Silver and other treasures

As the Robert Louis Stevenson centenary reaches its peak, the BBC is about to launch a wealth of special programmes. Andrew Burnet investigates.

The fiction police may have thronged the streets when James ‘F-word‘ Kelman walked away with the Booker Prize; but even among Hampstead‘s finest. there are few who dare question the good name of Robert Louis Stevenson. Here in Scotland, you'd think his death was being actively celebrated. given the number and scope of the centenary tributes. Now the BBC, which has left its contribution until as near the centenary as possible, is poised to trump the lot. Silver is the first of a series of new and repeated plays and readings on Radio 4. with Radio Scotland's The Usual Suspects running a week of Stevenson- related programming. But perhaps the flagship of the season is a two-part documentary for BBC l ’s Omnibus. Stevenson Is Travels is a mock autobiography compiled from the writer's letters. journals and novels. together with snippets from his

RLS: ‘taps into something that 3 Scot will recognise’

mother. his wife and his stepson Lloyd Osbourne, who travelled with him in the South Seas. immortalising his stepfather’s exploits on an early Kodak portable.

By focusing on Stevenson the traveller, script writer Tony Mulholland hopes to draw attention to his versatility. ‘He did so many things —journalism. travel writing. fiction. essays.’ says Mulholland. ‘A

writer‘s life is often very closeted, but Stevenson actually was an explorer. and everywhere he went he was very sensitive to the landscape and the culture. so the relationship between his travels and his work is very important.’

it‘s also a great excuse for some exotic location work, with Mulholland standing in for the man himself. ‘One ofthe joys of shooting it has been to discover the huge number of people around the world who have a little bit of his life.‘ he explains. ‘There's no presenter: what happens is that each leg of his life is handed on to someone who has a particular take on that chapter. For example, in California, the ranger of the Robert Louis Stevenson State Park takes us up to Silverado, and shows us the site where he spent his honeymoon.‘

Stevenson's voice will be supplied for Stevenson's Travels by David Rintoul. now best known as Scottish Television‘s Doctor Finlay. Rintoul will also feature in the radio drama season. appearing in a new dramatisation of the eerie short story "The Bottle lmp’ and a vintage version of Kidnapped, in which he stars as David Balfour.

‘l find Stevenson very easy to identify with.’ he says. ‘He taps into something that a Scot will recognise very easily. The language is wonderful; but also the dramatic situations lend themselves very well to dramatisation. because the story moves along very quickly, and the characters are very rich.‘

‘1 read 'l‘reasure Island and Kidnapped at an early age and found them very accessible. Being a Scot, you're brought up with Stevenson, and his work becomes part ofyour life.‘

Stevenson Is Travels is on BBC] at [0.25pm on Tue 29 Nov and Tue 6 Dec; Kidnapped starts on Radio 4 at 2.30pm on Sat 26 Nov, repeated on Fri 2 I Me, and runs in the same slots for four weeks; The Bottle Imp is on Radio 4 at 2pm on Tue 6 Dee; The Usual Suspects' RLS season is on Radio Scotland. running Mon 28 Nov—Fri 2 Dee at [0. 10pm.

:- Baek to the future

Remember the iuture? You know, that big, clean place with lots of tall buildings and dramatic concrete walkways. There was to be no

sickness and people would be flying around in little jet-cars. It was a popular view earlier this century, but recent readings of the future, outlined ; . in 8302’s The New Middle Ages, offer ' a different vision.

The modernist prophets - like “.6. Wells and Aldous Huxley - who shaped this view of things to come, believed a marriage between state and science would eradicate the disease-ridden squalor oi their times. In its place would rise great, technologically advanced cities based round mass production and fuelled by limitless energy.

(it course, the ilipside to the hope and glamour of this new age lay in the


individual’s loss of identity, and the

anonymous regimentation oi the

' masses exemplified by the subterranean working classes of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, or the totalitarian

nightmare state of George Orwell’s

However, The New Middle Ages - a


i argues that scientific and cultural

3 trends indicate that the 21 st century

may turn out rather more like the 14th. ‘Any vision at the future is really a

ViSlOII 0' “‘9 Pfesefll.’ 5315 Law Show I knowledge by manuscript from scholar

producer Ben Woolley. ‘We’re extrapolating trends at the present to , see which are likely to steer the way Late Show special launching a week of we go, and try to make sense oi the

programmes examining the future - i puzzling phenomena around us.’

The New Middle Ages argues state control will be replaced by political instability and the total breakdown of law, creating no-go areas run by crime-lords and drug barons. French author Alain Minc dubs such areas ‘grey zones’, citing precursors in the experience of inner city throughout the world. The emergence oi virulent new strains oi disease resistant to antibiotics, and AIDS - ‘a plague in slow-motion’ add to this grim future.

Thankfully, the film oiiers an alternative reading oi the future, which sees the end of the ‘modern world’ resulting not in anarchy, but an escape irom uniformity. This view

‘theory of everything’, akin to the cosmology oi the Middle Ages. The possibilities oi limitless exchange at multi-media inionnation afforded by the Internet are likened to the flow at

2 to scholar in the 15003. (Damien Love) f The Late Show’s week at programmes f examining the future begins with The

? flew Middle Ages on Mon 28 llov on 58802 at11.15pm.

The List l8 November—l December I994 69

predicts the reuniiication of science’s I narrow specialisms into a search for a ,