Adam had done what seemed to me to be the impossible, and along with Tricky here we were on Skype, awaiting the arrival of a man I had grown up idolizing through my teenage years. Most kids love celebrities, cartoon characters, actors.... mine was a radio producer on the BBC, and shortly I was going to speak directly to the man with the most unforgettable name: Dirk Maggs.
Let us return to that childhood.
I was 11 years old when I first discovered the BBC made a radio drama of Superman. An article was written up on Fleetway's Superman UK reprint magazine (The one that covered Clark's life post-crisis). It was a short written piece, but I drew my attention enough to want to give it a try. Unfortunately I had missed the show by the time I discovered it, however, in 1993, a second series was made, based on the Death and Rebirth of Superman, and I jumped right on that. The radio Superman series became my de facto mythos outside of the comics. It had action, it had drama, a breakneck pace, enormously talented voice actors and amongst all else, it had heart. Instantly I felt there was a fan working on this and not just any guy with a license. It adapted well to the audio medium through the use of sound effects and music, yet maintained the core elements of the source material. It truly felt like a movie in my mind (To steal a quote from a certain modern day audio studio).
This short 4 part series consisted of 25 minute episodes, and I didn't think anything would top that. Then, in 1994, another series turned up in the most unlikely of places: Radio 1! Batman: Knightfall featured the caped crusader in an epic storyline where Bruce Wayne was taken to the limit, both mentally and physically, by the ruthless Bane, as well of the rise and fall of Jean Paul Valley from assassin to an even Darker Knight. Unlike Superman's first two forays on Radio 4, the dark knight detective's exploits were cut into small 3-5 minute long bites, 5 days a week, on the Mark Goodier's Drivetime show, with an omnibus edition played each saturday morning. Even with the long burn, I am very grateful because not only was I enjoying the series, it got me into enjoying music radio too (More on that later). Bob Sessions became my second all time favourite Batman voice actor, the first obviously being Kevin Conroy. What Sessions did was mix the lighter tones of Adam West, yet still retain the authority and threatening ambience of Conroy. It's very effective, and the best bit: no gravel!
Somebody should've thrown a copy of the CD to Christopher Nolan.
Sadly, Sessions died before another Batman serial could be made. After the Batman series finished up, we returned to Superman! Unfortunately there was no new series, but ironically under the 3-5 minute a day rule, Maggs managed to insert more material into the previously aired stories, effectively allowing him to re-edit the whole series from scratch.
Then there was a certain lawman of the future. Two Judge Dredd serials were forged, adapting Judgement Day and The Day the Law Died. These kept the same element of dark humour and parody that formed the foundation stones of the original Dredd strip (In those days Dredd really was the only serious element in the whole thing). The serials were notable in that the main villain, insane Chief Judge Cal, murders an actor who sounds suspiciously like Sylvester Stallone for not convincingly portraying Dredd the right way! Then we move to Marvel, and to something possibly a little misleading.
Although this serial adapted a fair chunk of Spider-Man's early stories, you'd be forgiven for thinking this was actually a Fantastic Four story. That's because Marvel's First (And currently frowned up upon) Family plays a massive part throughout the story, and pretty much steal the show. Despite this, it's not a bad series, with a rocking theme tune by Brian May. However, it's lighter and more comedic elements (at one point you even hear the sound of suction cups when Spidey jumps off a wall!) puts this down a few notches. However, the line "I'm going through these changes, and I'm not even 18 yet!" still gets a chuckle out of me. Maggs' time on Radio 1 also allowed him to jump onto other genres, most notably science fiction and horror.
In 1996, an hour long show based on the american blockbuster Independance Day was made. Because the adaptation wasn't allowed to use any names or situations from the movie, some creative licensing was utilized to set it in the UK during the events of the movie, and starred Doctor Who actor Colin Baker and the man, the legend himself, the ol' Gamesmaster SIR PATRICK MOORE! Radio 1 treated the production as though it was real a la Ghostwatch, with Mark Goodier signing off on his Radio 1 Top 40 show with linking narration directly into the action.
The other non-superhero show was a full adaptation of the horror movie "An American Werewolf In London". Presented in the same serialised formula of 3-5 minutes segments on the late night radio slot hosted by Mark Radcliffe (with Lard!), this was where my real joy of music came from, as well as the humorous Mark & Lard themselves (I still get nostalgic feeling whenever I hear the Danger Man theme). The radio drama itself had a few recognisable voices, but none more recognisable than one Jenny Agutter, reprising her role from the original movie. Everything above is the full account of what made up my childhood listening, and cemented my love of audio plays.
Maggs has gone on to make some fantastic productions, from Neil Gaiman to Terry Pratchett to Douglas Adams (He was hand picked by Adams himself to continue the Hitch Hiker's Guide radio series). His versions of Neverwhere & Good Omens sport some huge names, and are well worth your time and investment. But when I think of what Dirk's done, my mind takes me to those teenage days of listening to radio 1, recording onto cassette tape so I can listen to it all over again, and to that horrible moment when you hear Batman's spine break...
"I will raise him up, and I will break him!"