Recording Bunkum…Then and Now…
When I re-discovered my scripts for ‘Bunkum!’ a comedy series I wanted to develop for radio, I was surprised by how good they were. I began writing outlines for this comedy featuring a hero and his dim witted sidekick back in 1995, and went on to pen the pilot script, ‘A Mediaeval Murder Mystery’ in full. At first I intended to maintain the titular hero as a detective operating in the middle ages, but soon realised it would be more fun to play with different genres and storylines. I was heavily influenced by ‘The Goon Show’, which of course presented the same cast of characters playing characters similar in type, but with occasionally differing names, roles and plot importance. It is certainly likely that the scripts are a little too Goonish, but I enjoy that style of humour and it was a challenge to write a series of half hour comedy shows. So, the first script was set in the Middle Ages, the second a 1930’s ‘Dick Barton’ spoof, and the third a Dickensian pastiche with a healthy dose of Bram Stoker. They were the only scripts I managed to complete, but had I continued there would have been a sci-fi, a western and an espionage spoof to add to the roster.
Until recently only the pilot script had been performed, and that was a reasonable success. It was ten years before I got to dabble with the Dickensian plot in a variation I created for a BBC Radio pantomime in 2005, but alas Ebenezer Bunkum had to make way for Ebenezer Peach. It was a lot of fun writing the script, putting together the effects, and masterminding the recording of other performers as “drop-in” dialogue. In both cases the radio plays were performed pretty much “as live” with some judicious editing required for transmission.
So how did these first productions come about? Well, back in 1995 I had a golden opportunity to get my pilot script performed by a full cast made up from the presenters on Kingstown Hospital Radio. We did it the old fashioned way with around twenty scripts printed and the performers assembling in the studio ready for each scene. The audio wizard Darren Dalby oversaw the technical production, playing in the sound effects from carts, CD’s and reel-to-reel tape “live”, not unlike the tried and tested spot effects set up used in making BBC comedy and drama. I acted as director and guided everyone through the production. We had an absolute ball, a lot of laughter could be heard coming from that little radio studio that day! Post production was carried out by Darren Dalby and myself, and the whole thing was pieced together on reel-to-reel quarter inch tape, which I still have in possession, and several mini-discs. ‘Bunkum! A Mediaeval Murder Mystery’ was broadcast to the hospital radio audience several times over Christmas 1995.
The second episode came into being a decade later with ‘A Berkshire Christmas Carol’. Featuring cameo appearances by TV stalwarts Maggie Philbin and Henry Kelly, this pantomime for radio was performed live every day in the run up to Christmas 2005. The daily episodes were brilliantly performed – and bravely I might add – by presenters Andrew Peach and Susanne Courtney, with sound effects, music and cameo appearances played-in live from a digital play out system (Radioman). At the close of the run a special omnibus edition was edited together and spruced up ready for broadcast on the Boxing Day. Once again it proved to be a lot of fun, and garnered some lovely feedback. What nobody knows is that I didn’t leave it at that… I re-recorded the script myself some time later – I forget when exactly – and performed most of the characters solo. Ebenezer Bunkum once more took the lead role and shared his office with Bob Scratchit (a rechristened version of sidekick Travis from the pilot). I pieced together the effects and music I’d created for the BBC version, and even included the cameos from Henry Kelly as the Host of Christmas Past and Maggie Philbin as the Ghost of Christmas yet to come. I edited the whole thing together via Cool Edit and it remains in my archive, heard only by me and a few friends.
This brings us up-to-date in 2013. While searching for some script notes in my files I came across the two unmade episodes, printed out from my Sharp FontWriter word processor back in 1997. I hadn’t read these scripts for years, and coming to them almost fresh it seemed criminal to leave them in the archive box. So I decided to have a crack at recording ‘Bunkum Closes the Case!’, more as an experiment to see if it was possible than anything else. I spent an afternoon recording all the dialogue, playing one character at a time, editing each line into an individual sound file, and then I began to assemble all the sound effects I’d need. Next day I edited the whole production together as a rough cut, gave it a test play through and then remixed it with music and more effects. It was a complicated process, but with careful planning and production I pulled off a solo production in around two days. The episode now resides on SoundCloud, should you wish to hear it, and I may be tempted into adding the Christmas special to the site if I get enough requests (hint, hint!). And who knows, I might also put ‘Dick Charlington’s Dire Straits’ into production before long!
‘Recording Bunkum…Then and Now…’ © 2013 Richard A. Usher
‘Bunkum! A Mediaeval Murder Mystery’, ‘Bunkum Closes the Case!’, ‘Bunkum’s Christmas Carol’ and ‘Dick Charlington’s Dire Straits’ © 1995, 1997, 2005 & 2013 Richard A. Usher – All Rights Reserved