The Incomparable, which is one of the longest-standing podcasts in my feed, ran an episode recently in which the contributors drafted their favourite podcasts in a number of different categories. And it was one of those episodes that made me wonder wistfully what I would choose, if I was taking part.
(A draft, by the way, is an American name for that process all UK schoolchildren will be familiar with: taking turns to pick sides.)
There were five categories: comedy, narrative, fiction, entertainment, and wildcard. Definitions were deliberately kept loose, so it’s easy to sneak something in.
A difficult category for me to start with, because I generally grow tired of listening to comedians making themselves laugh. And certain podcast hosts definitely aren’t as funny as they think they are. So I’m going to pick the BBC’s Fortunately, which does get categorised as a comedy podcast. Especially the special episode in which they talked about death for an hour. Evidence:
And just in case you thought I was joking about death:
In this edition of the podcast, Kathryn Mannix, former palliative care doctor, joins Fi and Jane to discuss death and dying. Kathryn talks about what we might expect in end of life, how to discuss death with others and her experiences of treating people who are dying.
I mean. I know I overuse the word hilarious, but that’s my comedy pick. I’m a big fan of Garvey and Glover, who have two of the best voices on radio. Only the other day I was thinking back to a certain controversy over at BBC Radio Five Live, wherein a certain presenter happened to have run off with another presenter’s boyfriend. The jilted party was Fi Glover. The runner offer was Victoria Derbyshire. And listening to Derbyshire’s po-faced daytime TV tones on the BBC’s Ukrainecast, I’m happy and proud to say that I have always been Team Fi.
This is a tough one. I guess by this the Incomparable were thinking about true crime podcasts and This American Life, 99% Invisible etc., all of which I’ve long grown bored of. But I think a podcast that deserves the crown here, even if it is not my favourite favourite, is Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History. Episodes are all too rare, but they are always brilliant to listen to, well-researched, and as long as they need to be. Which is usually about five hours. Considering that it’s just one guy talking with no co-host, it really is impressive that Carlin brings history to life so vividly. The most recent episode is about 5:40:00 and is on the Atlantic slave trade.
There can only be one winner here, and that is Levar Burton Reads. I listen to quite a lot of fiction, whether vintage radio serials on BBC Sounds, or The Silt Verses (back for Season 2), or the BBC’s quite good contemporary reimagining of the Lovecraft universe. But Levar Burton Reads is streets ahead. He has a wonderful voice, impeccable taste in story selection, he is a Good Egg, and the show is beautifully produced. The episode I’m going to recommend to you is fairly recent, but it was slightly unusual in that the story was the winner of a competition sponsored by the show. To have the prize be Levar Burton reading it aloud: priceless. The story is “The Last Truth” by AnaMaria Curtis. Have some tissues handy.
What, pray, is entertainment? Gladiators killing each other? Game shows? Or just things you enjoy listening to (i.e. all podcasts)? Anyway, I’m going to select one of my (many) Beatles podcasts, but it’s not easy to pick one. So while my real pick for this category is any of my Beatles podcasts, I’m going to randomly select… The Big Beatles Sort Out, which is a show with a ridiculous premise but is fun to listen to because brothers. Of course, they’ve already sorted all the main releases, the songs they gave away, the BBC archive stuff, and now they’re working through the films. Hopefully they’ll think of something more. Beatles solo being the obvious: decade by decade, perhaps. Anyway, I had to pick one, but shout outs to Another Kind of Mind, Beatles Books, I Am the Eggpod, Nothing is Real, One Sweet Dream, Producing the Beatles, and Winter of Discontent. I never miss an episode of any of them.
And so to the wildcard, the one-more-pick, the under the wire item. Well, here’s a proper wildcard. It’s not even a podcast, although it should be. My younger daughter has been putting together a show about all the characters on the Sgt Pepper album cover, which goes out live on University Radio Nottingham on Saturday afternoons (3pm). Sometimes it has been a challenge. Nobody seems to be around at the weekend, sometimes she waits ages to get into the building, and she gets no producer help or technical support, but she does a great job and I couldn’t be prouder.