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In The Red
Radio 4
1995 (seven episodes)

A series which has attained an unusual position in BBC history.  In its original form, In The Red was a novel based on author Mark Tavenerís experience of working for the Corporation and at the offices of the Liberal Party: a broadly comic thriller, it had a three-stranded plot involving a serial murderer working his way through Londonís bank managers, a crisis for the tiny Reform Party in the shape of a by-election it might actually win, and the nefarious schemes of two BBC Radio controllers plotting to overthrow the director-general.

The seven-part radio version was the result of an adaptation by Tavener himself and the comedian Peter Baynham.  The cast included Michael Williams as George Cragge, a seasoned, hard-drinking BBC crime correspondent of the old school who is contacted by the killer, and Barry Foster (star of Van der Valk in the 1970s) as the policeman leading the enquiry; Stephen Fry and John Bird played the radio controllers.  A sequel along similar lines, In The Balance, went out on Radio 4 the following year.

Three and a half years after the original radio show In The Red surfaced again, this time on BBC2 television.  The Corporation, apparently, had decided to use the material as a vehicle for demonstrating its ability to laugh at itself (much of the humour came from rows between the brilliant but inebriate Cragge and his by-the-book producer), and the TV version showed every sign of being a prestige project.  The adaptation (in three parts, and with a few minor changes) was by Malcolm Bradbury, and the cast included Richard Wilson, Siobhan Redmond, Rik Mayall, Rebecca Front, Rachel Fielding and Richard Griffiths, with Fry and Bird reprising their former roles; Williams and Foster were replaced by Warren Clarke and Alun Armstrong (both typecast but brilliant).  By this point a second radio sequel was on air: In The Chair retained the core radio cast and featured a suspiciously similar plotline (this time tracing the connections between New Labour policy and a killer who strikes against dentists).  In expectation of the interest the TV series would create, meanwhile, the BBC released the earlier version of In The Red as an audio cassette in its BBC Radio Collection.


© JB Sumner 1998