There has never been a better time for podcasts. Though the format has been around for a couple of decades now, it's only in the last few years that they really hit their stride. You might say that we're living through a golden age of podcasts, if you're the kind of person who needs all their culture categorised into neat eras.
But podcasts themselves seem to live in the wild. You need a David Attenborough to point the way through the undergrowth and stop you wasting time wandering down dead ends. So to that end, this is our pick of the best new podcasts that have arrived in 2020, as well as our highlight from long-running favourites. We've even herded them into neat little categories for you too. Need anything else? Want us to pop your Airpods in for you too? Oh, go on then. We're all friends here.
Black Lives Matter
Anti-racism campaigners, educators, academics and public figures talk about their work and their lives, and how the two influence each other day to day. Recent guests have included Trinidadian artist Richard Mark Rawlins, Shadow Lord Chancellor and Shadow Justice Secretary David Lammy, and Angelina Coronado, who curates The Menagerie Archive on Instagram.
This two-hour special edition of BBC 1Extra's current affairs and culture show hosted by Maurice (Shauny B) and Ashley (DJ Ace) is all about the events of the last week and the two hosts' reflections on being a black man in Britain and raising black sons, as well as featuring listeners' thoughts.
Vox’s excellent Explained digested news strand was a hit on YouTube and Netflix, and it drops new 20-minute podcast episodes every day. Lately, it’s focused on George Floyd, police brutality and civil rights, and its episodes about police unions, the reality of black America’s nightmare, and why Trump’s attempts to blame unrest on Antifa is just plain wrong are essential listening.
About Race with Renni Eddo-Lodge
The author of Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race picked up where her book left off in this 2018 podcast, which follows the last 25 years of the fight for BAME rights, from the false hope of New Labour to now. Simon Woolley, founder of Operation Black Vote, Sisters Uncut and Riz Ahmed are among the key figures interviewed.
The Death of George Floyd: Will anything change?
The Guardian's Today in Focus is another daily news agenda-led podcast which takes a single issue as its focus, and this recent edition features an interview with former federal prosecutor and author of Chokehold: Policing Black Men Paul Butler about the injustice of the current system and how it has to be reformed.
How to Cure Viral Misinformation
If you've been deluged in incredibly dubious WhatsApp chain letters and shared Facebook posts – usually from over-credulous older relatives – you'll know that there's an awful lot of bad science, loud rumour and wild conspiracy theories around. The BBC's Seriously... podcast strand has dug into where one particular post came from, how and why people decide to spread information that isn't true, and how we can all help to stop it happening.
Coronavirus Global Update
This one from the BBC World Service is ideal if you want to keep on top of the major big-picture developments but can't bear being drawn into the rabbit-hole, terror-scrolling through Twitter for hours on end. Every day there's a four-minute episode on the global situation featuring reporting from affected areas and the latest on medical news.
The Coronavirus Podcast
Another BBC one – to be honest, this is exactly the time to hang out with the BBC as much as possible – this time more in-depth and focused on expert interviews, explainers on technical stuff like the idea of herd immunity, and your questions answered. Health secretary Matt Hancock and the government's chief scientific advisor Sir Patrick Vallance have been on already to talk things through.
Today in Focus
Given how quickly everything's moving at the moment, anything more than a 20-minute catch-up can feel out of date almost immediately. The Guardian's daily podcast is an essential primer on the broader implications of this crisis, and its recent episode on how Covid-19 took hold in Italy is thorough and avoids alarmism.
The Town That Didn’t Stare
It feels like we might be hitting critical mass when it comes to guest-led podcasts with their own quirky angle on the basic chat format, but podcasts which dig into the everyday oddities of British towns? Now that’s the good stuff. East Grinstead in West Sussex seems like your average outer-outer London town, but for centuries it’s been a haven for alternative religions: nonconformist Christians, Scientologists, Mormons, Opus Dei and Pagans. Why? Journalist Nick Holton investigates.
Slow Burn: David Duke
The story of KKK member and politician David Duke is never not relevant to America’s conversation on race, but since the death of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and the Black Lives Matter protests, the subject of Slow Burn’s fourth series is almost hauntingly prescient. The idea is to retell historic episodes – Watergate, the Lewinsky affair, the deaths of Biggy and Tupac – without imposing hindsight on the narrative. You're guided through reaction to events as they happened at the time, turning up forgotten pivot points and, in the case of Duke, making clear that his positioning as a champion for resentful ‘forgotten’ whites foreshadowed the current political maelstrom.
History Becomes Her
Each time, host Rachel Thompson chats to a guest who’s making change right now about the women who came before them and still serve as an inspiration. Campaigners like LGBTQ rights advocate Ruth Hunt, journalist Zing Tsjeng and Three Women author Lisa Taddeo are among those to make their picks, from pioneering scientists to pirate queens.
Talking Politics: History of Ideas
Self-improvement's a noble goal. "Weekend plans?" you think to yourself on a Friday night. "Probably do a quick 10k, feed my sourdough starter, then bosh through some Derrida before lunch. Nice." Never quite happens that way though, does it? Obviously reading's brilliant and everything, but this podcast is a far quicker way to expand your mental horizons. David Runciman, head of politics and international studies at Cambridge, plots the genesis of the ideas and movements that still define the way we live today, including Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, Thomas Hobbes' conception of the modern state and Ghandi's endorsement of non-violent resistance and anti-colonialism.
The Walkers Switch
Do you remember when Walkers changed the colours of their packets of salt and vinegar and cheese and onion around? Blue for salt and vinegar and green for cheese and onion’s good enough for Golden Wonder, McCoys, Kettle Chips and the rest of the crisp industry, but not Walkers, oh no. Why did it happen? And why do Walkers deny that it ever happened at all? This deadpan investigation goes all the way down the rabbit hole, and finding that it leads to a forgotten and possibly completely fictitious advert, Nelson Mandela, the Illuminati, and – of course – Gary Lineker.
13 Minutes to the Moon season 2
Last year's in-depth retelling of the Apollo 11 mission – Armstrong, Aldrin, one giant step, etc – was gripping and inspiring, and while you'd be hard-pressed to make a podcast not gripping or inspiring out of the moon landings, it was beautifully done. The second season moves on to the Apollo 13 mission, which blasted off less than a year later, and tells its story with the same mixture of original interviews and archive from key figures, including mission commander Jim Lovell. The drama of an exploding oxygen tank and the desperate race to get all three astronauts back to Earth alive, from 200,000 miles away, is obvious. But the real intrigue comes in the podcast's exploration of the all the other forgotten obstacles and calamities to overcome on the way.
We Need To Talk About The British Empire
We're not particularly good at remembering the less gilded parts of our recent national history and while you might have done a few lessons on slavery at high school, as a nation we’re pretty blasé about Britain’s tendency to stick its oar in where it’s not wanted. Its legacy is very much still with us though: look, for example, at the still-unfolding Windrush deportation scandal. Consider this podcast a sharpener. Over the course of six episodes, journalist and author Afua Hirsch digs into the legacy of empire by talking to British cultural figures whose complicated relationship with colonialism and empire comes through in their art, from poet Benjamin Zephaniah to Dame Diana Rigg, and from Hong Kong to the West African delta.
The Escape Artist
Arthur Cravan isn't in the roll call of Great British Artists, but this podcast tells his life story over ten 15-minute episodes and makes the case for him as a man working more than a century ahead of his time. His surreal, Dada-influenced stunts and pranks anticipated the Situationists of the late Fiftiess and his experiments speak to our troubles with fake news and trolls. His whole life was a kind of living artwork and you can see his influence in Gilbert and George and Andy Warhol among others. He wasn't just an artist though: he dodged conscription in the First World War and became the amateur heavyweight boxing champion of France.
It's the 50th anniversary of the band's poisonous break-up, but this project from the Liverpool Echo digs back into the very early years of the Beatles. Everyone in Liverpool has a Beatles story in their family, whether it's nana seeing them at the Cavern on her lunch hour or your dad's mate's uncle's mate who swears blind he sold George Harrison a Ford Cortina in 1963. This project from the Liverpool Echo tries to record them all before they fall out of living memory – take Helen Anderson, for instance, a contemporary of John Lennon at Liverpool College of Art. She made clothes for Lennon from sketches he gave her, and sat in on his early rehearsals at the college with Paul and George.
Why do we make bad decisions? Is it just a lack of good judgement? Or are our brains hardwired to let us down? Tim Harford's retellings of disasters caused by one catastrophically poor choice suggest it's the latter, but there are lessons about how we live our lives day to day to be learned from them. For instance, the really very, very bad idea of steering a supertanker toward a dangerous reef becomes a parable about not being blinded by the pursuit of a goal, and a story about the time a band of soldiers were gulled into completing a heist digs into how we instinctively trust authority figures. Alan Cumming and Russell Tovey are among the cast for reconstructions.
This is the podcast from The Conversation which, if you're unfamiliar, is where academics bring expertise, new research and big-picture thinking to issues that are in the news and could do with a bit of circumspect analysis from people outside the news cycle. Its latest series focuses on the future of healthcare in the UK, and how much more personalised things could get – you might find yourself being prescribed drugs based on your DNA, or have your diet carefully tweaked to serve your own personal microbiome. It's all cutting edge stuff.
However you feel about the Telegraph's cheerleading for Boris Johnson over the last year or so, it's still full of proper journalists who know what they're doing, and they've produced this explosive account of the saga over Russia's involvement in Donald Trump's election in 2016. Britain was at the centre of some key moments – even the name of the FBI's investigation had a British connection: 'Crossfire Hurricane', from the Rolling Stones song 'Jumpin' Jack Flash' – and this six-part series explores them using first-hand testimony.
We’ve had our share of political wrangling over here over the last 18 months or so, but in America things are only just gearing up for the elections in November. Don’t worry if you’re not certain how the primaries system works or what a caucus is: BBC heavyweights Emily Maitlis and John Sopel are here to make everything clear. It might seem like a long time until polling day, but even before we get to the question of whether Trump will win a second term or who will line up against him for the Democrats, there’s the ongoing palaver over the Iowa caucus to sort out. And there’s something oddly thrilling about hearing Maitlis say “shitshow”.
The Bugle Presents: The Last Post
Andy Zaltzman's long-running satirical current affairs podcast has a new 10-minute spin-off which joins the growing number of shortform daily podcasts which started to pop up in the second half of 2019. This one's hosted by Alice Fraser, but Zaltzman turns up in the first episode to preview all the political shenanigans coming up this year in America, and in the second Nish Kumar drops in for an update on everything that's been going on over on our shores.
No subject is off-limits to Tolly, Milena and Audrey, from relationships to friendship break-ups, and situationships to the ups and downs of everyday life. They’re brutally, unflinchingly honest, and episodes bounce between the three hosts' chatting, featured guests and listeners’ pleas for advice.
Dane Baptiste Questions Everything
How should we appreciate the underappreciated? How do I catch a lucky break? Should I go vegetarian? Tupac or DMX for president? Stand-up Dane Baptiste digs into the really big questions with fellow comedians and notables including Emile Heskey, writer Dean Atta and Man Like Mobeen’s Guz Khan.
Audible’s new series eavesdrops on comedy double-acts and writing partners to hear how they’re coping with being apart during the lockdown. That means updates from famous mates including Hot Fuzz, Shaun of the Dead and Spaced pals Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, Catastrophe’s Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney, Tez Ilyas and Sindhu Vee, Paul Whitehouse and Harry Enfield, Jimmy Carr and Katherine Ryan and the Kurupt FM boys. It’s free too – you just need an Amazon or Audible account.
This is a podcast about the internet in the broadest possible sense. If you're talking about the internet, you're talking about pretty much the entirety of existence, and this is a podcast about the entirety of existence as experienced through the internet. In its latest and, perhaps, greatest episode, hosts PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman help a listener to ID a song he remembers from his youth but can't quite put a name to. What is it? Why can he remember it so well? Why is there absolutely no evidence that it ever existed? Is it, as everyone asks him, by Barenaked Ladies? The lengths that Reply All goes to in working out the mystery are frankly ludicrous, but entirely worthwhile.
Gossipmongers Series 3
A podcast examining ludicrous small town rumours and urban legends feels like such an obvious idea, and yet here we are. Joe Wilkinson, David Earl and Poppy Hillstead read out readers' submissions and decide which they like most. Some are obviously nonsense, like the tale of the baby who was born into a welly, grew into the shape of a welly and sadly died when it was mistaken for an actual welly and killed by a vicar who shoved his foot down its throat. Others are sort of believable, like the man who started getting baptised at as many different churches as possible as a sort of hobby and ended up racking up more than 50 dunkings without actually being a Christian. The third series has just landed.
Drunk Women Solving Crime
A pretty simple set-up for this one: comedians and writers Hannah George, Catie Wilkins and Taylor Glenn try to sort out true crime cases, personal crime stories and listeners' unsolved mysteries while slowly getting more and more wrecked. Guests turn up to add their own cases to the mix too, including Joe Lycett, Rachel Parris, Katie Mulgrew and Katherine Ryan, who was catfished by an 'inflatophiliac' while working at Hooters.
This is a proper blockbuster adaptation of Neil Gaiman's graphic novel. Look how stacked the cast list is: James McAvoy, Riz Ahmed, Michael Sheen, Taron Egerton, Andy Serkis and Miriam Margolyes are all involved, with old Macca in the title role. It's not just a straight radio play either. Audible promises that this one will rewrite what you can do with audio drama, just like The Sandman did with graphic novels.
Omnibus Theatre Online
British theatre is in a parlous state at the minute, but some theatres and theatremakers are finding ways to get their work out there. The first episode of Clapham theatre Omnibus’s new podcast is the first part of ‘Dem Times’, a comedy-drama about the British troublemaker Samuel and his time at a Ghanaian boarding school which had been due to open in April, written by Jacob Roberts-Mensah and Rhys Reed-Johnson.
Phoebe Reads A Mystery
You’ve probably set yourself some pretty optimistic goals for your reading now that you can’t really go outside, but don’t worry if the general vibe of impending doom is knocking your motivation. Audiobooks and podcasts count too. Phoebe Judge has an exceptionally soothing voice, and every day she’s dropping a chapter of a mystery thriller on this podcast. She’s just finished Agatha Christie’s first published novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, which introduced Hercule Poirot, and next up is The Hound of the Baskervilles.
Can’t drop off? This meditative, deeply reassuring podcast will soothe you, even if you’re in a deep rut of agitated nocturnal fretting. Think of these half-hour stories as fairytales for adults, with New Age soundscapes and mindfulness techniques thrown in, which gently draw you into drowsiness. It's like going to a spa, but it's free.
If you've never really been into radio drama, this might be the radio drama for you. The things that might normally wind you up – constant grunting and sighing, characters walking into rooms and describing where they are and why they're there – are conspicuously absent. Then again, so are a lot of the other norms of radio drama. It's been described as a kind of audio Black Mirror, but the first episode, in which a soldier becomes scattered across time and space and begins to change events, is a lot more floaty and cosmic than Charlie Brooker's plot-centric futureshock series. Not exactly The Archers, then.
Berlin-based duo Musa Okwonga and Ryan Hunn talk about football, primarily the Bundesliga, and pretty much everything else besides. As with the best sporting podcasts, it’s not just about the sport. Memory, storytelling and the minutia of the game are as important as working out what species of extraterrestrial Erling Haaland is.
Euro ‘96 Relived
As you might know, ITV is filling the new, cavernous and now constantly expanding gaps in the schedules by rerunning all of the games from Euro ’96. (We’ve picked the best ones here, by the way. You’re welcome.) As you might not know, there’s a companion podcast. It’s a superior example too: interviewees include Tony Adams reflecting on what being Terry Venables’ captain meant to him after his addiction to alcohol became very public knowledge, and a host of key players from across the continent are to come.
Forgotten Stories of Football
If you’re into football, you probably already listen to the Guardian’s all-conquering Football Weekly podcast, but its new companion pod is a different vibe entirely. Rather than anything current affairs-y, Forgotten Stories is basically nicely rendered readings of longform pieces about odd, surprising and underappreciated moments in football’s past. The first is about the football tournament at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, where the spectre of fascism loomed large but farce wasn’t far away. The British team’s pre-Games call-up letters, for instance, advised them: “As there is a month to go before we leave for Berlin, kindly take some exercise.”
Match of the Day: Top 10
In the complete absence of any actual football, the timing of a new podcast drop from the the load-bearing pillar of Saturday evening telly couldn't be much more fortuitous. Rather than doing the same VAR-outrage-by-numbers spiel they have to wheel out every week, this pod sees Gary Lineker, Alan Shearer and Ian Wright bicker amiable over their picks for the best 10 Premier League players in various categories – so far we've had the 10 best captains and 10 best goalscorers, though given the all-time league scorer's around the table that seems a little bit of a conflict of interests – while eating pasta in Lineker's kitchen. It's oddly comforting right now.
Ornstein & Chapman
Depending on exactly how much Mark Chapman you feel you can take in any one week, what with him being omnipresent across BBC radio and TV whenever football – either association or American – is under discussion, this might feel like a step too far. But you'd be missing out on insight from The Athletic's supremely well-connected David Ornstein and exclusive interviews with players and insiders. Look at their recent episode with former Liverpool and Spurs director of football Damien Comolli, and his retelling of the sorry Luis Suarez-Patrice Evra racism debacle and the day Liverpool sold Fernando Torres and bought both Suarez and Andy Carroll.
The Greatest Game
Pretty simple, this one: Jamie Carragher sits down to chat about the best game of football each guest has seen live or played in. That's about it, aside from a fairly standard bit where they pick a five-a-side team of ex-teammates or favourite players. What's interesting is the admirably insane seesawing in the quality of the guests. On the one hand: Thierry Henry, Steph Houghton, Jordan Henderson, Craig Bellamy. On the other: Niall Horan, Line of Duty's Martin Compston, Paddy McGuinness. The latest guest is firmly in the first camp, though. Steven Gerrard talks his good buddy Carra through his own favourite game – and it's not Istanbul 2005.
Back in the 1970s and 80s, speedway motorbike racing was big. In the UK, it was a fixture of Saturday afternoon TV at a time when live football was far rarer, and live racing filled Wembley Stadium. There used to be 11 clubs in London alone, but now they're all gone. So what happened? And could speedway ever recapture the place it once had in the nation's sporting heart?
The Official Manchester United Podcast
Urgh. United. Insufferable when they were successful, unbearable when the edifice started crumbling and their fans moaned about finishing fifth, and somehow still awful now they're a mid-table irrelevance with more official noodle partners than functional central midfielders. We'll say this for them though: decent podcast. This being the official podcast, they can rope in absolutely stellar guests, from Paul Scholes and King Eric Cantona to Dimitar Berbatov, whose tale of being kidnapped while playing for CSKA Sofia needs to be heard to be believed.
The Football Book Club
This homebrewed podcast from comedy writers James Bugg, Jack Bernhardt, Amy Lawson and James Boughen mines the bathos and strangeness of life stories by people who got to live the dream, and got half a dozen fairly workaday anecdotes out of it. Its first episode tackles journeyman striker Darren Huckerby's Hucks: Through Adversity to Great Heights, a tome which includes reminiscences of the young Hucks' condemned digs in Lincoln which nearly killed his teammate Matt Carbon – they thought he liked a kip by the heater, but it turned out he was being repeatedly poisoned with carbon monoxide – and the weird world of his friend Lee Croft, who was convinced that you could see monkeys in the treetops of Wigan "if you looked hard enough" and that he was once attacked by a wasp the size of a man's fist. If you miss The Reducer, this is one for you.
Heist With Michael Caine
It might sound a little bit Youth Hostelling with Chris Eubank, but this is a superior six-part series in which the Muppets Christmas Carol star retells the most audacious and risky heists from around the world. They include the diamond snatched from an impregnable vault in Antwerp, a rare book taken from a university by a desperate student, and a $150 million job landed without ever stepping inside the bank itself.
Available from 7 July
This is of a piece with another Audible Original, Marc Fenell’s It Burns, which followed chilli-eating ultras who prove their manhood by eating gut-ulceratingly hot chillis. Nut Jobs, though, is about the disappearance of $10 million of nuts – almonds, pistachios, cashews, peanuts, pecans – in a heist that spirited away 20 trucks of nuts over six months. Where did they go? And why would anyone want to steal nuts? The answer touches on big agriculture, the wellness movement, health, wealth, and immigration in America.
El Impenetrable: Death in the Forest
This murder mystery is a particularly murky, weird, hallucinatory one. It's set in the deepest thickets of the Argentinian forests, where the country's biggest landowner was tortured to death with his sister-in-law. The authorities believe that the killer was trying to diddle him out of his land, but what's the real story behind the murderer that police called The Man With A Thousand Faces?
My Death Row Pen Pal
Rebekah Beere is 29, she’s from Manchester, and she writes letters to a prisoner waiting to die. This three-part series follows Rebekah’s epistolary friendship with convicted murderer Charles Thompson, who’s been on Death Row for 22 years, 4,000 miles away from Manchester. The main thread is the morality of befriending a man convicted of killing another person: is Rebekah naïve? Can a murderer be redeemed? And will they ever meet each other face to face?
The Dating Game Killer
That might sound like incredibly lurid title, but it’s just the bare facts. Rodney Alcala won a date on the American TV show The Dating Game in 1978, when he was in the middle of a murder spree that stretched from New York to Los Angeles. He managed to evade and confuse psychiatrists and police as he killed again and again. It's from the makers of Dr Death and Dirty John, so it's got good pedigree, but be warned: this is a properly grim one.
What Happened To Annie?
You might have first got into Sky News's award-winning podcast strand Storycast with its excellent retelling of a 1983 heist, The Hunt for the Brink's-Mat Gold, but its newest true crime podcast is rather darker. What Happened To Annie? tries to get to the bottom of the death of 30-year-old Annie Börjesson, who was found dead on Prestwick beach in Ayrshire, Scotland, in 2005. Was it suicide? Or was it something to do with the CIA? Annie's family go in search of the truth.
You've probably heard the story of Anna Delvey, the wealthy German heiress who ran up tens of thousands of dollars of debt at New York hotels and flew in a private jet, but was actually Russian-born Anna Sorokin, most recently an intern at a fashion magazine. You might even have read the Vanity Fair piece about it all, written by one of those taken in by Sorokin's charade. This BBC drama-doc takes a slightly different tack, mixing straight reporting with fictionalised scenes. The drama segments occasionally tip into radio drama hamminess but do summon up the surreality of Sorokin's invented life story and the factual segments adroitly pull together bits and pieces from the vast amount of reportage the story drew across the world. It's almost too perfect to learn that Sorokin means 'magpie' in Russian.
No Country For Young Women
Sadia Azmat and Monty Onanuga talk about identity, gender, race, love, sex, and the many, many ways to be a British woman there are in 2020, along with guests who’ve included Rose McGowan, Little Mix’s Jade Thirlwall comedian Phil Wang, and all-round icon Ainsley Harriott.
From the Oasthouse: The Alan Partridge Podcast
Having conquered sports reporting, celeb autobiographies, chat shows, radio chat shows, digital radio chat shows and triumphantly returned to TV, Alan Partridge is at the top of his very, very large game. Incredibly, though, he’s not had his own podcast until now. This 18-part Audible series comes direct from Alan’s oasthouse (a ye olde Norfolke room for drying out hops, which Alan uses as a shed) and, so the promo says, “reveals a side to Partridge that’s never been seen or heard before,” and “without the BBC or North Norwich Digital’s editorial management breathing down his neck”.
“If David Dimbleby has one, then of course I needed to make one,” Partridge has said. “All national treasures have a podcast. With this series, I want to give my fans an intimate view of who I really am. You may think you know me, but trust me, you have no idea what goes on behind closed doors at my podcast innovation studio. Besides, I’m bored of Ofcom and its regulations and so it’s time for the UK to hear what a real award-winning podcast is like. Tune in or you’re going to be missing out on the best thing you’ll hear since I was last on radio.”
Alan Partridge: From the Oasthouse will be released on 3 September.
Pride & Joy
Parenting podcasts can blur into one long complaint about being very tired, but this one’s a little different. It’s about how queer people from across the LGBTQIA community approach raising children, from two trans men who both gave birth to their own kids to the ins and outs of finding a surrogate parent in an unregulated and murky not-quite-industry, and the myriad co-parenting networks that make a nonsense of the nuclear family.
This Pride month, dig into the back catalogue of this collection of uplifting, rousing personal manifestos, stories and reminiscences from a vast range of voices. Drag queens and kings, directors, stand-ups, DJs, filmmakers and more LGBTQIA+ people reflect joyfully and tenderly on queerness in 10-minute episodes. Production company Broccoli Content’s weekly news précis Your Broccoli Weekly is snappy too.
A Life Less Ordinary with Sophie Elwes
In 2011, Sophie Elwes became a wheelchair user at the age of 22 after breaking her back. Her new podcast features conversations with other people who've had to come to terms with and overcome huge events in their lives, including 16-time Paralympic medallist Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, mental health campaigner Ben West, who lost his brother to suicide in 2018, and actor Ashley Belal Chin, who found peace and happiness after converting to Islam in 2002.
The Dope Black Podcast
Pulling together podcasts under the Dope Black Dads, Dope Black Mums and Dope Sports Podcast banners, as well as extra contributions from the UK, America and across Africa, this is all about giving black parents the space to talk about what matters to them, from grief and how lockdown can shake your mental health to exactly why it’s so hard to remember birthdays.
Stories That Stick
The team behind the Blacticulate podcast – a portmanteau of ‘black’, ‘action’ and ‘articulate’ – put together this one, on which BAME media makers and entrepreneurs talk about how they made their way in their industry, from DJ and radio producer Gemma Cairney to BBC and This American Life reporter Reya El-Salahi.
The Poet Laureate Has Gone To His Shed
Even before lockdown, Simon Armitage was squirrelling himself away from the world in his shed looking over the Yorkshire Pennines. He was making this podcast, and with the presence of Huddersfield’s finest your standard one-to-one interview format becomes something a bit more offbeat and ruminative. There’s eclectic line-up of guests – actor Maxine Peake, sculptor Anthony Gormley and fellow writer Jackie Kay have all featured so far – and a more literary, nature-focused vibe than most podcasts.
What We Coulda Been
Notables from all over the cultural map talk about the things that they nearly went into before they found the things they became known for. Host Chelcee Grimes chose songwriting over playing for Liverpool, which has panned out well so far, and guests including Lucy Bronze, Dua Lipa and Rio Ferdinand will be on to talk about their own Sliding Doors moments.
For Fast's Sake
A second series of the celebratory, revelatory, myth-busting Ramadan podcast is here, and hosts Yasser, Zayna and Shehzaad have returned to document the inherent weirdness of trying to observe the holiest month of the year while in lockdown. The easy friendship between the three of them is the heart of it, as are the regular diversions into subjects like trying to date right now and the time Zayna's grandma went viral. New episodes come on Mondays and Wednesdays.
Grounded with Louis Theroux
Despite having turned up on Adam Buxton's podcast quite a few times – seek out the one where Louis gets tanked up on energy drinks and pulls out his surprisingly good falsetto to sing Baccarat's 'Yes Sir, I Can Boogie' – he's not hosted his own until now. He's taking advantage of the lockdown to tap up interviewees he's been after for a while, including Jon Ronson, Sir Lenny Henry, Boy George and Miriam Margolyes.
Bitch Bitch Bitch
Between being the new face of the Great British Bake Off and taking his reworked Baked Potato song toward the top of the download charts, Matt Lucas is on a bit of a roll at the moment. He’s just launched a new podcast too, in which he chats to people with interesting jobs and gets them to moan about the worst aspects of them. Cabin crew, sports commentators and West End actors are among the moaners.
The Boring Talks
Despite the name, this anthology series of little lectures is anything but tedious. Sure, on the face of it there's little to explore in, say, the old noises that video game cartridges used to make when they booted up, or pencils, or doormats, or the roof of the service station at Markham Moor on the A1. But these bite-size podcasts make eloquent cases for them, and encourage you to look at the everyday wonders that surround you.
James Acaster and Ed Gamble's loosely food-related interview podcast is back for a third series, the first visitor to their fantasy restaurant this time around being Buffy the Vampire Slayer's fusspot librarian Anthony Head. If you've not eaten with them before, the concept's very simple: each guests picks their favourite starter, main, side, dessert and drink, and talks about their life and career in an enjoyably roundabout way.
10 Things That Scare Me
File under: Short, sharp psychology
The short, sharp five-minute episodes of this podcast have a simple set-up: people name 10 of their deepest unspoken fears. That's it. Some - like Bridesmaids director Paul Feig, ex-Trump White House fixer Anthony 'The Mooch' Scaramucci and Rage Against The Machine guitarist Tom Morello - are famous; others aren't. But all of them feature something jarring (Morello's family had nooses in their garage when he was a kid), something that makes you laugh then nod in a that-makes-complete-sense sort of way (The Mooch is best mates with his divorce lawyer), or something obviously horrifying which you'd never considered before and will now carry with you everywhere (falling and hitting your teeth). Urgh.
The Birthday Game
File under: A quiz-shaped show which is in no way a proper quiz
Richard Osman, the tallest man in showbiz and master of coming up with formats, has come up with another very good format. Guests try to guess how old celebrities with birthdays on the week of release are, and listeners play along at home. That's pretty much it. It's daft, fun, and it's got the feel of one that could run and run, so get in at the ground floor.
If you’ve been struggling to get as much kip as you’re used to over the last few of months – understandable, what with the circumstances – try this new strand of soothing soundscapes. The standout is The Sleeping Forecast, which knits together contemporary piano pieces with the bassy, richly comforting tones of the BBC’s Neil Nunes reading the Shipping Forecast. Forties, Cromarty, North Utsire, South Utsire, Snoozeville. Perfect.
Mind Over Muscle: Journey To The Finish Line
Ant Middleton, former special forces hard nut and main man of SAS: Who Dares Wins knows a lot about the extremities of physical endurance, but his new podcast travels into the minds of five normal people who are getting ready to run the London marathon. All of them have struggled with mental health problems, from police officer Luke who started having panic attacks on the way to work, to Victoria who worries that missing a training run could cause her to spiral back into anxiety and depression. Along with elite marathon runner Mara Yamauchi and sports psychologist Dr Josephine Perry, Middleton will try to coach them into a healthier mindset and over the finishing line.
Sleeping with David Baddiel
Comedian, writer, one of three lions: David Baddiel's got a lot done for a man who suffered with insomnia for many years, and his new podcast with sleep guru Dr Guy Leschziner is intended to make sure even those who don't have it appreciate how important sleep is. It goes in deep on the science of sleep, why it matters, and how you can improve the quality of your sleep. Sleep evangelists can get a bit wearing, but given the range of health benefits you're probably missing out on, this might be a decent investment of your time.
You probably heard a lot about cinematographer Roger Deakins during the promo push for 1917 at the start of the year, in which he and Sir Sam Mendes took us on a real-time single-shot journey through the trenches of World War I. Here, Deakins and his collaborator and wife James chat to other notables about the technical side of filmmaking, from directors including Mendes and Denis Villeneuve to Steadicam operators and colour scientists.
In Writing with Hattie Crissell
We tend to think of the writing process as being a bit mysterious. Even the phrase 'the writing process' is deliberately woolly. Everyone's is different, and this podcast gets into the nuts and bolts of it with a different writer each time, revealing just how much of 'the writing process' is just staring into space while eating a biscuit very slowly. This episode features Robert Popper, writer of Friday Night Dinner and script wizard on pretty much every worthwhile British comedy thing of the last decade or so: his CV includes Stath Lets Flats, Look Around You, Peep Show and The Inbetweeners.
The Pellicle Podcast
Going to the pub isn't going to feel the same for a very long while yet, but you can enjoy some high-grade chattering about beer, cider and wine production and the industry around it from the team behind the Pellicle magazine. It's not just the real ale bore banging on about why nobody drinks mild anymore; everything is tied to a sense of place, and drinks are a means of exploration and travel.
Twenty Thousand Hertz
Given podcasting is an aural medium, you’d think more of them would be a bit more curious about the specifics of the sounds that they pipe into your brain. Twenty Thousand Hertz is all about the noises you hear everywhere, all the time, and how they’re made. It has pulled apart sounds as diverse as that massive bum-wobbling note that THX showed off its cinema systems with, the golden record on the Voyager spacecraft, the multi-layered construction of the lightsabre’s vvvvvwing and, most recently, farts.
This is several cuts above your average watchalong podcast. Michael Imperioli and Steve Schirripa, who played Christopher Moltisanti and Bobby Baccalieri, chat about The Sopranos episode by episode, dropping behind the scenes tidbits and anecdotes all over the place and discovering fan theories they never knew about.
This miniseries about cooking during lockdown is a team-up between two heavyweights of relatable, simple but detail-rich broadcasting: Samin Nosrat’s book and Netflix series Salt Fat Acid Heat is an unbelievably useful crash-course in cooking that broke everything down to those four essential elements; Hrishikesh Hirway is the creator and host of the endlessly fascinating Song Exploder podcast.
London-based hip hop DJ Lex on the Dex talks to other women in the rap world who work either in the booth or behind the scenes: bass DJ Tailor Jae, Resident Advisor’s Shireen Ramezani and drill producer Hannah V have been on lately. Revealing interviews alternate with history lessons about the great women of hip hop and rap over the last 40 years, from Afrobeats queen Tiwa Savage and dancehall icon Spice to Missy Elliott and MIA.
Wind of Change
Everyone likes a good unsubstantiated conspiracy theory. How about the one that says metal band the Scorpions’ huge 1990 hit ‘Winds of Change’ was actually written by the FBI to destroy the Soviet Union. Mission accomplished, lads. Patrick Radden Keefe, of the New Yorker, goes digging to find out exactly how true it is and where the rumour came from in the first place. Other episodes in the eight-part series will explore more stories of US government meddling in music, including whether a 1961 Nina Simone gig was actually a front for the CIA.
Shower Sessions with St Vincent
Annie Clark is pretty brilliant, let's be honest, and her new, slightly offbeat music podcast is exactly the sort of thing you'd hope she'd do with the medium. Unless you have Pitchfork's RSS feed wired straight into your brain stem you're unlikely to be across all the up-and-coming artists featured here, but Clark's shower-bound chats with the likes of Donna Missal, Liverpudlian musician Banners and the duo Loote are engaging, and each performs a set from their bathroom.
James Acaster's Perfect Sounds
Based loosely on his recent book Perfect, Sound, Whatever, in which Acaster argued that 2016 was the best year for new music ever, Perfect Sounds sees him introduce fellow comedians to the albums which convinced him this was an incontrovertible fact. First up is Romesh Ranganathan (who's got his own very good music podcast, Hip Hop Saved My Life) and Beyoncé's Lemonade.
Frank Skinner's Poetry Podcast
Getting into poetry is an absolutely excellent thing to fill your lockdown hours with, but actually 'getting into poetry' is a lot more daunting than you'd think. Where do you start? Let Frank Skinner guide you. He's been a stand-up for the last 30 years, but before getting into comedy Skinner was an English teacher at a college near Dudley, and his passion comes through in his drily funny half-hour episodes. This one looks at Wendy Cope's 'Not Waving But Drowning' and William Carlos Williams' 'Dance Russe'.
Zing Tsjeng has to make a decision: she can apply for a British passport, but after being born and raised in Singapore she’s already got a Singaporean one – and she’s not allowed to keep both. So which does she choose? It’s not a decision you want to make lightly, so Zing’s going on a road trip around the UK to work out what being British means right now, meeting, among others, a Lancastrian farmer, a Welsh language sex podcaster, and Brummie Drag Race star Sum Ting Wong.
This Game Changed My Life
Before he did Black Mirror and Screenwipe, former gaming journalist Charlie Brooker spent his time playing games and insulting readers in PC Zone, and he’s wandered back into his old stomping ground to chat about the most pivotal games he’s ever played with hosts Aoife Wilson and Julia Hardy. He goes right back to his days wandering around “absolutely monolithic” cabinets, and the other episodes in the series are great too – especially the one about Abdullah, who managed to escape the Syrian Civil War and made a game about it.
You'll probably know stand-up Ed Gamble from his other extremely successful podcast, Set Menu, which he does with fellow comedian James Acaster. What you probably won't know about Gamble is that he's a massive metalhead, and that's what his new one for Spotify is all about: the dedication and obsessions of the genre's biggest fans, and what metal means to them.
This one from Now TV is basically a promo tool for new shows it's carrying, but it's a superior promo tool with very good interviews. Its little gimmick is to get its interviewees to talk about the plot twists in their own careers, and the newest one features Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan talking about The Trip to Greece, how Coogan chivvied Brydon's career along after Brydon 'accidentally' bumped into him in the pub, and how Brydon used to pretend to be his own agent – a smoothie called Richard Knight – while trying to get things going in Wales.
If you're into food but always feel several steps behind wherever's cool on the whirling, never-ending menu that is London's restaurant scene, try this weekly update. Friends Sam Ashton and Taylor Fawcett dive into the good, bad and Taco Bell of the capital – start with their cycling tour of London's pasta restaurants and go from there.
Bong Joon Ho on The Curzon Film Podcast
Everyone’s on a Bong tip at the minute. Parasite’s riding a post-Oscars wave of love and breaking all sorts of records, and its director is everyone’s favourite human being. This episode of the Curzon Film Podcast looks back at his career, but it’s more than just your average primer. Tilda Swinton, who Bong directed in Snowpiercer, is on hand to interview him about his career, and critics Helen O’Hara and Tony Rayns add more context, as do academic Maria Konnikova and #BONGHIVE founder member Iana Murray.
London is big and some of it smells a bit weird, but it's brilliant. So what makes it brilliant? The Docklands Light Railway. Then, in a close second, the people. Clara Amfo is here with a new podcast that puts you in touch with some of the city's most interesting ones. The premise is pretty simple: guests chat about the places around London that made them, while also chatting about their careers. First up is Mo the Comedian, the Camberwell-raised star of Channel 4's The Lateish Show With Mo Gilligan and his own Netflix special Momentum.
Life is tough, but this might be the best way to add some grease to the grind: Sir David Attenborough reading JA Baker's classic piece of nature writing on the titular bird of prey. It takes the form of diary entries covering autumn to spring in Baker's native Essex, and despite being published 53 years ago, his prose has a direct, visceral punch which makes it feel timeless. Peregrines are both beautiful and terrifying – the hook-tooth at the end of their bill is used to dig in between the vertebrae of other birds so they can snap their spinal cords – and frankly so is the sensation of staring down the barrel of a new decade.
You could be forgiven for assuming that Quentin Tarantino spends all of his time watching obscure Japanese Westerns and ranting about how great Dennis Weaver was to anyone who'll listen. That's not the case, though. Tarantino is a cinematic omnivore, as the films he brings along to this film roundtable chat podcast prove. The first two of his three picks for films he can't seem to stop himself returning to are Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk and Tony Scott's runaway train thriller Unstoppable.
The Racist Sandwich
All the food we eat is political, whether because of the ways in which the produce is grown and shipped around the world, the complex weave of cultural and social influences which contribute to each individual dish, the way that chefs from around the world are treated differently in kitchens, or any number of other under-discussed issues. This podcast bills itself, in the style of a collab, as 'food x race x class x gender', and it's both playful and enlightening.
Switched On Pop
If you're of the (correct) opinion that pop is the greatest art form of the last century, this is an essential. It treats the songs, artists and trends most would think of as flotsam with high-minded enthusiasm, and its break-it-down-to-basics approach never patronises and always illuminates. Vox has form for all this with the excellent Explained Netflix series and YouTube channels, and the recent dive into what exactly makes 'Baby Shark' the juggernaut is typical, pulling together the history of the do-do-do in pop, what makes kids love certain songs and how to deal with hearing it for the millionth time.
What To Watch On Netflix
Having made it incredibly difficult to decide what to watch of an empty Thursday night, Netflix has taken the initiative in making the task slightly easier. This is a straightforward bit of promo puff for their own shows, yes, but it's a high-class one. It points out what's new and there's a bit of chat about the themes and issues recent releases have thrown up. Don't expect heavy-duty critique, but it'll have access to some very decent behind-the-scenes interviews with the key players.
Revisiting (AKA Berhamsted Revisited)
Having just escaped from the 2010s, it feels like they should be off-limits for wistful nostalgia-fests for at least another decade. This is more than just a Peter Kay-style ey-do-you-remember-Teletext-what-were-all-that-about potter down memory lane though. Built around the teenage diaries of hosts Laura and Laura, the cultural talismans of their adolescence and early adulthood are reviewed and, more interestingly, they chat to people involved in cultural phenomena which now make very little sense – Martin Daubney, former editor of Loaded magazine and 'King of the Lads', has been on in the past. The reassuring universality of their teen experiences is what makes this one work.
How do you get from where you are to where you want to be? The creative and entertainment industries can seem incredible opaque, but Imriel Morgan is here to demystify things by chatting to guests including comedian Lolly Adefope, anti-online abuse campaigner Seyi Akiwowo and author Malorie Blackman.
Thrilling Tales of Modern Capitalism
Slate’s business podcast looks back at the past of a different company each week and plots out how they got to where they are today – whether they’re huge successes or terrible failures. The episode about how DomiNick’s, a failing pizza joint in Michigan sold to the Monaghan brothers for $1400 in 1960, turned the globe-straddling behemoth Domino’s pizza, is fascinating.
(If you want even more depth on Domino’s – and why wouldn’t you want more depth on a story which involves a Monaghan brother dealing with delivery driver muggings by hiding in the back of the drivers’ clapped-out Volkswagen with a baseball bat – The Dollop has a great episode on it too.)
Boom/Bust: The Rise and Fall of HQ Trivia
About two years ago, HQ was massive. The idea was simple: a massive pub quiz held on an app, 15 questions long, with a cash prize pot split between anyone who got all of them right. People went mad for it. Its presenters became stars. But then it all started to go wrong. This new podcast from The Ringer explores exactly how and why.
Podcasts about the terrible decisions that led to disaster and scandal are a subgenre in there own right these days, and Wondery's new entry is a particularly timely one. WeWork looked like it might change how we all thought about our jobs, its leader Adam Neumann was hailed a genius, and it was valued at $47 billion ahead of going public. But last summer everything fell apart: it was absolutely savaged by experts over the unworkability of its business model, Neumann was ousted and reportedly fled America, and it became a cautionary tale for start-ups at large. This is the WeWork story from the start, the lofty ideas of how it was going to remould the world of work and eventually everything else besides, and how that hubris clashed with reality.
The Sun King
In a bit of a coup, this beautifully assembled and concise six-parter is fronted by David Dimbleby, and tells the full story of how Murdoch built his empire and changed the way that millions of people around the world find out the news. It digs up insight from the people who've worked with him to answer bigger questions too: what motivates him? Is he in it for the money or the power? How much influence does he actually wield? And underneath it all, who is Rupert Murdoch?
In Our Time
Impressively still-quiffed broadcasting stalwart Melvyn Bragg has been presenting In Our Time since it started in 1998, and while the series' strength has always been its esoteric magpie eye for a topic, there haven't been many more unexpected than this month's on how teeth came to exist. But, as ever, it's intensely fascinating. If you're unfamiliar, In Our Time sees Bragg throw questions to three academic experts in a given field, whittling away at any jargon or waffle to get to the fundamentals of what happened and why it matters. With its commute-friendly 45-minute run time and back catalogue of more than 800 shows on every subject across history, literature, music, science and technology from computing pioneer Ada Lovelace to the religion of Zoroastrianism, it's found renewed purpose in the podcast age.
The Dollop UK
Comedians Dave Anthony and Gareth 'Gary' Reynolds' long-running American history podcast has grown a new Britain-centric branch. The basic dynamic is familiar - Dave reads a story about the life of a forgotten person or phenomenon from the past to Gareth, they riff, hilarity ensues - but this is very much a superior example of the two-dudes-talking format. It helps that the second episode is one of their best ever. It tells the story of Swansea City mascot Cyril the Swan and his role in the regeneration of the south Wales club, how he became a cult figure for his casual hooliganism, and his fall from grace and brushes with the law, as well as an FA hearing at which the man playing Cyril protested his innocence while wearing the swan costume.
Have You Heard George's Podcast?
Londoner George Mpanga, better known as George the Poet, might want to invest in a sturdier mantelpiece. His current set-up must be groaning under the weight of the gongs his podcast has earned him - four gold awards and two silvers at the last British Podcast Awards, plus Podcast of the Year - and the second series has kept the quality up. It's hard to describe exactly what it is, though. Short fiction? Philosophy? Poetry? Journalism? It's all of that and more. The last episode has just been released, so now's as good a time as any to catch up.
The Adam Buxton Podcast
Yes, it's one of the biggest podcasts around, but as Dr Buckles' podcast continues to waffle on as brilliantly as ever, now is as good a time as any to celebrate it. The mixture of daft whimsy, very good jingles, regular digressions about David Bowie and updates from Buxton's dog Rosie, The Hairy Bullet, makes for an amiable listen, but Buxton's an underrated interviewer who gets genuinely enlightening and unusual chat out of his guests. The centenary episode features Buxton's Louis Theroux and former comedy partner Joe Cornish, who've all known each other since school immediately revert to extremely entertaining mid-teen silliness, but after that dig back into the archives for more: Kathy Burke, Bob Mortimer, Greta Gerwig, Sir Michael Palin and Steve Coogan are among many highlights.
Bob Mortimer on Desert Island Discs
Bob's bounced back mightily since his heart troubles a few years ago, with his own successful podcast, show-stealing appearances on Would I Lie To You and last year's gently existential Mortimer & Whitehouse: Gone Fishing. However, the endearing daftness of his comedy has tended to keep interviewers at arm's length since he and Vic Reeves first arrived in the early Nineties. However, Lauren Laverne gets Bob to open up about the overwhelming shyness which has affected him since childhood, the death of his dad when Bob was a young boy, and the increasing amount of time Bob's been spending just staring into space. While you're there, have a rummage through the Desert Island Disc archives, which go all the way back to 1951 and feature pretty much everyone who's been anyone since.
Quentin Tarantino's Feature Presentation
In this three-parter miniseries, Tarantino has a sit down with critic and podcaster Amy Nicholson to talk about the films that the young Quentin absorbed and later bled into his own work. We start with 'Young Quentin Goes To The Movies', in which he considers the surreal revenge thriller Point Blank and its influence on Reservoir Dogs, and move into teenage Tarantino's yearning to head back to the Los Angeles of his youth having moved out to Knoxville, Tennessee. The last episode will look at the late 70s and early 80s, when Tarantino was trying to push himself into the movie biz himself.
Life moves pretty fast, as Illinois' most famous malingerer once said, but unless you're one of those psychopaths who listens to them one-and-a-half-times speed, podcasts are a way of slowing down. Radio 3's Slow Radio really leans into that: its patiently paced 15-minute segments are varied - sometimes it'll be an interview surrounded by a lush natural soundscape, as in this recent exploration of the eeriness of the English countryside, and sometimes an orchestral works woven around the sound of the dawn chorus in the Ein Bokek canyon in Israel - but it's all tied together with an unhurried sense of calm.
The BBC's vast archive of everything that's happened in the last 80 years or so is rife for rummaging through - see also Greg James' Rewinder podcast, which knits together tidbits from the past which have unexpected resonance again today - but so far its coverage of sporting moments from the past has been relatively under-excavated. Replay is exactly that: just the BBC's coverage of sporting events of the past, with no talking heads or over-explanation from the present. The stories we tell about sport tend to flatten out all the strange little moments and slow-building tension that makes sport so engrossing and rich, but hearing the stories as they were told when they happened puts all of that back in. Try the second half of England v Holland at Euro '96, then hit the interview with Sir Stanley Matthews, and go from there.
Radio 1's Greg James, cricket journalist and former Maccabees guitarist Felix White and England cricketing legend Jimmy Anderson sound like the original odd throuple, but it works. Greg's notionally in charge, Jimmy's a bit mardy and has a lot of insight into the highest levels of the game, and wide-eyed Felix brings his guitar along for a strum in the background. As the name suggests (a tailender is a player who's rubbish at batting and so goes last), it's not a for-the-heads hour of cricket nerdishness – it's always accessible and funny even if you've only a passing knowledge of the game, and while it's been running for long enough to have a litany of recurring jokes, now's the time to get caught up before the Twenty20 World Cup in the summer.
13 Minutes to the Moon
It's the 50th anniversary of the moon landings this July, and to celebrate the BBC has put together a mammoth retelling of the most profound and moving thing that humanity's ever achieved. It'd be pretty easy to knock together a passable cut-and-shut talking-heads-and-archive show about the Apollo programme, but this one goes way beyond. Ex-NASA man Kevin Fong presents new interviews with key players including Michael Collins, who piloted the command module while Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin went down to the lunar surface (and he was actually second in command by the way, outranking Aldrin), Charlie Duke, who communicated with Armstrong and Aldrin from Mission Control, and other NASA staff like pioneering programmer Margaret Hamilton and engineer Poppy Northcutt, whose stories deserve to be heard. Plus! The theme music's an original piece from Hans Zimmer. Top-end stuff. A bit like First Man, 13 Minutes to the Moon makes an incredible but familiar story feel fresh, and full of jeopardy and the unknown. It's coming back for a second series soon too.
Eating extremely hot things has an enduring appeal for a certain type of man. It's a challenge which has taken the place of your old world tests of masculinity - things which use the ability to endure pain as an arbiter of manhood - and repositioned them as something you can do in the pub with some mates over some wasabi peanuts. It Burns explores the scandal-hit world of competitive chilli-eating and the race to breed the world's hottest chilli, taking in accusations of doping and theft, and asks what drives so many people to warp nature in this way and to hurt themselves in the pursuit of glory.
The Beautiful Brain
Jeff Astle was - and remains - The King, an FA Cup winner and West Brom's legendary 137-goal striker known for his aerial ability. When he died in January 2002 at the age of 59, though, he'd spent his last years living with dementia-like symptoms. A coroner found that minor traumas to his brain had caused the degenerative brain condition chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), and recorded a verdict of death by industrial injury - the first time blame for the condition had been placed squarely on heading heavy leather footballs day after day. This four-parter follows Astle's story via raw, intensely moving interviews with his wife Laraine and daughter Dawn, before reporter, producer and host Hana Walker-Brown explores how CTE affects survivors of domestic violence and asks: what does the science tell us to do, and who's responsible for making it happen? It's a gripping and essential - if often overwhelmingly poignant and righteously enraging - listen, as much a call-to-arms as a piece of investigative journalism.
The Last Days Of August
Ronson's The Butterfly Effect, about the ripples which spread across the porn industry after Pornhub got in on the act and forced producers to find more inventive ways of making money, was one of the best podcasts of 2017, so another delve into that world is welcome.
This is a more sombre affair than the quirky, soulful Butterfly Effect, though: the August of the title is August Ames, a porn performer who killed herself in 2017 aged just 23. Her husband blamed a Twitter pile-on, but that's far from the whole story. The Last Days Of August explores the darker side of the porn industry with Ronson's usual tact and knack for a narrative left-turn.
Conan O'Brien Needs A Friend
Despite changing the face of late-night TV in America and running The Simpsons in its pomp, Conan's always been a bit of a niche figure in the UK. But he found a new lease of life via YouTube (for a primer, see him become a Civil War re-enactor), and now he's taking his chat to podcasting. Some giants of the last 20 years of American comedy are here, among them Will Ferrell, Kristen Bell, Parks and Rec's Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally, and the freewheeling format gives Conan a more space to get thoughtful as well as typically manic.
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