In Review

Podcasts of the week: missing people, identity and nuclear war

Featuring The Missing, My Albion, and Atomic Hobo

Pandora Sykes’s new podcast only debuted a few weeks ago, and is already a smash hit, said Francesca Angelini in The Sunday Times. Called The Missing, it explores 20 unsolved disappearances – some of them decades old – and has the hallmarks of the true crime genre: “gripping whodunnit narratives, moody music, emotive case studies”. But its aim is to dig up new information, with the help of the organisations Locate International and Missing People, rather than merely to provide “voyeuristic entertainment”. Crucially, the show has the approval and involvement of those left behind, said Miranda Sawyer in The Observer. And Sykes, who formerly co-presented The High Low podcast, proves an “excellent host, her script and presentation striking the right balance between intrigue and empathy”. Will it lead to a breakthrough in any of the cases? I am doubtful, but it’s a worthwhile project all the same – and it makes for an absorbing listen. 

At the moment, what I am really looking for in a podcast or radio show is the feeling of “going somewhere other than the corner shop”, said Rachel Humphreys in The Guardian. My Albion, which finished its four-episode run on Radio 4 last month (and remains available on BBC Sounds) did a wonderful job of spiriting me across the British Isles. It also sparked in me a desire to learn more about English folklore. In the programme, the London-based broadcaster and producer Zakia Sewell, whose heritage is a mix of Caribbean, Welsh and English, explores English national identity, partly through interviews with folk musicians, morris dancers, and her own family members. It is illuminating, “beautifully made” and unexpectedly stirring. 

Julie McDowall is so obsessed with nuclear war, the Scottish writer named her pet dog after the largest hydrogen bomb to have been detonated – Tsar Bomba, said James Marriott in The Times. She is also the maker and presenter of Atomic Hobo, an independent podcast about atomic bombs, and our preparations for nuclear war. Only a show “driven by true geekery” could boast such “diversely esoteric” episodes as these: atomic bombs and sex; the history of underground nuclear testing; the impact of nuclear testing in Kazakhstan; nuclear retaliation in the age of Harold Macmillan; and atomic-themed pop music of the 1950s. There are masses of well-chosen archive clips. It’s well researched, well scripted and the host narrates in an ethereal (perhaps too ethereal for some) “Scottish whisper that seems to hint at the eeriness and terror of nukes”. Terrifying subject matter; hugely enjoyable podcast.

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