Rapscallion Magazine Radio Review: Graham Greene’s Our Man in Havana directed by Tracey Neale has the humour and knowingness absent in Carol Reed’s movie

One of my favourite novels is Graham Greene’s Our Man in Havana – and the BBC Radio 4 have dramatised the book in two parts with the anti hero James Wormold played by Rory Kinnear.
It’s a comedy send up of British Intelligence (or lack of it) and in some ways a prophecy of the Cuban Missile Crisis in the Cold War.
Wormold is a vauum cleaner salesman in Cuba in the 1950s and is recruited by the British to spy on the country and in particular a secret nuclear facility in the interior. With no idea how to be a spy he makes up things and submits drawings of vacuum cleaner parts to M16 pretending they are the secret facility.
He does all this as he wants to keep the pay cheques from M16 coming as his daughter Milly is high maintenance.
The dramatisation achieves the balance of the black humour of the sinsiter police chief Captain Segura (Joseph Balderrama) and the absudity of Wormold’s mission. Kinnear gives the anti-hero a more knowing feel that his character in the novel sometimes has – adding to the feeling that he’s rather more aware of the situation than at first appears.
It is certainly a better adaption than the movie version directed by Carol Reed with Alec Guinness in the lead role. Somehow despite a star cast that included Maureen O’Hara and Noel Coward as Hawthorne it didn’t encapsulate the charm of the novel or even the humour – unlike this radio version.
Wormold ….. Rory Kinnear
Beatrice ….. Emily Berrington
Hasselbacher ….. Kenneth Collard
Milly ….. Kitty O’Sullivan
Hawthorne ….. Miles Jupp
Captain Segura ….. Joseph Balderrama
Carter ….. John Lightbody
Teresa/Iris ….. Rhiannon Neads
Chief/Dr Braun ….. Michael Bertenshaw
Sanchez/Waiter/British Ambassador ….. Martin Marquez
MacDougall/Joe/Policeman 2 …… Josh Bryant-Jones
Rudy/Policeman 1 ….. Jot Davies
Mistress of Sanchez/Ambassador’s Assistant ….. Jessica Turner
Directed by Tracey Neale
Adapted by – Jeremy Front.


The Woman In White – BBC TV 1982 – Diana Quick and Jenny Seagrove. 

Rapscallion Magazine Radio Review: the eerie atmosphere of Bleeding Heart Yard in London recreated in an atmospheric production of Charles Dickens’ Little Dorritt

Wilkie Collin’s was ahead of his times and in many ways ahead of our own era mused Matthew Sweet on BBC Radio 4’s The Wilkie Collins Guide to Modern Life.
Or more prosaically ‘Woke Wilkie’ devled into the issues of restitution, polyamory, disability or gender roles in his 19th century novels.
In this his bicentenary year, Matthew will open up the world of Wilkie Collins’s fiction – a world that is profoundly strange, but deeply engaged with questions with which we’re still grappling today – runs the publicity.
Best known for his novels The Moonstone and The Woman In White (recently serialised on BBC4 Extra) Collins was also a playwright and essayist – and pal of Charles Dickens.
Matthew Sweet’s wry humour and a fondness for quirky details gave the programme an enjoyably informative and sideways look at the bearded and rather austere looking Victorian father of three.
We learn that BBC Radio 4’s Money Box presenter Paul Lewis is the secretary of the Wilkie Collins Society who said the author spent more than he earned although made a good living from his pen.
Champagne, cigars and visits abroad and to Ramsgate – plus his love life and family – were a natural drain on his finances.
What was at the heart of the programme was the question of what was the message? We know about Charles Dickens’ views on society, poverty and the need for reform but Collins said Matthew Sweet has a different agenda. His characters are often unconventional in appearance for instance- which are not reproduced in the various TV and film adaptations. And his portrayal of women is perhaps what his readers most pick up on – with the terrible plight of females in Victorian England – as portrayed in The Woman In White – was ahead of its time.
Collins was often unwell with several conditions including gout and angina which led him to imprint physical and health problems into is characters. Those who are physically perfect are often the villains and those with disabilities or imperfections are frequently seen as the heroes. Which all adds up to the thought that the Conservative commentators of the time may well have referred to him as being Woke Wilkie.

Harry Mottram


Jasmine Hyde played the titular character

Rapscallion Magazine Radio Review: the eerie atmosphere of Bleeding Heart Yard in London recreated in an atmospheric production of Charles Dickens’ Little Dorritt

Radio Review: Little Dorritt, BBC Radio4X. At more than a thousand pages Charles Dickens’ novel Little Dorritt is an epic read as the story of kindly Arthur Clennam (Julian Wadham) unfolds and his relationship with Amy Dorritt develops.
Set in the dark and impoverished world of Victorian London the narrative is so convoluted and rambling that I was relieved that BBC Radio 4 Extra reduced it to just five episodes – a repeat of the 2001 production broadcast again this January and available on BBC Sounds.
Abridged by Doug Lucie and directed by Janet Whitaker the drama was given a tangible 19th century atmosphere by being recorded on location in London with music by Mia Soteriou.
Did they really find the Circumlocution Office, the confines of Bleeding Heart Yard or the creaking doors of Newgate Prison where Little Dorritt (Jasmine Hyde) spent so much time?
Listening to the story narrated by Ian McKellen as Charles Dickens during the dark days of early January gave an added shiver as Arthur’s fortunes rise and fall and rise again on his mission to be nice. An action thrown back in his face by snotty William Dorritt (John Wood).
A story well told – or rather broadcast – and still a dark social satire and a tale of redemption first penned back in 1855.
Harry Mottram



Anthoney Zurcher

Rapscallion Magazine Radio Review: The nasally voice with its Texas-lite accent that makes sense of MAGA and USA politics

Americast, BBC Radio 4.

During the strange period of recent American history when Donald Trump was president and his failures since leaving office there was one voice that made sense of it all to me: Anthony Zurcher.
The Washington based journalist is part of the team of Americast featuring Sarah Smith and Justin Webb. In the episode of Donald Trump launches White House bid the programme also had contributions from the BBC’s Social Media and Disinformation Correspondent, Marianna Spring.
With his slightly nasally voice with its Texas-lite accent, the Americast contributor imparts informed views on the MAGA movement, what makes the Trump supporters tick, the ins and outs of the election of a speaker to the House of Representatives and why Trump remains both very popular but also divisive – and from our perspective – why thankfully Trump is on his way out.
Anthony Zurcher is the Beeb’s North America correspondent and also regularly appears on BBC TV news programmes where his long face and domed pate, arrests viewers’ attention with his erudite views.
Normally in the background is the White House or a political rally as he picks out the salient points of seemingly bonkers politicians.
In particular he gives an insight into how American democracy works – in some ways undemocratically and in other ways better than the UK’s system. Always worth a listen.
To hear Mr Zurcher on Americast visit


James Cagney reads the letters

Rapscallion Magazine Radio Review: when the American Jewish Committee used the soft power of the airwaves to improve perceptions of Jews and expose Nazi crimes, with the likes of James Cagney reading letters to Hitler

Radio Review. Archive on 4: Dear Adolf – Letters to the Fuhrer. BBC Radio 4

The rather disarming title belied the serious intention of the letters which were not personal missives to the Nazi dictator but a concerted soft power come propaganda campaign to change public opinion in wartime USA.

Dear Adolf – Letters to the Führer – produced by Mark Burman and presented by Christopher Cook charted a little known chapter of World War Two’s media battle. In Britain the BBC broadcast radio programmes such as The Kitchen in Wartime, Children’s Hour of course the news with a Keep Calm and Carry On tone. Germany had William Joyce AKA Lord Haw Haw due to his mocking tones which eventually led to his execution as a traitor after the war ended.

In the USA the American Jewish Committee (AJC) were aware in the 1930s of the anti-Jewish policies of the Nazis and began a series of programmes that were subtly aimed at improving public perceptions of Jews – not as a religious minority – but as Americans – and to oppose isolationism as they could see which the way the wind was blowing. After Pearl Harbour in 1941 everything changed and with the USA joining the war the airwaves of NBC heard a series of voices of Hollywood stars such as James Cagney, Raymond Massey and Helen Hayes addressing the Führer in the guise of ordinary citizens. Cagney sounded like an all American blue collar worker describing why it was right to fight the Nazis while when he appeared to work in a steel works as he penned his letter to ‘Adolf’. The commitment to democracy and free speech helped to define why America was dedicated to fight fascism in these programmes which were polished and highly convincing – which helped to swing opinion.

The AJC had been founded in 1906 with a mission to help folk to understand the waves of new Jewish Americans coming from the pogroms of Russia and Eastern Europe.
It was their influence that helped integration and to create a multi-cultural USA in complete opposition to the racist policies of Germany in the 1930s. From 1942 to the Warsaw Ghetto and beyond these letters resonate today as the western world looks on in horror at the invasion of Ukraine.

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Robin Duff broadcasting a commentary on the dynamiting of burnt-out buildings, 1940.

Rapscallion Magazine Radio Review: how the Beeb won a tug of war for fact or fake news with the Government during World War 2 (and the battle continues today)

Radio Review: Auntie’s War: The BBC during the Second World War.

By Harry Mottram: With his reassuring voice of polished oak and dry sherry and in a tone that seems to be someone recalling the era as though it was yesterday Edward Stourton relived the way the Beeb’s World War Two radio programmes evolved.
At first stilted and panic filled blanking anything that could be vaguely negative the controllers at Broadcasting House began bit by bit to treat their listeners as adults.
The schedule became a tug of war within the corporation between 1939 and 1945 as the more enlightened slowly gained influence.

The Government and the military wanted greater censorship and would like to have taken full control. In 1939 Auntie was moved from the Postmaster-General’s department to the Ministry of Information, while Churchill was talked out of taking the BBC into full state control. Politicians have since its inception wanted to control the Beeb but during these critical years The Board of Governors kept it independent and out of the clutches of the Cabinet.

The slow maturing of the output and trust that the BBC was giving facts not fake news meant that even today the corporation is respected around the world for its impartiality despite what its detractors say. It was a difficult balance with a mixture of comedy, music and helpful tips on how to make the most of food rationing and what to do with powdered eggs.

The other strength of the Beeb was its live coverage of the war – often from the front line or in the air above Germany as Richard Dimbleby’s famous broadcast did – which made the war immediate. The voices of Alvar Lidell, Stuart Hibberd, Kay Cavendish, Wilfred Pickles and Lionel Gamlin continue to light up the archives and evoke the spirit of the times even it is with a slightly stiff upper lip.

Just as during the General Strike of 1926 the BBC also had to retain control rather than allow the Government to it take over and turn it into a propaganda broadcaster – a struggle that continues to this day.

Frank Gillard interviewing a soldier

There’s more at – follow Harry Mottram and Harry the Spiv on Twitter and Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and God knows where else.


Rapscallion Magazine Radio Review: how the Beeb won a tug of war for fact or fake news with the Government during World War 2 (and the battle continues today)

Radio Review. The Rudest Man in Britain. BBC Radio 4 Extra

It’s easy to forget how deferential Britain was in the immediate post war era. During the Second World War the public were spoon fed propaganda and news via a national press and BBC Radio – both being censored for security reasons.
Once those restrictions were lifted the country eased its way back into speaking its mind. And one chap who became a celebrity because he spoke his mind was TV star Gilbert Harding.
Simon Fanshaw explored the life and work of Gilbert Harding in a three part series on ‘The Rudest Man in Britain’ – a name given to him by the popular press due to his gruff responses to contestants in the BBC television panel game What’s My LIne?
The programme was a fascinating glimpse into the life of Gilbert Harding who was perhaps best described as a man of his times. Born in a workhouse in Herefordshire, brought up in an orphanage and devastated by the death of his mother – his father having died when he was very young, Gilbert hid his homosexuality as it was illegal in those unenlightened days with a brusque front and heavy drinking.
He was described as a failed policeman, a failed journalist and even a failed teacher. Bad tempered and rude, but also incredibly kind and generous donating cash to charities that supported the poor – probably due to his own childhood.
The drinking and the rudeness were the two aspects of Gilbert that came across the most – with on his own admission appearing drunk on the radio and television.
Candour was his trade-mark as he didn’t suffer fools and was unforgivably rude to members of the public or fellow broadcasters – something that made him a legion of fans.
So who are the equivalents of Gilbert Harding today? Journalists who interrupt politicians and ask them difficult questions are usually branded rude by their victims – Jeremy Paxman for instance – but the panellists on Blankety Blank are cheeky at worst and polite at best. The put downs to contestants by Simon Cowell on Britain’s Got Talent are rude but also often cruel rather than witty since it’s an uneven relationship.
The programme cited James Robertson Justice as the archetypal rude character when he played Dr Lancelot Spratt in the Doctor in the House series beginning in 1957 when Harding was at the height of his TV career. Despite their collective gruffness the two were very different characters when away from the lime light.
Gilbert Harding was essentially ahead of his time according to the programme. He spoke his mind and didn’t care for deference. He died in 1960 from an asthma attack aged only 53 – a tragedy as the decade was to upend the age of deference with programmes like That Was The Week That Was lampooning the Establishment and Till Death Us Do Part sending up society’s prejudices – plus of course homosexuality was legalised in 1967.
Harry Mottram