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One of Christopher’s favourite authors was Neil Gaiman, who writes what I suppose could loosely be described as fantasy novels, frequently much beloved by the geekily-inclined. I am a bit more ambivalent than Chris was, finding some of Gaiman’s stuff a bit hit-and-miss. However, I did discover his work a good few years before Chris did – a friend gave me a copy of Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, signed by Pratchett, for my birthday way back in 1990 (thanks Katie! I still enjoy reading it!).

One work by Gaiman that we both enjoyed was Neverwhere. Chris took the book away with us on holiday about five years ago I think, and we both devoured it. We then found out that it had started life as a TV series back in 1996, which we had completely missed seeing. I think it was originally pitched as a children’s programme, which would explain why we missed it. Once we got home from the holiday, we hired DVDs of the series through LoveFilm and watched the episodes pretty much back-to-back. It had some good people in it – including Peter Capaldi, Tamsin Greig, and Paterson Joseph (the dishy IT person from Green Wing). But, compared to the novel, we felt that the TV series fell a bit flat. Mostly that was because of the genre – Neverwhere is fantasy, set in an alternative world of London Below, populated by the homeless and those who “fall through the cracks” from the London Above that we know. Some of the concepts in the book were pretty much unfilmable without an unlimited budget and masses of CGI. But the TV series clearly had a very limited budget for special effects, so the Underworld was not as scary or fantastical as it should have been.

So I was really interested to hear that the book has recently been produced as a radio drama. That really gets around the special effects problem – it’s up to the listener’s imagination. The BBC has attracted some pretty big names to play characters – Benedict Cumberbatch is the Angel Islington (who really is an Angel), Bernard Cribbins plays Old Bailey, Christopher Lee is the Earl of Earls Court, and David Harewood is the Marquis of Carabas.

It reminded me very much in concept of The Hicthiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I remember being gripped by that as a schoolgirl when it first came out, and the huge efforts we went to to record the episodes each week. The radio series was in many ways better than the TV series that followed, as Douglas Adams was totally unconstrained by ensuring that things were filmable. If he wanted Zaphod Beeblebrox to have three arms and two heads, that’s dead easy on radio – rather more expensive on TV or a film-set! From what I’ve read, it appears that Neil Gaiman is hoping that Neverwhere will have a similar captivating effect on a new generation – though I don’t know how many of them will habitually listen to Radio 4.

There was a 1 hour episode on Radio 4 on Saturday afternoon, to be followed by half-hour episodes every day this week on Radio 4 Extra. I caught the first episode on iPlayer yesterday and loved it. I shall listen avidly to the rest of the series, again probably on iPlayer.