BBC examines the work of T.S. Eliot at the centenary of The Waste Land

Programmes across TV and radio examine the life and work of one of Britain’s most influential writers

Published: 29 June 2022
Updated: 29 June 2022
 T S Eliot
T S Eliot

This year the BBC marks the centenary of T.S. Eliot’s groundbreaking work The Waste Land with a range of programming across the BBC looking at his life and work.

Beginning on 10 July on BBC Radio 3 and BBC Sounds, He Do The Wasteland In Different Voices will see the poem performed for the first time as if an audio drama, the text unchanged from the original, but with a focus on the collection of voices within it. Permission was granted from the Eliot estate to mark the centenary with this new adaptation.

Recorded word for word, the performance features an ensemble cast including the likes of Paul Ready (The Terror; Motherland), Maggie Steed (Ten Percent); Adrian Edmondson (The Young Ones) and David Haig (My Boy Jack; Killing Eve) as they bring the characters from the poem to life. They include the mysterious Madame Sosostris who, in a seedy room, turns the cards; a poet and his wife, both miserable in their marriage, waiting for something to happen, and a street prophet with visions of the future finding his faith tested.

Capturing the slipperiness and unease of the post-war period, the performance will also feature the work of award-winning sound designer David Thomas. Carefully created to evoke a sense of fractured time, with haunting whispers of catastrophes to come, the sound remains faithful to the themes of anxiety, loss and anger found within the text as well as the uncertainty of the modern age we currently live in.

The programme will be preceded by a feature about the poem, with leading Eliot scholars Dr Lyndall Gordon, Professor Mark Ford, Professor Seamus Perry, Professor Stephen Connor and Nancy Fulford, archivist for the T S Eliot Estate. Taking listeners into the Eliot archive, the feature will contextualise the text and provide insight into Eliot’s own inspirations as well as the story behind the Waste Land.

Later this year on BBC Two and iPlayer is T.S. Eliot: Into 'The Waste Land', a new documentary uncovering the hidden personal story behind Eliot's creation of his celebrated poem, directed by Susanna White.

For decades, Eliot actively discouraged biographical interpretations of his work, developing an ‘impersonal theory’ of poetry in which the private life of a poet was deemed irrelevant. But in 2020 there were dramatic new revelations which uncovered that, behind Eliot's mask, there was a much more personal story to be found within The Waste Land.

In January 2020, more than 1000 of Eliot's private letters were unsealed at Princeton University Library, 60 years after they were first deposited there. These letters to his confidante and muse Emily Hale have finally unveiled Eliot's hidden heart, and the personal breakdown behind the creation of his most famous work. Eliot's letters illuminate what appears to have been a complex yet unspoken emotional triangle within the poet's life in which he was pulled between his troubled relationship with his first wife Vivien, and his enduring feelings for his first love, Emily Hale.

Both women appear to have played key roles in the genesis of the poem.

Moving through all five sections of the poem, the documentary explores many different facets of The Waste Land, from Eliot's state of mind during each phase, to the different places where it was composed. Featuring contributions from actor and director Fiona Shaw and composer Max Richter; poets Hannah Sullivan and Daljit Nagra; Eliot's biographer Lyndall Gordon, Vivien's biographer Ann Pasternak Slater and Faber Poetry Editor Matthew Hollis. Simon Russell Beale performs specially recorded readings of the poem, in conjunction with Eliot's own hypnotic reading of his work.

In October on BBC Four and BBC iPlayer, Ralph Fiennes’ exquisite performance of T.S. Eliot's poetic masterpiece Four Quartets is translated from stage to screen by director Sophie Fiennes. Early in the Covid pandemic, Fiennes set himself the challenge of committing Four Quartets to memory. Written by Eliot in the shadow of the Second World War, the poem is a searching examination of who - and what - we are. Four Quartets offers four interwoven meditations on the nature of time, faith and the quest for spiritual enlightenment in one of the poet’s final great works and the questions, imagery and emotions it produces still bear powerful relevance today.

On Radio 4 and BBC Sounds in November is Hold On Tight: The Women Of The Waste Land, arts writer and broadcaster Jude Rogers immerses herself in the worlds and the voices of the women inside and outside T.S. Eliot’s extraordinary poem. Blending historical and literary insight with radiophonic and aural magic and imagination, Jude's explorations are arrestingly sound designed by producer Steven Rajam.

Credits

He Do The Wasteland In Different Voices

10 July, BBC Radio 3, 7.30pm - 8.30pm

Cast

Marie & Madame Sosostris: Maggie Steed

The Seer: Adrian Edmondson

The Hyacinth Girl: Esme Scarborough

The Poet: Paul Ready

The Woman in the Pub: Tilly Vosburgh

The Actor: David Haig

Tiresias: David Calder

The Typist: Matilda Tucker

Preface interviews by Paul Keers. The Waste Land Sound Design and recording by David Thomas. Produced and Directed by Caroline Raphael for BBC Radio 3.

T.S. Eliot: Into ‘The Waste Land’ is an Oxford Films production for BBC Two and BBC iPlayer. The director is Susanna White and the producers are Rosie Alison and Susanna White. Nick Kent is Executive Producer for Oxford Films. The commissioning editor for BBC Arts is Mark Bell.

Four Quartets is a co-production with Lone Star Productions, Amoeba Film, Lonely Dragon, The Theatre Royal Bath Productions and Royal & Derngate, Northampton Films for BBC Four and BBC iPlayer. The director is Sophie Fiennes and the producers are Sophie Fiennes, Martin Rosenbaum, Ralph Fiennes and Shani Hinton.

Hold On Tight: The Women Of The Waste Land

23 November, BBC Radio 4

11.30am - 12pm

Producer: Steven Rajam. An Overcoat Media production for BBC Radio 4

For more information:

On BBC Two & BBC Four’s content - IP

On Radio 4’s documentary - 

On Radio 3’s drama - EB2