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Outbreak of Fear by R. D. Wingfield

With seemingly endless trips everywhere recently filming people from Brighton to Edinburgh I haven’t had much time to review but a lot of time to listen. So 3 reviews in the works, here is the first…

One of the first things I hunted for when I discovered radioarchive was R. D. Wingfield’s Outbreak of Fear.  Nosing around the internet it was always mentioned as a great radio drama and gets passing mention in the biography of the famous crumpled detective Jack Frost.  I have to admit I never got on with TV’s Frost. Nothing against it, it just never clicked with me. A shame, because if it had, I may have sought out the radio versions sooner.

So when I listened to ‘Outbreak of Fear’ I had no preconceptions, no knowledge of Wingfield’s style. What I had was a tremendously good time.

What strikes one immediately is the great characters Wingfield creates.  At the centre of it is a faultless performance by Leslie Sands as Sergeant Fowler. Down to earth, gruff, sarcastic, realistic, so many things that make him human.  Don’t get me wrong this is not a small inward performance, this is a real character actor at his very best, but it is perfect.  I understand that Leslie Sands was a favourite of Wingfield (he played Frost’s on his first radio outing) and I can see why, Wingfield’s words and Sand’s performance are perfect partners.

Things are not going well in Polford (near Denton), though of course that’s not it’s real name… A man tore his own eye out to run away from an unamed fear, people butchered and bludgeoned to death. Sounds grim?  Well it is, but it’s also very funny  (thanks to the great character interactions) and suitably fantastic by the end.

The new boy, Constable Roy Beaumont (very nicely played by Nick Orchard) offers us a narrative of thoughts, as well as the occasional chilling comment on what we are about to find out.  He finds a rural police station run by Seargant Fowler, assisted by Constable Dave Clark (Cornelius Garrett) a bit of a lad and a ladies man.  They are busy dealing with wandering sheep, the odd domestic dispute and generally trying to have an easy life.  Over the course of a few days, people are murdered, the area is cut of due to a rabies outbreak, hardened criminals escape from a prison and Superintendant Chadwick (Nicholas Courtney) turns up from U.N.I.T (sorry couldn’t resist it), turns up from the County Constabulary to take charge of the investigation.

There are red herrings, cliff hangers, twists and turns before we reach the end of this real rollercoaster thriller.

What strikes one is how Wingfield manages to mix comedy and horror without having to use black comedy, it just emerges from the natural relationships of the characters. There are real laugh out loud moments here, and moments of real terror but the two never jar, never clash clumsily, just sit side by side as in real life.

Having now listened to most of R D Wingfield’s radio plays I would hesitate to call it his best, he has written so many very good drama’s I wouldn’t like to choose.  But it’s tempo and increasingly outlandish plot make it different to a lot of his work where the plots are more mundane.

The dialogue is just brilliant and combined with an excellent cast it’s hard to go criticise really.  The pace may slacken a bit at the end, but any finale to a drama with a tempo like this was bound to disappoint just a little. Nothing wrong with the ending, you simply wish you could spend another few days in Pulford.

Anyone who hasn’t heard this should really download it and maybe it will start you on a discovery of the brillaint work of R. D. Wingfield, whose string of radio plays, without exception, are an unalloyed pleasure.

4 Comments

  1. rup wrote:

    IU’d love to listen to it, but have been able to find any of R.D: WIngfield’s radio plays on Jack Frost. Any idea where I can get them?
    Thanks.

    Sunday, July 26, 2015 at 1:40 pm | Permalink
  2. Stephen Biddiscombe wrote:

    I’ve heard this radio play (R.D. Wingfield’s Outbreak of Fear) twice on Radio 4Extra. I agree that it was superb, one of the finest radio dramas ever broadcast. Sadly, 4Extra don’t repeat it often enough. I am eager to buy an audio of the play and would be grateful to know from what source I could obtain a copy.

    Tuesday, November 10, 2015 at 10:13 pm | Permalink
  3. admin wrote:

    I was lucky enough to (over the years) get most of his output on tape, which is all excellent. I have no idea why the beeb havent made them commercially available.

    Wednesday, November 11, 2015 at 9:56 am | Permalink
  4. Stephen Biddiscombe wrote:

    The last time BBC Radio 4Extra broadcast Outbreak of Fear was about 18 months ago. Hopefully, it will get another radio exposure sometime in 2016.

    Wednesday, November 11, 2015 at 10:38 pm | Permalink

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