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Dr Kate Griffiths acts as academic consultant on ambitious BBC Radio drama

18 November 2015

Emile Zola
Emile Zola

Kate Griffiths, senior lecturer in French at Cardiff University’s School of Modern Languages 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 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 has been a long time in the making. Five years ago she was working at Swansea University, focusing on film and literary adaptation. While doing so she realised how untapped the archives of BBC Radio was despite being the biggest adapter of literature in the world. As a result, Dr Griffiths started 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 very new and very 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.”

Although Dr Griffiths is currently on maternity leave, her 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 says of her research, “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. 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.

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