Academic Articles

In this Section of the site there are a series of Academic Articles on the Work of Bill Naughton.


Three Radio Plays by Bill Naughton


By Mary Jane Miller

There are no restrictions on the use of this unpublished manuscript other than full acknowledgement of the author when quoting it.
There is no restriction on reproduction of the full manuscript for research or teaching purposes. Permission to publish it in full should
be sought from the author.

For further information contact
Dr. Mary Jane Miller
Professor of Dramatic Literature (Emerita)
Department of Dramatic Arts
Brock University
South Drive
St. Catharines, Ontario,
L2R 4T8
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Bolton Council Reference: B920NAU



For many 1960s playwrights, radio's special forte was in fantasy, dream and allegory. The expressionistic writing and fluid structure of plays such as Pinter's The Dwarfs, Beckett 's All that Fall, or Words and Music, probed the unspoken and the subconscious. Even the cross-sections of the life in small communities presented by Dylan Thomas, Vernon Scannell, Jessie Kesson and others had a subjective, surreal quality, since they juxtaposed the imaginative inner life of characters with a separate stream of events in their lives. People and places were often perceived through first-person narrators who created the past for the listener with the wide eyes of childhood or coloured by bitterness, a sense of lost innocence, or wishes that could not come true. In contrast, using vox pop and wild sound, Features FN1 like the radio ballads produced by Charles Parker with Ewan McColl and Peggy Seeger (such as Singing the Fishing, 1959, which won the Prix Italia in 1960, and The Big Hewer, about coal miners in 1960 created extraordinary portraits of life among the working classes). Naughton was creating fiction with the textures and detail of some of the contemporary documentary features.

Competent naturalistic radio plays were and still are turned out by the dozens on the BBC. Within this category of domestic drama, by far the largest in radio's repertoire to this day, Bill Naughton's plays represent some of the most carefully worked out and imaginative radio writing in the 60's. Despite their populist flavour, the plays were not broadcast on the much more popular Home Service, now Radio Four but for the prestigious Third Programme Service. His radio work was not really experimental in structure, in the use of sound effects, vocal resources, music or subject matter. Yet few radio writers, up to that point. had explored so fully and so vividly one particular ambience in serious radio plays. Naughton and producer Douglas Cleverdon2 formed a fruitful partnership FN2 .

Naughton (1910 — 1992) grew up in Bolton in the 1920s. His memoir of that life, Neither Use nor Ornament (1995), published after his death, provides many details about a family where the father is a miner, the mother keeps the home, the sisters and brothers work, if lucky, in the weaving sheds of the cotton mills. However, unlike the work of John Arden and others in the period, Naughton's plays are basically apolitical. The political system which partly created the conditions of working class life in the Midlands was not at issue. In his memoir he remembers his own street as a place where, "Politics and Religion ...were subjects never mentioned. It was an understood thing that matters of that kind of family affairs must be avoided" (161). Family affairs are at the heart of June Evening and November Day because Naughton was primarily interested in character and in depicting the details of the daily life he recalled so clearly. With The Little Life of Alfie Jenkins, he moved to contemporary life but remained apolitical.

If Naughton's radio work can be said to have any recurring themes, they are what he saw as the concrete values of working class life in Bolton in the desperately poor 1920 and 30s (the era of the general strike and the Depression): the importance and pride of a steady job; the warmth and communal feelings of family life; the necessity of keeping your head up among your neighbours, your doorstep clean and your family fed. In the world of June Evening and November Day, the women manage and the men master. It was a much harsher world than that depicted on television's Coronation Street (1960) FN3 . Both work and money are scarce. The jobs in the mines or mills or coal-yards are tough. A draft of bitter at the corner pub, fish and chips, fags, sweets are the amenities. Whist, clog dancing, singing, racing pigeons and dogs, are the pleasures of a man's life, ancient games of maypole. skipping, ball, tag, and taunt-the-rival-gang are the children's past times. Visits to the local shop or conversations on the front step occupy the women's rare moments of leisure. In Naughton's radio dramas the past and present mingle, but the future too often rests on pool tickets or raffles. In Naughton's radio dramas the past and present mingle, but the future too often rests on pool tickets or raffles. The rough rural sport of ‘puncing', that is kicking in another man's shins, is still remembered, along with the Great War, strikes, debts, deaths, births, scandals and windfalls. Memories are long among Naughton's people. So is the gift of endurance. Although each street has its own character, and each family its own balance of power, the sense of the neighbourhood is very strong. In it, life is lived day by day. FN4
Unlike the folk living in Bolton, Alfie Elkins, a Londoner lives in the present tense of the early 60s, in a world without established values. Alfie Elkins and the Little Life FN5 written in 1962 is the basis of Naughton's best known work„ the 1966 film-script of Alfie. The central character is a wholly self-centred man. He is Cockney, a loner by choice, and a man who treats all people, especially women, as objects. Alfie is now seen as quintessentially iconic of the hedonistic side of the 1960s, but in 1962, that life had not reached iconic status in popular culture. Although, in the radio play, Naughton is writing with his usual naturalistic texture full of sensory detail, much of it is held in the middle distance by the huge blocks of narration from which the play is built. The first-person narrative technique and the dramatic content support one another because Alfie's saving grace as a dramatic character is his complete unsentimentality about himself. He is uncritical about his behavior, ethics and expectations, but his account of his own life is as detached as an outside observer's might be. He is consistent. If he looks out for himself first, he expects no one else to. If it costs nothing, he'll please anyone. He is bright, cheerful, good at sex, and not at all sorry for himself. Thus, the listener usually trusts Alfie's account of events, especially when it unconsciously reveals what his resilience has cost himself and others.
Naughton works here in Robert Browning's tradition of writing monologues which reveal more about characters than their carefully crafted masks openly present, using significant omissions and pauses, but Naughton has the advantage of a radio actor's pitch, tempo and inflection. Alfie's detachment from everyone else is his major weakness as a character, but it can also be a Narrator's strength. A good example of the effect created by this kind of perspective is the graphic description of one of Alfie's birds as she endures an abortion in his flat. The description sounds objective in person, tense, and mood. No direct dialogue is exchanged. Yet, from his entrance with a teddy bear and the repeated mention of her silence, even at one remove we can clearly infer the wonder, contempt and exhaustion in her face. Behind his flippant detachment we can also sense the fragility of Alfie's defences against the emotions of guilt and loss.


There is no 'mate', no person to represent the audience, but there is plenty of direct address to the unseen audience throughout the play: "I'll tell you a funny thing", "Funny, i'n't it." Yet the audience he addresses is uncharacterized. The tone of Alfie's direct address implies an audience with the identical attitudes, class loyalties and values, a mirror in fact. By not interposing a sympathetic or unsympathetic interlocutory friend, as he did a few months earlier in Jackie Crowe, Naughton leaves Alfie exposed directly to the judgement of the listener. In the film Alphie Michael Caine's broke cinematic conventions of that time to directly address the camera, as the action carries on behind him. But the dramatic effect is very different from Alfie's "on mike" direct asides. In the first place, the mask in the film is wrong. Caine's handsome face and figure leave no doubt - or mystery - about Alfie's success with women. Yet the character in the radio original is more easily imagined as a lively, perhaps rather plain little man. Since a protagonist in a film can hardly afford to be as rambling and introspective as his prototype in a radio play, the film replaces the detached discursive narration with either flashbacks or sequences which present the action directly. The film adds close to another hour of material to the radio play. Paradoxically, this lessens the emotional impact.

To illustrate, all versions of the subject, Naughton's radio script, novel and film FN6  make the abortion a turning point. The novel spells it out in a detailed description. The film avoids a shot of the "little, perfectly formed dead thing." But the radio play succeeds in sustaining both the convention of Alfie recalling the scene months later and Alfie experiencing it in the now of performance. Past and present are overlaid. Because it is radio, the fetus will be as real as the listener's imagination chooses. Naughton's radio script is also less sentimental than the later versions. The child's cry, which follows Alphie for a while after, is a fretful sound effect placed in the middle distance - nagging, upsetting - but then, as he says without irony, "men are more sensitive."

Although the script and the production of the radio play create a more balanced, less attractive character than in the film or the novel, the radio original is in some ways colder than the film or novel. Most of the other characters are more complete and interesting human beings to us than Alfie, yet to him, everyone, especially the women, whether they are "mumsy" or "good little workers" or "clean," are collectively "it." FN7 They are objects of lust, housekeepers, mirrors. In this sense the radio play's narrative structure presents a problem to the listener because of the play's focus, Alfie, is so detached from emotion that indifference eventually infects every part of it, every character and crisis. Even moral of the tale, if it has one, is coldly ironic. Chasing birds while maintaining that 'I'm all right, mate' is an empty indifference to others needs and feelings.

Two radio plays bracket Alfie Elkins and the Little Life. In both, the dramatic conflict arises when the characters exchange the familiar town life in the North for life in London or abroad. In Wigan to Rome (1960) which depends on the contrast of the two cities good cup of tea in Europe and the fact that French macaroons interest some of the British tourists more than the famous cathedral. But some of the short scenes in this episodic play contain sharp glimpses of the effect of another culture on the citizens of Wigan. Miss Pike, a proper maiden lady, has the standard qualities of gumption and commonsense, but when we catch her walking luxuriously barefoot over the marble floors of her hotel room, the sensuality, so briefly uppermost, startles and delights the listener. The play ends when they return home to Wigan.FN8

Jackie Crowe (1962) FN9 thematically related to Alfie Elkins but written some months earlier, has a similar stock shape to Wigan. After his funeral, the life of a man is recalled in chronological flashbacks. Here the contrast is between the slick life of a London spiv, something new and fresh of familiar domestic radio drama with a strongly regional accent, and compulsive gambler, and memories of going to the cinema in a small Northern Industrial town, or the clean smell of his mother at her washboard. The play is a portrait of Jackie Crowe, and the contradictions between his past and present values. He recalls page after page of The Cloud of Unknowing FN10 , breaking a stereotype, and yet says "I'd be dead if I believed in it." He is displaced. Even though he is rich at the time, North Country pride in appearance prevents him from going home because an illness had made his hair fall out. By the time his hair grows back, he is broke.


Bill Naughton's claim to serious attention as a radio writer is that he does makes something new and fresh of familiar domestic radio drama with a strongly regional accent.   When, Canadian that I am, I asked a BBC executive in 1968 why there were no regional radio stations, few genres of radio with local or regional accents, no presenters with perceptible dialects, (even as the pirate station Radio Caroline was picking up huge audiences with its mix of pop songs and the regional accents of its presenters), he replied that the BBC audience strenuously objected to regional and working class accents. He said that the programmers would get angry letters saying the listener could not understand what was being said. in a few years, of course, the regional accents heard on the BBC were as diverse as those in the theatre, which had led the way in the mid 50s..

In my view, the best radio scripts Bill Naughton wrote are June Evening FN11   and November Day FN12 . They are not exercises in nostalgia. They are affectionate but dispassionate recreations of particular places and times. One of the distinguishing characteristics of his writing is the particular kind of laughter he evokes. His comedy is not black, bitter, surreal or even very satirical - nor is it lyrical. He is not influenced by sketch comedy like The Goon Show or Round the Horne or the absurdist exercises of Stoppard and Pinter. He writes in the tradition of the best British domestic comedy at that time using understatement and non sequitur, habitually undercutting pathos with banter or slapstick; for example the vignette in June Evening about the button-up boots of Mrs. Booth, the midwife, which are a legend on her street. If she has them off, no matter how imminent the birth, the expectant father must wait and wait while she struggles into them.

Radio dramas can be visually dull. One of the most obvious weaknesses of the standard domestic radio plays churned out weekly to this day is that neither writer nor producer give the listener sensory stimuli. Naughton writes with a selective and inventive eye for the right detail. June Evening first produced in 1958, provides one of the best examples. Mrs. Tatlock's rocking chair is one of the privileges left to her in what was once her own house. The sound of her rocking chair serves several functions. Whenever it is heard, it places the dialogue in what is now her daughter-in-law Beatty's front room. From the specific sound of the old, heavy wooden rocker' the listener can infer much about the kind of furnishings contained in such a room. Symbolically, the rhythmic repetition of the rocking chair represents both the continuity of life in this street and Beatty's irritation at her mother-in-law's presence in her home. Later in the play, the narrative strand concerning the war between the two women over who will run the house reaches a kind of peace when Beatty's husband shows her his mother's drawer of treasures; a tin flute, a watch and a pair of baby clogs, all that is left of her three dead sons. Note that each object makes a specific kind of sound when it is handled. That kind of care in his choice of detail is characteristic of Bill Naughton.

In both June Evening and the bleaker November Day (broadcast in 1963, and set when times are even tougher, on Feb. 16, 1933 according to the script I analysed) the choice of descriptive details usually illustrates a point of characterization, adds a dimension of pathos or humour to the plot or serves as a short-hand note to create a whole scene. Every detail serves a dramatic rather than decorative purpose; for example, a store has an old-fashioned weighing scale and a cash register, both distinctive sound effects. But in the 20's of June Evening the drawer of the till is nearly empty and purchases are often accompanied by the scratch of a 'tick' pencil. Naughton also defines both the period and the character of the storekeeper when dialogue indicates that the man weighs out mostly juice, dill seed and cauliflower instead of gherkins. The following example, also from June Evening, serves two dramatic purposes. It sets the scene and suggests what beauty is to one working class woman. As usual Naughton's attitude is not ironic or militant but affectionate: 

Fanny Brighouse: Ee, I do think it's nice when you can sit out here in your own Street of a summer evening,just chattin' away.

Mary Anne: Oh. I think it does a woman good to get out of the house

Nell: Sometimes I feel we're lucky and we don't know it in our street. Now just look across there at the reflection of setting sun int' factory windows over the houses there, in't, it beautiful!

Fanny: Aye, it's a lovely red glow. You could paint a picture of it. I wouldn't swap places with the Aga Khan on the Riviera.FN13

Naughton fills in the picture with street sounds (off), Girls singing (off), the wind and Kitchen chair on the pavement. The first three effects are standard. The kitchen chair particularises the scene. The familiar device of children's songs as bridges works well in this street scene. The quick shift of locations from front kitchen to bedroom to stoop to street-corner to cemetery broadens the canvas. Naughton also "sign posts" skillfully without being too obtrusive, as in the meeting of the two youngsters in the only nearby place likely to be private, the graveyard. Naughton's stage directions read [Fade in. Churchyard, bird twitter. Boy's low signaling whistle.] The dialogue between Ernie and Win, "It's all did say against the Alderman's grave." "That's right -" "I've walked around the churchyard twice, just to make sure" includes information about the specific location in the glimpse of a nervous lad restlessly waiting for his girl.

Naughton's distinction as a radio playwright rests largely on his skill as a craftsman who has found not only sound equivalents for the carefully dressed sets of film, television and stage, but who also has the gift of stimulating all five senses FN14 , the emotions and the mind through the use of naturalistic detail. A final illustration from November Day shows this gift for the accretion of sensory details. Producer Douglas Cleverdon reproduced the stage directions meticulously. This is the way the script begins:

[Loud strong ticking, of cheap Alarm Clock: Faint background sounds of Man and Woman sleeping deeply]. Cleverdon interprets this as long, slow, slightly asthmatic deep breathing for Joe and a lighter, sighing breath for Madge. Details of character and class continue to come: [Odd Rustle of Wire Spring Bed. Hold as long as holdable (which is a lengthy pause in this production) Fade up Clock Ticking Close].

The Narrator's neutral voice tells us that the clock is "a tin alarum clock lying on its side and set inside an enamel wash bowl", although the sound effect is distinguished clearly enough without the line. Ticking clocks are a worn-out technique for building suspense in radio, but Naughton's clock serves other purposes. The threads of tension and deprivation running through the play are aptly symbolized by this clock. Later dialogue tells us that it is on its side because it didn't work the day before and there is no money to fix it. It is in the wash-bowl because Joe, who is living on in-law's charity, must wake up and go looking for work . Suddenly there is [the violent explosion of Alarm], which is a half hour early, since they want to have something in hand even if it is only time, underlining the frustrations of Joe's dilemma.

The scene is rounded out by further the sound of [A cheap curtain (on string)]. The threads of domestic friction, sensuality and shyness characterize both the opening and closing scenes and play creatively with the most basic quality of radio, intimacy FN15

Joe: You give me cramp with your legs — the weight of 'em over me. I wake up tireder than I go to bed.

Madge: It's a pity about you. I thought I was keeping you warm in my tinpot way.

In the last scene, Joe, exhausted from a day's work loading coal, strips out of his things to take his tea naked by the fire, the baby on his lap. Madge is half-excited, half-scandalized at the thought, but money in his pocket makes Joe master again in his house and he has his way. Note that 'naked' was acceptable on serious radio at a time when it was not in the theatre or on film or television

Naughton often works in close-ups. In film, continuous zoom shots or shifts to close-focus can be distracting. On a stage there are two problems: first, the distance of audience from the stage in many theatres; second, the fact that an actor cannot continually efface himself while an audience concentrates on the contents of a pickle jar or the succulence of a squashed strawberry. But in radio, a writer or producer can close in on an object, then move out rapidly, with ease. When a widow describes the moment in her marriage when she understood what it is like to work in the mines, the listener can lose, momentarily, along with her, the consciousness of faces, bodies, setting, to feel, smell, taste the memory. This moment is one of the most moving cameos in June Evening. Nell is talking about the first time her husband came home from the pit and washed up for supper:

Nell: I was a bit shy, you know, of seein' a chap in his bare skin like that- 'course he had his pants on.

Beatty: Eee, but you'd been on your honeymoon together!

Nell: Aye, but he'd had his shirt on! [Laughter]. So I stood there behind him. I looked at his back an' it seemed so thick and broad and strong. It looked like a great broad lump of black granite - I mean, I just didn't know how to get about washing it. Anyway, I picked up flannel an' soaps it an' makes a start. 'Sorry Nell,' says Gilbert, 'but you'll have to use scrubbin' brush. an' soap. My mam always did. Flannel's no use'.

[Ad lib Women Murmur —aaah etc]

Nell: So I puts down flannel and I picks up scrubbin' brush an' feels it. Why, them bristles were as hard as iron. 'go on' says he, 'Scrub!' But he didn't seem to feel it. 'Harder' he says, 'or you'll never get it clean'. He spoke as though his own skin and back didn't belong to him, you know.

Fanny: The lad just wanted his back clean. Go on, love, what next.

Nell: Well, all the soap lathered up and I scrubbed away, and as all the dirt came off and I rinsed it all away, I suddenly saw his bare gleaming back for the first time. I'll never forget the sight!

Mary Anne: What was wrong with it?

Nell: It was one great mass of cuts, scars, lumps an' bruises — his entire back — and all of them blue.

Fanny: Aye, coal dirt gets in and marks them for life.

Mary Anne: I'll bet it told a tale to you, love, did that back.

Nell: After the first shock- I filled up, you know.

Mary Anne: I'm sure you did -

Nell: Course, I didn't let him see me -

Fanny: It wouldn't do.

Mary Anne: It would 'aye hurt his pride -

Beatty: How did he get 'em all?

Nell: I don't really know -

Mary Anne: Working under a low roof - eighteen inches high. Fanny: Or happen, workin' on his back.

Mary Anne: Maybe he had a roof fall on him sometime.FN16

The sensory stimuli are varied. Every sense but that of taste is involved. Simultaneously, the listener slips easily from consciousness of the present, the women chatting, to a close-up of Nell's husband, to a sense of Nell's subjective feelings about it and then back to the summer evening. The sequence avoids sentimental excess and monotonous blocks of narrative through the women's interjections, which also convey the common traditions and reassurances from an elder to a younger generation. Beatty's question is intrusive. A newcomer to the street, she wouldn't know about life on the street and is probably uncomprehending or impatient of the anecdote. But her question, aside from demonstrating these qualities, also provides the listener with a needed explanation.

The little incident concludes with a return to close-focus. Nell "I don't know - I couldn't get myself ever to mention 'em to him - all I know was that it was all I could do to hold back the tears! Then I went in front place and I got white turkish towel out of drawer, and I went back in and dabbed and wiped his hack as gently as I could with it. He must 'a wondered what had come over me, but he said 'Ee Nell that feels nice."

Just before her little story, Nell had been recalling her Mother-in-law's advice at her wedding, that she must make her man wash in the back kitchen and she must never let him curl up in front of the fire for a snooze in his pit dirt, "or else the front kitchen will never be your own." But Nell finishes her narrative with "So then whilst he had his back to me, I said, [lightly] 'Oh, Gilbert love, if you'd prefer to wash you in front kitchen afore the fire, I don't mind at all, or if you'd like to curl up on't hearthrug after dinner and have a little sleep afore you wash you, it's all right by me" (51-53). The stage direction [lightly] moves the speech from narrative to dramatic. The effect on the listener is that of a scene within a scene. She is not hearing Nell tell her friends about that day, but rather hearing her talk with Gilbert on that day, years ago.

A close look at this dialogue also shows another of Naughton's strengths as a playwright. There is not an extra word. Naturalistic dialogue must create the illusion of common speech, with all of its redundancies, hesitations, incomplete grammatical forms and phatic noises, but Naughton pares these to a minimum while retaining the flavour of Bolton's working class speech FN17 . The hesitations, the asides show the emotional nuances. The redundant phrases fit the embarrassment of the moment as she recalls it. The short assertive phrases and simple vocabulary fit the class and character of the speaker. As emotion wells, the definite articles disappear. An older, broader speech asserts itself and finally, as she offers her husband the choice of being underfoot if it suits him, her language turns tender and slightly old-fashioned, both covering and yet stressing the importance of the moment to her.

The older generation have their own turns of speech. Jud is one of the most clearly drawn characters in June Evening. We meet him dancing a clog dance because his limbs are getting supple from the enforced idleness of a strike. Yet he feels keenly the loss of respect in his own house because there is no work. Anger, frustration and boredom are the subtextual motivation beneath his outburst at his son Percy, who is off to play tennis. The idioms further emphasize the separation of father and son: Jud: "Look at 'em -they favour a couple of flamin' wenches." Later he recalls "my granduncle Harry, he were a champion toe-dancer. He set about Pigion. He punced his shins that hard an' that often that old Pigion fell off the chair, unconscious, smothered in blood - the referee sopping his shins with Condy's fluid. Uncle Harry 'ud turn in his grave if he saw yon lad of mine goin' off like a flamin' Jessie. I don't know who he gets it from." Charlie replies "Owt in him, he gets it from thee and they missus- who the hell else could he get it from?" (43).

Both June Evening and November Day are anecdotal in structure. In June Evening, Naughton encourages the listener to retain some objectivity by interweaving several strands of narrative. However, November Day, the later play, returns to the device used extensively in Jackie Crowe of a detached middle class Narrator who uses a light, cultured accent tinged with irony but not callousness. In this instance, on the whole, the information he provides is not worth the obtrusiveness of the device. It is the play's only serious weakness.November Day centres around one man, his effort to get up, find work, keep the job and endure to the end of the day. We meet as many varied and accurately sketched characters as in the other plays, but only as they relate to Joe and his environment. It is a special day only for him.

This is the grimmest of these three plays. The necessities of life weigh more and more heavily through this long day. There is the tense wait of the day labourer; Tich's broken ankle that opens up the way for Joe to carry heavy bags of coal; his empty stomach and trembling muscles at the heavy lifting; the hungry lunch hour, lightened by comic ** quarrels and then a mate who shares his food; the woman who tries to pay for her coal with her only currency, her body; the well-fed dentist's whine at the price of coal; the sad strains of the out-of-work concert violinist on the corner; the gift of a pair of pants belonging to a husband not expected to come home from the hospital; and Pongo's pent-up anger at the rain, the heavy work and the barren existence which explodes when he recalls letting fly at his wife with his wet, lumpy, coal-dust-heavy cap. Yet the play ends with a note of contentment. Tich will get compensation. Joe has a toehold on a job. He can build up a fire with coal from his collar and cuffs, present his wife with 7 shillings 5 pence and put, his foot down in his own household, insisting on the right to sit comfortably without his clothes on. With a wife who missed him, heat on his bare skin, a cup of tea and the baby in his lap, he is back on top of the heap. This plot summary indicates the kind of incident that is typical of all of Naughton's radio plays. Whatever the perspective, first person, simple narrative, third person observer, whether optimistic or bleak, unified or diverse, the subject matter is the same. Naughton creates plays from the people and places he knows best.


The newspaper reviewers FN18 who commented on Naughton's plays were not particularly enthusiastic in their assessment of Naughton's skill. After hearing Wigan to Rome, Kathleen Rantell (Glasgow Herald, June 27, 1962) commented on "the completely realistic group scenes," then concluded that it was "magnificent, but it was no longer radio," because she felt that the sound effects substituted for the visual rather than evoking it. Her approval of Alfie Elkins and the Little. Life was also qualified. In the Glasgow Herald, (January 13, 1962) she classified Naughton as a specialist in "panoramic views of working class life...crammed with stunted but recognizable characters," some of whom she found insipid. I found only a few of his middle-class characters insipid. However, she did like the "rambustious littleness" of Alfie. Wilsher, the radio critic for The Times and The Sunday Times, was charmed by Alfie's amorality, (The Times, January 14, 1962) Curiously, the other critics of Alfie Elkins and the Little Life concentrated their attention on the dignity, courage and semi-tragic aspects of the play which they saw as a working-class `allegory of life', a remarkably sentimental view of an unsentimental play.

Earlier, Paul Ferris, critic for The Observer (October 19,1960), felt that the content of his plays was obvious but that the treatment was not coloured by self-consciousness or "a patronizing tone " and noted with approval that Naughton's characters like and know each other. On the other hand, some years later, Wilsher was so provoked by November Day, in The Sunday Times (October 19 1966) that he objected to all of Naughton's plays because they were "so essentially undramatic in form, so full of unhandy bits of rhetoric,sentimentality and implausible explanatory comments".

Yet even he concluded that"cumulatively, as an oeuvre, they become a very warmhearted monument to a black eraMary Crozier's summary of Naughton's work also in The Sunday Times (October 19 1966) differs from his critique. "In the plain exchanges, the difficulties so apostrophised by Beckett FN19 and Ionesco have already been taken account of and coped with.... existence is quickly celebrated."


Naughton's territory is firmly staked out by these plays. He is not really interested in allegory as such or even in writing with symbolic overtones. It is true that Pongo's account of hurling his heavy, wet cap at his wife expresses for himself and all the other characters the unbearable frustrations of hauling coal in all weathers, but the episode is not an overall statement about the narrow monotony of such a life, or a philosophical parallel to an existential Sisyphus.

Naughton writes about particular people, their moods, their problems, their feelings for one another. His plays are apolitical, unconcerned with questions about , "the human condition", indifferent to rationalizations and explanations. His only assumption about his audience seems to be that his listeners will he curious about the 1ives of his characters and that they will interested in the domestic details he so carefully selects for them. His characters are not consciously articulate.'Their silences are not heavy with unspoken subtext. Word play is not a partial defence against their environment or an ongoing game to be enjoyed. Neither is the playwright interested in self- reflexivity He does not use topical references, even in plays set in the period in which they are broadcast. like many other domestic radio plays, Naughton's mix a little comedy, a little tragedy, a touch of melodrama but there seems to be no conscious intention to play one mode of writing against another as in Giles Cooper's Under The Loofah Tree (1958) or Harold Pinter' A Slight Ache (1959) or Tom Stoppard's later combination of naturalist setting and absurdist monologue Albert's Bridge (1967) FN20 . Music is an adjunct to provide quick background settings or to establish an atmosphere, not a complex counterpoint. However the rich sound texture which distinguished his radio work was largely derived from Naughton's scripts, as Douglas Cleverdon, his producer, told me in May of 1968. One might summarize the dramatic effect of Naughton's work by saying that, with the two exceptions of his extensive use of narration and his stress on sensory stimulation, he does what hundreds of other radio writers did. The distinction is that he did it very well indeed.

Naughton belonged not on the experimental frontiers of radio drama in the 60’s but in the heartland of the medium. . His value as a playwright was in the balance of daylight and darkness, innocence and experience which his plays achieve, his seriousness, his wry sense of humour and his humane perspective.



From 1966-68, I was given access to BBC radio drama thanks to a carte blanche given me by Martin Esslin, then head of Radio Drama, who told me in our sole conversation that I was the first person to do research for a Ph.D FN21 on BBC radio drama. I used the extensive BBC collection of reviews to help me winnow out plays as well as the scripts, which were very helpful because they were the producer's beaten up scripts as broadcast FN22 , not the clean script submitted by the author. I was even given a short radio producer's course. For the thesis, I listened to 61 tapes (which could, of course be replayed) and heard 23 transcriptions played for me by British engineers. I heard every play I wrote about. In the two years I spent in the United Kingdom, supervised by John Russell Brown, I also listened to and made notes off air on about two hundred plays broadcast. As a Canadian, I struggled with the verbal nuances indicating class, as well as the complexities of the class system then clearly under attack, but I did have the advantage of an outsider's point of view. My research subsequently shifted into Canadian theatre, then undergoing a renaissance in the early 70s. At that time, CBC radio drama was in decline. In the 80s and 90s I have written books and articles on CBC television drama. Except for an article on Pinter's radio drama FN23 . I did not publish the research I did in the 60s. However, since a recent search of the literature has revealed little scholarly analysis paid to Bill Naughton's BBC radio drama, in the midst of my current book on television, I reworked that material as the basis of this article. It was refreshing to return to radio, my first love.


BIBLIOGRAPHY (for the original chapter in my thesis) 1949 —1972

Briggs, Asa A History of British Broadcasting volumes 1 (1961), 2 (1965) and 3 (1970) Oxford University Press: London.

Crozier, Mary, Broadcasting :Sound and Television. The Home Library of Modern Knowledge, Oxford University Press, London: 1958.

Esslin, Martin "The National Theatre of the Air", BBC Lunchtime Lectures. n.d.

---" The Mind as Stage" , Theatre Quarterly, 1 (3), London: 1971.

--- The Theatre of the Absurd, Anchor Books , New York: 1961.

Felton, Felix„ The Radio Play: its techniques and possibilities, Sylvan Press, London: 1949.

Gielgud, Val, How To Write Broadcast Plays. With three examples: "Friday Morning", "Red Tabs" and "Exiles", Hurst & Blackett , London: 1932.

---- British Radio Drama 1922-1956: A Survey, London: Harrap: 1957.

--- Years in a Mirror, London: Bodley Head: 1965.

Hoggart, Richard, The Uses of Literacy: Aspects of Working Class Life with special reference to Publications and entertainment, Pelican books, 1958.

Imison, Richard, 1965, "Drama at the B.B.C.", Plays and Players. 13 (3), 9-12.

Innis, Harold, The Bias of Communication, University of Toronto Press, Toronto: 1951.

Manvell, Roger, On the Air: A study of Broadcasting in Sound and Television, Deutsch, London: 1953. McLuhan, Marshall, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, McGraw Hill , New York: 1964. eds. McLuhan, Marshall and Carpenter Edmund Briggs, Explorations in Communication: and Anthology, Beacon Press, Boston: 1966

McWhinnie, Donald, The Art of Radio, London: Faber and Faber: 1959 ( my second reader). Sieveking, Lance, The Stuff of Radio, Cassell, London: 1934.

Whannel, Paddy and Hall, Stuart, The Popular Arts, Hutchinson Educational, London: 1964. Williams Raymond, Communications revised ed. Chatto and Windus, 1966.

--- The Long Revolution, Pelican Books: 1965.


Crisell, Andrew, Understanding Radio, second ed. Routledge, London and New York: 1986. Crook, TimRadio Drama: Theory and Practice Routledge, London and New York::1999.

John Drakakis„ ed., British Radio Drama, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press: 1981.

Lewis, Peter, ed., Radio Drama, Longman, London: 1981.

Naughton, Bill, Neither Use nor Ornament: A memoir of Bolton: 1920s, Bloodaxe Books, Newcastle-Upon­Tyne: 1995 - the last volume of his memoirs.

Ian Rodger, Radio Drama, London: Macmillan 1982.

More up to date relevant references may be found on the "Radio Theory Site" which is "Set up by Alan Beck - Encouraging radio research, widening issues and methodologies, bridges to other subject areas." at ( visited February 9, 2003)

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