Lotte Jeffs and Stu Oakley host the UK’s first LGBTQ+ parenting podcast, where they talk to other queer parents about their lives and celebrate their family experiences. (Jeffs is a parent via donor conception, Oakley via adoption.) Informative and upbeat, sweet and welcoming, the show tells the unvarnished truth and is open enough to help straight allies out with their embarrassing questions: “You see someone dancing around it a bit and you think, I can help them out here,” says Oakley.
Award-winning journalist Amy Westervelt delivers a one-woman essay, with interview clips, on various aspects of today’s climate emergency. Though Drilled is billed as a true crime show about the climate crisis, it isn’t, quite: we often know whodunnit from the start, but it’s how big firms put profit over sustainability that Westervelt gets into. Now on season six, Drilled tells the stories we need to know. NB If you like this, you could also try Inherited, which shares the experiences of young climate crisis fighters.
A creepy, inventive gothic drama that has already been downloaded more than 100,000 times, The Silt Verses immerses you into a slippery world where some worship the Trawler Man and others, well, don’t. Carpenter (Irish) and Faulkner (American) are on a pilgrimage of sorts, but they get on each other’s nerves and Carpenter’s faith is being tested… Written by Jon Ware and produced by Muna Hussen, this is truly epic horror. Plus, the voicework is brilliant and there’s some exceptional fan art on Tumblr.
Maeve McClenaghan talks to investigative journalists about how they pulled in their stories. Far from the flashy grandstanding of most true crime shows, The Tip Off reveals that many investigative journalists are women and a lot of them are painstakingly good at tracking down sources via LinkedIn. It’s excellent on how stories reach our newspaper pages. Did you know that every police force has a press officer? And that some of their press releases have a distinct racial bias? The Tip Off makes you reassess everyday journalism.
Straightforward long-form interview show where journalist Tom Latchem talks to old DJs about their mad 90s times. Some big names here: Fabio and Grooverider, Slipmatt, Altern 8’s Mark Archer. Plus some great stories, including that of rave DJ Flux, who led a double life as a drug trafficker. One for the cultural historian; there’s lots of detail and British Library Sounds has asked to keep the archive. Latchem recently had to stop making this podcast owing to lack of funding, which seems a shame.
Standup comedian Kevin Day and University of Liverpool football finance lecturer Kieran Maguire approach the nation’s sporting obsession through its seemingly never-ending money: a brilliant technique to reveal the truth behind the headlines. Sponsorship, TV rights, crowdfunding, Mike Ashley and, of course, the European Super League are all explained. If you find this too much like “general interest”, you could try Scouted Football, which looks at football through its young players (under 23). Full-on soccer nerdery.
Vietnamese-American standup comedian Ivy Le would like to learn how to be less indoorsy and this series sees her try. Whether visiting a camping shop and getting stuck in a sleeping bag or tramping by rivers while imagining death, Le is never less than hilarious. Plus, she manages to sneak in political points around the inaccessibility of the North American countryside to people of colour without you really noticing. A nature show presented by the most reluctant yet charismatic host ever.
Katy Lee, a journalist based in Paris, and opera singer Dominic Kraemer, who lives in Amsterdam, are old university friends. Their lively weekly show looks into the politics and culture of Europe, without getting too broad or dry. (Kraemer on the Euros: “You could say they’re a healthy outlet for pent-up nationalism – I think Eurovision is a healthier outlet.”) Exemplary production and the hosts’ excellent sense of humour keep things ticking over and there’s at least one new interesting European revelation every episode.
Generation Z presenters and climate justice activists Mikaela Loach and Jo Becker try to understand the contemporary world, pushing back against its grimmer aspects. They look at racism, the monarchy, perfectionism, a work-all-the-time attitude and much more about everyday life, then break down why it exists in the way it does and what we can do about it. The well-spoken Loach and Becker are more radical than you might expect and this show never fails to make you think.
A monthly audio drama that tells the tale of the Midnight Burger bar, an ordinary American diner that happens to be on the run from the universe, which is trying to kill it. Luckily, the Midnight Burger can travel through space and time. (Imagine Doctor Who, but instead of a Tardis, there’s a burger bar.) Funny and silly, with enjoyable characters, including an old-timey Christian radio station, this show makes up for its lack of sound effects with its joie de vivre and daftness.
A longstanding experimental audio fiction podcast from the clever, engaging writer Ross Sutherland, Imaginary Advice packs more ideas in each episode than most shows manage in a series. Sutherland plays with form (“Every episode could be a pilot for doing a different type of show,” he has said) and, during lockdown, came up with The Golden House, a six-episode interactive puzzle miniseries, where each episode contains clues to unlock across the internet… Currently on hiatus, but there are more than 80 episodes to binge.
Photographer Lou Mensah is on to her fourth series of Shade, where she invites activists and creative people to have conversations about anti-racism. Her most recent series uses photographs that came out of the 2020 resurgence of the BLM movement, such as a shot of Bristol protesters toppling the statue of Edward Colston and the BLM-themed edition of British Vogue, and the discussions are moving and relevant. Black artists like her, she’s said, have to “walk a fine line between telling your truth and having your livelihood taken away”.
A big lockdown hit, You’re Wrong About takes bad reputations and has a closer look. Hosted by reporter Michael Hobbes and author Sarah Marshall, who have a nice rapport, each week one tries to persuade the other that our long-held prejudices about people such as Courtney Love, Yoko Ono or Marie Antoinette are flatly wrong. They’ve also expanded the idea to include sex offenders, human trafficking and gangs and have examined the OJ Simpson case in detail. Occasionally a little too in-depth, but addictive, none the less.
A follow-on from his great series The Town That Didn’t Stare (about East Grinstead), Nick Hilton is now having a crack at another town, the ever-so-nice Cheltenham. His dramatic setup is high-pitched – imagine you’re listening to a documentary about war-torn Berlin – and his production skills have much improved. Hilton’s investigative dedication and wry humour (plus the mad music) make these series, about the underlying peculiarity of England’s smaller, posher towns, utterly gripping. As many probably suspected, these genteel places are actually MAD.
The witty Irish writer Caroline O’Donoghue discusses chick-lit, from Marian Keyes to Jackie Collins. O’Donoghue can speak too quickly and the shows are loooong, but her rapport with her interviewees is lovely and their mutual desire to reclaim women-centred books is great to hear. Her recent nine-part miniseries, with Dolly Alderton, dissects every series of Sex and the City, as well as the films.
University pals journalist Victoria Sanusi and marketer Jas Brathwaite host a lively, engaging weekly chat about life, love, celebrity, mental health and, yes, Love Island. Their non-football analysis of the England loss in the Euros was thoroughly cheering (imagining an England team without the black players; pointing out the white privilege of those who post racist abuse: “You think you can go on the internet, with your job in your bio and racially abuse someone, with no consequences!”). Guaranteed giggles.
Most political daily shows are associated with an established news source (usually a newspaper). The Bunker Daily , which actually comes out four times a week, is its own thing, a spin-off from the weekly, longer, defiantly UK politics-based The Bunker. The daily version is more capricious, with shorter, single issue episodes about India, fashion, nightclubs, crude oil, Ed Miliband’s reinvention, even the power of typeface fonts – often with a political twist. Intelligent presenters bring out surprising and entertaining facts from the issues.
If you fancy some famous actors – and other creatives – being interesting about their work and themselves, rather than just plugging their latest project, try Line of Duty’s Craig Parkinson’s interview show. With more than 150 episodes to choose from, you’re bound to find someone you like – Jodie Comer, Daniel Mays, Paul Popplewell – and Parkinson is an excellent interviewer, knowing when to ask questions, when to shut up and when to offer biscuits. His episode with Danny, an unidentified actor who quit, shows the other side of being a performer for hire.
Katie Puckrik and Tom Fordyce work their way through Billy Joel’s 1989 hit We Didn’t Start the Fire. Which seems an odd thing to do, until you realise that the lyrics provide a potted modern history lesson, incorporating Korea, the H-bomb, Nixon, Marilyn Monroe, Liberace… Each episode takes one subject and discusses it with an expert. Puckrik and Fordyce are funny, but also excellent interviewers and this show, which incorporates war, philosophy, celebrity and political machinations, is far better than you would ever imagine.
A musical drama that actually works, this tells the tale of Peregrine, whose brother, Jacob, dies in the local forest. She hooks up with Howl, a reclusive survivalist and, well, let’s just say that the story goes weird. Unlike anything you’ve ever heard, this show boasts a fantastically talented cast, excellent writing and top level audio design, and was – unbelievably – made during lockdown. Like an existential Disney film, but made for audio. I am not a fan of musicals, but somehow this ambitious drama transcends.