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Three Questions: an interview with . . . Dennis Rookard April 26, 2007

Posted by William Spear in >> News, >> Radio Drama, >> Three Questions: an interview with ....

Directly from the words of Dennis Rookard: 

Born at an early age, Dennis Rookard spent his miss-spent youth at a highly regarded British approved school whilst in intensive training to become a professional free style pipe smoker, with a optional degree in the black art of caging other peoples fags. This together with his doctorate in advanced Alcoholism – his paper on the time taken to fall over, following the intake of quantities of Greene King IPA as opposed to the time taken for John Smiths IPA to have the same effect is still quoted as the seminal work on the subject.

Admits to have been around in the sixties, and maintains his proudest moment was his presence at the Grosvenor Square 1968 Anti Vietnam war riots. Not in the thick of it you understand. But right at the back offering unwanted advice, and leaving well before the end so as not to get blood on his nice new duffel coat.

In his more sober moments, admits to have been a freelance journalist and broadcaster for some thirty five years with the BBC, LBC and BFBS plus a number of UK national magazines and local newspapers. Is also much give to regaling any fool that will listen to such comments as “You bloody kids with your computer driven studios don’t know the half of it.” Before boring them stiff with his endless tales of how back in nineteen hundred and frozen to death practitioners of his craft used Typewriters and used various ancient examples of audio kit that make use of long spools of brown stuff known as tape and which required razor blades and sticky white tape to assemble into a programme.”

Ladies and gentlemen, Lit Between the Ears introduces Dennis Rookard of Hosiprog in Brentwood, Essex UK.

. . .

LIT: Dennis, what are the differences and similarities between radio drama, stage, film and television?

DENNIS: I’m a Radio man though and though. As far as I’m concerned, Television and the movies are simply Radio without the pictures.

LIT: Don’t you mean “radio WITH pictures”?

DENNIS: My trade is the theatre of the mind, where, let’s face it, the pictures are so much better.  As for the stage. Well sorry, I want to deal with reality, so a bunch of drama queens stamping around a stage trying to avoid the props, yelling at the top of their voices so the half deaf old lady at the back of the stalls can hear them is not to my mind contusive to presenting a believable story line.

LIT: Sounds like our last New Year’s party. Anything else?

DENNIS: Mind you going to the movies sometimes has the same effect on me, but maybe that’s because the person next to me is working their way though a giant box of pop-corn whilst slurping some nasty fizzy drink, and the couple behind me are wondering who the second lead is, and what film were they in last.

Yes I know this is gross heresy, but when I write, direct or edit up any form of Radio drama I’m looking for an audio landscape to put my actors in. For example whilst my standard practice in studio is to record my actors as a clean feed to tape (sorry now the long brown stuff on a reel has gone the way of the quill pen, that should be hard disc) I much prefer to take everybody out on location. It’s that reality thing again.

LIT: Hold on, Dennis. You take cast and crew for your radio drama on location?

DENNIS: If the action calls for a street scene, then lets have some traffic in the background.  And if the scene is set in a shop or say woodland – then lets have the actors react to the sounds around them.   Mind you there is another good reason for this quest for perfection. Being located in the UK we have the BBC drama department to contend with. Our listeners are used to their quality. So if we are to gain any credibility we have at least strive to reach their standards – it’s not easy.

The aim of the game then is to tell a story in the best way possible. And where Radio or Audio Theatre in my view wins over the other methods of story telling is that can be a very personal medium. Be it in the car, I-pod or reaching you via that kitchen radio.

LIT: How do radio dramatists and producers do to reach new audiences with this very personal medium?

DENNIS: Good question.

LIT: Thanks; it doesn’t happen too often.

DENNIS: My feeling is that we should target our product far better then we presently do. First off, forget old time radio, recreations of long lost classics will mean nothing to a young audience. And anyway why recreate them if the originals are often still available.  Again Si-Fi sagas may have an audience but for many Si-Fi means fantasy and I’ve had my fill of alternative worlds and Harry Bloody Potter clones.  As for those finger up your backside dramatics that may play so well to theatre clubs.

LIT: Yes . . .?

DENNIS: Well they tend to leave the vast mass of your audience stone cold and uninterested.

LIT: Then who or what is a model for success?

DENNIS: My feeling is that we could take a leaf from our television script writers. Tell a story with a good story line our audience can relate to with a catch their attention plot line in the first thirty seconds. Then by using reality with your script writing,  hold their attention before a satisfying conclusion. And all set it in an environment they can understand, whilst trying to find and use actors who can interpret their scripts in the most natural way possible.

As for those new audiences. Well could it be that because these days most people tend to tune into radio on the move, be it in car, I-pod style or late night bedtime listening, has become very personal. So rather then be studio bound with your scripts try getting out on location. Nothing sounds as false as a couple of studio bound actors with a commercial ambience wild track behind them.

LIT: Okay, we need to be mobile and on I-pods. What else?

DENNIS: I also feel that as the market for broadcast drama is declining. (Here in the UK, because of the BBC it’s never really existed outside of the Corporation – commercial radio taking the view that because of the unions it’s far too expensive for the low audience such productions generate.)  In the US, from what I hear apart from a few public Broadcast stations it’s all but dead.

LIT: Pretty much spot on with your assessment.

DENNIS: So we’re left with the Internet. Not any money in it of course, but at least it’s possible to get ones project out to the public at large, and who knows where having your project on the net can lead too. One thing is for sure, you never know who takes time out to hear your production.

LIT: What is you favourite piece of radio drama and why.

DENNIS: Oh this one’s easy. Rather then a scene, it’s a sound effect I recorded on location.  It happened when my partner in crime John Glasscock had written ‘Where are you Alison’ a One hour audio drama which called for a number of scenes to be recorded on location in the English countryside.

Part of this action was to be set in and around an old English Church.  So with the vicars’ permission, four actors, John Glasscock as the author, and me as Director found ourselves standing in the graveyard of a wonderful 800 year old parish church in the Essex village of Blackmore.

The first part of this segment gave us few background ambience problems, mostly the lad with the micro-light aircraft who thought it great fun to buzz the team. (Mind you he paid for his crime in the local pub that night in the shape of drinks all round).  Other then that, lots of lovely birdsong in the background as one actor reacting with genuine grunts used his spade to dig earth out of a real open grave. This scene was supposed to be set during an Afternoon so the birdsong in the background was ideal. The next segment however was set at night, which meant an evening recording session. Here the dull roar of a nearby motorway helped as with some close ambiance behind the lead actors, the microphone followed them into the church porch, for some whispered conversation before with some great clanking of keys (a real bunch or large ancient church keys thanks to the vicar) – the great church door is finally unlocked and entrance is gained.

LIT: How’d it sound?

DENNIS: It’s the moment I will always remember. For this was the effect of that heavy seven hundred year old wooden church door first slowly creaking open and then slamming back.  It’s a sound effect that has to be heard to be believed, swinging back to a resounding and wonderful reverberating slam, that only the interior of a seven to eight hundred year old building can provide. It’s one of those effects you’ll treasure in your personal sound effects collection for evermore.

LIT: I can hear it from here.

DENNIS: Finally to end a perfect location session, lots of whispering from my actors pretending to creep around the echoing church interior until the scene ends with the shouted cry from some distance of their discovery. And all recorded within the internal ambience of this building. Granted the success of the session was due in no small part to friend Glasscocks script, but I like to think the various location ambiences had a great deal to do with it.

LIT: Stunning business. Anything else?

DENNIS: I really didn’t want to waste my time banging this rubbish out. . . Better things to do really, I mean I’m wasting valuable drinking time. But I’m strict instructions that unless I comply with our leaders wishes, I might end up with a posting to Fox News. So welcome to my world and much good may it do you. . .

First off you’re wondering just who this grumpy boring person is, aren’t you?    Well as an answer to that question, I can do no more then repeat a few words that would have formed the opening chapter of my Biography ‘A Study of Genius’ . . .

LIT: That’s my biography. . .

DENNIS: Mine was never published due to a number of technical problems. My ghost writer getting a better offer not the least of them, and certain criminal elements worried I might have revealed the whereabouts of their loot. The fire that destroyed the manuscript is still unexplained to this day..

But from the ashes, I have found part of the first draft.. In addition to the bit at the top of the page, it reads as follows. . .

Much given to yelling “you weren’t a real radio journo until you could edit up on a Uher in the back of a Taxi on the way back to the studio.” However does admit to helping to invent the infamous LBC method of reportage from a location by vandalising a near by telephone box by unscrewing the mouthpiece to croc clip the output of their recorders down the line.

Now alleged to be in semi-retirement he admits to loving his computer based studio which he uses to produce various programming for local community radio station Phoenix FM. as well as in part to produce drama productions for Hospital radio nation-wide. As well as still finding time to write drama, short stories and various feature articles.

Something I should have mentioned in my missive was that a visit to http://www.hosiprog.talktalk.net will enable your readers to hear two of my comedy dramas, plus a short story and as a bonus  – the first in a new series of Sherlock Holmes productions. And all for free download.”

. . .

Thanks for stopping by, Dennis. Please keep the readers of Lit Between the Ears informed of projects and news from you and Hosiprog.

Contact details:


Hosiprog is a non profit organisation producing copyright free drama and feature productions for Hospital Broadcasting use.

15 Fairfield Road
Brentwood, Essex CM14 4LR. UK
Telephone or Fax on 44 ( 0 ) 1 277 219160


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1. Jens Hewerer - April 26, 2007

Definitely a funny guy :-))

And I whole-heartedly agree with him regarding reaching new audiences. Recreating old time radio can certainly be fun, anything you find creating fun should be done. But if you are looking for a wide audience and maybe even commercial viability than you have to tell current stories, look to TV’s soap operas or sit-coms.

Yes, look to the internet as a distribution channel and if done really well and you reach a really wide audience there may be even money in it!

2. Phoenix FM 98: Phoenix Theatre launches Sunday 17 June at midnight GMT « Lit Between the Ears - June 14, 2007

[…] the midst of Phoenix Theatre’s series is Dennis Rookard of Hosiprog. Mr. Rookard, previously interviewed on Lit Between the Ears, starts the weekly programs with his own piece titled “Just a Little Fiddle” and […]

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