BBC Radio 4, 15 December 2011
Recorded at the Innerpeffray Library in Perthshire, a museum celebrating
Scotland's first public library, The Lamp celebrated the power of books to draw people of different cultures together.
Simon (Fraser James), a visiting librarian from Kenya, works at the Innerpeffray Library under David (Ralph Riach), a scholarly
kind of person who favours the idea of restricted access to his booksmany of which are rare and often priceless. Simon
finds it difficult to accustom himself to local mores - especially when he encounters Elspeth (Ellie Haddington), a local
widow with little time for book-reading, who gradually becomes more and more interested in the books Simon offers her. Cracknell's
play follows an Educating Rita-like progress, with Elspeth gradually becoming more and more attracted to the pleasures
offered by books ancient and modern - Rob Roy included. Needless to say David regards her interest as somehow sacrilegious:
what was once a scholarly library is now being rendered accessible to the hoi-polloi.
Simon's counter-argument runs thus: political strife is very frequent in his home
country, and the provision of books - even through one dilapidated van - helps to humanize the people, making them less inclined
to fight one another. Hence he sees no reason why the same rules should not prevail in Scotland. David reminds Simon that
Scotland had an equally violent past: the Battle of Culloden was not simply a war between the English and Scots, but involved
a lot of inter-tribal as well as local conflicts. The past should not be forgotten, even while determining present and future
policy. David and Simon end up in agreement: both understand the power of books not only to stimulate the imagination,
but to help readers become aware of how the past has an inevitable bearing on the present.
Recorded on location, The Lamp was a vivid reminder of how books should
be made available to everyone, regardless of class, race, gender or location. By such means people can learn more about their
world, and determine its future course by peaceful rather than aggressive means. At a time when many public libraries in Britain
(as elsewhere) are threatened by government cuts, as well as a perceived decline in membership (this is disputable), The
Lamp made a convincing case for their preservation.
The play was made available as a podcast in the BBC Play of the Week series:
try and catch it if you can.