The week in audio: Who Is Aldrich Kemp?; I Must Have Loved You; Some Kind of Black | Radio drama

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Who Is Aldrich Kemp? BBC Sounds
I Must Have Loved You BBC Radio 4
Some Kind of Black BBC Radio 4
Kiss Breakfast with Jordan & Perri Kiss FM
Hits Radio Breakfast with Fleur East Hits FM

In search of a bit of fun last week, I listened to Julian Simpson’s five-part drama Who Is Aldrich Kemp?. I’m a fan of Simpson’s The Lovecraft Investigations – three series of incredibly engaging, madly spooky mysteries, based on the stories of HP Lovecraft – but Aldrich Kemp doesn’t form part of those. At least, not entirely. What Simpson has done is create a spy/crime caper that overlaps ever so slightly with his Lovecraft world. You know how the Marvel universe has different superhero gangs operating in different films and occasionally there’s an intersection? It’s like that. When it happens in Aldrich Kemp, if you’re familiar with the Lovecraft cast, it’s a delight. You hear a new voice, you think: “Is that…?” and then the character introduces themselves and they are exactly who you’d hoped. I found myself shouting “Yes!”

Even if you have no idea about the overlap (it happens at the end of episode 2), the series appeals on its own merits. Which are many: it’s gripping, funny, with charismatic characters and lickety-split pace. It’s also ludicrously far-fetched, in a 1970s James Bond/The Avengers manner. We meet dashing cads who greet adversity with quips as well as bullets, baddies who want to reshape the world for no particular reason and well-spoken old ladies who are more violent than they might appear. Tea and cake are offered before shoot-outs. It’s a hoot from start to finish.

The plot – and yes, it’s ridiculous – is this: secret service researcher and excellent fencer Clara Page is sent to find Aldrich Kemp, who’s the leader of an underground criminal gang. Kemp, it turns out, lives in a house (hice) in the country (cantreh) where everyone, from butler to shopkeeper, turns out to be part of his gang. Page keeps being given drinks that knock her out and coming to in sillier and sillier situations. There are dead bodies, comatose bodies, bodies who appear to be one person and turn out to be another.

Simpson, who directs as well as writes, is very good at sound: there are entire shoot-outs constructed simply through click-click noises and “come on, old chap” quips. Plus, as this is radio drama, he can go full tonto; people drop from a helicopter on skis, a mountain lair is blown up, a baddie decides to kill his enemies by flooding a room with water. The film costs would be millions upon millions. Aldridge Kemp, in contrast, was recorded on location in Brighton, for, one imagines, a budget that would struggle to get into four figures. But the mind pictures were fabulous and I enjoyed myself throughout.

Sting
‘Perhaps just tune in for the music’: Radio 4’s blues drama I Must Have Loved You, co-created and starring Sting. Photograph: Eric Ryan Anderson

Bolstered by such fun, I thought I might try out some regular Radio 4 drama and went for the full Saturday afternoon 90 minutes with I Must Have Loved You. No Aldrich Kemp effect, sadly: no wit, no pace, no purpose, no charm. The big pull was Sting (he co-created the show with writer Michael Chaplin), playing Vince, a (dead) blues musician: he was fine in his role and his repurposed songs were nicely recorded. But a weak story and dreary writing let every thing down. Perhaps just tune in for the music.

Last week’s Saturday afternoon drama was distinctly better. Some Kind of Black, a two-parter, has been adapted byDiran Adebayo from his own wonderful 1996 novel and tells the story of Dele and his sister, Dapo. It suffered a little in its translation into a radio play. Dele moves between very different social worlds in London and Oxford; sadly, those worlds weren’t very differentiated, audio-wise (a bit of chatter and chinking glasses does not a party make). And Kenneth Omole, playing Dele, occasionally struggled for the necessary depth of emotion. But this is a great tale, nicely adapted, plus, for any 90s music fans, there are some excellent tunes.

For more light relief, here are a couple of breakfast shows that keep things upbeat. Jordan and Perri on Kiss FM have long been a bright and breezy tonic in the mornings. And over on Hits, a station I’ve only recently started listening to, Fleur East is brilliant (listen out for her “rap roulettes”). Both stations bring in every listener through banging music selection and an inclusive attitude. Lovely stuff.



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