First the Jimmy Savile scandal for Radio 1, now Radio 4 is set to scandalise its listeners with the news, which I can exclusively reveal, that it has just bought the rights to The Exorcist. The radio adaptation will be aired next year. The horror film caused a sensation in 1973, with its scenes of projectile vomiting, head-twisting and sexual uses for a crucifix by a 12-year-old girl. Barf bags were issued in cinemas for patrons. When the film was released in the UK, it was banned by several councils, and was not awarded a video certification until 1999.
Jeremy Howe, Radio 4’s Commissioning Editor for Drama, made the revelation at the London Screenwriters’ Festival. “Horror is an underexplored genre for us,” said Howe, with commendable understatement, saying he was keen to diversify Radio 4’s drama output.
In May Morgan Creek announced it would make a ten-part TV series based on The Exorcist, to which original director William Friedkin tweeted, “There is no way I would even watch it”, and author William Peter Blatty cast doubt on the announcement by saying he had not cleared the rights to his book.
Radio 4 clearly has ambitions to reach out to a new demongraphic, sorry, demographic. Yesterday Neil Gaiman announced on his blog that Radio 4 was adapting Neverwhere, his fantastical vision of an alternative London beneath our feet. It was mishandled as a BBC TV series in 1996, which couldn’t seem to decide whether to pitch it at adults or children. It should work well on radio, and has attracted a stellar cast: James McAvoy, Benedict Cumberbatch, Anthony Head, Natalie Domer and, yes, Christopher Lee. “This makes me happier than I have any right to be,” commented Neil.
It’s Radio 4, let’s not forget, that was the original home of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, still superior to the TV or film versions. Caroline Raphael, BBC Radio’s Commissioning Editor for Comedy, points out that radio can be far more “cinematic” than film can: “Johnny Vegas calls radio ‘the CGI of the soul’,” said Raphael at the Screenwriters’ Festival. “You can do epic things that otherwise you can only do with a huge film budget.”