Giles Cooper’s Under the Loofah Tree, produced by Donald McWhinnie on the Third Programme on 3 August 1958, will be heard at the British Library at 6.00pm on 22 October 2015 as the second in a five-part series of public listenings on the theme of ‘Inner Voices…Inner Worlds’.
Professor Hugh Chignell of Bournemouth University offers some background to this work:
‘There were others then. I could have had my pick. Still could come to that…’ (Edward in Under the Loofah Tree)
Giles Cooper, who died almost fifty years ago, is arguably the most important British radio dramatist. His career started on the Home Service in 1950 and he wrote extensively for all three BBC radio networks, most famously for the Third Programme.
Under the Loofah Tree, a play about a man in a bath, was influenced by the absurdist work of his contemporaries Samuel Beckett and Eugene Ionesco and, at times, similarities can be heard with the surreal radio comedy The Goon Show. The play contains a typical Cooper theme, an ‘ordinary’ man’s feelings of rejection, failure and insignificance.
The writer Frances Gray has suggested that Cooper was a dramatist for whom radio was the perfect medium. He could explore the world between the solid, real and everyday on the one hand and the absurd and fantastic on the other, which is successfully expressed on the ‘blind’ medium of radio.
Cooper’s work is also important because of his use of experimental sound. The belief that radio drama could be reinvented in the face of television competition on the broadcasting backwater of the Third Programme led to the development of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop on 1 April 1958. The first radio drama to make full of experimental sound was Under the Loofah Tree and the tradition of BBC radio drama using the services of a dedicated radiophonic sound unit was born.
Giles Cooper is a largely forgotten figure despite his extraordinary output of experimental drama. As we approach the 50th anniversary of his death on 2 December 1966 this is a great opportunity to listen to and celebrate one of the towering figures of radio drama.
Suggestions for further reading:
Gray, Frances, ‘Giles Cooper: The Medium as Moralist’, in British Radio Drama, ed. John Drakakis. Cambridge University Press.
Louis Niebur, Special Sound: The Creation and Legacy of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. Oxford University Press, 2010. (See 66 ff.)