ERIC Pringle originally wrote Meeting Bea for radio.

The play was first broadcast across the nation's airwaves on BBC Radio Four in 1993.

His stage adaptation received its world premiere the same year at the Redgrave Theatre, Farnham, Surrey, although the title was changed to The Secret of Beatrix Potter.

From Friday (September 16) until Sunday, October 9, the highly thought of radio and theatre playwright's Meeting Bea plays a central role in this year's Bowness Theatre Festival.

Put on to celebrate the birth of Beatrix Potter some 150 years ago, the Old Laundry Theatre production stars two recognisable faces of stage and screen - Veronica Roberts, who plays Beatrix, and Patrick Bridgman in the role of William Heelis.

Directed by Peter James, the play tells of Beatrix as Mrs William Heelis, a successful Lake District farmer. Her children’s books have been left far behind in a past which she never wants to revisit. One day her life is turned upside down by the arrival of a girl from Lancashire who is seeking a different life and an American publisher who just won’t take ‘no’ for an answer!

Eric - who lived in Kendal for almost 30 years before moving to Ledbury in 1999 - says he's especially thrilled to have his play produced at the Old Laundry Theatre, which is part of the famous World of Beatrix Potter attraction, during the anniversary celebrations.

He explains that as a child he was immersed in Beatrix Potter’s "little books for little hands." He adds: "I grew up with Peter Rabbit, Pigling Bland, Squirrel Nutkin, Tabitha Twitchet, Jemima Puddle-Duck and company firmly lodged in my imagination.

"And the magical landscape of those books, that hilly countryside populated by animals who in a unique way talk and behave like people and yet contrive to remain real animals, has never left me.

"So I suppose that when I moved to the Lake District myself - prompted in some convoluted way by those books, who knows? - it was inevitable that I should seek out the tiny village of Sawrey where Beatrix lived, and see for myself the scenes she had immortalised.

"I was surprised to find that many of them, especially her farm at Hill Top, were still clearly recognisable. I was astonished at the care and detail and realism that had gone into her paintings. But I was really startled when I met a lady who had been the daughter of one of her tenant farmers, had known Beatrix Potter as a child - and gone in terror of her as an awesome tyrant who went about looking like a tramp.

"I met others with similar memories of a London ‘offcomer’ who imposed an iron will on Sawrey and on vast areas of the Lake District - and others who revered her as a courageous and tireless preserver of its beautiful landscape."

Eric was born and educated in Morpeth, Northumberland. He then took an honours degree in English at Nottingham University.

His career took him south to Gloucester and Bristol, where his first television play The Leech Creation was produced by HTV (West). More TV plays followed together with episodes of Pretenders, Yorkshire TV's Kate and BBC2’s The Carnforth Practice.

A love of mountains lured Eric and his family back to the Lake District, where he wrote a Doctor Who episode The Awakening, diversified into industrial journalism and radio drama and gave up commerce to concentrate on writing. To date he has written more than 40 plays for radio and television.

His Big George series of books for children was also a winner; simple and as ingenious as they come.

In 2001 Eric landed the radio equivalent of an Oscar, a Gold Sony Award for his dramatised documentary, Hymnus Paradisi, a radio piece of diary extracts, recordings, letters and drama based on composer Herbert Howells' choral tribute to his young son Michael, who died when he was nine.

His radio plays are frequently repeated on Radio Four Extra, a particular favourite being Paupers and Pigkilllers, starring Ronald Pickup.

As well as Meeting Bea, the former Kendal Provincial Insurance worker has written several radio plays with a Lake District backdrop, including The Voyage of the Swallow (how Arthur Ransome came to write Swallows and Amazons) and also a dramatisation of Hugh Walpole’s classic Rogue Herries saga.

However, Beatrix Potter proved to be one of the most captivating individuals for him as a writer.

"The more I learned about ‘this genteel children's author’ as a person, the more complex she became. Famous after a horribly isolated childhood, sought out in her secluded corner by readers from all over the world yet intensely private and aggressively shy, she had enough ‘secret’ sides to her character to make her seem like several different people rolled into one.

"Eventually this fascinating woman took centre stage in my mind, just as she had done in Sawrey. It wasn’t long before she was demanding centre stage in a play."

Performances are 7.30pm with some 2.30pm and 4.30pm matinees.

Box office 08445-040604.