It all began with a short story by Peter Ackroyd, telling of an extraordinary visitation by the Virgin Mary that was promised to occur sometime soon at St Mildred’s Church in Bread Street in the heart of London. Her reappearance would signify a great outpouring of religious fervour. Pilgrims from across the land would converge on the capital in the hope of seeing the Virgin, touching the hem of her garment and receiving her blessing. Virgin Day was born. And so was the idea of ‘A Film for Radio’.
Six short plays were commissioned for broadcast on Radio Four inspired by Ackroyd’s story and just in time for Easter, that most revolutionary of Christian festivals, demanding of its followers not just a token adherence to precepts of moral and ethical behaviour but also a leap into the unknown, into an alternate reality of resurrection and transfiguration. In response, you might say, to this act of divine revolution, to this mould-breaking act of faith, the powers that be at Radio Four and BBC TV finally agreed to come together to create The City Speaks (Wednesday and Thursday, multimedia). To enjoy its full impact, we were supposed to tune into Radio Four and press the red button on our digital TVs so that we could watch as well as listen.
Superficially, you might think that this was a final submission by the radio controllers to the advances of its cheeky upstart successor; an admission that in this world of new web-inspired technologies radio just can’t compete. It’s too backward-looking, too easy to use, too resistant to diversification. The voice, the word, on its own, is not enough for our internet-addled imaginations. But you’d be wrong. It’s TV that’s in trouble, not radio.