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BEHIND THE SCENES with Jude Rogers (JR) and Eleanor McDowall (EM), producers of Voices Lost and Found .


How did the story come together? I'm curious to hear from each of your perspectives?

JR: I'd spoken to Eleanor about wanting to tell a story about this particular tape, but wasn't sure what form it should be in. At this point, the tape was still in my bedroom drawer; I wanted to document my digitising of it, really, and the emotions it brought up. Eleanor mentioned the Radio 4 series Short Cuts , and an episode she was working on called Lost and Found, and this tape certainly fit that brief – it was almost something I wanted to keep lost, and didn't want to find. Still, I knew that I had to. I didn't know what the story arc would be until I did the digitization, so the realization that comes in the piece was completely natural.

EM: I remember getting in touch with Jude after stumbling across this rather gorgeous programme she made for Domino Radio a couple of years ago. The programme was about the way songs and memories interweave and I think that it was off the back of this that we started chatting about our old cassette tapes. The idea that even a mixtape becomes a tiny time capsule, a testament to your taste (or lack of taste) at a certain age and it was then that the subject of this old recording came up.

Jude's a great writer and the story really came from her as she had such a strong sense of how she wanted to tell it. I feel like any adjustments I made on the production side were fairly modest and mainly focused on hearing as much of that tape as possible.

Jude, was it difficult to take such a personal, intimate keepsake and share its story so publicly?

JR: In many ways, yes. I've written about the key person on the tape in print before, and it's often been like a kind of therapy for me. Writers writing about their own experiences, hey...not a new thing, I know! My other relatives have enjoyed those pieces too, though. But putting their voices on the radio... that felt very different. Their voices are them, their real essence in sound, somehow – there was no way to filter them, or hide them, as people through my writing. I was so nervous about playing my mum and brother the rough mix of the piece, and worked very closely with Eleanor to make sure I had complete control over the material. I desperately didn't want it to sound too sentimental or exploitative. I'm really glad Eleanor brought the humour of the piece out too. And my relatives? They absolutely loved it.

Eleanor, as the producer working with such personal, intense source material, how did you approach the emotional balance of the story?

EM: The piece is quite consciously put together without any music or sound effects except for the tape itself. Short Cuts as a series often uses quite a lot of music in its storytelling but I was very aware that underscoring any of the elements, particularly with the idea of foregrounding the emotional moments, would undermine what Jude was doing. I think the power of it is really in the direct connection you have with the tape, the minute sounds that have been bottled for years and seem so immediate in the replaying.

Jude, do you have any regrets about finally digitizing the material, and accessing your Dad's voice? Was anything lost in the finding?

JR: No, not at all. As I say in the show, it's with me now. It really made me think of how we try to bury sad things in the past – but the thing is, the past never really goes away. And this will sound trite, but my Dad is part of me, biologically and emotionally. It's my duty, really, to help him live on.

What's your exact favorite moment in the story, and why?

JR: When I sing It Was On a Starry Night ! I also loved how Eleanor blended my voice now over my childhood singing then...it was amazing to hear two versions of me, from three decades apart, over each other.

EM: There's a moment towards the end where Jude starts to hear the voices differently, I love how a few words in Jude's script tilt the story from one of loss to one of discovery.

Jude, considering you usually work in print – what was unique or different about telling a story through audio?

JR: Radio was so much fun to work with – thinking about how layers of sound could deepen a story, and add texture to my script...like the crackle of tape behind me as I first speak, for instance. It also meant I could do a commentary on the original audio in a way that makes the story much more impactful, because you can HEAR those old voices. Hearing my brother as a baby – he's now married, and a school teacher – for instance, is very moving. It's like those old ghosts are there in the present. Which, in a way, they still are.

Eleanor, how did this story fit in with the Short Cuts series, and the Lost and Found episode in particular?

EM: Short Cuts are all about seemingly small stories, fleeting moments, scraps of tape that may appear tiny but actually look at how we fall in love, stumble into adventures or deal with loss. I remember one of the first stories we made was about a writer whose partner had passed away sitting next to her in the cinema. She'd sat in the darkness after she had realized he had died waiting for someone to stop the film, holding her partner's hand in hers, and at that same moment the person on her other side had reached out and grabbed hold of her free hand and clasped it for the thirty seconds it took before the lights came on. It was a tiny gesture but it meant everything. I hope that the series is about elevating small stories like these and treating them with the same kind of love and attention you might give a one hour political story or a big celebrity profile feature.

Jude's tape wasn't a recording of a life-changing event or a dramatic scene but it bottled something powerful and in the way she tells her story I think she transforms the audio of that ordinary family interaction into something very moving. It offers an emotional center in our Lost and Found episode which moved from stories about getting physically lost, losing your identity, losing the obscure sound that a toilet makes when it's broken (this was honestly very touching!) and finding love.

So what's next for Short Cuts?

EM: We've just started a fourth series on Radio 4, which is now being podcast too which is an absolute joy. I hope it keeps being a place for new voices (both on air and on the production side) as the excitement for us is in collaborating and being surprised by the ingenious ways lots of our producers choose to tell a story?

Personally I'd love to do keep exploring the ways our docs can work online with visuals and animations like this little shadow puppet story we've just had made, and to encourage more playful experimentation with the style of our short form storytelling like this documentary song made by the band Summer Camp about how to flirt. Incidentally I've just mixed our latest episode ‘Hush' which features a new twinkly and quiet reworked version of our theme tune by Jeremy Warmsley from Summer Camp, which felt like a real treat... From the looks of it I'm probably just going to use Short Cuts to bit by bit provide a platform for my long held teenage dream of being in a band. Hope it works.