Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo

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Download Private Peaceful from BBC Learning

BBC Learning, 17 January - 26 May 2014
One of the advantages of an enforced absence from work-related affairs (I have been recovering from a six-week dose of radiation therapy) was that I had the chance to discover even more treasures of audio drama in and around the internet. 
The BBC Learning resource, available through the podcasts site ( is one such find.  Years ago (more than I'd care to remember) I used to listen to dramas made especially for BBC Schools: sometimes we were forced to do so during lessons; on other occasions, when I had to stay at home, school productions proved an entertaining diversion.  I remember one production giving an overview of British history presented by Barry Foster in his pre-Van der Valk days.
Abridged in thirteen fifteen-minute episodes, and read by Paul Chequer, Private Peaceful is an ideal text for BBC Learning, especially in the centenary year of the outbreak of World War One.  What makes the novel so powerful is the way in which Morpurgo narrates the story through the eyes of a child, rapidly maturing into a young man.  The narrator might make mistakes, or misread the people around him, but sometimes remains unaware of what has happened.  The story vividly evokes the pre-1914 world, which is refreshingly free of the nostalgic clichés beloved of many historians.  Life in rural England was not easy, especially for a family shorn of their father, with their mother forced to go out to work.  Discrimination was rife, especially against those who were considered "not all there" - in other words, experiencing some kind of mental disability.  These experiences provide a humbling prelude to the main body of the tale, which describes the experiences of being a foot-soldier in World War One in an unemotional way.
This series offers a useful point of comparison with the Radio 4 dramatization of the same work, broadcast in February 2012.  That production was recorded on location, with sound-effects providing an historical context to the action.  The BBC Learning version relied instead on Chequer's powerful narration, interspersed with occasional musical linking sequences.