I’m not a radio reviewer by any stretch of the imagination but I wanted to write about Pilgrim, because this particular drama series is one of the very best things the BBC has ever broadcast (of course, as we all know, the BBC broadcasts amazing things all the time) and I’m really going to miss it now that it’s reached its conclusion.
Pilgrim ran from 2010 (I think) for 28 Episodes, 45 minutes each. That’s a properly long story, and it’s very much worth, if you can, listening to the whole 21 hours of it. It’s filled with folklore, magic and landscape of both the rural and small ordinary town variety. It’s absolutely fantastic radio.
Paul Hilton (Pilgrim) and the joy of long form drama:
I can’t remember when I first came across Pilgrim, I must have been in between jobs after having the small boy. I always have the radio on in the background, and I admit to a very limited listening roster of Radio4, 4Xtra, BBC6Music with a very occasional foray over to Radio2. But back to Radio4, because that’s where Pilgrim first appeared, as if conjured from the air.
Every episode starts with a haunting and vaguely medieval fiddle tune and this speech, read by a young girl. She is credited as ‘The Legend’, and is played by Agnes Bateman:
“Of all the tales told in these islands few are as strange as that of William Palmer. Cursed, apparently, on the road to Canterbury, in the spring of 1185, for denying the presence of the other world by the King of the Grey Folk, or Faery, himself. And compelled to walk, from that day to this, between the worlds of magic and of men, and subsequently known in all the strange and wonderful lore attributed to the mysterious William Palmer, as Pilgrim”.
I was hooked from the start. In Pilgrim Sebastian Baczkiewicz created a world in which the veil between the realm of magic and faeries and our own modern world is very thin. Each episode is written around William Palmer; played brilliantly by Paul Hilton, as a slightly world weary (well you would be after 800 years!) but ever hopeful man. Palmer’s lot in life is to intervene in situations where all is generally not as it seems.
Baczkiewicz seems to have an encyclopaedic knowledge of British folklore, I think his great skill is to weave it into his drama – all set quite definitely in the 21st Century – so well that you begin to believe you really could be lured away by a faery, encounter someone sinister in your bookshop, or check into a hotel which is a front for a not entirely wholesome magical enterprise
The fairies in this series are not the pretty kind who live in flowers and wear acorn caps for hats. They are faery, the Greyfolk, quite happy to use humans (hot-bloods) for their own ends. They capture humans, enchant them, kill them if that will get them their desired result. They are not to be trusted. Most of the time, of course, the humans don’t know they have been enchanted, or realise it far too late, which is when William (call me Billy!) Palmer steps in.
Over the course of the 28 episodes we meet dragons, water sprites, forest spirits, and those humans who (tragically) would try to take the magic for themselves. Merlin comes into it, and the Queen of the Corn. There are other recurring characters alongside Pilgrim; Mr Delancy (a faery, who’s half human daughter Pilgrim has hidden away from danger), Morgan Hambleton (like a son to Pilgrim, but not a very wise man) and the completely disturbing Hartley, amongst many others. It’s pretty dark in places – there are some really disturbing scenes which take place at the sinister Lost Hotel, and at Bleaker Lake (which I listened to again last night). Yet there is also occasional humour, how could there not be, in these fantastic situations!
Pilgrim is of course on his own quest to end his life and free himself from the Kings curse. He often gets close, but never achieves it. As the story drew to its conclusion – with William himself the subject of an enchantment after an encounter with Mr Hibbins (rhymes with ribbons, and who bears a grudge because Pilgrim had once confined him to a shoe) at Caudley Fair – I began to wonder if he ever would.
I really do hope this series is published in some purchasable form by the BBC (please, please!) in future. In the meantime it is up on the iPlayer for a while: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b071899b
There here are seven clips here which give you a taste of the whole marvellous thing: