Radio 4’s Craven: how drama takes on cyberbullying

Friends and followers will know that I’m a long-time fan of audio drama, be it on radio (most often Radio 4) or via other commercial outlets, such as Big Finish.1

In recent years, the regular slots that Radio 4 has for dramas has accepted more and more returning series – one of the reasons why those strands were renamed two years ago – the Afternoon Play becoming the Afternoon Drama, and so on. One of my favourite regular schedule slots is the 15 Minute Drama, short serials taking up the last quarter of Woman’s Hour from Monday to Fridays and which are now, as a matter of course, repeated in the evening and with an omnibus on Saturdays at 12pm on sister digital station Radio 4 Extra.

And in that slot, one of my favourite returning serials is Craven, a crime drama starring Maxine Peake as DCI Sue Craven, heading up a murder investigation team including Michael Obiora (Hotel Babylon, Casualty) and David Crellin (Emmerdale, The Cops). While DCI Craven herself had a tendency to sound unremittingly grim in the first few episodes, by its just-completed fifth series2 it’s settled into an analysis of grim (and sometimes topical) murder cases by a team that has settled into a pattern of occasionally prickly professional relationships that are nevertheless imbued with mutual respect.

The series was created by Amelia Bullmore, who is forging quite a name for herself as a writer of some renown. She is also, more visibly, an actor – with her biggest current role being in another crime drama, playing DCI Gill Murray in ITV’s Scott and Bailey. Bullmore has written a sixth story for the series, but the serial which aired this week was written by Michelle Lipton. (The omnibus edition is available until next Saturday).

[aesop_quote background=”#282828″ text=”#FFFFFF” align=”center” size=”2″ parallax=”off” direction=”up” quote=”Rather than decrying all internet usage as the work of the devil, Craven also places the negatives of cyberbullying right up against the internet’s virtues”]

In Lipton’s story, the team investigated the death of a 15 year old girl, Florence Henderson, who is found hanging in woods in an apparent lynching. When evidence is found that somebody was video recording the incident, the tale starts to explore the world of online video, and the culture of online abuse which is sadly so prevalent. Thankfully, rather than decrying all internet usage as the work of the devil, Lipton’s scripts also place the negatives that lead to cyberbullying right up against the internet’s virtues – allowing anybody who needs a voice to have one.

On its own, it is a compelling piece of serial drama. And even though a B-plot about possible negligence in an unrelated case by Watende Robinson (Obiora) doesn’t quite coalesce with the main storyline, I was left feeling that I knew more, cared more, about Craven’s investigation team than I did before.

Tying in with the serial’s themes about online safety and cyberbullying, five short films tying into the story’s main plots have been created, and are now available on the BBC’s WebWise portal. Unfortunately, they’ve not been provided in an embeddable format, or I’d have included them directly on here.

  • In video 1, two children who took pictures of Florence’s body and tweeted them out provoke a discussion about the ethics of social media activity that could cause distress to others – but also makes the point that the internet is so ingrained in our daily lives that banning kids from using it is impractical.
  • In video 2, DI Terry Bird (Crellin) visits the murdered girl’s classmates and tries to get across how abusive comments online can quickly build, making the victim like they are a target of sustained and unrelenting abuse.

  • In video 3, Robinson and Bird discover how easy it is for someone’s digital footprints to expose their regular behaviour – which can, in theory, make it easier for cyberbullies to find information to use against them.3

  • In video 4, Florence’s father is driven to desparation when he is also subjected to online harassment. His own doubts about what more he could have done to protect his daughter are made far worse by anonymous comments, to the point where he considers drastic action.

  • By video 5, he has decided to make something positive out of his own tragedy, making a video of his own to alert parents on the need to be vigilant about helping their children to be safe online.

While the videos serve an educational purpose, it was with relief that I found that they don’t feel anywhere near as preachy as they could have done – and likewise, the drama itself works perfectly well without them but feels enriched by watching them alongside. If anything, it whets my appetite for Craven as a series that is quite capable of making the jump to television. And it seems that one of the stars, and the production company who makes both Craven and Scott and Bailey, would tend to agree:

I have no idea if Craven will ever make it to television – with the glut of crime dramas out there, it’s hard to know whether a drama commissioner would value one more. But if the BBC were looking for a popular drama series to rival Scott and Bailey, it could do worse than look to a series made by the same company and created by one of its stars…

  1. I was delighted when Big Finish won Best Online or Non-Broadcast Drama for its Doctor Who: Dark Eyes serial at the recent BBC Audio Drama Awards. I must admit I haven’t heard the serial, starring Paul McGann’s version of the Doctor, yet – but the follow-up series Dark Eyes 2 is already out
  2. If you wanted to be picky, it’s Craven’s fourth series: after three five-episode serials, Craven 4 was a forty-five minute play that aired in the Afternoon Drama slot. 
  3. While this is true, I personally believe that decrying someone who is being bullied for over-sharing can verge on blaming the victim, and not the bully. 

Author: Scott Matthewman

Formerly Online Editor and Digital Project Manager for The Stage, creator of the award-winning The Gay Vote politics blog, now a full-time software developer specialising in Ruby, Objective-C and Swift, as well as a part-time critic for Musical Theatre Review, The Reviews Hub and others.

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