To commemorate a century of audio drama, the BBC, a pioneering force in this art form from its inception and presently the world’s foremost broadcaster of audio drama, is set to air a series of fresh dramatic productions throughout September. Moreover, additional releases are slated for announcement later this year. These programmes will serve as a tribute to the illustrious history of audio drama at the BBC while also casting an eye towards the future.

Notable offerings in this celebratory lineup encompass the inaugural radio adaptation of Italo Calvino’s ingeniously experimental work, “If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller.” This unique production will artfully mimic various audio drama styles spanning the past century. The cast, featuring Toby Jones (known for “Detectorists” and “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny”) and Tim Crouch (“Don’t Forget the Driver”), will bring a multitude of characters to life. This performance will be recorded live before an audience at the Contains Strong Language festival in Leeds.

The Poet Laureate, Simon Armitage, will pay homage to the BBC Radio Ballads – groundbreaking documentaries captured in the 1950s that wove the voices of seldom-heard communities with songs that chronicled their experiences, offering an unparalleled glimpse into post-war British life. His latest work, “The Ballad of Eldon Street,” narrates the tale of a street in Barnsley through the voices of its inhabitants, set against the backdrop of specially composed music by his band, LYR.

In “Kaleidoscope 3,” the story of early radio pioneer and First World War aviator Lance Sieveking, portrayed by David Haig, will be unveiled from the perspective of a sound designer who, a century later, retraces Sieveking’s path through the skies and on the airwaves. “You Must Listen” is a fresh adaptation of a lost radio drama by the renowned science-fiction writer Nigel Kneale, with Reece Shearsmith in the lead. It revolves around a solicitor’s office that installs a new telephone line, only to hear a mysterious woman’s voice on the line. As an engineer is summoned to rectify the issue, a disconcerting truth gradually emerges.

These dramas will also offer a glimpse into the future of audio drama, courtesy of two innovative contemporary playwrights. Dan Rebellato’s “Slow Air,” a narrative encompassing themes of love, memory, and generational secrets, delves into a peculiar geological phenomenon in Sicily where sound takes a staggering 32 years to travel. “Radio Waves” follows a spaceship assigned the task of monitoring extraterrestrial audio signals, ultimately stumbling upon narratives much closer to home. This piece has been penned by promising new talents Magdalene Bird, Jack Fairey, and Mohsen Shah.

Furthermore, Nick Ahad will host “Stories in the Air” live from the Contains Strong Language festival in Leeds, a discussion centred around the elements that constitute an exceptional radio drama.

Additional centenary dramas are scheduled for broadcast in December, with further details set to be disclosed later this year.

Alison Hindell, Radio 4 Commissioning Editor for Drama and Fiction, says: “The past 100 years have seen huge changes in the world of audio drama, but the BBC’s commitment to this very special form remains the same. I’m looking forward to sharing these new dramas with Radio 4 listeners throughout September, which draw on the legacy of pioneering audio dramas from the past century, as well as showcasing some of the best work happening in the field today.”

Full list of centenary programming throughout September 2023:

Ballad of Eldon Street – 16 September, 3pm – 4pm

A new form of radio ballad to mark the centenary of audio drama on the BBC. The story of this iconic Barnsley street told by the people who know it best, interwoven with specially composed songs written by LYR (Simon Armitage, Patrick J Pearson and Richard Walters).

Featuring contributions from Malcolm Bird, Ann Bunting, Alison Dixon, Wayne Johnson, Tegwen Roberts, Peter Roberts and Steven Skelley. Music performed by Simon Armitage, Patrick Pearson, Richard Walters, Matt Taylor, Beth Bellis and Mike Monahan.

Produced by Susan Roberts for BBC Drama North.

Slow Air – 18 September, 2.15pm – 3pm

A new drama all about love, memory and sound, with a science fiction twist. A play of whispers and promises, signals from the past and to the future, Slow Air is a hymn to sending out messages, stories, secrets and sounds into the air. A curious geological formation in Sicily creates a thick funnel of slow air, through which sound takes 32 years to pass. A young couple on honeymoon in 1991, Paul and Zoe, visited the site and whispered their hopes for a future lived together, imagining themselves making a return trip in older age. But eight years later Zoe died in a car accident. In 2023, Penny, their daughter, tries to persuade Paul to return to Crete. He doesn’t want to, but with an old flame’s unexpected help, Penny persuades Paul to go back to hear Zoe’s message. But will the message reach him?

Written by Dan Rebellato, award-winning dramatist and Professor of Contemporary Theatre at Royal Holloway.


Paul – Forbes Masson
Penny – Ellie Turner
Yvonne – Michelle Bonnard
Susan/Assistant/Laura/Zoe – Sharan Phull
Michael/Aureliu/Gourmon – Max Runham

Sound recordist – Alisdair McGregor
Studio assistant – Jake Wittlin
Sound Designer and Executive Producer – Eloise Whitmore
Illustration – Ed Duffill
Production Manager – Darren Spruce
Produced by Polly Thomas. A Naked Production for BBC Radio 4.

You Must Listen – 20 September, 2pm – 3pm

A solicitor’s office has a new phone line connected, but the staff keep hearing a woman’s voice on the phone. Engineer Frank Wilson is called to fix the problem, and gradually the disturbing story of the woman starts to emerge.

Originally broadcast in September 1952, You Must Listen was written by Nigel Kneale, one of the most admired English science-fiction writers of the last century. His Quatermass trilogy of science fiction serials continues to influence generations of admirers and filmmakers, among them Russell T Davies and John Carpenter. Before The Quatermass Experiment established his television career, Kneale’s radio drama You Must Listen paved the way for what was to come. It explores many of the same themes that he later addressed in Quatermass, The Stone Tape and The Road, of the paranormal coming into collision with modern science.

No recording of the original version of You Must Listen is known to exist, but fortunately Kneale kept a copy of the script in his archives, and this new version has been recorded to mark the centenary of BBC Radio Drama.


Frank Wilson – Toby Jones
Mr Paley – Reece Shearsmith
Passion Fruit – Caroline Catz
Jill Prentice – Jessie Cave
Macfarlane – John Scougall

Test Clerk – Jason Barnett
Supervisor – Jacqueline King
Underground Inspector – Dan Starkey
Operator – Becky Wright
Written by Nigel Kneale
Editing and sound design by Charlie Brandon-King
Music by Evelyn Sykes
Produced and directed by Simon Barnard. A Bafflegab production for BBC Radio 4.

Radio Waves – 21 September, 2.15pm – 3pm

It is 2065 and Captain Avery Jones is on a solo voyage into deep space. Armed with a Sonophone, her mission is to try and pick up extra-terrestrial audio activity. But the Sonophone also receives all the radio waves emanating from earth and Avery finds herself tuning in to a myriad of stories. We listen in to Rhea, who is being interviewed by an android about her life story and eavesdrop into a virtual world where talent agency manager Suzy has to deal with the fall-out from her client’s public trashing of his sponsor.

In the centenary year of audio drama, Radio Waves looks forward, exploring the human impulses to narrativise our lives and taking a sideways look at the way current media trends interact with audio drama.


Avery Jones – Natalie Simpson
Spaceship computer/ Lambert – Michael Shelford
Rhea – Ann Mitchell
Derrick – Sam Pamphilon
Suzy – Cassie Layton

Written by Magdalene Bird, Jack Fairey and Mohsen Shah.
Sound design by Alisdair McGregor and Calum Perrin
Production Assistant Annie Keates Thorpe
Directed by Jeremy Mortimer and Calum Perrin
Executive Producer: Joby Waldman. A Reduced Listening production for BBC Radio 4.

Kaleidoscope 3 – 23 September, 3pm – 4pm

In 1928, radio pioneer and First World War pilot Lance Sieveking’s Kaleidoscope told the story of ‘the life of a man from the cradle to the grave’. Writing about the experience of using the Dramatic Control Panel/ the sound mixing panel for the first time, he said “I felt exactly as I felt on that cold bright morning when I had been told to take the aeroplane into the air alone for the first time. Exactly.” A hundred years later, sound designer Iris finds herself following Sieveking’s path in the air, and on the air waves.


Iris – Scarlett Brookes
Lance Sieveking – David Haig
Tom – David Kirkbride
David – Sam Troughton
Selin – Elif Knight
Cassie – Lucy Reynolds

Written by Tina Pepler.
Sound design by Alisdair McGregor and Calum Perrin
Production Assistant Annie Keates Thorpe
Directed and produced by Jeremy Mortimer
Executive Producer: Joby Waldman. A Reduced Listening production for BBC Radio 4.

If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller, 24 September, 3pm – 4pm

Relax. Concentrate. Turn that phone off. Dispel every other thought. In fact let the world around you fade. You are about to listen to a radio adaptation of Italo Calvino’s iconic masterpiece If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller….

Enter a labyrinth of ingeniously inventive audio worlds as you, the listener, turn detective in your attempts to get to the heart of the story and so become embroiled in a trans-global conspiracy of rogue translators, lost languages and a disintegrating publishing house. An epic caper of disappearance, double crosses and beautiful, authentic romance.

A multitude of characters are brought to life by Toby Jones and Tim Crouch in BBC Audio Drama North’s premiere of Italo Calvino’s iconic postmodern novel, dramatised for radio by Tim Crouch and Toby Jones and directed by Nadia Molinari for BBC Radio 4.

If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller has been recorded in front of an audience at the Contains Strong Language Festival at Leeds Playhouse as part of BBC’s 100 years of Radio Drama Celebrations.

Stories in the Air, 24 September, 4.30pm – 5pm

Nick Ahad presents a discussion of the ingredients needed to make great radio drama, live from the Contains Strong Language festival in Leeds.