Jill by Philip Larkin, dramatized by Robin Brooks

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Classic Serial on BBC Radio 4

BBC Radio 4, 31 March 2013
John Kemp (Samuel Barnett) is a green north-country student arriving at Oxford University in the post-1945 era.  Gauche, socially inexperienced and lonely, he discovers that life is far from pleasant in an environment dominated by upper-class students, including his room-mate Christopher Warner (Richard Goulding).
Jill confirms many of those images about Oxford that made it seem such an unpleasant place - especially to those who did not fit into the prevailing ethos.  Warner, his friends Elizabeth and Patrick Dowling (Richard Goulding, Jessica Raine) and Whitbread (Nigel Pilkington) treat Kemp as if he hardly exists - except as a generous money-lender to subsidize their expensive social habits.  It is thus hardly surprising that Kemp ends up being thrown into the fountain in the quadrangle at an end-of-term party.
The only way that Kemp can find to cope with this life is to retreat into the world of the imagination, where he creates an imaginary sister Jill - an Angela Brazil-type adolescent attending public school leading a difficult life.  This character immediately attracts Warner's interest as someone conforming more to his social (and sexual) interests.
Fiona McAlpine's production deliberately conflates actual and imaginary worlds through the use of a narrator, who describes Kemp's actions in the third person (just like Kemp, who describes Jill's actions in his letters in similar vein).  This device shows how many students learn to cope with their new lives away from home by retreating into fantasy-worlds, and by doing so acquire the kind of maturity denied to Warner and his social circle.  Kemp begins to understand what a university exists for; it isn't just a life of tea-parties, pubs and balls, interspersed with the odd (and generally inconvenient) tutorial, but a place where students should begin to understand themselves and their place in the world.  This process should help them acquire a vocation for the future.
McAlpine's adaptation ended somewhat anticlimactically, with Kemp bidding farewell to his fellow-students, while looking forward to next term.  At the same time we understood how he had acquired a kind of inner strength, in spite of the indignity of being thrown into the fountain (and catching bronchitis as a result).
Samuel Barnett made a welcome return to the airwaves as John, his quizzical tones contrasting with the self-assured arrogance of Goulding's Warner.  Jill might be a period piece, but it dramatizes the experience of many students, irrespective of their socio-economic origins.