On Radio 4 Extra: The Man in Black

Like all teenage boys full of vim and with an incredible social life I spent a lot of my youth listening to Radio 4. Much of what I heard has long since been forgotten but one of the things that stuck with me was the Fear on Four slot which was introduced by The Man in Black. Even now the sight of a Christmas turkey sends me back to the episode “Gobble, Gobble”. The strength of the stories was less that they were particularly credible but that they would take prosaic events – a traffic jam, a holiday job – and through the use of an involving soundscape and just the right amount of knowing distance draw you in. A few years ago Radio 7 (as was) revived the Man in Black with Mark Gatiss providing the voice. The fourth series started on Sunday and, once again, with lights off and headphones on I listened in …

“Oh, it’s you,” he begins, sounding like the potholing tourguide from The League of Gentlemen. We are in one of those storage facilities which people load up with junk they can’t bring themselves to throw away. Again, the mundane and ordinary. This segues into a rattling bang as someone thinks she’s trapped and so it begins …

“Containment” by David Lemon (who was apparently writing his first ever piece for radio) was a good example of the type and the specific tropes that work well in these kind of stories. There was the death of a child and the hope that it might be contacted again, a girl’s voice that said nothing sinister at all but which was all the spookier for that, popular culture taken out of context to sound specifically disconcerting and communication devices (phones, intercoms etc) failing to work. It was all engagingly done and very involving. Mark Gatiss was obviously spot-on as The Man in Black (known as “Johnny Cash” to one of the storage unit workers) but special mention should go to Clare Corbett as the bereaved Helen trying to piece her life together after the death of her son but led down a dark path by the prospect of seeing him again and comforting him one more time. She played the role beautifully – her voice just catching the note of hope overcoming disbelief and heartbreak.

The soundscape under the direction of Gemma Atkins reminded me (in a good way) of those Fear of Four programmes from way back and overall the only downside to this series is that it will only run to four episodes. It’s nice to see radio drama written and played so well and I look forward to being seriously disturbed at a little after midnight in the weeks to come.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s