The week in audio: Allen Stanford: The Man Who Bought Cricket; Poison; And Away…; Athletico Mince

Take your pick from an amusing spin on how Allen Stanford conned cricket, Jacob Zuma’s fear of being poisoned, and a doubly delightful Bob Mortimer

Allen Stanford: The Man Who Bought Cricket | BBC Sounds
Poison (BBC Radio 4) | BBC Sounds
And Away… | Audible
Athletico Mince | play.acast.com

In 2008 a black helicopter landed on Lord’s cricket ground, an area of grass usually referred to as “hallowed turf”. Out of it stepped Allen Stanford, a big, brash American. To say this was unusual is an understatement. It wasn’t just the helicopter, but also that someone who wasn’t a member of Lord’s was permitted to put a toe upon the holy green stuff. “Trying to get into Lord’s is difficult enough,” remembers Nasser Hussain, former England captain. “As captain, I couldn’t walk through the Long Room to take a look at the pitch.”

No such restrictions for Stanford. After being warmly greeted by the bigwigs of the England and Wales Cricket Board, he made his way inside the building to a large Perspex box. There, the assembled media took his photograph, as he grinned alongside Ian Botham, Viv Richards and the ECB chaps. The box was front and centre, because inside the box, in neat piles of $50 bills, was $20m.

The money wasn’t (just) a gimmick. It was a prize. Stanford was funding a one-off cricket match in the Caribbean between England and his own handpicked West Indian team, the Stanford Superstars. The winning team would take the entire contents of the box. “And if you lose?” asked a reporter. “Nothing, absolutely nothing,” said Stanford. Unbelievably, the ECB was up for this. “We were just furious,” recalls Jonathan Agnew, the BBC’s cricketing correspondent. “It’s not cricket, it’s everything that cricket isn’t.”

Allen Stanford: The Man Who Bought Cricket is the second, and much better, series from Radio 5 live’s podcast strand Sport’s Strangest Crimes. The first series, you may recall, was about the kidnapping of the racehorse Shergar. That series was narrated by Vanilla Ice. This time round our host is more … expected. Greg James, Radio 1 breakfast show host, is well known as a massive cricket fan, and co-hosts a popular podcast on the subject, Tailenders. And here he is clearly having great fun. It’s enjoyable stuff.

Despite its sporting title, we could file this podcast into a familiar schaden-fraud true crime slot, alongside other great shows such as The Dropout and WeCrashed. They all go like this: small-town blagger with ginormous ego morphs into massive bullshitter who parlays their way into a lot of money. Then it all goes wrong. That’s the “fraud” bit. The “schaden” part is not only provided by the central character being brought down, but also by us laughing at all the important people willing to link their money and reputations to such an obvious charlatan. Here, the enjoyment is provided by leading members of the England and Wales Cricket Board. You may have guessed (or remembered) that the link-up doesn’t end well.

James is an excellent host, neatly manoeuvring between cricket acronyms, FBI investigations and general silliness. His script sometimes over-explains – did we really need a deconstruction of ye olde “So what attracted you to billionaire Allen Stanford?” joke? – and I would have been happier with slightly sharper editing and a shorter series. But this is immensely entertaining stuff, enlivened by James’s warm interviewing and presentation.

Jacob Zuma at the swearing in of his new cabinet in 2009.
President Jacob Zuma in 2009. Photograph: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters

Another man of merde de taureau is, sadly, the former president of South Africa Jacob Zuma. In Poison, a short series in Radio 4’s after-lunch 15-minute slot, Andrew Harding unpicks Zuma’s strange obsession with being poisoned. This, too, is a very interesting story, but had the opposite problem to the Allen Stanford tale: there were occasions where we needed more context and explanation. Just a date, or a short summary of Zuma’s rise to power, or what he was being prosecuted for. Perhaps the 15-minute slots weren’t the right format for this fascinating tale. It might have benefited from a little longer to breathe.

A slight detour: I spent a bit of time in bed last week, and I can recommend, both for this situation and for most others in life, the audiobook of Bob Mortimer’s touching, funny autobiography And Away… Mortimer, who reads it himself, has an uneven delivery, sometimes swallowing his words, but when he steps into silly character he’s absolutely hilarious. And for those who might protest that this isn’t a podcast or a radio programme (it is audio, of course), then may I push you towards Mortimer’s longstanding podcast with Andy Dawson, Athletico Mince? I hadn’t listened to it for a while, but it’s as madly daft and laugh-out-loud as ever, with the pair telling made-up stories about “Mr” Sting being tragic about his lute, Jeremy Corbyn being mean about a runner’s medal and loads more. If you liked the odder characters in Vic Reeves Big Night Out, then this one’s for you.

Bob Mortimer and Andy Dawson.
‘Madly daft and laugh-out-loud’: Bob Mortimer and Andy Dawson. Photograph: PR HANDOUT

Contributor

Miranda Sawyer

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
The week in audio: The Exploding Library; Famous Firsts; Ry-Union; Bed of Lies
Flann O’Brien takes centre stage, while the latest round of celebrity ‘interviews’ are in need of a tough producer

Miranda Sawyer

27, Nov, 2021 @5:00 PM

Article image
This week in audio: Fat Leonard; Harsh Reality: The Story of Miriam Rivera; Afterwords: Stuart Hall
The man at the centre of a vast US navy scandal confesses all; the human cost of reality TV; and in praise of the superstar intellectual

Miranda Sawyer

04, Dec, 2021 @5:00 PM

Article image
The week in audio: No Time to Die; The Music of James Bond; The Sandman: Act 2; Lights Out
In advance of the release of the new James Bond film, the 007 podcasts rush in. Plus an excellent Radio 4 series that’s crying out to be a podcast

Miranda Sawyer

25, Sep, 2021 @4:00 PM

Article image
The week in radio and podcasts: Football Daily; Giant; Athletico Mince
There’s a football show for everyone – from the BBC’s excellent Women’s World Cup coverage to the surreal chatter of Bob Mortimer

Miranda Sawyer

23, Jun, 2019 @6:00 AM

Article image
The week in audio: Rethink; 5 Live Breakfast - review
The post-Covid world was addressed in a fascinating BBC series

Miranda Sawyer

27, Jun, 2020 @4:00 PM

Article image
The week in audio: the best of Mental Health Awareness Week
Stations from Radio X to Jazz FM, and podcast hosts from musicians to neuroscientists delved deep into the vagaries of the human brain

Miranda Sawyer

15, May, 2021 @4:00 PM

Article image
The week in audio: Who Killed Emma?; Life Changing – review
A rare true crime story that gives time to the victim; and inspirational tales with Jane Garvey

Miranda Sawyer

10, Apr, 2021 @4:00 PM

Article image
The week in audio: Greg James’s Summer Breakout; Manatomy
James finds himself locked up again - this time in a hot campervan - in Radio 1’s latest stunt project. Plus, a podcast that gets men to open up

Miranda Sawyer

24, Jul, 2021 @4:00 PM

Article image
The week in audio: Call Keir; Shade Podcast review – Starmer tells it straight
The Labour leader actually answered listeners’ questions on his LBC phone-in

Miranda Sawyer

13, Jun, 2020 @4:00 PM

Article image
The week in audio: You Don't Know Me; The Missing – review
Gen Z-ers talk candidly about modern pressures. And a valuable search for missing people

Miranda Sawyer

16, Jan, 2021 @5:00 PM