Behind the scenes at BBC Scotland’s radio drama department


The actors, writers and producers making drama for radio

Susan Mansfield celebrates the many talented actors, writers and producers working in BBC Scotland’s radio drama department

Television drama might get the lion’s share of the budget and the publicity, but there is a world of talent involved in making drama for radio – and no shortage of famous names either, with Brian Cox, David Tennant and Billy Connolly all willingly taking a turn in the radio studio.

The radio drama team at BBC Scotland punches well above its weight, making around 60 hours of programmes every year, most of which are aired nationally on Radio 4. ‘It’s a bit of a production juggernaut,’ explains editor Bruce Young. ‘Radio drama provides a huge amount of work for writers and actors in Scotland.’

The team mixes adaptations of classic and best-selling novels with original plays and serials, drawing on the talents of acclaimed writers. Donna Franceschild, best known for writing the television drama Takin’ Over the Asylum, loves to write for radio and recently adapted John Steinbeck’s classic of the American Depression, The Grapes of Wrath, for BBC Scotland. This follows her successful adaptation of Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men in 2010, which starred David Tennant.

Colin MacDonald, an Edinburgh-based writer for radio and television whose credits include Sharpe’s Honour and the films Calum’s Road and Ivanhoe, recently adapted Dissolution, the best-selling Tudor murder-mystery by CJ Sansom, featuring actor Jonathan Watkins (Being Human, Lewis) as hunchbacked lawyer Matthew Shardlake.

Chris Dolan, who is known as a playwright and novelist, is also a prolific writer for radio, most recently completing The Strange Case of Dr Hyde, a four-part contemporary thriller playing with elements of Stevenson’s original story, to be broadcast in October starring David Rintoul. His other adaptations include Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Of Love and Other Demons, and Janes Harris’ The Observations.

Another talented multi-tasker is Ronald Frame, the author of some 15 novels, whose work for radio includes successful series such as Carnbeg and The Hydro, and his memoir Ghost City, which was later adapted for television. His most recent radio work is The Other Simenon, which adapts some of the lesser known fiction by the creator of Maigret.

Up-and-coming Glasgow-based playwright Oliver Emanuel is a prolific radio talent, winning a Bronze Sony Radio Academy Award for Best Drama in 2010 for his play Daniel and Mary. This season, he has written a stand-alone drama called The Other One, about a teenage girl who discovers she was swapped at birth with another couple’s child.

David Ashton’s Victorian detective McLevy, created for radio, was so successful that he has now spawned a series of novels. McLevy has now been running for ten years, and is about to record a ninth series starring Brian Cox and Siobhan Redmond.

Ashton went on to write The Quest for Donal Q, a contemporary adaptation of the story of Don Quixote, which starred Cox and Billy Connolly and was aired as a Christmas special in 2011. The publicity generated by the show provided a brief but important window into the achievements of radio drama which so often go unsung. Bruce Young says: ‘The majority of people working in radio are fantastically well known in the business but are not household names, they’re just incredibly successful talented people.’

Podcasts and internet radio stations in Scotland

Radio Magnetic

The UK’s longest-running internet radio station, Radio Magnetic has grown from its original remit of playing underground dance music to presenting all manner of alternative music.

Janey Godley

Glaswegian comedian Janey Godley and her daughter Ashley chat about current goings-on in their regular podcast.

Scottish Poetry Library

Weekly podcast featuring interviews with poets and those with a passion for poetry. Presented by the library’s reader in residence Ryan Van Winkle.

The Ellie and Oliver Show

These two Glasgow-based artists present a weekly, themed radio show every Friday lunchtime from their flat in Glasgow’s West End. A sideways look at contemporary living.

Song, By Toad

A regular ‘toadcast’ from the popular Scottish music blog featuring a hand-selected playlist of indie tunes.