Saturday 17 March 2012

Chandler in the Telegraph — a Playback Mystery

Venturing out on a rainy Saturday to the shops I ran into a friend on the bus. He gave me a hot tip, which I now pass on to you. All this week the Daily Telegraph (please don't stop reading at this point) are giving away free copies (ah, I thought that might pique your interest) of the CDs of Radio 4's Raymond Chandler dramatisations (there, I knew I'd get you in the end). What made this irresistible to me is the fact that half of the recent (2011) Radio 4 Chandler adaptations were written by my friend and colleague the extremely talented Stephen Wyatt. Now here comes the mystery. It seems that some of the Telegraph Chandler CDs come from this recent series. But others — including The Big Sleep and The Long Goodbye — are the BBC dramatisations written by Bill Morrison, which mostly seem to date from the late 1970s. But until each disc appears, I can't be sure which is which. Thanks, Stephen, now I'm stuck with buying this, ahem, conservative broadsheet. Just for the record, the 2011 series consisted of eight shows which were: The Big Sleep, The Lady in the Lake, Farewell My Lovely, Playback, The Long Goodbye, The High Window, The Little Sister and Poodle Springs (the last named you may not be familiar with — it was an unfinished Chandler novel completed some decades after his death by Robert B. Parker). Of these, Stephen Wyatt scripted Lady in the Lake, Little Sister, Long Goodbye and Playback. (The other scripts were written by Robin Brooks, who did the magnificent Radio 4 I, Claudius adaptation.) Playback is a particular favourite of mine because it occasioned a discussion (all right, argument) between Stephen and I about who killed whom in the novel — reminiscent of Jules Furthman, Leigh Brackett and William Faulkner being baffled over The Big Sleep when they were adapting it for Howard Hawks. Speaking of screenwriters, Stephen was also responsible for a pair of stunning plays about Chandler in Hollywood for Radio 4, both of which deserve to win a slew of awards. They are Double Jeopardy, about Chandler and Billy Wilder and Strangers on a Film, about Chandler and Hitchcock. Patrick Stewart is terrific as Chandler in both of them. I've illustrated this post with an image of the covers which the Telegraph has apparently commissioned especially for this offer. These are imaginative, true to the stories and make strong use of graphics. No credit for the artist or artists, but if I find out I'll let you know. (Genuinely nice job, guys. Much appreciated. It makes me glad I didn't make any cheap "Torygraph" cracks in this piece.) Incidentally, these covers are considerably nicer than some of the official BBC releases on CD, though I do really like the 1999 Long Goodbye and Big Sleep shown here. The 2011 Radio 4 series featured two late Chandler rarities — Playback and Poodle Springs — and I don't think these have ever been adapted before. So I suspect the Telegraph discs will be these, including Stephen's Playback, which is out on Thursday. So you must buy that one, then read the novel and compare the two. Then you can join in the debate about who the hell killed which character and what happened when what's-his-name went over the balcony and all that. I look forward to the shouting. The real mystery about the Telegraph CDs is that they seem to have opted for Poodle Springs over The Little Sister, which isn't one of the seven titles on offer. Weird. There's certainly nothing wrong with Poodle Springs, which is available on Friday, but it is a curiosity, whereas The Little Sister is a classic. Anyway, full details of the Telegraph offer can be found here. But get your skates on, the Big Sleep and Farewell My Lovely already out as I write this. And if you're after the complete 2011 series by the splendid A-team of Stephen Wyatt and Robin Brooks, look no further than here.