PM | BBC Radio 4
The Grenfell Tower Inquiry | BBC Radio 4 PM podcast
The Home Babies | BBC Radio 4 PM podcast
Eddie Mair is leaving PM and many will be bereft. Including my mum, who phones me to talk about it. I tell her that he’s starting a new show in September on LBC, but I wonder if she can be persuaded to change the pre-sets on her radio? Before she does, we need to know the schedule. She’d be traumatised if she tuned into Farage by mistake.
It’s a coup for LBC to land Mair, and no doubt he will have fun with his new show. He had a lunchtime show on Radio 5 Live when it first started, and he’s always been excellent with so-called “ordinary” people, listening properly, not interrupting, asking intimate questions without being intrusive. It goes without saying that he’s a big loss to the BBC. (Despite what has been reported, I have it on excellent authority that pay was not the reason he left.) His deft and funny presentation style will be missed; there are very few presenters able to move from joking to deadly serious in the space of a couple of seconds. He will be well suited to the type of live, in-the-moment show it seems likely that LBC will provide. Also, he can always come back. I like it when people – producers, directors, reporters, presenters – leave the BBC for a while. It’s a big world out there, and the private sector teaches you a lot.
Over the past few years, Mair and his producers have moved PM from a long-standing, slightly stuffy Radio 4 institution into a fleet-footed news programme confident enough to deal with the London bombings, Steve Hewlett’s cancer treatment, stalking and Grenfell. PM’s spin-off podcast, iPM, where the stories come from listeners, has provided some of my favourite listening moments (the post-affair couple still plays on my mind). If PM’s editors are respected, the show will continue to flourish, but we will miss Mair. I wonder if LBC will put him on at 5pm?
I’ve mentioned iPM, but there are a couple of other PM podcasts that are well worth your time. The Grenfell Tower Inquiry, with Eddie Mair, is exactly that – a sober and informative day-by-day podcast that summarises what is being said in the Grenfell Tower inquiry. We hear witness testimony, recorded live at the inquiry, including firefighters and residents. Did you know that the “stay in your flat” advice wasn’t fire brigade policy, but was set by those who own or manage high-rise buildings, because blocks like Grenfell should be built to contain a fire in one flat? “We’re seeing this interdependency between the buildings policy – stay put – and the way in which the fire service had planned its strategy,” says Sangita Myska, PM’s reporter.
At the moment we’re in the early hours of the fire, with the firefighters telling us what they did and why. The detail is devastating. Communications equipment failed, so they couldn’t speak to their commanders. Firefighter Thomas Abell: “I had not fought a fire in a high-rise building until the night of Grenfell Tower…” Abell has a minor panic attack but still stops one man from tying bedsheets together to escape. Can you imagine? With this podcast, you can. And you learn.
Another PM podcast, The Home Babies, focuses on the St Mary’s mother-and-baby home in the Galway town of Tuam in the west of Ireland. Reporter Becky Milligan, always excellent, pieces together the appalling story, uncovered by amateur historian Catherine Corless. This week, we heard from two of the babies, whose unmarried mothers were chucked out of the home without their children. PJ Haverty and Anne Silke were given to other families. “God almighty, I thought, am I human at all?” said Haverty, chosen by his foster family, aged six, because he looked as though he’d work hard on their farm.
This all happened not so long ago, between 1925 and 1961. Whether Grenfell or Tuam, it’s important such stories are heard. As we know, those in power do not always act in our best interests.
Three new Radio 4 docs about UK life today
Mind the Gap: Britain’s Transport Divide
Early on in Buses, the first episode of this two-part series, a sequence of damning facts is revealed, including these: since the 1986 deregulation of buses, bus use has declined by 34% outside London. In London, where buses are still regulated, bus use has gone up 98% and now half of all England’s bus journeys are taken in the capital. There is a huge gap in transport spending between London and everywhere else. Writer Lynsey Hanley tries to travel around Leeds using the bus: “unbelievably confusing”, and impossibly slow. This is a proper problem. Politicians should listen.
The Cult of Aphex Twin
Music writer John Doran delves into the obtuse oddbod/musical genius that is Richard D James, AKA Aphex Twin. Interviews with musicians and fans such as Vic Reeves and Scanner reveal aspects of James, but not the full man. “There’s an unknowability about him,” remarks David Toop. Lucid dreaming, doppelgangers and a 12-year-old video director all make an appearance in this detailed, careful documentary, and Doran ends by arguing that Aphex Twin’s strange electronic work is best seen as part of Cornish folk music. Beautiful use of sound means this programme is best listened to on headphones.
Former gang member Simeon “Zimbo” Moore unpicks the complicated relationship between knife violence and urban art forms. He admits that certain films and songs fuelled the attitudes that led him to becoming an offender and gangster. So do drill videos on YouTube shape lives or reflect them? This is a challenging, timely programme and Zimbo is a lovely presenter, warm with everyone he talks to, even a former gang rival. “Ten years ago,” he admits, “I would have been looking to blow his head off, and he mine.”