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School of Modern Languages academic informs ambitious BBC Radio 4 drama

19 November 2015

 1950's radio set

Radio adaptation of Emile Zola works to be broadcast

A senior lecturer in French at Cardiff University’s School of Modern Languages – Dr Kate Griffiths - has played a major role as an academic consultant on a ground-breaking radio adaptation of the complete works of French writer, Emile Zola.

The BBC will broadcast three seasons of Emile Zola: Blood, Sex and Money, which will also feature former film star and Labour MP Glenda Jackson in her first acting role in 20 years. The first programme is scheduled to be aired on BBC Radio 4 on 21 November with a 90-minute opening episode.

Dr Griffiths’ involvement in the project began five years ago when she was working at Swansea University, focusing on film and literary adaptation. While doing so she realised how untapped the archives of BBC radio were, despite being the biggest adapter of literature in the world. As a result, she began to write on the subject and when the new Zola adaptation was floated as an idea, the BBC got in contact.

Dr Griffiths said: “It's been fascinating to be involved from the outset, to see the scripts and feed into the process. The adaptations, which have been produced in many ways, break the mould and offer something new and exciting. They run across radio slots and mix and merge novels, engaging with Zola's core themes in a way that is entirely novel. As Zola was a writer who himself adapted and reworked a range of earlier sources in new and exciting ways, there is something very fitting about the BBC's new year-long adaptation of his works.”

“I have done a bit of everything on this project, from suggesting and sourcing contemporary patriotic songs for the Emperor's troops to bellow, to looking at scripts and discussing Zola's key ideas with certain writers and producers.”

Dr Griffiths’ work on the adaptation sits at the heart of the research she carries out at the School of Modern Languages. She is a specialist in multimedia adaptation; tracing the afterlives of classic novels as they are reinvented in different nations, media and times for very different audiences. Having completed books on film and television adaptations she is now looking at radio as a medium.

She added: “Radio has always had an affinity with literature, reworking it even from the earliest days of the medium. My latest research explores BBC radio's love affair with literature, focusing in particular on how the BBC's adaptations reflect not just the source text they rework but also the cultural, social and political values dominating the moment in British history for which they were produced.”

A preview of the Zola adaptation is taking place on 19 November at a listening in the dark event organised by Cardiff Book Talk – the first in its 2015/2016 public event series. More information on the event, which will include a Q&A with Dr Griffiths, writer Dan Rebellato and producer Polly Thomas can be found on the School of English, Communication and Philosophy’s Cardiff Book Talk website.