Favourite podcasts

Other podcasts I enjoy

Conversations – Australian, Richard Fidler hosts a wide range of guests, from celebrities to ordinary citizens with not so ordinary stories. Fidler’s amiable manner and his penchant for finding the fascinating tales lurking just out of reach makes this podcast a regular joy.

The Documentary – From the BBC World Service, aka the most civilised of all modern media inventions, a range of stories – many originally from radio – talking about everything from Sri Lanka’s increasingly complex relationship with elephants to the problem of chemical drugs in industrial English towns.

Folger Shakespeare Library: Shakespeare Unlimited – the most consistently rewarding Shakespeare podcast out there, with interviews of luminaries such as Stanley Wells and Stephen Greenblatt, alongside investigations into all sorts of modern Bardolatry.

Frank Delaney’s Re: Joyce – the #1 inspiration for my podcast career, Delaney began this not long before his 70th birthday, aiming to discuss James Joyce’s Ulysses one paragraph at a time. What began in short bursts became a weekly necessity, with Delaney’s eloquent discussions perfectly phrased in his lilting brogue. Never one to avoid a tangent, Frank was a weekly inspiration for six years, until his untimely passing in early 2017. If you’re ever considering giving Ulysses a try, I recommend this as a handy tour guide to the first several chapters (and there’s plenty of reference to the Bard here, too!)

Fresh Air – From NPR, Terry Gross and others interview a range of fascinating subjects. This long-running radio series is particularly timely on the passing of the greats, as they’ve almost always got something in the archives.

Futility Closet – This delightful husband and wife couple, who also run the fantastic associated website as a full-time gig, research and present fascinating stories from the annals of history, be it tales of escaped slaves or pigs on trial for murder. Beyond this, the stream of lateral thinking puzzles is worth the whole show.

In Our Time – Melvyn Bragg is a gem! Now approaching its 800th episode, this is the kind of series only the BBC could make, in which Melvyn interviews three academics each week on a subject, which could be as broad as Renaissance art or as specific as a mathematics textbook from the 13th century. Melvyn’s interrogative approach perhaps unusually draws out the contrasts between the stronger and weaker guests each week, which always makes for invigorating listening. A podcast for the armchair scholar in all of us.

Lettter from America by Alistair Cooke – For decades, British Alistair Cooke reported on American life, culture, and news to his compatriots from his adopted home on the East Coast of the USA. The BBC has remarkably posted countless episodes from the 1940s  to 2004, when Cooke retired and then passed away. Sometimes the episodes are interesting for the contemporary viewpoint of a major event; often they enlighten by unintentionally revealing more general attitudes; and sometimes they simply delight in Cooke’s wit and wisdom. Delightfully unexpurgated even when discussing topics now no longer politically correct. (Note: for ease of use, this is divided up into different podcasts online, separated by president.)

Met Opera Guild Podcast – Most of these installments are taken from lectures given either live at the Met before performances or from older radio shows. It’s imperfect since many of the lectures (especially the older ones) go into plot and musical depth that will mostly interest newcomers while also betraying a slightly pretentious academic approach to the history of the work that might be less welcoming. But, in my experience, that’s how lectures on opera work. There are plenty of musical excerpts, though, and a real sense that the Guild wants to engage with all fans and, more importantly, all types of opera. (My podcast to listen to while cooking.)

Reading Latin Poetry – Unfortunately no longer active, this was a delightful podcast hosted by a university colleague of mine. The episodes are well worth listening to if you have some Classical knowledge, or even if you’re just interested and willing to do a bit of homework.

Reduced Shakespeare Company Podcast – Like many interview podcasts designed by companies, this can often centre on interviews designed to promote a Reduced Shakespeare show or something affiliated, so I tend to cherry-pick episodes, but it’s great to have a more casual approach to the Bard and to have a window into some of the adventurous productions taking place around the world.

Revisionist History – Malcolm Gladwell, je t’aime. The first season was released in 2016, and I’m hoping for a second. Gladwell analyses the many strings that pull on any member of society, and why we should question some of the assumptions we’ve made. My favourite episodes thus far involve comparing the first female artist of the British Academy with Australia’s first female Prime Minister, and an enraging revelation on the nature of private donations to universities in the USA.

Seincast – Seinfeld geeks only. Frank Delaney (above) was my inspiration for creating a podcast, but these boys were my weekly motivation. Dissecting every episode of Seinfeld from the character arcs right down to the “excruciating minutiae”, it’s a loving tribute that always makes me smile. (Sign up to their social media, too, for a range of interesting production photos and trivia.)

Shakespeare Retold – Rather annoyingly, this clever BBC podcast – which picked Shakespeare stories and told them in bold new fashions, with a youth audience primarily in mind but nevertheless sly and engaging to us oldies – is gradually removing its episodes. Here’s hoping they resurface in some format.

Slate Presents Lexicon Valley – Words, words, words. English language enthusiasts should gravitate to this one. It was always interesting but, admittedly, the previous hosts had a particularly American approach to their work that I didn’t find compatible with my interests. John McWhorter, linguist extraordinaire, is a much more suitable docent for a tour of the language. I’ve long been a fan of McWhorter: he’s progressive when it comes to what we should consider “acceptable English” but at the same time he recognises there are always reasons for why things are the way they are, and he’s determined to find out. Whether you want to know why people in 1930s films talked that way, how legitimately we should approach “African-American English”, or what’s going on with the lack of a plural “you” in English, McWhorter has got you covered.

The West Wing Weekly – Another TV podcast, although with a twist: one of the two hosts is a cast member of The West Wing, the erudite (and delightfully cruel) Joshua Malina. He’s joined by Hrishikesh Hirway of Song Exploder podcast, who matches Malina in wit and charm while completely eclipsing him in terms of West Wing nerdiness. An added bonus is that the show has interviewed most of the major West Wing cast members, and regularly speaks to current and former government officials about the relationship between the show and the real world.

Thinking Allowed – Sociologist Laurie Taylor typically explores two different ideas each episode, in a brief but intellectual format, looking at where social studies are taking us in the 21st century.