Swansea University's David Britton's dramatisation from James Fenimore Cooper's American classic The Spy began on BBC Radio 4 on Sunday 22 January 2012.   It features Torchwood's Burn Gorman as Harvey Birch. It will be available throughout the week on BBC i-player, and will be repeated on Saturday 28 January at 9pm. Episode 2 will be shown on Sunday 29 January at 3 pm. See below for the BBC publicity.

David Britton is an award-winning dramatist, director and dramaturg. He was formerly National Executive Producer heading the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s radio drama department, and is now the Drama specialist on the Creative Writing Programme in the English Department at Swansea University.

 

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BBC RADIO 4

Classic Serial - The Spy

Sunday 22 Jan, 15:00  repeated Sat 28 Jan,  21:00

By James Fenimore Cooper, dramatised by DJ Britton.

Episode One

New York State, 1778. Henry Wharton, a young soldier for the British in the American War of Independence, creeps into no-man's land to spend an evening with his family. But the happy reunion is cut short when American troops surround the house. Can the mysterious Harvey Birch provide Henry with a means of escape?

Cast:

Harvey Birch . . . . . Burn Gorman
Frances . . . . . Rose Leslie
Henry . . . . . Alex Waldmann
Mr Wharton . . . . . James Lailey
Sarah . . . . . Francine Chamberlain
Mr Harper . . . . . Timothy Watson
Caesar . . . . . Richard Pepple
Peyton Dunwoodie . . . . . Simon Bubb
Captain Lawton . . . . . Gerard McDermott
Colonel Wellmere . . . . . Adam Billington
Isabella Singleton . . . . . Victoria Inez Hardy

Directed by Sasha Yevtushenko.

Team:

Studio managers: Anne Bunting, Jenni Burnett, Alison Craig.
Editor: Anne Bunting
Production Co-ordinator: Beverly Tagg

Published in 1821, The Spy was the first commercially successful American work of popular fiction. On top of that, it is also generally regarded as the world's first espionage novel. Until Fenimore Cooper, spies in fiction had been villains, the lowest of the low. But in creating Harvey Birch (played here by Burn Gorman), a double agent during the American War of Independence, Cooper began the tradition of spy-as-hero, leading to the great genre novels of the late 19th and 20th centuries.

Set in Westchester County, New York State, in 1778, we meet Harvey Birch, a mysterious pedlar, when he turns up unexpectedly at The Locusts, a house in no-man's-land between British and American forces, owned by the wealthy Wharton family. The Whartons are a family of divided loyalties: one of the daughters, Frances, is engaged to an American officer. The other, Sarah, is a romantic royalist. Birch who, with his father, lives in a small house nearby is, it is rumoured, a double agent and both sides have put a price on his head.

Travelling on foot with his salesman's pack on his back, Birch appears to steer clear of political or military allegiances, trading with both sides. Yet whenever the honour and the safety of decent people is in danger, Birch is at hand. He suffers appalling indignities, is robbed, burnt out of his home by the terrifying Skinners - American outlaws posing as Patriot irregulars - and is sentenced to death by the American forces. He never uses his privileged position to save his own skin, for, only at the very end of the story is it revealed, that he has a personal commission - from George Washington himself.