Writer Fraser Ayres talks about winning this year’s Imison Award at the BBC Audio Drama Awards
Originally created for TV, Maynard has been reimagined for the radio world, the audio drama highlighting the eponymous lead’s journey from petty criminal to becoming the owner of his late mother’s Caribbean takeaway store in Brixton. Recently announced as this year’s Imison Award winner, hosted by the Society of Authors and the BBC Audio Drama Awards, the acknowledgement marks a pivotal moment within Maynard‘s creative process, having taken writer Fraser Ayres 15 years to produce. With the virtual ceremony having taken place on Friday 26th March, Fraser reflects on the production’s journey.
Hi Fraser, it’s been recently announced that your audio play, Maynard, has won the 2021 Imison Award. How does it feel?
It feels fantastic to be honest. The Imison Award is such a prestigious award and so well thought of, I do wonder why they gave it to me! To be recognised at that level always feels very good. It was extra special getting it for Maynard as it feels like a really nice finish to its long journey. We’ve been trying to get Maynard heard for 15 years so it’s a bit of a lesson in patience as well!
Taking place on Friday 26th March, the BBC Audio Drama Awards were streamed online in response to the current situation. How did you find the experience and how have you found having to adapt your practice during this time?
It was a really great evening, the host John Wilson was fantastic and even though he was in a studio and we were at home, he kept things moving and exciting. The mixture of live and pre-record worked perfectly and to be honest it was very nice to receive an award in your joggers rather than have to dress in a tux.
On another level, it’s great to see what live events have become during this time. We did a lot of live events with TriForce Creative Network; Monologue Slam, the Short Film Festival and our Writers’ Slam were all live events, so we know ourselves the challenges involved in adapting as we did for our Amazon Audible WriterSlam which we took online.
It’s about making these events as engaging as possible so with WriterSlam we recorded the audio with the actors, which were then fully produced into dramas, but we also did live interviews with the writers hosted by the wonderful Ria Hebden.
We’re all being forced to find new ways of working and obviously there is so much that we miss, that human contact for instance, but I think there’s also a lot of people finding that some of these new ways are actually more favourable than how we were working previously. There’s less requirement for us to all be in a room in London, having a conversation. Things strangely, have opened up in our industry and we’ve found our industry has been incredible at adapting, and the Imison Award was a reflection of that. We won’t be beaten, we won’t be stopped, we’re still going and it’s still going to be great!
Maynard explores the eponymous character’s change in circumstance from petty criminal to becoming the owner of his mother’s Caribbean Takeaway business. What inspired you to explore this narrative further?
I’m a big geek! I love my comics, I love my graphic novels, my heroes, but I recently had a bit of a realisation, and all the people that I’m into are anti-heroes. I’m a big fan of Breaking Bad, I love Spawn as opposed to Super Man, and I’ve realised that one of the big drives of Maynard was that I’m fascinated by the question ‘What maketh a person? What maketh a soul?’ When we’re faced with the worst possible situation, that also tends to be the best opportunity for the most growth and I think we can see that in the world around us right now. When things get really bad, that’s when we choose change and that’s always been fascinating to me. How you can take someone who is a bit of a wasteman, very selfish, lots of charm but a bit of a petty criminal, and what actually happens to a soul like that when they’re confronted with the worst possible thing that could happen to them.
For me, it’s fascinating as to how that desire to be a better person manifests. Maynard and I share a lot (although I’ve never been a petty criminal!), but I was also very close to my mum, and how we deal with that earth shattering grief is interesting. Obviously, there is an initial period of mourning but it’s not just doom and gloom. Often, we rise-up, and we want to honour that person, but I rarely see that in our dramas on TV and Radio – that awful incident creating a catalyst for something quite wonderful.
What have you taken away from the experience and how have you found using audio as a format to explore the narrative further?
Patience. I wrote this originally 15 years ago and we’ve done readings where Goldie’s played my brother, Sheridan Smith has played Juliet, Jo Martin played the mum… There is something to be said about timing and trying to understand that those timings are often outside of ourselves. I certainly wouldn’t recommend everyone stick with a 15 year old project but, if you know it’s good and you have that passion for it, then don’t ever be deterred by people ‘not getting it’. It may take 15 years, but my goodness, look at it, it does get made. Since first writing Maynard, I’ve done a lot of other writing including having the pleasure of creating my own show, but look at that? The very first thing I wrote came to the forefront, just when it was meant to.
Previously I was very much a TV and film writer and Maynard was originally intended as a TV pilot. Funnily enough when the wonderful Michael Jacob, who was one of the executives – who’s been there since the very beginning when I wrote it for the BBC – was like “it’ll be fantastic for radio”, I’ll be honest, I couldn’t see it when I first looked at it. So much of it was visual, half of these jokes are him falling over, or it’s a sight gag, but once I’d kind of gone ‘ok, let’s start again and understand this form’, well, I was liberated. You hear lots of radio writers talking about the freedom that radio gives you, it’s not a constraint, radio is certainly not an apology.
The freedom it gives you; you can jump through space and time as quickly as you can write a line. You can be on a mountain depicting high fantasy, and then instantly come down to be in someone’s office talking in their ear. This love we have for podcasting and audio again now, that re-emergence, is because of that intimacy that you can get that can be turned on its head a split second later. You simply can’t do that on TV so once I got over my own mental barriers of it, I found the whole experience of radio incredibly liberating.
I did a project afterwards with Mel Harris who produced the radio version of Maynard, called ‘Space is the Place’ for Jazz FM, with Jeff Young and that was a 5 part opus about the jazz greats – Miles Davis, Sun Ra, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald and Nina Simone and that’s about this jazz traveller who goes through time to meet these greats to find out what made them tick – now you can’t do that on TV. But in this thing, I had Sun Ra going into space to meet aliens, then coming back and showing the racial obstacles he faced in the 50’s, before nipping over to hear him performing his jazz and lyricism in a packed out concert. With Louis Armstrong I took the listeners back to the very first moment where he played his very first coronet, and you could hear it, you could feel the passion. Only in radio can you do these things and that incredible freedom it gives you is just remarkable.
Produced by Mel Harris of Sparklab Productions, how have you worked together to help realise the audio play?
It was a really great process. Mel has done more radio dramas than most of us have had hot dinners, she’s an incredible producer. Mel really understood the heart of Maynard and really pushed it with commissioners. I was working directly on the script with the lovely Michael Jacob, who again has decades of experience and having supported Maynard since its inception, he knew exactly what needed to be done to hone it but retain its heart. Having their combined experience was absolutely invaluable and I felt supported in what could have otherwise been a very difficult process. I can’t thank them enough!
For listeners wanting to access the audio play, what can they expect?
With Maynard, you can expect lots of laughs, lots of high drama. It does take some pretty dark turns amongst it and what you’re going to encounter is a lot of heart. And also, getting to hear voices that we don’t tend to hear very often, which can’t be a bad thing.
What would you like for listeners to take away from the audio play?
I think two things really, one, is for the creative to go “I can do that, I can do better than that!”. Hearing those voices and hearing the writer behind it hopefully will make one or two maybe believe that radio does speak to them and can be a carrier for their stories, because I can relate – coming from my background, radio wasn’t something I had a lot of access to and certainly wasn’t an area I thought I would find myself in and enjoy so much.
Then on the listeners side, what I’d love for them to take away is a world they may not be very familiar with. We can all get a little caught up in our own bubbles and maybe stories from worlds less familiar, can indeed be enjoyed by everybody. Its just people and no matter who we are, or where we come from, all of us laugh, cry and poop!
Interview by Lucy Basaba.
Award-winning comedy writer Ian Martin presented Fraser Ayres with the 2021 Imison Award for the best original script by a writer new to radio, and Christopher Douglas with the Tinniswood Award for best original audio drama script at the virtual BBC Audio Drama Awards on 26 March 2021.
Commenting on Maynard’s ‘clearly defined…voices of Black Brixton’ and ‘great conflict and shocking outcome’ the Imison judges lauded Ayres as a writer ‘who cares about this world’, while the Tinniswood judges praised Christopher Douglas for his ‘deliciously entertaining … ultimate shaggy dog story.’
The Imison Award is administered by the Society of Authors and was founded in memory of BBC script editor and producer Richard Imison. It is sponsored by the Peggy Ramsay Foundation. The Tinniswood Award is administered jointly by the Society of Authors and the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain to celebrate and encourage high standards in radio drama and perpetuate the memory of radio and television comedy scriptwriter Peter Tinniswood.
The Imison Award 2021
Maynard by Fraser Ayres
Produced by Mel Harris – Sparklab Productions, BBC Radio 4 (44 minutes)
The Imison Award 2021 judges were Ian Billings, Stefan Buczacki, Ben Carpenter, Jamila Gavin, David Morley, Barney Norris, Hannah Silva and Sean Grundy.
The judges said:
‘Maynard is a strong, emotional and assured piece of writing. Its characters are all clearly defined with high stakes and believable dialogue that is both sharp, hits its targets and is full of humour. It captures the location and voices of Black Brixton compellingly and builds to a great conflict and shocking outcome. It clearly conveys the socio-political implications of crime, peer pressure and the pull of family ties, and is written by someone who cares about this world. A great read.’
Maynard hasn’t always been as pure as the driven snow. In fact, until recently he’s been a petty criminal and rather useless to those around him. Maynard’s Mother ran a Caribbean takeaway that served the community diligently and was loved by the people of Brixton who elevated her deeds to saintly levels. After her tragic death in a suspicious fire, Maynard has now inherited not only the fire damaged restaurant but also the lofty expectations of the sceptical community. With his long-suffering wife Jules in his corner and his embittered and criminally minded brother, Marcus, violently snapping at his heels, Maynard is propelled into a world of responsibility of which even he isn’t sure he can inhabit.
ABOUT FRASER AYRES
Fraser Ayres is an award-winning actor/writer/director as well as CEO and founder of The TriForce Creative Network; an organisation set up in 2003, with a core ethos of ‘inclusivity’, promoting equal opportunities in the entertainment industry. Fraser developed his writing skills on BBC dramas such as Doctors and EastEnders and is lead writer on Idris Elba’s In the long run for Sky. He is currently writing several projects including a CBBC show, an original comedy for UKTV based on his own life experiences, and several radio dramas focusing on the hidden history of Jazz. Fraser also created Sorry, I Didn’t Know – an all-inclusive, comedy panel show, focusing on Black History. In his spare moments, Fraser studies ‘books that he really shouldn’t’, plays with Lego and also teaches a variety of one to one subjects including: Yoga, Reiki, Meditation and Mindful Breathing.
The Tinniswood Award 2021
Tristram Shandy: In Development by Christopher Douglas
Produced by Gary Brown – BBC Radio Drama North, BBC Radio 4 (60 minutes)
The Tinniswood Award 2021 judges were Nicholas McInerny, Ian Martin and Rex Obano.
The judges said:
‘This hilarious play takes the ultimate shaggy dog story by the scruff of the neck and shakes some new and wonderful nonsense into it. Part satire, part homage and total re-boot, it wears its knowledge lightly as we romp through the ‘recording’ of Sterne’s novel in a series of brilliant, laugh-out-loud stories that are deliciously entertaining throughout. A terrific achievement.’
A drama workshop is taking place at the east London studios of award-winning indie AwesomeSauce! The project is Laurence Sterne’s 300-chapter-long, absurdist satire. There is a draft script, and three seasoned radio actors have been hired, for £80 each, along with a hyperactive impressionist. The director, who prefers to style herself an ‘audio drama-maker’, has set herself the task of re-inventing the moribund form of radio drama. A boxset star has been cast in the title role but his flight from Corfu is delayed, so reading in as Tristram is Rosie the spot effects woman.
ABOUT CHRISTOPHER DOUGLAS
Christopher Douglas is the voice of Ed Reardon in the long-running Radio 4 series which he also co-writes. Ed Reardon’s Week won the Broadcasting Press Guild’s award for Best Radio Programme in 2005 and 2010. He also voices and co-writes the ill-chosen words of Dave Podmore, a Radio 4 regular since 2000 and previously a Guardian columnist. Other radio writing credits include three series of Beauty of Britain (starring Jocelyn Jee Esien), two series of Mastering the Universe with Dawn French, several dramas and a recent adaptation of New Grub Street. TV writing credits include three series of masterclasses hosted by Nicholas Craig (Nigel Planer). Books include a biography of D R Jardine; stage work includes Ed Reardon: A Writer’s Burden, An Evening With Nicholas Craig and Scout’s Honour.