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When I Wrote a Radio Script for the BBC
In the summer of 2006, I received an email from a friend giving me the heads-up about a forthcoming BBC Radio project called Jordan Road. The plan was to make ten episodes of a radio soap set on an imaginary street, with each writer contributing one episode. Here is the brief:
Jordan Road is to be a pilot for a continuing drama (or a soap!) developed by the Roots Project at BBC Radio Newcastle and writersroom North.
The soap will be based on the everyday lives of people living on Jordan Road, a fictional street located in a multicultural suburb of a northern city; with inspiration taken from similar communities living, for example in the West End of Newcastle, Hendon in Sunderland and Middlesbrough.
To be considered for the project, writers were invited to submit short samples of their script writing abilities. I concocted a piece in which a father tired to dissuade his teenage son from getting a tattoo, while the boy’s mother squandered the weekly housekeeping money in the slots of a local amusement arcade.
Invited to the Studios
A few weeks later, I was delighted to learn that I had been chosen as one of the ten writers, and I was invited to the studios of BBC Radio Newcastle for a preliminary meeting. When I arrived, I chatted amicably with the other writers, over coffee. I had met one of the writers a few months earlier. He was a journalist for a Newcastle newspaper, and he had been to my apartment to interview me about a book I had written.
Apart from getting to know each other, the purpose of this first meeting was to establish the setting of the show With Gez Casey (script editor) and Yve Ngoo (producer) at the whiteboard, we collaborated in concocting the layout of Jordan Road We added such features as houses and a parade of shops, which included a café, a taxi depot and a launderette. There was also a church, a mosque and a school. By the time we had finished, we each knew Jordan Road as well as Albert Square or Coronation Street. Armed with this layout, we went home to work on our scripts.
I set my own story in the gloom of a house without electricity as dusk was falling. The characters in my script, which I called Unlucky for Some, are Howard and Danny, two young men who work for a local roofing firm. Danny is about to move into the house at 13 Jordan Road with his girlfriend, but the previous tenant has left behind several bulky items of furniture. Danny has cajoled his workmate, Howard, into carting the unwanted furniture away in the van after work one night. It is during this torchlit operation that Danny reveals genuine apprehensions about the move, because he suffers from triskaidekaphobia: a fear of the number thirteen. Howard can’t understand his friend’s concerns.
Howard: “What, you’re scared of the number thirteen?”
Danny: “Well, it’s not so much a fear, more an avoidance thing. I mean, I don’t run screaming from the house when thirteen comes up on the lottery.”
While Danny tries to justify his concerns, pointing out that some hotels skip rooms from twelve to fourteen, and there’s no number thirteen car in Formula One, Howard reveals his own tragic experience of superstition and its effect, which has left his brother, Terry, with a permanent limp. This causes Danny to re-evaluate his own superstition, and, with Howard’s encouragement, he determines to buy the biggest number thirteen he can find for the front door.
With Danny’s superstitions now apparently exorcised, the two men begin moving the furniture downstairs, starting with a chest of drawers from the bedroom. As they carry this down the darkened staircase, Danny loses his footing and falls down the stairs’ Howard, whose way is blocked by the drawers, shouts down into the darkness to see if Danny is all right. Danny moans, but says he is OK. He then adds that he knew this would happen.
“What do you mean?” Howard says.
“Thirteen stairs, aren’t there!”
My Own Triskaidekaphobia
This is the end of the piece. I based Danny’s fears on my own triskaidekaphobia, and it is because of this phobia I know that many houses have thirteen stairs between floors. I also made reference to a can opener taking thirteen turns to open a tin. To avoid this, Danny says he puts in a couple of short turns so he won’t land on that number. This is exactly what I do. The big question is, I suppose, why do I count things at all?
Jordan Road was a great experience for me. As well as meeting other writers, I witnessed at first hand the many processes involved in the evolution of a show, from pitching to broadcasting. I was paid for my efforts too, once before broadcast, and again after the show had aired. The cheques I received had the BBC logo on them and, when I paid the second one into my account, the teller remembered my previous visit.“Another cheque from the BBC,” she said, “what are you, an extra?” I shook my head. “Well what do you do?”
“Actually, I’m a writer,” I said.