Podcasts of the week: Edwardiana, conspiracies and a kidnapping
Featuring Stephen Fry’s Edwardian Secrets, Finding Q and The Grand Scheme: Snatching Sinatra
Stephen Fry is a podcasting “pioneer” who made his first, Stephen Fry’s Podgrams, back in 2008 – half a decade before the format went mainstream, said Patricia Nicol in The Sunday Times. His latest is a “fascinating” and “lavishly upholstered” 12-part history series, Stephen Fry’s Edwardian Secrets.
Like its 2018 predecessor, Stephen Fry’s Victorian Secrets, the new series ranges widely, with great confidence and wit. It kicks off with Edward VII (“Dirty Bertie”) and “his gargantuan appetites” (culinary and sexual), then “loosens its stays” to explore such subjects as the history of flight, eugenics, the suffragists, detective fiction, black Edwardians, sexual attitudes, psychoanalysis and the rise of the tabloid press.
There’s plenty of “delicious tittle-tattle” as well as solid “nuggets of knowledge”. And Fry is on top form – in non-pompous mode and clearly enjoying himself – as he steers this “opulent ocean liner” of a series with suavity and skill.
The core tenet of the cult-like movement – that the US government, and the world, are secretly run by a cabal of cannibalistic Satan-worshipping paedophiles led by Hillary Clinton – is obviously deranged. Yet the “great triumph” of this podcast is that it carefully documents all aspects of a movement that is both “sinister and banal”, “laughable and bloody terrifying”.
Presenter Nicky Woolf talks to both “true believers” and people whose lives have been ruined by the cult, as well as those involved in its inception on the 8chan chat site. It makes for a “fantastic” series that “opens up lavish panoramas of modern politics, the recesses of the internet and human psychology”.
The best true crime shows from the US podcast network Wondery are “like a fireside ghost story, or an old film noir with gravelly voice-over”, said Miranda Sawyer in The Observer. The secret to their success is simple: “a brilliant tale-teller spins a thrilling yarn”.
The latest in the genre is their “fab” new series, The Grand Scheme: Snatching Sinatra, about the 1963 kidnapping of Frank Sinatra’s son, Frank Jr.
The narrator is John Stamos, an American actor who has a personal connection to the case, and he tells the tale with “élan and delight”. “Various California types, famous and not, wander through the story, giving it all an L.A. Confidential feel”.
But the “biggest pull is that the show is based around the memories of the actual kidnapper”, Barry Keenan, who proves a “gift” of an interviewee. Plus, the story is “so bananas that it had me properly laughing on a couple of occasions. And no one gets hurt.”
The Week Unwrapped: Germany’s left turn, glass shortages and a gaming ban
Are German voters turning away from Angela Merkel and the centre-right? What’s really causing an NHS test tube shortage? And why is China banning games on school nights? Olly Mann and The Week delve behind the headlines and debate what really matters from the past seven days.