The week in radio and podcasts: Multi Story; Desert Island Discs; You’re Dead to Me

Local hidden histories supplied an enjoyable antidote to our all-consuming woes – plus Thom Yorke giggling

Multi Story | BBC podcasts

Desert Island Discs (Radio 4) | BBC Sounds

You’re Dead To Me | BBC Sounds

In this time of national, international and global crisis, it can be comforting to stay local. To have a laugh with our neighbours, to recall daft tales about our families, to celebrate the small joys of our small lives. It can also help to find stories that cheer us up, rather than wear us down.

Multi Story, which won gold in the radio podcast category at this year’s British podcast awards, does all of these things. Each week, presenter/producer Becca Bryers brings us three or four stories from local BBC radio programmes, reworked and connected to each other by Bryers with music and sound effects and clever scripts. The show has something in common with Short Cuts with Josie Long, or Grace Dent’s The Untold, except that Bryers shapes the show, as well as presents it – and she does so with beautiful care.

This week Radio 4 broadcast the first episode of the third series, and Bryers took herself back home to Loughborough and the area around it. She uncovered an interesting story herself – of Beaumanor Hall, which was used as part of an intelligence operation in the second world war. Some smaller buildings were built in its gardens, and a steady stream of clever women worked there. It was their job to intercept morse code messages from the enemy, and swiftly write down what they said. The resulting papers were taken by motorbike to Bletchley Park to be decoded. Without Beaumanor, everyone at Bletchley would have been twiddling their thumbs.

Bryers used this story to introduce three tales from BBC Radios Wiltshire, Cambridgeshire and Solent, all of which were loosely based around the idea of a hidden history. We met Audrey, who discovered, after his death, that her husband, Glynn, was not quite what he seemed; Brian, who was brought up on a now-gone wildlife park (“when the baboon came after me, I just ran away and locked myself in the toilet”); and Keith, who worked on the Apollo 11 mission (I almost switched off from Keith, because I’m so sick of the moon landings, but he was so charming, I stayed). Each story was teased out carefully by local reporters. It can be hard to interview non-professionals, who have nothing to “sell”, but each interview was done with care. These are lovely stories, well told. Every one could be a film.

Thom Yorke and Lauren Laverne on Desert Island Discs.
Thom Yorke and Lauren Laverne in the Desert Island Discs studio. Photograph: BBC Radio 4 and Amanda Benson

More well-told stories this week from Radiohead singer/guitarist Thom Yorke on Desert Island Discs. As music fans know, Yorke can be a socially tense sort of chap, but Lauren Laverne got the absolute best out of him. Not only was Yorke relaxed and confiding, he was fun. He giggled! A lot! He even laughed when Laverne brought up a teacher’s description of him as “forlorn and a little isolated”. And he was beautifully articulate about music. Music, said Yorke, “was the only thing I could use to resolve the schisms of life. I could not do without it… It’s a sacred thing to me because I believe that human beings need it.”

He acknowledged his trickier side – “I’m an extremely angry person… I put my hands on the steering wheel and I white-knuckled until the end of OK Computer” – and he talked movingly about the death of his children’s mother. Laverne has come in for a bit of “not-as-good-as-Kirsty” flak recently, but music is her area of expertise and no other DID presenter could have got such a great interview out of the complicated Yorke.

Just time for a bingeable new podcast, You’re Dead to Me, from historian and Twitter funster Greg Jenner. It’s rare that a podcast can appeal to both parents and children, but this one manages it, because Jenner has a light and upbeat persona, and because of the topics chosen. Boudicca, Blackbeard, Harriet Tubman, the Spartans, the history of football, the witch craze and LGBTQ history are on the menu, and Jenner explores them all with a panel of experts and funny people. There are silly musical “stings”, Jenner’s script is tight and witty and everyone knows their stuff. In short, this is In Our Time meets Horrible Histories. What’s not to like?

Three new takes on true crime

This new Audible podcast looks at people who collect memorabilia from murderers and serial killers. Producers Alice Fiennes and Poppy Damon talk to these people and wonder, you know, why. We meet Charles Manson fans; also those of Dennis Nilsen, the Moors murderers… all the greats. More interesting than you’d think.

The Thing About Pam
Dateline NBC is a US TV show devoted to true crime. The Thing About Pam is a spin-off podcast concerning what seems like a regular Dateline story, but there’s a meta-twist: this murder involves someone claiming to be a producer on the show… Brilliantly hosted by Dateline presenter Keith Morrison.

Sports Criminals
Hmm. Sports Criminals’ first two episodes cover Oscar Pistorius; you can bet OJ will feature in the future. Carter Roy and Tim Johnson present, and it’s all very American cheesy: terrible synth music and a script of meaningless cliches: “Our connection to athletes is built on a foundation of emotion” etc.


Miranda Sawyer

The GuardianTramp

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