Saturday 2 July 2011


David Warner

This is a photograph I took of the brilliant David Warner during the recording of The History of Titus Groan, my cycle of radio plays based on the novels Titus Groan, Gormenghast and Titus Alone by Mervyn Peake with elements from Titus Awakes, the shortly-to-be published 'Lost Gormenghast Novel' written by Peake's widow, Maeve Gilmore.

For me this project represents a return to previously-explored territory, because, in 1984, I wrote two 90-minute radio plays based on the first two novels that won Sony Radio awards for myself and my producer, the late Glyn Dearman.

It was an interesting cast: Sting as Steerpike, David Warner, Freddie Jones, Eleanor Bron, Bernard Hepton, Judy Parfitt, Sheila Hancock, Stratford Johns, Maurice Denham and Michael Aldridge.

One day, during recoding, Robert Eddison, who was playing Sourdust, Gormenghast's Master of Ritual, informed me that he had been in an earlier radio version dramatised by the author and broadcast on the Third Programme (now Radio 3) in February 1956.

I knew of this version because Maeve Gilmore had given me a copy of the script and, having struggled valiantly to condense Peake's elaborately crafted prose into play form, I had been amused to discover that he had been far less faithful to his book than I!

Of course, as author, he had the perfect right to do what he wanted – and he did! To give just one example: the Christening of the infant Titus (a scene which includes important events and encounters) took place in the library on the evening (much later in the novel) when, under the conniving tutelage of Steerpike, Lady Cora and Lady Clarice Groan set it on fire.

Robert Eddison had vivid memories of that production in which he had played Doctor Prunesquallor. Broadcast live with cast and orchestra it had begun seriously over-running as a result of which, the author had sat on the studio floor, cutting the script and handing revised dialogue to the actors as they stood at the microphone! Sadly (or, perhaps, happily!) no recording was made of that version!

But I was greatly struck by the continuity of Eddison having been in both productions and, this time round, wanted to find an opportunity to have a member of the 1984 cast in the new dramatisation.

So, I was hugely thrilled when David Warner, who had played Lord Sepulchrave in my first foray into Gormenghast, was able to revisit it, not as one of its denizens, but now as the Artist in whose extraordinary visionary imagination, the place was conceived.

The History of Titus Groan begins its broadcasts on BBC Radio 4 on Sunday 10 July at 15:00 and runs until 14 August with repeat broadcasts on Saturday evenings at 21:00 from 16 July-20 August.

Steerpike and Titus x Two

Carl Prekopp (Steerpike), Luke Treadaway (Titus) and
Hugo Docking (Young Titus)

Visit the official BBC History of Titus Groan website.

Photos: David Warner by Brian Sibley; Steerpike and the two Tituses by Islay Bell-Webb


SharonM said...

Really looking forward to it.

Brian Sibley said...

Yes, the series will be available as a paid download.