HR by Nigel Williams

Contact Us

BBC Radio 4, 1 February 2012
Nigel Williams' comedy-drama HR has already run for two series, but this was the first time I had encountered it. Now the protagonists Sam (Nicholas le Prevost) and Peter (Jonathan Pryce) are both retired, with time on their hands to spend in any way they wish. In this episode they went for a swim at their local pool in Putney, encountered a strange man (James Lailey) with a penchant for recounting his life-story, and discovered to their cost that something terrible had happened to their pensions.
The drama arises from the interplay between contrasting characters. Le Prevost's Sam was the phlegmatic type, who has spent his entire working life with the same company, and looks forward to a comfortable retirement pottering around in his local area. Pryce's Peter dreamt of exotic holidays, indulged in rhetorical flourishes - complete with an Arthur Askey impersonation ("I thank you") - and ended up jumping up and down naked in the changing room. Although more outgoing than Sam, Peter actually proved less secure of himself, as he showed a marked reluctance to take off his clothes and don his swimming-trunks in a public place.
Williams' script gave Le Prevost and Pryce the chance to indulge in frequent bouts of cross-talk - even though they seldom agreed with one another, they were inseparable. Occasionally their sparring reached dizzying heights; there was one occasion where the word "trousers" was used at least fifteen times in ninety seconds. As the unnamed man, James Lailey had his moment of verbal glory as he recounted his working life in Pinteresque style, describing how he worked with a series of companies in and around London. 
While Peter Kavanagh's production of this episode - entitled "Naked" - was extremely funny, it nonetheless carried serious undertones. Sam and Peter had obviously worked hard throughout their working lives, but now found themselves victims of a corrupt world in which large companies invest their employees' money and end up going bankrupt as a result. This is what happened to the Royal Bank of Scotland (whose former chief executive, Fred Goodwin, lost his knighthood the day before HR was broadcast). To find out how Sam and Peter cope with their financially straitened circumstances, listen to the next episode.