The Man Who Knows by Mark Lawson

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15-Minute Drama on BBC Radio 4

BBC Radio 4, 9-13 April 2012, BBC Radio 4 Extra 14 April 2012
It's December 1968, turning into January 1969, and Dominic Bold (Jonathan Firth) of the fictitious Morning News is riding high as Britain's most successful gossip columnist. Encouraged by an indulgent editor Gordon Bannoch (Gerard Myrphy) who allows him carte blanche to find stories, Bold invades those parts of celebrtities' private lives that his competitors cannot reach. His particular favourite subject is comedienne Alice Morney (Lızzy McInnerny), who has a top-rated television show with her partner and stooge Danny Csrlton (Nickolas Grace). Bold consistently digs up details of Alice's life that she does not want to see in print, but like any good journalist, he refuses to divulge his sources. Eventually it transpires that Bold has been using underhand methods, involving an invasion of Alice's privacy.
The Man Who Knows has clearly been inspired by the recent hacking scandal. Writer Lawson goes back into past history to suggest that journalistic malpractice is nothing new; even in the pre-smartphone days, hacks employed underhand methods in order to get their stories. The drama ingeniously combines fiction and historical fact: Rupert Murdoch appears briefly, as he manages to wrest control of the News of the World from the clutches of Robert Maxwell.
Lawson writes in broad strokes, in a style strongly reminiscent of David Hare and Howard Brenton's 1985 comedy Pravda, which likewise lifted the lid on dubious tabloid practices and unscrupulous newspaper owners. The Man Who Knows was mildly amusing, even though I felt that sometimes the 1960s allusions were brought in just for the sake of it: there was a scene involving Simon Dee's BBC chat show Dee Time, where Dee (Jon Glover) talked to Bold, which seemed rather superfluous. There was also one glaring mispronunciation, which rather jarred somewhat: the director of Planet of the Apes was not Franklin Schaffer but Franklin Schaffner. Nonetheless the drama passed the time adequately enough, even if we didn't learn much more than we already knew about journalistic practice past and present.