Sir David Suchet

Sir David Suchet, star of the famous Poirot TV series takes the lead role in a new drama written by Swansea University’s Director of Creative Writing, Professor David Britton.

To Preserve the Health of Man, a speculative historical drama built around the life of the composer William Byrd, runs on BBC Radio 3 every night of the week beginning on 19th July and also streams on BBC Sounds. It features Byrd’s beautiful music, specially recorded at the Chapel Royal in the Tower of London conducted by the chapel’s Director of Music, Colm Carey.

William Byrd (1543-1623) and his mentor Thomas Tallis are the towering figures of British Renaissance music. Both were Catholics at a dangerous time yet both survived, protected by Queen Elizabeth. A Gentleman of the Chapel Royal, Byrd wrote openly for the Anglican Church whilst secretly composing small-scale choral masses for recusant Catholic households. Written for three, four and five voices, they are the first church choral works to include female voices and are now widely celebrated. The drama’s title “To Preserve the Health of Man” is taken from Byrd’s defence of the importance of public singing.

Little is known about Byrd’s personal life. What survives are his music scores, together with the archives of Queen Elizabeth, King James I and the Chapel Royal and some court records (Byrd was notoriously litigious!).  Professor Britton’s work is an imaginative dramatic in-filling of the gaps in received knowledge.

The drama will be broadcast first in five episodes, with a longer omnibus edition planned for later in the year. As well as Sir David, it features Sarah Kestelman as Byrd’s wife Juliana, Philip Jackson as Thomas Tallis, Gunnar Cauthrey as Edmund Campion and Juliet Aubrey as Queen Elizabeth. The director is Alison Hindell.

Professor Britton said: “Byrd is a complex character, at once warm, generous, tetchy, brilliant and full of self-doubt. Sir David has such power and subtlety that watching him inhabit the role has been an absolute joy.  As a great enthusiast for Byrd’s music he has been closely involved in the development of the drama from the very start; his commitment makes a huge contribution to the final production, especially when supported by such a stellar cast and wonderful choir.”

Listen to To Preserve the Health of Man on BBC Radio 3 from 19th July.

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