Ear Candy

Ear Candy: Helen Lewis Has Left the Chat

In part, it was the sheer novelty of it all, communicating with anyone from anywhere at any time, plus the visceral excitement of all the dings, window-shaking “nudges” and gaudy emoticons. Perhaps most importantly, though, it could all take place away from my parents’ prying ears.

Bar an embarrassing rejection that I’d rather not go into, I emerged from the days of MSN relatively unscathed. Relative, that is, to some of the horror stories in Helen Lewis’s new podcast on the rise of instant messaging, Helen Lewis Has Left the Chat.

Ear Candy: Why Do You Hate Me?

Logo for podcast series Why Do You Hate Me?

She wasn’t exaggerating. The same profile noted that, of the 14,488 messages marked for review by the BBC’s online abuse monitoring system (between 1 January and late June in 2023), 11,771 were directed at the broadcaster’s Disinformation and Social Media Correspondent.

It’s a tragic irony of the job that, by investigating cases of online hate you inevitably become the victim of one. And yet Spring refuses to back down from this new virtual front line, ie, her inbox.

Ear Candy: Obsessed with…Happy Valley

Obsessed with… Happy Valley podcast (credit: BBC)

As Sally Wainwright’s masterful Yorkshire noir approaches the end of its third and final series – and Sarah Lancashire’s heroic Sergeant Catherine Cawood her long overdue retirement – it’s worth savouring every episode.

Obsessed with... Happy Valley is the BBC’s companion podcast, in which comedians Amy Gledhill and Isy Suttie discuss the drama episode by episode. From the start, Wainwright begins to weave several narrative strands, so there is plenty to pore over.

Ear Candy: Where There’s a Will, There’s a Wake

Kathy Burke (credit: SomethinElse)

In a welcome shake-up of the celebrity-on-celebrity interview format, each episode sees Burke invite a famous friend to bring their best gallows banter and fantasise about their deaths.

She has described it as her “fantasy football” version of death and funeral planning. The likes of James Acaster, Jamali Maddix and Stewart Lee are on the line-up. But the draw is undoubtedly Burke herself, and it’s as sweary and smutty a podcast as you could hope for from her.

Ear Candy: The News Agents

Jon Sopel, Emily Maitlis and Lewis Goodall of The News Agents podcast

In a clear statement of intent, a recording of Maitlis’s headline-making MacTaggart Lecture, in which she decried the BBC’s version of “impartiality”, was published under the title before the launch proper.

In other words, this time it’s partial. Some were sceptical about the appetite listeners would have for the opinions of these erstwhile public service ­journalists but The News Agents has taken up permanent residence around the top of the charts, alongside that other opinionated podcast, Alastair Campbell and Rory Stewart’s The Rest Is Politics.

Ear Candy: The Rest Is Politics

Alastair Campbell and  Rory Stewart for The Rest Is Politics  (credit: Acast.com)

Given their respective backgrounds – maverick political high-flyers, each with their own distinctive hinterlands – theirs is a penetrating gaze.  

Campbell, a prolific journalist and writer best known as Tony Blair’s acerbic spin doctor, knows No 10 from the inside. Stewart, Secretary of State for International Development in Theresa May’s Cabinet and an early public critic of Boris Johnson, is also a best-selling author, academic and royal tutor.  

Ear Candy: Unreal: A Critical History of Reality TV

I say this not simply to air my grievances but to recommend a defence against such snobbery. Pandora Sykes and Sirin Kale’s new 10-part podcast, Unreal: A Critical History of Reality TV, makes a thorough case for the genre’s cultural significance, without turning a blind eye to its shaky ethical foundations.  

Ear Candy: Bunk Bed

Bunk Bed (credit: BBC Radio 4)

It probably sounds strange, but there’s no better way to put the brakes on your own racing thoughts than to listen to two grown men lying in a bunk bed, rambling on about life and death and everything in between.

That’s the basis of their podcast, Bunk Bed, which first aired on BBC Radio 4 in 2014 and has just finished its ninth series. There’s no structure, only what they describe as a “stream of semi-consciousness,” which gives rise to any number of random thoughts, often silly but sometimes quite profound.

Ear Candy: Things Fell Apart

Credit: BBC

In Things Fell Apart, he excavates the battlegrounds of the American culture wars to find their origin stories, and explains how, exactly, things fell apart and left the country so fractured and polarised. Abortion, homosexuality, cancel culture, Satanism – he picks the biggest and most violent battles. But the episodes start in such obscure places and take such unexpected turns that each one is a revelatory listen.