Audio Drama Wiki

Taptoe Through the Telephones is a science fiction radio play by John Fletcher. It was first broadcast on BBC Radio on 29 May 1981, as an installment of Afternoon Theatre.


Radio transmissions are being interfered with, and it's thought that a big computer might have been infiltrated by enemy agents. An amateur computer boffin is called in to sort it out[1].

It is 1981. Gerald spends a lot of his time in his attic building wondrous computer creations. When he's not doing that he tends to be working at a top secret government intelligence base snooping in on peoples' telephone conversations and messages. He is a computer nerd before the description "computer nerd" had been invented. His wife Annette spends most of her time drinking.

The massive electronic systems by which the world's intelligence agencies all communicate with each other through a massive computer (in 1981 we believed in such things) for some reason doesn't seem to be functioning very well. The whole system is faltering and stuttering because of mysterious electronic interference... sun spots, sinister foreign agents, sabotage?

These being intelligence agencies they tend to be not only massively incompetent but also massively paranoid. Paranoid and totally inept American "intelligence" agents believe the "interference" to be emanating from Gerald's attic, that he is a sinister saboteur, and consequently try ineptly and thus unsuccessfully to assassinate him.

Gerald sails on blithely - as unaware of these attempts as he is of his wife's alcoholism.

What is actually happening is that Annette, having consumed a couple of bottles of lunchtime plonk, tends to collapse upstairs in the attic. There her obvious stress and pain is picked up - through Gerald's electronic gumph - by the vast centralized computer who itself - due to the banal and destructive messages and instructions it is forced to broadcast around the world - intercontinental missile targetting codes, international cricket scores - has become alienated from and hostile to the world and morality it is forced to serve. Feeling at one with the suffering and ignored Annette it communicates with her, soothes and lessens her pain by singing and crooning to her lullabies like some vast underwater whale. All this energy it pours into helping her detracts from its "proper" computing functions and causes the interference.

The two American agents bring things to a head by breaking into Gerald's house, holding a gun to Annette's head, and instructing Gerald over the phone to tell his terrified wife what to do to shut down the interference. In solidarity and disgust, the computer turns off all international communications. Silence. Slowly, painfully, Gerald and Annette start to talk to each other, seriously, truthfully. For the first time ever. At least, at last, they're talking.

Dick Mills - of the BBC Radiophonic workshop (whatever happened to that? Which particular Birtista operative liquidated it?) - did some ethereal, beautiful music for the production. The greatest complement a writer can get occurred at the end where the continuity announcer, obviously lost in the world of the play, said nothing for several seconds before suddenly, recollecting herself, apologized for her silence.

John Fletcher.


  • Gerold - Nigel Anthony
  • Annette - Judith Arthy
  • Computer - Penelope Lee
  • Hodgeson - Neil Stacey
  • Simkins - Bill Wallis
  • Larry - Bob Sherman
  • Ed - Blaine Fairman
  • Patterson - Rex Holdsworth

Critical Reception[]


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