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Gina McKee finds resistance is futile.

What happens if antibiotics stop working? The scientific fear of a world where modern medicines no longer work provides the backbone to an exclusive new drama for BBC Radio 4.

Renowned author Val McDermid has drawn on the scientific community’s latest concerns about the rise of antibiotic resistance for a three-part series starring Gina McKee.


McDermid’s thriller Resistance hits the airwaves (and iPlayer via the website) in March and was developed through the Experimental Stories scheme, a collaboration between BBC Radio 4 and pharmaceutical philanthropists Wellcome. It examines an extreme scenario where everyday antibiotics stop working.

McKee plays Zoe Meadows, a journalist at a music festival in the North East of England. A mystery illness erupts at the festival and nobody is sure how it is travelling. As the drama unfolds, listeners will hear how the disease becomes an uncontrollable epidemic, highlighting many of the challenges the scientific and medical community face in real life.

Val McDermid

“Drama makes the science behind Resistance impossible to ignore because it puts us in the shoes of those who are affected,” said Val Mc Dermid. “Radio drama in particular is intimate and immediate and nimble - it can react quickly to events because we don’t need to build sets and design costumes. We just let the actors give the words their full weight and the listeners become part of the story.”


Jeremy Howe, BBC Radio 4 Commissioning Editor for Drama, added: “Sally Davies, the Chief Medical Officer for England, gave a presentation to writers and producers at Wellcome about the failure of antibiotics. No surprises, then, that the brilliant writer and storyteller Val McDermid came up with a three-part thriller that is as chilling, compelling and thrillingly imagined an account of armageddon as Resistance. Listener – you have been warned.”

Programme consultant Christopher Dowson, who is Professor of Microbiology at the University of Warwick and Trustee for the charity Antibiotic Research UK says: “This fantastic production presents in an emotionally engaging manner some of the important issues that have given rise to our current predicament – ever rising resistance and fewer effective antibiotics. My hope is that listeners will go on to ask ‘what can I do to be part of the solution?’.”


Best-known as the author of the Wire in the Blood series, Val McDermid is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and Chair of the Wellcome Book Prize.

Wellcome and Radio 4 Experimental Stories for Radio is an annual two-day workshop at which radio writers and producers work with researchers to develop dramas. Past themes include consciousness and drug-resistant infection.


The first episode of Resistance will be on Radio 4 at 14:15 on March 3 and available on line soon after.


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