Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Len Deighton's Bomber on Radio 4 Extra

In recent years, one of the most outstanding pieces of radio broadcasting has been a production of Len Deighton's book Bomber. It combined elements of documentary - interview extracts with those who had experienced bombing, for example - and the story of the book itself. The book tells the story of a night raid on a German city, from its beginning in the briefings on an air base in Britain and on German bases in Europe, to the destruction in the target city and the return of the bombers at the end of the raid. The quality of the production was outstanding, but it was the manner of its broadcast which caught the imagination.
Len Deighton's powerful documentary drama unfolds in "real time" across the day. An RAF Bomber Command attack on Germany is experienced from both sides. Featuring memories from some of the participants in the actual raid. Dramatised by Joe Dunlop, narrated by Tom Baker and starring Samuel West.
The first episode was broadcast at about 2.30 pm, as the raid was being planned. It was then broadcast in three further episodes, spread through the afternoon and evening, so that the action of the raid as it unfolded was matched to the time of day at which it would have occurred. The top of the hour news bulletins in between also ended with a brief reference to the progress of the raid being broadcast, so you got a real sense of immediacy about the story.

When it was first broadcast, I missed the first episode, and caught the second episode by accident - and was then gripped totally until the end of the last episode at about 11 pm. That I hadn't intended listening to it, and that I carried on with my life around the house as I did listen, added to the sense of reality. Radio 4's Feedback programme the following week was inundated with praise from listeners.

This programme is due to be broadcast again on Radio 4 Extra this Friday, so if you have the chance to listen to it, take it. It does not glorify warfare in any way, and, indeed, some of the images that it portrays are quite harrowing. It is one of the most moving pieces of radio broadcasting I have ever heard.

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