Photo of Trica Cusden

A few weeks ago I had a very enjoyable evening out at the London Palladium. Not to watch musical theatre or a light entertainment show, but to celebrate a Radio 4 stalwart of the airwaves for over 70 years, Desert Island Discs. I’d seen tickets advertised somewhere and took a punt, not knowing anything about what was in store. I needn’t have worried because the show, compered by current presenter, Lauren Laverne with guests film director Asif Kapadia, and comedians Sue Perkins and Katharine Ryan, was a brilliant evening filled with reminiscences of their music and other choices on Desert Island Discs and lots of great humour.

 

It occurred to me during the evening that ‘Desert Island Discs’ and the similarly ancient ‘Just a Minute’ are now the only programmes that I regularly listen to on Radio 4 at the time of their broadcast, both on a Sunday morning.

 

All of which led me to reflect on just how much my listening habits have changed in the past three or four years to the point where I have recently unplugged my radio and put it away in a cupboard because I had stopped turning it on. Which is both strange and sad because I used to be a massive Radio 4 fan and that little radio used to be on all day, every day unless I needed to concentrate on something like writing this. I’m not a great music lover, so I am always looking for interesting people and stories to listen to, which is why the appearance of some truly brilliant podcasts has been such a wonderful development in the very recent past. My day is now punctuated by these little jewels to the extent that pretty much all my listening is now done that way.

 

My Favourite Podcasts

All of the podcasts I listen to are people chatting to each other around some kind of theme. Most often there is a ‘host’ who controls and shapes the conversation to elicit what they need from their invitee to make for a great hour or so of true entertainment, elucidation and pleasure. Often they are very funny but not intentionally so. Two of my absolute favourites are just a pair of very knowledgeable people talking about their area of expertise and often making each other laugh. Nowhere is the British wry sense of humour more in evidence than on these podcasts and very often I laugh out loud when I am listening, because they have so perfectly hit some nail firmly on the head.

 

Here’s My Top Ten and Why I Love Them

 

The Rest is Entertainment. This is a recent addition to the world of podcasting and is close to being my absolute favourite. Richard Osman and Marina Hyde spill the beans on all the inside stories in the worlds of film, books and television. Sometimes they reference people I’ve never heard of (Mr. Beast anyone?) but, no matter, because I can ask my grandchildren who these people are. It’s quite gossipy, quite irreverent, extremely insightful about all sorts of things that I didn’t realise I wanted to know about and, best of all, it’s very funny because both the hosts have a brilliant sense of humour and obviously love chatting to each other. The main podcast comes out on Tuesdays and the Q&A session on Thursdays. Want to know where they get all those very new born babies for Call the Midwife? Listen and learn.

 

Oh God What Now? My very first podcast which I found because it used to be called Remainiacs and, as someone who voted ‘Remain’ in the Brexit debate, I probably needed to find some kindred spirits who, like me, were mourning the fact that the UK had left the EU. This is often hosted by a writer and journalist called Dorian Lynskey who is joined by a range of political pundits all of whom have intelligent and interesting things to say about what is going on at Westminster and in Downing Street. My favourite contributor who often hosts too, is a gay Greek opera buff-cum-economist called Alex Andreou who is as wise as a barn full of owls. The podcast goes out twice a week Tuesdays and Thursdays if you are a Patreon subscriber like me, each episode providing an hour of insightful aperçus and very intelligent chat.

 

How to Fail with Elizabeth Day. Another early one, this time recommended by my daughter. The conversation between writer Elizabeth Day and her guest is a very simple idea which is actually rather brilliant. She asks her invitee to tell us about three times in their life that they have failed at something. It was born out of Elizabeth’s failure to become a mother, something which pained her very deeply as did the subsequent breakdown of her marriage. Perhaps to make herself feel better she started asking high profile people about their failures. Best and most memorable episodes have been Graham Norton (failed as a waiter), Vanessa Feltz (failed to hang onto to her marriage) and Miriam Margoyles who failed to marry the nice Jewish doctor her mother wanted her to. The archive of chats will keep you going for hours with many wonderful insights into the lives of people who appear to have it all, but who still suffer from feelings of inadequacy.

 

The Rest is Politics with Rory Stewart and Alistair Campbell. A surprising and massive hit podcast for two people who are no longer part of the political mainstream but who obviously love politics. So successful have they been that their conversations now sell out to live audiences at the Royal Albert Hall and in October this year they will appear at the vast O2 arena in London. I listen every Wednesday to the main podcast and also to the Q&A on Thursdays. What I love is the width and depth of the wide ranging conversations they have and the fact that they agree to disagree agreeably given that Rory was a Conservative MP and Alistair was Director of Comms for the Labour Party. Both have vast knowledge of both British and world current affairs and seem to know anyone and everyone who is making the headlines. I feel much better informed about what’s going on in the world after listening to them every week.

 

The Louis Theroux Podcast. Is there anyone Louis Theroux hasn’t interviewed in his laid back, apparently insouciant style? So many to listen to, so it’s hard to pick out a favourite, but I love the one with Helena Bonham Carter (whom Louis was in awe of as a teenager at the school they both attended) and a recent one with my latest Irish actor crush, Paul Mescal, after the release of his poignant and moving film about loneliness with Andrew Scott, called ‘All of Us Strangers’. Theroux has a way of being charming and low key which often elicits surprising revelations. I also very much enjoyed his interview with Ruby Wax who was very funny about how furious she is that Louis rivals her as a brilliant interviewer.

 

The News Agents. I listen to this every evening whilst preparing my supper and very much prefer it to listening to any other news programmes. I rate the three presenters very highly. Jon Sopel, Emily Maitlis and Lewis Goodall all honed their impressive journalistic skills at the BBC and their experience and expertise are showcased very well in this format. What I like is the fact that they take one or two of the most important stories of the day and investigate it thoroughly, often with guests to add further clarification. Freed from BBC protocols, all three seem liberated by a format which allows them free rein to offer a balanced deep dive into current affairs.

 

The Rest is History. Another fantastic two-hander between Tom Hollander and Dominic Sandbrook who manage to put the fun and fascinating into hundreds of very different historical events. I particularly like their 4 or 5 part series and have listened avidly to how Martin Luther changed the world forever over  5 episodes and also loved their way of telling the story of Lord Byron, he of the ‘mad, bad and dangerous to know’ reputation. I’ve just finished listening to their five episodes about The Titanic, and am currently reminding myself about the Weimar Republic and the Rise of Naziism. What I love is the relationship between Tom and Dom, their enthusiasm for their subject and the humour which fizzes throughout - I often laugh out loud. They have a quintessential British sense of humour.

 

Where There’s A Will There’s a Wake with Kathy Burke. A new one for me which I have just started to get into. Kathy Burke can be a tad Marmite, but I love her acerbic wit and cockney accent. In this podcast she interviews well-known people about the kind of send-off they’d want at the end of their lives, which can honestly be hilarious (as is she). 

 

Political Fix. This is the weekly politics podcast of the Financial Times that I look forward to on a Saturday morning. I rate their four main political pundits, George Parker, Robert Shrimsley, Stephen Bush ( a particular favourite because he always recommends great films) and Miranda Green. I like the fact that it’s largely non-partisan and the discussion is analytical, intelligent and always very well informed.

 

Adam Buxton. A great mate of Louis Theroux (they were at school together), Adam Buxton starts all his podcasts on a walk in the Norfolk countryside with his dog Rosie. He has a quirky and oddball sense of humour and loves to write and sing short ditties set to music which he writes. He calls his listeners ‘Podcats” which I rather like. Adam interviews a range of people from comedians like Romesh Ranganathan to journalists like Helen Lewis and film stars like Jeff Goldblum. I’m not a regular listener but will look up his very long back catalogue for inspiration sometimes when I am painting and need to be entertained.

 

There are a few others that I’ll sometimes seek out when I have a spare moment like the political podcasts put out by The New Statesman and The Guardian and also the Private Eye podcast with Ian Hislop and his team called Page 94. However there are about six in my list which punctuate my week without fail and help me to feel plugged in to whatever is going on in the world. And not just in the UK because The Rest is Politics has also introduced a new strand on Fridays with Katty Kay and Anthony Scaramucci about the American election which I am excited about (the podcast rather than the election).

 

Looking back I think that my radio was often on, not because I wanted to listen to anything in particular, but just to hear a human voice. Now I have the feeling of my world peopled by witty, intelligent and often very funny human beings who help me to feel engaged and excited by all that is happening (or in the case of The Rest is History) once happened in this vast, complex and wonderful world in which we all live.

 

Do feel free to share any podcasts suggestions you might have below.

 

Tricia x

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