Fri 22 November 2019
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Why radio is the ideal home for short stories
"A piece of pointless cultural vandalism.” So Bernie Corbett, the general secretary of the Writers’ Guild, responded to the announcement that Radio 4 will, from next spring, broadcast only one short story a week instead of three

Coming on a bit strong, Bernie, was my immediate reaction. If this is cultural vandalism, what words are left to describe the recent defacement of a couple of Poussins in the National Gallery? Still, his indignation was justified, not least because this cost-driven decision will, as Corbett said, “save the BBC – in a whole year – less than the cost of a single coat of paint on the shining floor of a TV talent show”.

If it were up to me, I’d leave the floor unpainted – or cut the talent show entirely – and keep broadcasting short stories. For the short story is a wonderfully flexible form. It can be anything from an anecdote with, perhaps, a twist in the tail, to a piece in which little seems to happen, but which leaves you with your perceptions changed and your understanding enriched.

Equally importantly, radio is an excellent medium. The secret to short stories is that they depend for their success on the tone of the narrative voice, Somerset Maugham’s being a good example. And radio is a medium in which the tone of voice is all important. Some of the best of radio journalism – one thinks of Alistair Cooke’s Letter from America – often begins as narrative, with a miniature short story to provide the setting. Even the famous serials, such as the Paul Temple series, were more often a series of short stories, complete in themselves rather than a continuous narrative.

The short story has its origins in tales told in caves or around a camp fire, which begin: “There was once a man…” Radio, with its intimacy, a voice speaking to a single listener, carries on from there. Nobody tells novels, but everyone tells stories in conversation.

For the full article

The Telegraph

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