I love writing for radio – it’s liberating and hugely enjoyable. So far, I’ve been
fortunate enough to adapt two 24-carat classics for BBC Radio 4’s Classic Serial.
I’m really sorry that you can’t listen to them online any more. I suppose the BBC
just doesn’t have enough room on its iPlayer…
Peter O’Donnell’s ‘Modesty Blaise’ was born in 1963 as a comic strip, to be joined over the next twenty years by eleven novel-length adventures. She’s the ultimate action heroine and survivor, the ultimate best friend and uber-boss, and the ultimate drop-kicking, high-life living, glamourous role model. And he wrapped this all up in witty, elegant prose of humanity and sweetness. Bond has nothing on Modesty. So when BBC Radio 4 agreed to commission them, I was delighted. So far we have done ‘Modesty Blaise’, ‘A Taste for Death’, and most recently, ‘The Silver Mistress’.
For a moving account of Peter O’Donnell’s inspiration for the character, read his piece ‘Girl Walking’ .
Buy Peter O’Donnell’s ‘Modesty Blaise’ .
Hardly needing an introduction, Hermann Melville’s sprawling epic was a challenge
to reduce to only two hours. At times I thought I had taken on the impossible, but
by excising (with apologies to Melville) much of the discursive and metaphysical
elements, it became a dark-hearted adventure.
Radio Times said, "This gripping adaptation of Herman Melville's epic seafaring
story is saturated with a haunting atmosphere and portents of doom”.
Buy Hermann Melville’s 'Moby Dick' .
The Worst Journey in the World
An adaptation of Apsley Cherry-Garrard’s account of Scott’s doomed attempt
on the South Pole in 1912: a huge, beautifully written book by a sensitive and
perceptive man who was there. I tried to get across how it must have felt for
those who initially missed out on the chance to make history (at the last moment
Cherry was dropped from the final Pole party, having gone much of the way), and
then for those waiting – and waiting – for Scott and the others to return, which
they never did. Being immersed in that world, working in the Scott Polar Research
Institute in Cambridge and reading their original diaries, was an amazing, privileged
experience. In the Institute’s library, you are summoned to tea by the ringing of the
bell from the Terra Nova, the ship that took Scott and his team to Antarctica…
Buy Apsley Cherry-Garrard’s 'The Worst Journey in the World' .
Me Cheeta, by James Lever, has long been a favourite of mine. It’s one of very few books that makes me laugh out loud, and also cry, every time I read it. Purporting to be the autobiography of Cheeta, the chimpanzee from the original Tarzan films, it’s a scabrously funny low-down on Hollywood’s Golden Age, and also a devastating meditation on aging, belonging and selfless love. The stars somehow aligned to give us John Malkovich as Cheeta, and Julian Sands as Tarzan – and if the ending doesn’t make you weep, then you are not fully human.
Buy James Lever’s ‘Me Cheeta’ .