From The Complete Smiley to last week’s Ulysses marathon, Radio 4 has never been afraid to embrace ambitious dramatisations.
But news that station controller Gwyneth Williams has commissioned a four-year drama that spans the length of the Great War is sure to surprise even the most ardent listeners.
Devised under the current working title ‘Tommies’, the real-time portrayal of the 1914-18 war that claimed an estimated 900,000 British lives, will be the longest one-off drama ever commissioned for radio.
The project, which will follow the plight of a British signal corps unit, is scheduled to begin broadcasting around summer 2014, marking one hundred years since war broke out. It is expected to span such landmark events as the Battle of Loos which will air in 2015 and the infamous Battle of the Somme in 2016.
Radio 4’s head of drama, Jeremy Howe, told The Guardian, “When I pitched it I asked Gwyn (Williams) what she was doing in Christmas in five years’ time and that is the length of the war – the scale is big.”
Jonathan Ruffle, who produced an acclaimed adaptation of Len Deighton’s novel Bomber for Radio 4 in 1995, will lead a dedicated writing team for the duration of the project. While the first two years of the drama have already been sketched, Williams must now work out how to schedule such an ambitious task.
The project may have been influenced by 24-year-old Alwyn Collinson, an Oxford graduate who tweets events from World War II in real time. Collinson, who began tweeting his updates just in time for the German invasion of Poland, is currently charting the surrender of France. The account has so far gained nearly 250,000 followers.