is squeezed out of the names ‘Dick’ and ‘Jock’. We don’t have the microphones for the rehearsal and, to be honest, the room isn’t really big enough to fit all the period recording kit in anyway. So we have to compromise. We clear the furniture to the sides and stand a pedal-bin (they get a lot of use today) on a chair in the middle of the room. This will represent the microphone for the purposes of rehearsals. The cast have to rotate around it, making sure they’re always on either one side of it or the other, avoiding an acoustically dead-zone in the middle. The trick is to maintain a constant flow of people round the mic, allowing the actors to retreat to their chairs at the back whenever they need to without bumping into one another. Barnaby Edwards (who also happens to be the lead-Dalek-operator in Doctor Who) comes back from the café with a cup of coffee and looks at the pedal-bin standing in the middle of the room. He asks if we’re proposing he get inside.

15.50 PM
Bob, myself and Bob’s son David (who’s come along to help out) are standing over on the street again outside the theatre. We’re taking up most of the pavement with our stuff – a massive 1970’s Studer reel-to-reel tape machine, two beautiful 1960s ribbon microphones, a pair of mic-stands, a box of theatre programmes and a slightly warm pint of milk for making the tea. The theatre doors are locked and there’s nobody about to let us in. In less than hour, I’m due back at the rehearsal room to collect the cast and bring them back to a fully laid-out recreation of a 1950s radio studio – the same 1950s radio studio that is currently sitting out on the kerb. Bob seems breezily unfazed by all this in the way only BBC engineers can be – confident that whatever problem arises he can probably fix it. All BBC engineers are like this and it’s very comforting. They genuinely can fix anything, Bob most of all. They’re not like ordinary people and never panic. They are, in fact, Gods.

16.00 PM
Someone finally lets us into the theatre and we wheel in the recording equipment, perched on an inadvisably small wooden trolley. The microphones are gorgeous things. Loaned to us by BBC Radio Derby, they come in two little wooden boxes. They’re Coles 4038 ribbon mics that probably predate BBC Radio Derby’s very existence. As the name suggests they’ve got little metal ribbons inside them that vibrate when sound waves hit them. And basically that’s all there is to them. It’s barn-door engineering. As long as they don’t go rusty, they’ll last forever. There’s nothing to go wrong with them and they sound every bit as crisp, warm and wonderful as they did when they were new. Even though the technology behind them goes back until at least as early as the 1930s, they’re still wonderful microphones and there really is nothing better to record the human voice with. We’re still setting them up on the Y Theatre’s main stage, when (as expected) a film-crew turn up from BBC East Midlands to cover the recording for the news. The cameraman they send over is a freelancer called Mark, who isn’t usually on duty, but is covering some weekend shifts. By coincidence, I was working with him on an entirely different project for the BBC only three days ago and look forward to having a chat with him again, but we don’t get the opportunity. Between now and ten o’clock, I won’t get a chance to leave this room.

16.05 PM
Rob, Emma and the cast turn up unexpectedly. Apparently they finished the rehearsals earlier than they thought they would and so rather than sit around doing nothing, they decided to come over to the theatre on their own. There’s only about 200 yards separating the two buildings, so it didn’t take them long to just nip over the road. Rob unpacks some stuff from the boot of his car and proudly shows me a rather worrying collection of WW2 rifles he’s brought along to help with some the live sound effects. He had wanted to fire a small starting pistol to convey the sounds of gunshots at various points in the drama, but I had to tactfully veto that one. He has, however, brought along a grenade and a riding-crop. I think it’s best not to ask.

16.10 PM
The dustbin has been filled up with water ready for its starring rôle as ‘hull of a big metal boat in some choppy waters.’ The table has been laid out with all the props needed to make the live effects and the rest of the effects are ready to be played in from disc. The actors go off to the dressing room and although I’m running round all over the place, it’s all looking quite good.

About thirty seconds later:
The dustbin is out. Within moments of it being filled up from the tap, a pool of water started to appear underneath it, soaking into the wooden stage. Clearly the bin had sprung a leak somewhere. There’s now a steady stream of water making its way slowly across the stage toward a maze of wires and microphones at the actors’ feet. Many of the cables are live and the microphone stand is totally un-insulated. Aware that electrocuting your cast is generally frowned upon in radio, I grab hold of the wet dustbin by its handles and jump into the orchestra pit with a splash. Nobody seems impressed with my act of extreme bravery, so I climb back onto the stage feeling a bit deflated and use some pristine white towels to mop up the spilt water. We now have no means of creating water effects for the drama (and we’re also out of towels).

17.00 (ish)
We’re supposed to be doing our technical run. We’ve only got about two hours to do it in, but we’re running late. I allow the BBC East Midlands crew far too long to interview the cast and by the time we begin the technicals, we’re cutting it really fine. We’ll be okay, as long as nothing at all goes wrong between now and 19.00.

Two minutes later:
Something goes wrong. The first sound effect is cued up and it’s not what we were expecting it to be. Both Bob and myself have spent months plotting all the effects out and there are several pages of very intricate spreadsheets to help cue up each of the two effects discs in the right order and at the right time. However, it doesn’t help. Something fairly fundamental has gone wrong with the numbering. The first track isn’t numbered properly and throws everything else out of sync. Bob now has to do some very quick arithmetic in his head to work out the true track number of each track before he can play it. Essentially, the pages of planned track listings now offer little more than a rough guide and it’s nigh on impossible to get a complex scene right first time. We’re rehearsing a scene in which a helicopter takes offer under heavy machine gun fire. Bob’s got to change the track maybe two or three times on both discs every ten seconds. Every time we run the scene again from the top, I hold my breath and hope the right sound comes in first time. It doesn’t. The cast wait for the sound of door softly clicking shut. Instead there’s a machine gun blasting away a plate-glass window. We have to go from the top again. We’ve barely got through two scenes, but the audience are already waiting outside and, one way or another, the curtain will go up in a very few minutes time. There’s nothing for it, we’ll just have to wing it. Rob very bravely volunteers to take over all the live foley effects (without any kind of rehearsal), giving me the chance to sit at the mixing desk with Bob, in the hope that I can help him keep things on the rails at his end. There’s no good reason for this not to work, but then there was no particularly good reason for the technical run to crash like it did either.

19.15 PM
We start 15 minutes late, which isn’t bad considering. I have the theatre’s technical manager (Sheraton) on my left and Bob on my right. All the effects cues are labelled either A1, A2, A3, A4 etc or B1, B2, B3, B4 etc, signifying whether or not the effect is on disc A or disc B. Disc A is mainly background effects and disc B is mainly spot effects. As a scene starts, I check Bob’s ready with disc A and that disc B is cued up. I give Bob the nod and he fades up the first effect. Then I signal Sheraton to flash the green cue-light to the actors so that they know to start the scene. At the right point, disc B is then faded up. Maybe A is then faded down, then up again, then B up and A down or whatever is needed until we reach the end of the scene when we pause and reset. Then we start on the next scene. Bob is nothing short of amazing. I don’t think anyone realises just how much concentration and precision we’re asking of him and he’s doing all this whilst simultaneously checking the levels and monitoring the tape recorder that’s taping the whole thing.

20.00 (ish)
We break for the interval – exhausted.

20.20 PM
We begin recording part 2. And do you know what? It’s going okay. It’s fine. It’s more than fine. Okay, there are a few retakes – more than a few actually. And every time someone gets a line wrong (not very often) or a sound effect doesn’t work (very often), I have to stop the scene. However, the audience don’t really mind. In fact, they seem to look forward to those bits most of all. The atmosphere of a live radio recording with all of its bumps and excitements is, after all, what they came to see. When things do go wrong, Tim becomes a fantastic MC shouting about the productions inefficiencies with mock outrage (I hope it’s mock outrage) and the audience love it. You’ll hear a lot of this in the outtakes compilation that is included with the new audiobook. The sheer unwavering professionalism of Rob, Emma, Bob and the whole cast holds everything together and we make it to the end. And more than that, it’s actually good – really good. The boats don’t make any sound in the water, because the dustbin’s gone and there’s only so much Rob can do with a wet tea-towel and a plank of wood, but we can always add splashes in post-production (and we do).

21.30 PM
It’s all over. We’ve done all the pickups and the audience have filed out. I’ve got until ten to pack up everything and somehow figure out a way to get home with all the stuff. We can’t record anything further now anyway, even if we wanted to. A vital component of the tape-recorder has now actually melted in the heat and glued itself to the mastertape, which now has to be chiselled away from the machine. Amazingly, it makes no difference to the recording itself and when Bob plays it back 24 hours later, both tape and machine sound absolutely fine. At the back of the stage, the actors are in the dressing-rooms getting changed. Much to my surprise, after everything I’ve put them through, they all say that they want to do another Dick Barton as soon as possible. And in spite of all the stress and work; in spite of everything that went wrong, I want to do it again too. I’ve loved working with these people. I love how Tim made everybody laugh when they might otherwise have gone home. I love Terry Molloy and Nick Scovell, being so impossibly nice all the time and giving us characters so utterly different to what I was expecting. I love that David Benson was quite prepared to play an entire scene by talking to himself with three different voices as three different characters. I love that Lisa Bowerman didn’t tell me until afterwards that the skirt we provided for her had a bloody big hole in the side. I desperately want to do it all again, because even when so much was so very far from smooth, the cast and crew was never anything less than perfect. The characters were perfect; the atmosphere was perfect. And it was just such bloody fun to do. Please let us do a series.

Dick Barton Live is available to download from AudioGO now!

Lucy Fleming Interview

26 Sep

Lucy FlemingTo celebrate the release of the new James Bond audiobooks we caught up with Ian Fleming’s niece, the lovely Lucy Fleming, about 007 and the books. 

Do you have a favourite Bond novel, and if so, why is it your favourite?

I have several favourite Bond novels:

Casino Royale because it was Ian’s first book and where James Bond began- and the great car chase.

I like On Her Majesty’s Secret Service because it is such a great story and is exciting and fun- with great skiing chases.

Also Goldfinger  because it was where we first meet Blofeld.

What makes the character of James Bond such an enduring one?

I don’t know. But people love him- he is fun and, like George and the Dragon, he slays the villain, gets the girl and does it all for King and Country.

How would you feel if you met James Bond?

OOOH. Very excited, very, very curious and quite apprehensive…he would love me –of course.

The similarities between James Bond and your uncle have often been made. Do you personally see anything of your uncle in James Bond?

There are similarities between Ian and Bond. Mostly the things  that happen to Bond or the things he enjoys doing- cars and driving, swimming, skiing, golf, gambling, playing bridge (Moonraker) and his appreciation of beautiful girls.

Of course Ian used his experience in Naval Intelligence during the Second World War to  give the stories authenticity too.

What do you think your uncle would have made of the continued success of his character and books?

I imagine he would be very amused with the continuing success of the books and the films- and very proud.

It must have been fascinating to produce the audiobooks which such a superb array of British actors; who in particular did you enjoy working with and why?

I particularly enjoyed working with all of the actors during the recordings. It was a fascinating and humbling experience because it takes a huge skill to read any book  for audio– let alone the Bond books with all the different and familiar characters, accents and places. All the actors brought their own interpretation of Bond, M, Moneypenny, the girl and the Villain in different ways and they all made Ian’s prose come off the page wonderfully.

Each of Ian Fleming’s books is read by a different actor, how did you decide which actors were suited to particular books?

It was fun doing the “casting” as it were. David Tennant was an obvious reader for OHMSS because of his wonderful  Scottish voice. Bill Nighy was brilliant at all the nasty characters  and Gala Brand in Moonraker. Damian Lewis with his fantastic American accent was  an obvious choice for Diamonds Are Forever.

We were lucky to get Rosamund Pike to read The Spy who Loved Me as she knows Canada where it is mostly set and does the most amazing Canadian accent. And, of course, Martin Jarvis can do any accent so we were thrilled when he tackled all the Japanese in You Only Live Twice.

Did any of them bring a new aspect to Bond for you?

I don’t think they brought a new insight into Bond for me but they did let me hear all Ian’s stories read out personally and refresh my memory of all the different stories. One thing I did notice is how very good Ian’s descriptive writing is.

You can buy Octopussy and The Living Daylights and other stories read by Tom Hiddleston and Lucy Fleming and For Your Eyes Only and other stories read by Samuel West from AudioGO now.

Neil Gaiman Interview

5 Sep
Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman

BBC Radio 4 Extra aired an impressive and star-studded dramatisation of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere earlier this year and AudioGO have released it as an audiobook on 5th September. Starring James McAvoy, Natalie Dormer, David Harewood, Benedict Cumberbatch, Christopher Lee, Anthony Head and Bernard Cribbins among others, it was adapted and directed by Dirk Maggs, the man behind the acclaimed radio adaptations of Douglas Adams’s later Hitchhiker’s novels. It’s a sumptuous, aural masterpiece, a blockbuster for the radio.

Here Neil Gaiman talks about his delight at how this new version turned out, and how it secured such an A-list cast. 

What do you enjoy about audio as a format?

I think what I like best about audio as a format is it allows you to use your imagination. Prose fiction has an enormous advantage in that you’re simply giving words to people and they get to build up whole worlds in their mind. Drama is great because it has real actors. Audio drama is like this fantastic intersection, because the pictures, the special effects, the magic, well it’s as good as you want it to be.

One of my favourite lines in any drama of any kind was from the original ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ radio play, where Arthur turns to Ford and he says “Ford, you’re turning into an infinite number of penguins”; and I love that because it’s something that you can never show, but it’s in your head. The idea of Ford turning into an infinite number of penguins is an amazing thing.

There are moments in ‘Neverwhere’, the audio version, that I absolutely love. One moment that Dirk [Maggs] completely introduced himself, is the moment where [Angel] Islington spreads his wings. Islington didn’t have wings in the television version because I looked at that and went “There is no way I can do this and not make it stupid.” So I didn’t give him wings and thus I didn’t give him wings in the book, as I hadn’t done on TV. I absolutely loved that suddenly he had wings and you could hear the wings unfold.

I thought the sounds were amazing.

Weren’t they absolutely magic?

So having already brought out ‘Neverwhere’ as a book in a visual format, how was it revisiting it for audio? Did you have to make any massive changes with Dirk to bring it to life?

Actually there were very few changes. Dirk sent me his original scripts. He went off, he worked on it. I had a handful of notes, mostly in just distinguishing Mr Croup from Mr Vandemar and a few suggestions. And then suddenly I found myself acting in it, which was rather surprising.

Did you base London Below on your personal experiences of being in London and how you felt when you walked around and explored?

You know the weirdest thing about London Below is that I’d written the TV series before I ever got to do any on-the-ground research. But when I started the novel I got to go location scouting for the TV series, so by the time I wrote the novel I had actually already splashed around in the sewers; I’d climbed places that you’re not meant to climb; I’d gone down into places you’re not meant to go down; I’d been in these amazing locked off places. You know, the Camden Deep Tunnels, all of these fantastic places, but I then got to write about and turn them into, you know, my descriptions in the book I wrote.

There’s an incredible cast for this production. Did you pick the actors, or did this lie with someone else?

The casting of ‘Neverwhere’ began with talking to Heather Larmer and Dirk Maggs. In the beginning I had maybe one suggestion, which was James McAvoy would be a fantastic Richard [Mayhew]. I didn’t know that James McAvoy was the world’s biggest ‘Neverwhere’ fan. I didn’t realise that when James McAvoy was asked by his agent if he was going to be interested in doing this incredibly unlikely little Radio 4 project he was going to jump at it, leap on board with absolute delight and in leaping on board basically drag everybody else on board with him. He and Natalie Dormer just said yes because they love ‘Neverwhere’. And then Christopher Lee turned up, Bernard Cribbins turned up. You know, it’s amazing and wonderful . Anthony Stewart Head. You know Tony Head once turned to me in a lift in the Roosevelt Hotel in Los Angeles and said “You’re Neil Gaiman, we have to do something together one day,” and I said “Yes!” Then he got out of the lift. I love the fact that six/seven years later here we are and he got to do ‘Neverwhere’.

One thing I’d really like to know is if there are any updates on the HBO series of ‘American Gods’?

There’s nothing. We’re waiting right now on the top brass. All I know about the script is it keeps going upstairs. I hear “Okay, so and so liked it and it’s now gone up to their boss!” and so I’m like “Okay” and I keep waiting.

And I will give you a small scoop, which is that I was so enthused by ‘Neverwhere’ audio that I started really missing ‘Neverwhere’ and missing the characters and missing the world; and I sat down and wrote a short story that I’d written two pages of in about 2002 and then stopped. And then I thought “you know, I should finish that story,” so I went and finished a short story called ‘How the Marquis got his Coat Back’. And it actually takes place immediately after ‘Neverwhere’, while Richard is wondering around back in London Above, this is the Marquis who came back to life and the sewer people sold his coat to somebody else. He was not happy. You will get to meet the Shepherds of Shepherds Bush. They’re not very nice.

Terry Pratchett has a species of turtle named after him and Frank Zappa has species of jellyfish. If you could have any animal as a species named after you what would it be?


Why a bat?

I don’t know, I think bats are genuinely magical. There’s something very peculiar about seeing them fly. The times that bats have intersected my life have always been very odd. Including once finding one stuck to the window on a sheet of fly paper and having to figure out a solvent that would dissolve the fly paper to get the bat off. It was an incredibly angry grumpy bat. And I found this lemon solvent. So eventually a bat smelling of lemon, a lemon-scented sticky bat, crawled away very grumpily.

What is more of a commodity, Luck or Magic?

As a commodity Magic has to be a commodity because Luck is something that, I don’t know, I love the idea of a market where you could go and buy Luck, or trade your Luck for somebody else’s. I think probably it would be more like a kind of Lord Dunsany kind of story, in which you get to trade Luck with somebody and people are never certain with the kind of Luck they’ve got. They’re definitely not mutually exclusive.

Because you could say “It would be really lucky right now if I had some Magic. Or it would be magical if I could magic up some Luck.” So it’s kind of hard for me to decide which one would be the best thing to have.

It’s true, but you can say the same thing about sushi. It would be really lucky if I had some sushi, it would be magical if we could magic up some sushi.

Thank you so much for talking to us. We appreciate how busy you are.

You are so welcome. I’m just thrilled that this is actually being commercially released. When it came out nobody knew if it was going to happen.

Purchase Neverwhere from AudioGO as Download or CD and browse our similar titles.

Kate Doyle

Stephen K. Amos Interview

29 Aug
Stephen K. Amos by James Penlidis

Stephen K. Amos by James Penlidis

We have another interview with a great comedian conducted as part of AudioGO‘s sponsorship of The Pleasance Theatre at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2013.

We caught up with some of the fantastic Fringe performers who entertained the Edinburgh crowds in a series of exclusive interviews. 

Fringe Festival favourite Stephen K Amos has a BBC Radio 4 series, An Idiot’s Guide, which is available from AudioGO.

What can we expect from your new fringe show? 

“It’s a work in progress — things can only get better.”

How are you enjoying the Fringe at the Pleasance?  

“I’ve been to see some great shows at the Pleasance, and we open a chat show there next week.”

Your show An Idiot’s Guide was a huge success on Radio 4 and now through AudioGO. Are there any plans for another series? 

“Yes, indeed. We are going to record a new series coming out next year.”

How important medium is Radio for comedians? 

“Any medium that has an audience is important, and Radio 4 has a great track record for comedy.”

Your television show featured new and relatively unknown comedians. Was that a deliberate attempt to encourage new comic talent and give them an opportunity? 

“Yes. There is no point just being another show featuring established comics. It’s always great to give up and coming talent the chance to be seen on TV.”

You are a very successful stand-up, as well hosting your own show both on radio and television, but what do you enjoy most? 

“Nothing beats a live stand-up experience.”

What was your worst gig? 

“In the early days it was all a learning curve, and we all make mistakes. Mine are too many to mention!”

Who were your comedy heroes growing up? 

“I never had any comedy heroes. I was not intending on getting into this business at all.”

What do you enjoy watching now?  

“Films. It’s my secret desire to feature in the remake of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.”

What are your favourite sitcoms? 

Curb Your EnthusiasmRaising Hope and The Middle.”

Who inspired you to get into comedy? 

“Delphine Manley [director of comedy management agency, Beyond Compare].”

What do you have coming up? 

“Two new radio shows and a sitcom in the pipeline.”

Tim Vine Interview

21 Aug

Throughout the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2013, which runs from 2 – 26 August, AUDIOGO is proud to be once again sponsoring the Pleasance Theatre, Edinburgh, as it presents a rich and diverse schedule of new comedies, dramas, children’s shows and much more besides.

To celebrate our partnership with the Pleasance, we have caught up with some of the fantastic Fringe performers currently entertaining the Edinburgh crowds in a series of exclusive interviews. 

Human pun-machine Tim Vine returns to the Fringe with “The Tim Vine Chat Show” — packed with his trademark silly jokes and the guests’ unforgettable anecdotes. It runs at the Pleasance, Edinburgh, until 26 August. Punslinger by Tim Vine is available from AudioGO.

What can we expect from your fringe show?Tim Vine

“It’s a show where I chat to members of the audience. I call it a chat show. I’m pretty sure it’s a totally new concept.”

How are you enjoying the Fringe at the Pleasance? 

“I’m having a great time although I lost my voice last week and then I found it — it was under my tongue.”

Who were your comedy heroes growing up?

“Kenny Everett, Les Dawson, Frankie Howerd, Tommy Cooper, Phil Silvers, Basil Brush.”

Who do you enjoy watching now? 

“John Archer.”

What is your favourite sitcom?


What inspired you to get into comedy?

“Working in an office!”

What do have coming up?

“I have a book coming out  in October called ‘the Tim Vine Bumper Book of Silliness’. It’s a book about the French Revolution and it’s impact on modern Europe.”

You can purchase a CD of Tim Vine’s Punslinger from AudioGO here.

Luke Evans reads Treasure Island – Interview

16 Aug

Luke Evans Q&A

Earlier this year Luke Evans recorded Treasure Island, as part of AudioGO’s Famous Fiction range. He is a British actor from movies such as Fast & Furious 6, The Three Musketeers and soon to star in the next instalments of The Hobbit. We asked asked him a few questions about his recording of Treasure Island and favourite children’s books.

Luke Evans reading Treasure Island

Luke Evans reading Treasure Island

Had you read Treasure Island as a child?

I had it read to me a very long time ago and I’d seen the movie and loved it.

2. What do you like best about the character of Jim Hawkins?

His sense of adventure, his stealth and his brilliant use of initiative. He knows more than everyone else on the ship.

3. Which character is the most challenging?

Probably Silver. His voice was the hardest to master.

4. What is your favourite part of the story?

I like the scary blind beggar scenes, I can imagine jack being terrified when the man grabbed his arm.

5. If you were acting in Treasure Island, which character would you like to portray?

I think I’d like to portray Long John Silver. He’s the legendary pirate. And I love parrots.

6. What’s your favourite children’s book?

Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and Secret Seven books. I used to listen to the audiobooks while on rainy caravanning holidays in Tenby when I was a kid.

Luke Evans reads Treasure Island is available on CD and Download from AudioGO.

Second Episode Syndrome

5 Jul

Eddie RobsonEddie Robson has written for sketch shows including That Mitchell And Webb Sound, Small Scenes and Look Away Now, and several episodes of Doctor Who for Radio 4 Extra. He has also written comics, short stories and books including Film Noir and The Art Of Sean Phillips.

There’s an old cliché about pop music that says you get ten years to write your first album and ten months to write your second, or something like that. That’s how I felt about Welcome To Our Village, Please Invade Carefully, my sitcom about a small Buckinghamshire village being invaded by aliens.

I first pitched the show in February 2010, at a meeting with my producer Ed Morrish in the café at the BBC’s Henry Wood House. (By the time we recorded the first series, the BBC Radio Comedy department had moved offices twice.) I hadn’t had a sitcom commissioned before. I had a document outlining the concept and the characters and the series. Ed zoned in on a particular scene and asked me to write it. In this scene, the main character, Katrina, is getting a lift away from the village where her parents live – she’s been staying with them for the weekend. Driving the car is her ex-boyfriend, Mike. The car has barely got going when it stops for no apparent reason. Then, a local toff wanders over and reveals he’s actually an alien warlord, the village is now under his control, and nobody will be allowed in or out.

Scene 1 - Page 1 Scene 1 - Page 2 Scene 1 - Page 3 Scene 1 - Page 4 Scene 1 - Page 5
(Click the images to see the pages of the script).

Ed wanted to see this particular scene to get a sense of the tone. You won’t find the scene anywhere in the episodes we recorded. I went on to write a script, which was what we call a ‘premise’ episode – an episode which shows the events which created the situation of this particular sitcom. It opened on a village which had not yet been invaded by aliens, and which Katrina was visiting for the weekend. When Katrina tried to leave, we had the scene in Mike’s car. And it ended with Katrina deciding to form a resistance movement against the alien menace. Then, I was asked to write an episode which was more of a normal one, to show how the series would work on a weekly basis.

Finally, I got a script commission, for which they wanted a whole new script. We’d decided by now that we didn’t need a premise episode. Also, there were too many characters – originally, Mike was going to be a regular, but he went. This rendered both the scripts I had redundant. But those two scripts laid much groundwork for the third, which I wrote, and rewrote, and rewrote, with notes from Ed, our script editor Arthur Mathews, and our execs. Then it got commissioned as a pilot, and I gave it a few more passes just to make sure. From first pitch to broadcast, I spent almost two and a half years working on that opening episode, what it would be, and what it needed to do.

Welcome To Our Village, Please Invade Carefully Then the series got commissioned, and I had six months to write another four episodes.

But the good thing about sitcoms is that you’re not starting from scratch with every episode. Each one you write uses up ideas and jokes, but it gives you a deeper knowledge of the characters and, hopefully, suggests more ideas and jokes. You reach a point where just putting two characters together in a particular room starts to generate something funny. The show practically writes itself! No, that’s a lie, I had to write it and it was quite hard work actually. But I think the series is definitely better than the pilot. And despite the lengthy journey, and losing poor old Mike along the way, it’s very much the show I wanted to write when I started out.

Buy our Welcome to our Village, Please Invade Carefully.

About The Book of Ebenezer Le Page

9 Mar

The Book of Ebenezer le Page The Book of Ebenezer Le Page is an enchanting story of an eighty-year-old man who has lived his whole life on the Channel Island of Guernsey, family secrets and feuds, unforgettable friendships and friendships betrayed, love glimpsed and lost. But it’s not just the book itself that is so interesting, there’s also a fascinating story behind it.

It was in 1981, five years after the death of the author, G.B. Edwards (1899-1976), that the first edition of The Book of Ebenezer Le Page was published. Scarcely a punctuation mark needed altering as Edwards had made sure of the completeness and quality of his work. He had published articles in the 1920s and 1930s and then, towards the end of his life, completed this single novel. It was rejected by the major publishers before his death.

Edward Chaney was an art student and spent the summer in Dorset where he met Gerald Edwards to whom he was introduced by a young pianist whose parents took in lodgers.

“One day she told me that they had a new lodger who had known D.H. Lawrence. This had me introducing myself more or less immediately. While I was disappointed to discover that he never actually met Lawrence (though he was commissioned to write his biography when Lawrence was still alive), I was far from disappointed by the man himself, his extraordinary erudition and vividly articulate and forthright presence.”
(Edward Chaney, ‘G B Edwards: Author of The Book of Ebenezer Le Page’, Part I, The Review of the Guernsey Society,  Winter 1994-5, vol. L, No 3, pp 64-72)

When they met, Gerald was completing his great novel, a tour de force of a fictional autobiography of a Guernseyman who had never left the island. Edward encouraged him to finish it, and he did in the summer of 1974. A fortnight after his return to University from Dorset, Edward received a letter. Gerald had dedicated his typescript to him and his wife and formally bequeathed the book itself to Edward, in a gesture that rendered it symmetrical with the fictional Ebenezer’s donation of his ‘Book’ to his young protege Neville Falla. Edward failed to find a publisher during the author’s lifetime, but after his death, when he moved to Italy and met a former Hamish Hamilton editor, he managed to get it accepted. It was then published to great acclaim and has been in print ever since. Roy Dotrice read an abridged version of the novel on Woman’s Hour in 1982 to great acclaim, the late Pat McLoughlin remembering it as the most popular in the 23 years she produced it…


“This extraordinary book” full of “wonderful writing”: “To read it is not like reading but living”, William Golding. Re Ebenezer himself, Golding wrote: “Nor are simple adjectives adequate… there is epic stature in his individualism”. The following December (1981) Golding chose it as his “Book of the Year” in The Sunday Times.

“The achievement is so intense and universal that the reader is rendered speechless… G.B. Edwards has succeeded in writing a great novel”; Isobel Murray inThe Financial Times.

“A masterpiece….One of the best novels of our time….I know of no description of happiness in modern literature equal to the one that ends this novel.” Guy Davenport, The New York Times Book Review.


Buy the audio book of The Book of Ebenezer Le Page from AudioGO.

Mr Gum Twitter Competition

20 Aug

You're a bad man Mr Gum AudiobookTo celebrate the 6th September release of our new audio recordings of the amazing Mr Gum stories read by Kate Winslet, we gave away three sets of the audiobooks, signed by the author, Andy Stanton.

The competition is now closed, but from 6th September, you can order the following Mr Gum Audiobooks read by Kate Winslet from AudioGO.

You’re a Bad Man, Mr Gum!

Mr Gum and the Biscuit Billionaire

Mr Gum and the Goblins

Mr Gum and the Power Crystals

How I followed the flight path of the Conchords, from their original radio series to the Oscars

27 Feb

I still remember being briefed by the Comedy Editor, here at AudioGO, even though it was six years ago.

‘What’s it called?’ I asked

Flight of the Conchords,’ he said. ‘And they’re a band from New Zealand.’


He explained that we were releasing their Radio 2 series on CD and he thought it might do well. I swear he had a twinkle in his eye.

It was my job to write the blurb, and as the Conchords were new, he thought it would be a good idea to add some extra copy to the booklet as well. Keeping an open mind, I checked out the paperwork he supplied.

Flight of the Conchords had already been nominated for a Perrier Award and their new series featured Rob Brydon as narrator and included a guest appearance by Crowded House’s Neil Finn. It was also recorded on location around London and featured a Who’s Who of the Bristish stand-up circuit. So far, so good.

But, I admit, I’d never heard of Bret McKenzie, Jemaine Clement or Rhys Darby. And the main problem with working on comedy titles is that sometimes you just don’t get the comedy. At least there were listening copies of all six episodes so I’d be able to decide for myself.

I was working on around 46 titles that month. So, due to time constraints, I thought I’d have time for one – possibly two – episodes and then work out the blurb from there.

Headphones on, I joined Rob Brydon and heard the Conchords’ attempts to break into the UK’s music scene. To my credit, I realised very early on that I would have to find time to listen to the whole series…

I loved the songs, I loved the comedy – it was just the perfect blend. And I had such fun writing the text for the booklet and the blurb:

“A heated pie fight later (which included savoury missiles) and the Conchords were left as shattered as a chicken and mushroom pasty.”

“While losing a member can be very damaging at the best of times, the Conchord(s) had to go on”

To be honest, it was easy – I just wrote down the lines I heard. I also have to make a confession: I listened to some episodes more than once, just for fun. You’ll understand, once you’ve heard the pie fight…

As you’re well aware, the Conchords easily – and very successfully – made the transition to TV, creating two series for America’s HBO, and which were shown on BBC Four. They’d made the big time and I couldn’t have been happier. Our Comedy Editor was pretty chuffed too.

And now Bret McKenzie, one half of the Conchords, has won an Oscar for his original song Man or Muppet in The Muppets film. He’s come a long way since supporting a panda on stage.

As for our title, Flight of the Conchords is now one of our biggest selling titles on digital. And our Comedy Editor? Around the same time he also suggested we try publishing another new radio series. That turned out to be ‘Little Britain‘…

You can hear a clip of ‘the quirky Kiwi songsmiths’ on our website, which also lists all the songs featured on each episode. Just click the play button under the image to listen to the Conchords, who are on tour in York, being given a special pep-talk by Dan and the Panda.