Broadcasting Shakespeare

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Last Monday I arose early, ate my autumn porridge, and sallied forth while it was still dark (with a broken arm) to Nash’s House. There was a flask of coffee in my bag.

I was let in by our House Manager, Chloe, and we were joined shortly by James Alexander, a B.B.C. radio producer. He wanted to set up his satellite dish and equipment as close to the site of the New Place dig as possible. ‘Even a little external noise makes all the difference on radio, and we are on location’, he said.

We found a space in the downstairs bay window of Nash’s House in the middle of the exhibition, overlooking the remains of New Place. It all seemed grey and overcast and damp. From our chairs, the Guild Chapel seemed much taller than usual and its clock struck the hour as James opened a window to put the outside world on air.

And then the interviews started.

I haven’t done anything quite like this before, but the P.R. company working with us on the ‘Dig for Shakespeare’ had set up twelve breakfast show interviews on local B.B.C. radio stations up and down the country. These were almost back to back. ‘There’s a couple of ten minute breaks worked in, in case you need the loo’, I was told.

Producer James phoned down to H.Q. in London on his Blackberry and they then connected us to the first radio station, B.B.C. Scotland, based in Glasgow. I had a few seconds to establish contact with the studio and was then live on air, eagerly talking about ‘Dig for Shakespeare’, its progress, how visitors can involve themselves in sieving until the end of October, and the excitement this amazing project has generated for us. I have learnt from experience that one’s just got to seize the opportunity as far as ‘key messages’ are concerned. I made sure I mentioned our partners Birmingham Archaeology, the web address (www.digforshakespeare.com ) and the fact that if you buy a ticket before the end of October, it’s valid for a year, and includes admission to the other four Shakespeare Houses.

Each interview asked about what had been found, the general progress of the dig and what light has it shed upon our knowledge of Shakespeare’s family.

It’s good to be able to trust the sheer professionalism of the presenters, from the laid-back old stagers, putting up only a front of being deliberately unimpressed to the eager bright young things who want to sound cheery and keen. Jokes cracked, puns pulled, chatter filled the airwaves.

‘I’m looking out onto the dig from a window next door and I can see a jigsaw of walls, stone pillars, and trenches. These are the remains of Shakespeare’s house, New Place, where he probably did a lot of his writing since his purchase of it in 1597. Here would have been his library, a literary retreat and family home from which he commuted for long periods to London. It was an output of about two plays a year almost certainly written while the theatres were closed. If that’s right, then I am looking at the space in which he wrote Hamlet, Julius Caesar, As You Like It, Henry V, Measure for Measure, King Lear, Othello, Macbeth, and many more.’

Strange, but I found it easy to keep all this fresh twelve times over for B.B.C. Scotland, Wiltshire, Swindon, Gloucestershire, Three Counties (Beds, Herts, Bucks), Lancashire, Jersey, West Midlands, Cornwall, Berkshire (the lovely Anne Diamond, who used to live in Stratford, not far from New Place), and Ulster.

But that’s because ‘Dig for Shakespeare’ is one of those projects about which I have to keep pinching myself to remind me that it’s really happening. But it is; right now. And we want to dig deeper and continue with a final phase next spring.

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Author:Paul Edmondson

Head of Research and Knowledge and Director of the Stratford-upon-Avon Poetry Festival for The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. Follow Paul on Twitter @paul_edmondson

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