An extract from the forthcoming Film Without Film; Chris is discussing some of the ideas behind his cult 1979 road movie Radio On.
NJ: Radio On has this ostensible plot which seems to dissolve. And this leads on to the concept of drift: abandoning the car and taking a train to nowhere; The Hard Shoulder with O’Grady in his car heading for a tunnel – yet we don’t really know where he’s going; characters end up in this state of drift. Cookie in Robinson is an opportunistic drifter. Incidentally is he partially based on Derek Raymond/Robin Cook?
CP: I thought of Raymond, or Cook – and I had cousins who were a bit like him – as a kind of upper class ne’er do well. There’s normally some short-service commission involved.
There’s always charm, however. The ability to carry it off; to win you over. I believe Raymond was a very charming man.
Extremely charming. But of course charm can be used as an offensive. The drift in Radio On came about, in a way, by default. The problem I had with English drama and cinema was that it was so structured around class. I didn’t want to make a film about English class. I wanted to make a film about space and movement and weather and music; and not about class.
It still comes through very strongly in British TV and cinema.
That whole area of English sit-com is completely structured around class. So I thought that if the film was going to look ahead at all, it would have to be different to that. One of the things that make it different is that it’s about technology. Radio On is partly about that whole Kraftwerk thing. It clarified what the film was about. Airwaves; communication. It’s not about what Mike Leigh makes films about. And also I thought – which has both happened and not happened – I thought that the class system would flatten out. It has done, but at the same time everything has become much more entrenched. You only have to look at the Daily Mail to see that. As part of a Museum of Loneliness project I said that I would cover the World Cup, and I would read the Daily Mail for as long as the World Cup went on. And it was unbelievable.
You’re a Norwich City fan, I’m informed.
In as much as I lived there when they were in the third division and got to the semi-final of the FA Cup. I’ve been stuck supporting them ever since. In Radio On I took the football results from a particular weekend at the time, but I reversed the score line for Norwich. So
it says Norwich 1 Chelsea 0. In reality, however, it was Chelsea 1 Norwich 0.