The Running List of Best Podcasts Released in 2019
The podcasting ecosystem is rich, varied and complex, and that’s obviously a brilliant thing in itself—especially if you're in the market for a new mattress or need an all-in-one solution for creating a beautiful website—but it can also be a bit overwhelming. There are only so many hours in the day. Pick the wrong podcast and you could ruin your whole commute.
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, here’s our running list of the best new ones that come out this year, as well as pointing up new highlights from long-running favourites.
Arctic Sound Walk
File under: A frosty soundscape ramble
This gentle, atmospheric portrait of winter in the wintriest place on Earth follows Horatio Clare as he walks the Arctic Circle Trail in Greenland. He nimbly paints little portraits of the scenes he passes with various stray huskies, and his thoughts are soundtracked by a score which soars, swoops and twinkles. It's incredibly relaxing and split over three parts going out on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day, so it's a good one to have on standby for the dead space beforeNew Year's Eve when time ceases to have meaning.
The Sun King
File under: How Rupert Murdoch became the definitive media kingpin
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?
The Score: Bank Robber Diaries
File under: Confessions of a master criminal
Joe Loya was so good at robbing banks that he doesn't know how many he ever stole from. He just kept doing it again and again and again. This podcast puts a number on it though: over 14 months, he robbed 30 banks across Southern California. But his story is much more than just your standard true crime yarn, even if his was an exceptionally prolific career. In The Score Loya reflects on his deeply unhappy childhood, how it feels to rob a bank, his modus operandi, and his ultimate reunion and reconciliation with a family he thought he'd lost.
File under: A much-anticipated true crime return
After plotting out Watergate and the trail to Bill Clinton's impeachment hearings, it would've been fair to assume that the third series of Slow Burn would dig back into another Big Political Story. But no: instead we get something approaching the definitive telling of the deaths of 24-year-old Biggie Smalls and 25-year-old Tupac Shakur, with original interviews shedding new light on one of the most enduring mysteries of the last 30 years. Who shot Tupac? Who shot Biggie? And were the two deaths connected?
The Football Book Club
File under: Reviews of cloggers' doggerel
This homebrewed pod 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.
File under: Short stories inspired by science
Six slices of new fiction are inspired by artefacts from the Wellcome Collection's permanent collection Medicine Man, from a trepanned skull and a fragment of tattooed skin to a scold's bridle and a chastity belt. Writers including Oyinkan Braithwaite, Sarah Moss and Andrew Michael Hurley spin off stories which end up in very unexpected places, and there's a deep discussion of the actual history of the pieces chosen too.
File under: Morally improving Big Politics
The UN can appear to be both labyrinthine and tedious, not to mention increasingly irrelevant in a world where nativism and protectionism are trumping collegiate utopianism in more and more countries. This podcast gets under its skin, though, in a series of 15- to 25-minute episodes which avoid the staid, controlled policy speeches. Instead they dig into the debates and underreported behind-the-scenes wrangling between diplomats as they try to figure out the big issues: the new Cold War, keeping global peace, and how countries should work together in the future.
File under: Picking over the bones of disasters
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.
You're Dead To Me
File under: History, but with comedians
This knockabout pod led by Horrible Histories' Greg Jenner bills itself as a history podcast for people who aren't that bothered about history. It's one sceptical comedian, one historian with a firm grasp on the facts, and a ramble around the particulars of stuff you should probably know about including Stonehenge, Boudicca, Harriet Tubman, and the history of football, and guests so far have included Richard Herring, Joel Dommett and Shappi Khorsandi.
Speaking With Shadows
File under: History for people who actually are bothered about history
English Heritage's new fortnightly series with Josie Long, patron saint of quietly absorbing true stories after her work on Short Cuts, visits historic sites across the country to hear voices of the past which tend to get drowned out. The first heads to Battle Abbey in east Sussex, built on the site of the Battle of Hastings. But this isn't about 1066 and all that?—it's about Gwen Lally, who in the 1930s warped gender boundaries and was the first woman to be pageant master at the abbey's annual production.
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.
File under: The Slightly Greater Escape
The latest series of the Intrigue documentary strand tells the story of an attempt to burrow underneath the Berlin Wall from west to east. In 1961, 22-year-old Joachim Rudolph escaped to the west?—then decided to try to open up a way for friends and family to follow him. Literally clawing his way through the earth, handful by handful, he dug out a passage under the wall, knowing that guards on the eastern side would be listening out for tunnellers and ready to stop them with dynamite. The Stasi are circling all the time, and nobody can be completely trusted.
File under: Subtly profound tales from local oddballs
Alan Partridge casts a long shadow over local radio in the public imagination, but the smaller stations across the UK are full of great, strange, surprising stories. This BBC podcast collects the best of them, from a Kent man who cycles around recording found sounds to turn into music to a Wiltshire woman who had no idea her husband was a spy until three years after his death. It's a deeply charming and gently whimsical tapestry of life around the country, with occasional gobbets of the kind of everyday wisdom it's impossible to write.
The Missing Crypto Queen
File under: Techno-mystery thriller
You might not have heard of Dr Ruja Ignatova, but two years ago she was poised to become one of the most influential figures in tech. Her OneCoin cryptocurrency was billed as 'the Bitcoin killer', and thousands bought into it. But it was all an illusion. OneCoin was a scam, a Ponzi scheme under the guise of a cryptocoin, and in 2017 warrants were issued for the arrest of all its leaders. But Ignatova simply vanished. This podcast retells the story and goes on the hunt for Ignatova.
Switched On Pop
File under: The charts, deconstructed
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.
A Life Lived
File under: Biography from behind the scenes
This new pod of life stories of the great and good gets well beyond rote Wikipedia-reading. You get an insider's view of the lives of notables including Amy Winehouse, who's illuminated by Frank album art photographer Charles Moriarty, Soho jazz club owner Sam Shaker and Amy documentarian Asif Kapadia, and Sir Roger Moore as seen by his daughter Deborah, Crossplot director Alvin Rakoff and personal assistant Gareth Owen. Did you know that Sir Rog accidentally invented the Magnum ice cream? Well, he did.
Listen Up—The Oasis Podcast
File under: The life and times of The Last Great Rock 'N' Roll Stars™
This four-parter marks the 25th anniversary of Definitely Maybe by telling the story of its creation and aftermath through the eyes of people around the band at the time. That means talking heads including Peter Hook, producer Owen Morris and Alastair Campbell along with various record industry bods and journalists who followed the band around once they'd gone supernova. It's tidily produced with early rarities in abundance, and it's an affectionate dig back into the Manchester of the late 1980s and early 1990s as much as a love-in for the Gallaghers.
The Dollop UK
File under: Two Americans baffled by British history
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?
File under: Totally unique
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 pod 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.
File under: Inventively reinvented folk tales
Inspired by Britain and Ireland's long history of oral storytelling, Hag tells forgotten folk stories which have been rewritten and reinvigorated for the 21st century by leading writers from the parts of the country the stories come from. Eimear McBride, Man Booker nominee Daisy Johnson and Gal-Dem editor-in-chief Liv Little are among those who've taken tales picked by Professor Carolyne Larrington, an expert in Old Norse and British fairy tales at Oxford Uni, and given them a freshly feminist slant.
Putin: Prisoner of Power
File under: High-grade political storytelling
After two decades of power, Vladimir Putin can look from a Western vantage point to be an unassailable and politically adroit strongman. He's a lot more complicated than that, though. Veteran reporter Misha Glenny, who wrote the book McMafia was based on, tells the story of Putin's rise from an unknown KGB agent plucked from obscurity by an oligarch to follow Boris Yeltsin, and how he turned from a stooge of the ultra-wealthy to perhaps the dominant figure in 21st century global politics. This is a polished, rigorous and sober account of the deal-making and unorthodox logic which turns up some mad details. Did you know Putin was picked in part thanks to a poll in which Russians picked fictional James Bond-alike Max Otto von Stierlitz their fantasy president? You do now.
The Secret History of the Future
File under: Times the past told us how to face the future
This one from Slate and The Economist digs into the past to see if it has any clues for us in working out the big tech issues of our age, from cyberattacks to virtual reality. One episode from this month looks at the problem of algorithms which magnify the biases of the humans who coded them by digging into computing pioneer Ada Lovelace's work on the analytical engine in 1843, and the unforeseen problems which its punch-card programming threw up. There's a precedent for the explosion of dating apps over the last five years too—the Victorian craze for conducting romances by telegraph.
Gregory Porter: The Hang
File under: Another laidback chat pod, but a really nice one
This has a different feel to your usual cosy celeb-meets-other-celeb-at-their-house chinwag. It's still a cosy chinwag, don't get us wrong, and Porter's house might be more extensively mahogany-panelled than most. But the ease of Porter's charm and the looseness of the conversations—led by first guest Jeff Goldblum, who could merrily chatter on about this and that until all the cows in Pennsylvania came home—set this one apart. It touches on style, art, food and music but the scope is as open-ended as the name 'The Hang' implies.
File under: Twisting high concept thriller
A truck driver in need of a gig to get home picks up some shady work on the side. One catch—she has no idea what she's transporting. What could go wrong? This is a great psychological thriller with shades of Hitchcock and The Twilight Zone, given weight by the performance of Widows' Cynthia Erivo (she's won an Emmy, a Grammy and a Tony, you know). More than that, its immersive audio design pushes at the edges of what podcasts can do as a genre—make sure you listen with headphones, and listen very carefully indeed.
Obsessed With... Peaky Blinders
File under: Essential insider interviews
Obviously you know that Birmingham's biggest Nick Cave fans will soon be back for their fifth season of flat caps, walking down backstreets in slow motion and organised crime. Digital Spy's Laurence Mozafari chats to the major players including creator Steven Knight and director Colm McCarthy to get comprehensive recaps of everything that's happened so far. Plus, he digs up nuggets about how each season came together and the ideas that ended up sliced to pieces with razors on the floor of the editing suite.
Quentin Tarantino's Feature Presentation
File under: Quentin really loves films, doesn't he?
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.
File under: Citizen journalism at its best
This superlative investigation from the superlative investigative news site digs through the evidence of the 2014 attack on a passenger airliner over eastern Ukraine, dragging into the light all the botched Photoshops, suspicious Twitter activity, made-up reports of Ukrainian fighter jets and squiffy radar data which muddied the waters in the hours and days which followed. It looks a lot like a disinformation campaign from the Kremlin designed to deflect blame toward Kiev—but Bellingcat's journalists are here to set the confused and contradictory story straight.
Anything But Silent
File under: Archives brought to life
The British Library's new podcast delves into its enormous archives of both written and oral accounts as well as putting together new interviews with writers, archivists and academics on a vast array of themes. It's all tied together by the importance of writing and communicating though. A Pride-orientated episode hears archive clips of gay and queer people about falling in love and serving in the military, and there's a chat with Tom Canham, the founder of Drag Queen Story Time as well as an eavesdrop on a story time at Bolton Central Library. Elsewhere, there's an exploration of 'book weeding', the practice of getting rid of books from libraries, and the dreadful forgotten books which turn up in the process.
The Adam Buxton Podcast
File under: Deceptively deep waffle
Yes, it's one of the biggest podcasts around, but as Dr Buckles' pod celebrates its 100th episode now's 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.
File under: Field recordings, in the most literal sense
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 Bradley Wiggins Show
File under: Unguarded insight and score-settling
This pod from the Tour de France winner and five-time Olympic gold medallist gives insider tips on the latest news from the cycling world, how elite cyclists think, how the sport and its business works, and, most deliciously, where the enmity lies between the top riders. A case in point is this week's episode, in which former Team Sky director Sean Yates digs out four-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome for the time when he says he "went back on his word" to attack Wiggins himself—his team leader—during the 2012 Tour de France. Even more incredibly, Wiggins admits he was ready to back his bags and go home if Froome kept it up.
File under: Experiencing classic sports moments as they happened
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.
The Kurupt FM PodKast
File under: The side-project you didn't realise you needed
A podcast from the crew of Brentford's premier garage and drum and bass pirate station makes absolute sense. MC Grindah, DJ Beats, DJ Steves and Chabuddy G from People Just Do Nothing chat to each other about relationships, fashion, technology and the supernatural while handing out life advice, and there are phone-ins and drop-ins from some of the other characters orbiting the station.
Phoebe Waller-Bridge on How To Fail
File under: Unexpected insights
One of the tranche of quasi-show-and-tell podcasts which use a conversational gimmick to get a slightly more unusual chat with guests (see also: Table Manners, Power of Three, Off Menu, These Three), Elizabeth Day's British Podcast Award-nominated How To Fail focuses on one time a guest fell on their arse, and what it taught them about their work and their life. Phoebe Waller-Bridge, the first guest on the pod back in July last year, returns in the latest episode to chat about how everything's gone mad for her lately, and feeling that she's failed in keeping up with her family, speaking up for herself and sorting out her bathroom. In the process, she spills some fascinating tidbits about how Fleabag came together and ideas that never made it to the screen.
Wimbledon—Join The Story
File under: Social history told through sport
Officially sanctioned podcasts don't tend to be enormously fun, and pump the brand so hard they end up being glossy and overblown. That's not the case here, though. Five stories from Wimbledon are retold with access and insight from those who witnessed them and players affected by them today, from the famous to the forgotten. Andy Murray's 2016 men's singles win is retold in the context of the Brexit vote and his own route to the top from childhood, but most episodes reach further back into history. There's the synchronicity of Germans Boris Becker and Stefi Graf's 1989 wins coming as the Berlin Wall began to crumble, and a tribute to the triumph of Althea Gibson, the first black woman to win the title in 1957, who's remembered by her doubles partner Angela Buxton and five-time women's singles winner Venus Williams.
The Thread: Let Us Play
File under: Storytelling with unexpected diversions
The Thread connects dots around, through and between major and minor events in American history, starting with the murder of John Lennon in 1980 and then exploring the roots of the #MeToo movement, the idea of non-violent resistance and the insanity plea in legal cases. The fifth series starts with an iconic moment in women's football—Brandi Chastain whirling her shirt over her head after scoring the penalty that won the USA the 1999 World Cup—and uses it to explore the deeper story of how the team got there from taking on Italy wearing hand-me-down strips in 1985.
File under: Accessible chin-stroking
Last year, six luminaries from different design disciplines talked about their craft and careers at Sir John Soane's Museum in Holborn and now they've been packaged up as pods. The calibre of guests is extremely high. They include internationally renowned stage designer Es Devlin—who's put together live shows for Beyoncé, Kanye, Adele, U2 and more and is a firm believer in the power of deliberately misreading emails—as well as art director and graphic designer Peter Saville, responsible for Factory Records' artwork and one of the most criminally underrated England shirts of recent times; and Sir David Adjaye OBE, architect and lead designer of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, who gets into how the design of a building defines how you interact with it.
File under: Forgotten stories expertly retold
The first episode of Sky News' new deep-reporting pod hasn't dropped yet, but it's one you want to subscribe to ahead of time. 'The Hunt for the Brink's-Mat Gold' will tell the story of the 1983 heist in which a gang stole £26 million-worth of gold from a depot near Heathrow airport, how it reshaped the criminal underworld in Britain and what happened to Scotland Yard detective Ian Brown when he was tasked with getting that gold back.
The Shrink Next Door
File under: Your classic 'attack of the suburban oddball' story
This new one from Bloomberg and Wondery, the makers of Dirty John and Dr Death, is a return to the same well as those hits, and focuses on a therapist called Ike. Ike counted celebrities and the great and good of Manhattan's social scene among his clients and hosted lavish parties at his mad holiday home in the Hamptons. But when Ike's neighbour, the veteran journalist Joe Nocera, started to pick away at his story, it started to unravel to reveal a story about trust, power and control.
File under: If Pumping Iron had been about scoffing scotch bonnets
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 Offside Rule
File under: Expert analysis on the summer's biggest footballing event
The Women's World Cup is well underway, and if you feel a mixture of anxiety and shame every time it comes up in conversation because you're so woefully underprepared for the ensuing chat about it, this is the place to educate yourself. Hayley McQueen, Kait Borsay and Lynsey Hooper will be doing daily editions of their pod throughout the tournament until 7 July, and their back catalogue of long-form interviews with the likes of England boss Phil Neville, Manchester United manager Casey Stoney and commentator Martin Tyler is well worth digging through.
File under: Bite-sized current affairs
This one's been running since the start of the year, but with the Tory leadership contest threatening to hit room temperature now these 20-minute hits of political exposition and explanation will come in very handy. It's not all about Britain either: lately there have been deeper dives into stories like the re-election of Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari, why so many people are dying on Everest, and Italy's battles with the EU over balancing its budgets.
13 Minutes to the Moon
File under: Apollo 11, AKA The Greatest Story Ever Podcasted
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.
The Wayne Rooney Podcast
File under: English football's exiled king-across-the water lets loose
This podcast sadly isn't a true crime series in which Wazza launches a one-man crusade to re-examine a cold case in rural Arkansas and find out what really happened that night. Rooney's late-career rumspringa over in Washington has brought out a different side of him: he's happy, he's the main man for DC United, and he's finally relaxed enough in interviews to hand out some spicy, spicy takes on the state of football at large. In the first of his interviews with Roger Bennett from American soccer podcast Men In Blazers he laid into Manchester United's players for downing tools at the end of the season and "finding someone to hide behind" on social media. He might yet turn into a swashbuckling pundit.
The Chernobyl Podcast
File under: A TV companion that's actually worth listening to
If you've not been watching HBO and Sky's miniseries about the cataclysmic 1986 nuclear reactor explosion, you're a fool to yourself. The slow-creeping horror, the overwhelming bleakness, the desperate fight to stop humanity destroying itself: it's incredibly good. It's also as true as possible to the reality of what happened at Chernobyl both during and after the disaster, and drew on first-hand accounts of survivors and witnesses. What's interesting about this podcast is that it feels less like a tossed-off tie-in and more like an act of transparency: series creator and writer Craig Mazin flags where the truth's been bent or elided for dramatic convenience, as well as talking through all the incredible true stuff about Chernobyl and life in the Soviet Union that didn't make it into the show. Given Chernobyl is about what happens when comfortable lies block the difficult truth, it makes a lot of sense.
Eli Roth's History of Horror
File under: Masters of terror vivisect their craft
That's a slightly misleading title—this isn't a chronological run through the history of horror cinema from the earliest days of moving pictures to now. Instead the director of Hostel chats to big, big names in film—the first three episodes are front-loaded with Stephen King, Edgar Wright and Quentin Tarantino—about their memories of and relationship with horror cinema over rambling, broadly unedited conversations. Wright's great on how horror and comedy co-mingle and amplify each other, Tarantino gets in-depth about his self-taught style and Stephen King dissects exactly what it is that makes audiences freak out and why.
File under: Knockabout chat straight from the pavilion bar
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 Cricket World Cup.
The Beautiful Brain
File under: Deep-dives into life after sport
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.
Charlie Brooker on Rule of Three
File under: Funny people talk funny stuff they find funny
The set-up of Rule of Three couldn't be much simpler: it's your classic show-and-tell, except it's comedians and writers enthusing over one touchstone of their craft with writers Jason Hazeley and Joel Morris. Charlie Brooker's pick is the gag-packed disaster spoof Airplane! ("Surely you can't be serious?"; "I am serious, and don't call me Shirley", etc) and its influence on everything he's done since is, suddenly, really obvious. Getting its mechanics up on the jacks and having a good root around is fascinating - Airplane!'s adherence to its own reality and self-seriousness while also mercilessly lampooning the form is often overlooked—but there's a lot of enlightening bits and pieces to prep you for the next series of Black Mirror. Basically, if you find Robocop as funny as Brooker reckons it is, you'll get Black Mirror on the level he meant you to.
The Evolution of Teeth on In Our Time
File under: Three experts chivvied along by no-messing northern veteran
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.
Against The Rules with Michael Lewis
This new series from the author of The Big Short, Moneyball and loads of other great re-examinations of broadly misunderstood or overlooked events is all about fairness, and the general lack of it in everyday life. It's about referees in all walks of life, the people to whom the responsibility of making sure things aren't simply just, but fair: basketball referees, the actual grammar police, judges in Uzbekistan, Wall Street watchdogs, emotion researchers and more. It's also about how the decline of the human, empathetic referee in American life is warping what fairness looks and feels like. Look past the aggressively horrible Comic Sans logo and you'll find a diamond.
This American Life
File under: Jon Ronson returns to Infowars
You'll know about raving, scenery-chewing conspiracy theorist and Infowars leader Alex Jones. In the second half of the recent 'Beware the Jabberwock' instalment of this venerable podcasting institution, entitled 'Alex in Wonderland', Ronson reconnected with Jones years after first meeting him for his conspiracy theorist investigation Them! to examine one of the most overlooked but important story Jones tells. It's not about Sandy Hook being a 'false flag', or Hillary Clinton being the devil, or any of his other demonstrably untrue and destructive falsehoods. It's a simpler story about the time he says he fought off an ambush attack while he was a kid at school—only, that's not how anyone else remembers it. Ronson pieces together what actually happened, and what this origin myth says about how Jones made himself into what he is today.
File under: Bite-sized current affairs
Radio 4's Today programme started its slightly younger 'n' funkier podcast in October, but after an uninspiring start it's found its stride in the last month or so. Two stand out: 'Has Brexit already changed me?', in which two young campaigners talk through the referendum, its fall-out and what it's likely to mean for young people and 'Did one Russian mastermind this political chaos?', which gives a swift précis of the career and personality of Putin adviser Vladislav Surkov, the man credited with a form of political manipulation based on confusion, contradiction and even the manipulation of reality itself—you might recognise him from Adam Curtis' HyperNormalisation.
The Late Night Alternative
File under: A snapshot of a uniquely inventive and strange mind
If you're unfamiliar, it's quite hard to explain the full weirdness of Frank Sidebottom. He was the creation of Chris Sievey, a restlessly creative Manchester musician who invented a goggle-eyed, papier maché-headed superfan to open gigs for his band the Freshies. Frank quickly eclipsed the band, and turned into a kind of surreal performance art/stand up comedy/deliberately rubbish northern cabaret fixture of tiny venues all over the country. Sievey died in 2010 at 54, but Frank was so beloved that a statue was erected in his hometown of Timperley.
In The Late Night Alternative Iain Lee, a friend of Sievey's, goes on a fascinating walk-round of Manchester Central Library's exhibition of the treasure trove he left in his cellar after his death, which goes some way to lifting Frank's head to show the man underneath. Lee's joined by Steve Sullivan, who directed the doc Being Frank which came out last Friday, and Frank's road manager Dave Arnold.
Wisden Cricket Weekly
File under: The expert guide to a summer extravaganza
Look, cricket is great. It is. It's brilliant. If you've been on the boundary fence about the whole idea of cricket up to now, this summer is exactly the time to get into it: the World Cup comes to England at the end of May, there's a home Ashes series squeezed into August and September, and Ireland play their first ever Test match—against England at Lord's, no less—at the end of July. Wisden is the cricketing Bible, and the latest instalment of its podcast is an indispensable primer for the domestic and international seasons to come, and picks out some narrative threads to follow over the coming months.
Full Disclosure with James O'Brien
File under: A good interviewer interviewing people well
While his day job remains being LBC's resident server of sobering reality and circumspection, O'Brien has launched a second podcast series. It follows roughly the same pattern as the fairly standard one-to-one chat of his first, Unfiltered, but this one tries to dig out subjects who don't give in-depth interviews particularly often. While that conceit is slightly dubious given that guest number two, Ricky Gervais, has been profiled pretty much endlessly of late (it turns out he's an atheist who thinks people are too quick to take offence to comedy—you'd have thought he'd have mentioned that before) and that nobody's ever really asked for a deep-dive on Deborah Meaden, it's always an engaging listen. The guests get significantly less heavyweight after Tony Blair in the opening episode, but Simon Amstell is reliably great and O'Brien has a knack for asking the right question at the right time.
Jokes with Mark Simmons
File under: Comedy under the microscope
That Mark Twain quote about jokes and dissecting frogs is funny, but it's a lot of old bobbins. Getting funny people to talk about how jokes work and the subtle carpentry of whittling a sentence into its funniest, most apparently effortless form is endlessly fascinating. Comedians including Seann Walsh and Mock the Week's Angela Barnes run through the jokes they decided to cut from their sets and talk about why—too long, too slow, too obtuse, not obtuse enough. It's still early days, but there's a lot of promise to the form.
File under: Lit crit history hit
Thirty years ago, Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses was at the centre of a firestorm. On one side: particularly pious Muslims who didn't like how it characterised Prophet Muhammad and his followers. On the other: Western free speech defenders who said Rushdie had the right to say whatever he liked. Then, the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa which called for Rushdie and his publishers to be killed and offered a $6 million bounty. This 10-part series tells the story behind the story, explaining all of the background as well as the blow-up and, crucially, without ignoring the Middle Eastern perspective and pretending it was a simple free-speech-is-good-the-end kind of tale.
Who The Hell Is Hamish?
File under: Surfing scammers
It seems like scam artists are the new serial killers, insofar as there's a voracious appetite for them in the podcast world. Hamish Watson was an absolutely classic surfer dude from Sydney, but he managed to swindle his way to a $7 million fortune and is awaiting sentencing. That's not the half of it though: he stole a lot more after duping people in Australia, America, Britain, Canada and Hong Kong, evading the authorities for decades. How did he do it? And what happened to all the money he managed to steal?
Bob Mortimer on Desert Island Discs
File under: Sweet, heartwarming daftness, plus Joni Mitchell
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 90s. 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.
Evil Has A Name
File under: High quality true crime
Aficionados of true crime, and certainly anyone who listens to My Favourite Murder, the behemoth of the genre, will know about forensic criminologist and all-round hero Paul Holes' efforts to crack the case of the Golden State Killer over two decades. If you don't, know that he's basically every tenacious and nuggety lawman you've ever heard of rolled into one. You'd need to be if you wanted to track down a killer and rapist who went by many aliases while active between 1975 and 1986, but who evaded capture for 40 years. This is the inside story of how the authorities caught up with the man who terrorised neighbourhoods in California and got away with it for so long, with first-hand accounts by those on the frontline of the hunt.
The Ron Burgundy Podcast
File under: A beloved 70s dinosaur joins the 21st century
The anchor of San Diego's KWVN news team has turned his hand to podcasting, and in an attempt to show that he's not just a master of broadcasting but the definitive master of all broadcasting ever, he's taking on as many different genres of the podcasting world as he can. The first few see Will Ferrell in character doing true crime, meditation with Deepak Chopra and chatting to RuPaul about which 10 women would make a best-ever list. The rambling form lets Ferrell get right into Burgundy mode and flesh out the character a bit more, so if the slightly lumpen Anchorman 2 felt like an unsatisfying place to leave him, this represents a welcome return.
Over My Dead Body
File under: Stranger-than-fiction
This doc from the creators of the grifting anaesthetist-based creepathon Dirty John and it covers a lot of the same themed: justice, revenge, love, and the extreme lengths people will go to in order to get what they want. The first season, 'Tally', follows Dan and Wendi, who appear to have it all: a loving marriage, top jobs as attorneys, and enough social heft that their wedding got a shout-out in the New York Times. It seemed too good to be true, and that's how it turned out. Things spiralled out of control. There was a divorce, a murder case, conspiracies and counter-conspiracies—and the ever-present sense that you can't trust anyone.
The Hurricane Tapes
File under: True crime deep-dive
In the mid-1960s Rubin 'Hurricane' Carter was a middleweight boxer who'd grown up in the Great Depression, living in fear of the KKK and eating the racoons his dad poached. He had aggressive style, fists like breezeblocks and an outside chance at the world title. Then, in June 1966, two men shot up a diner in Paterson, New Jersey, leaving three people dead—and Carter was found guilty of the crime the following year.
But that isn't the half of it: this four-parter series uses a cache of archive interviews with Carter himself, plus new testimony by contemporaries, to pull apart the shaky evidence, unreliable witnesses, unfair trial and institutional racism which saw Carter in jail, as well as Bob Dylan taking up his case and writing an absolute banger on the back of it.
The Last Days Of August
File under: Jon Ronson returns to the porn world
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
File under: Funny chat with funny people
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.
How To Burn A Million Quid
File under: Comedy drama about arguably the greatest band who ever lived
The story of Illuminati-obsessed Scottish-Scouse rave anarchists the KLF is legendary. They had a deliberately horrible number one hit, then wrote a book showing anyone could do it. At the 1992 Brit awards they fired a machine gun (filled with blanks) at the audience, then dumped a dead sheep at the afterparty. They split up and deleted their entire back catalogue.
And, most controversially of all, they took £1m in cash to a remote Scottish island and burned it. This lightweight but fun drama imagines how the whole thing looked from the inside to KLF members Jimmy Cauty and Bill Drummond, and to its credit is much, much more interested in the myth than the reality.
David Tennant Does A Podcast With...
File under: Actor mates shooting the breeze
Yes, there are absolutely loads of general chit-chat podcasts about, but this one benefits from the fact that actors talking to other actors about acting—and, more often, just offhandedly gossiping—is much, much more interesting than the usual bumph actors slip into for wary media interviews.
It helps that Tennant's extremely affable, and it helps even more that his Broadchurch pal and newly minted national treasure Olivia Colman is on the first episode. Coming up: Michael Sheen, Whoopi Goldberg and fellow Doctor Who alumnus Jodie Whittaker.
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.
This story originally appeared on Esquire.co.uk. Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.