Insp. Adam DALGLIESH, P.D. James’ laidback, erudite police Inspector has come to BBC radio in a couple of forms in (to date) 4 productions — all adaptations of published novels, serialized in multi-episode forms. Robin Ellis played the character in Cover Her Face and Devices & Desire and Richard Derrington played him in The Private Patient and A Taste for Death.
Vocally, Ellis is evocative of Roy Marsden who played the character on TV in the 1980s, leading one to wonder if that was a factor in the casting (though funnily I think P.D. James suggested she wasn’t entirely happy with Marsden’s casting — not a mark against him, I don’t think, just that he wasn’t how she imagined the character). Still, if you were familiar with and liked Marsden’s performance (as I did), it’s easy to adapt to Ellis’ radio version. Derrington sounded a bit older, seeming more like, well, a real police inspector.
And while the two Ellis productions were full cast plays, the Derrington productions seemed more like a cross between a full cast play and an audio book, with a heavy use of narration (switching between different actors/perspectives), even narrating entire scenes as opposed to dramatizing them. I don’t know how much it was a creative choice, and how much a budget decision, the mix of narration with full cast scenes obviously cheaper than an entirely dramatized production. Part of the problem is that Derrington and the others are essentially narrating the scenes in character, so they can’t really slip into character voices, making the narrated scenes a bit dry. I found A Taste for Death a bit uninvolving as a result, with even the dramatized scenes feeling a bit too much like actors reading their lines. Though The Private Patient I recall finding interesting enough.
Still, all are perfectly decent mysteries though maybe with a caveat that James’ stories may almost be too convoluted and twisty for radio! That is, moreso than other mysteries-adapted-to-radio (Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, etc.) I did find it a bit hard to keep track of who and what — maybe because James’ stories employ large casts which can be confusing in radio (where you’re trying to keep track of character names and whose voice is who). Though equally that’s the appeal of the stories — they can seem a bit bigger and more literary than just a dime novel whodunit? And though a popular character, it could be argued Dalgliesh isn’t that distinctive — you might not realize Ellis and Derrington were playing the same person (without them being radically different either). Probably my favourite was the fully dramatized Cover Her Face. Trivia note: Hugh Grant plays one of the suspects in Cover Her Face — presumably before his stardom.