When The Pips Stop:

by Oliver Emanuel


I heard a story that in the event of a nuclear attack on the UK, BBC Radio 4 will go off air. I thought this was a fun start to a radio play. So did BBC Radio 4. I imagined a story of two sisters living on a remote Scottish island who did not talk to each other but only listened to BBC Radio 4. What happens when BBC Radio 4 goes off air? Is it the end of the world? Or the beginning of a conversation? 

Together with my long-time director, Kirsty Williams, I hatched a plan to write a radio play that appears to take place when BBC Radio 4 goes off air. We cut into the end of The Archers (the first time in 68 years – eek!) and there are no credits and no information on the BBC Radio 4 website. I even went so far as to write a dummy page for the BBC Radio 4 website, based on a real radio play of 1924 called ‘The Dweller In The Darkness’ by Reginald Berkeley. I used the names of BBC Radio 4 Controllers as the cast member. The real play is called When The Pips Stop and performed by the brilliant Shauna MacDonald and Jessica Hardwick. I’m immensely grateful to them for agreeing to stay quiet and have no credit (until after broadcast), as well as James Purdon, who provided me with some excellent vintage radio drama knowledge.

 Why did we go to all this effort? The spectre of Orson Welles’ famous War Of The Worlds broadcast looms large over the history of radio drama but I’m sceptical that today any mass panic will ensue due to a radio blackout – you can just check your phone or switch on the TV.

 I was more interested in exploring the nature of anxiety and what happens when the worst happens – or you think it is – at a time when anxiety seems to be the universal mood. When there is no-one coming to rescue you, will you be brave enough to rescue yourself? I also just really love BBC Radio 4 and wanted a dramatic way to express that.

Thank you to everyone at BBC Radio 4 for being game. Thank you to the continuity person who actually had to flip the switch. Thank you to the actors and technical team for general brilliance. And thank you to you for listening.