In Review

Podcasts of the week: from supernatural encounters to the BBC

Featuring Uncanny, Nolan Investigates: Stonewall and Yours Sincerely with Labour MP Jess Phillips

Images of the three podcasts

With his previous podcast, The Battersea Poltergeist, Danny Robins established himself “as the audio hero of all things spooky”, said Miranda Sawyer in The Observer. Now he’s back with Uncanny, a terrific, 15-part follow-up examining supernatural encounters submitted for investigation by listeners.

First up was the tale of Room 611, a student room at Queen’s University Belfast, in which successive occupants experienced paranormal phenomena. One witness is Ken, now a highly respected scientist, who uses the phrase “pure, distilled evil” to describe what he met there. It’s already an “eerie” story, but Robins is skilled at adding to the drama and suspense, aided by the “atmospheric” soundtrack and music. The whole thing’s a “hoot”.

Nolan Investigates: Stonewall is a new BBC Sounds podcast from the 5 Live and BBC Radio Ulster journalist Stephen Nolan, which examines the influence of the “LGBTQ+ lobbying group” Stonewall on public life, and the BBC in particular. That might sound niche, said Charlotte Runcie in The Daily Telegraph, but it’s an “astonishing” and gripping listen: a “witty, fearless” and “masterfully produced” documentary that rivals the classics of the investigative podcast genre, such as Serial or The Missing Cryptoqueen.

Nolan and fellow investigator David Thompson don’t question the nature of Stonewall’s work, or look into the charge that it prioritises the interests of trans people over those of gay women and men. Instead, they take aim “first and foremost” at Nolan’s own employer, the BBC – investigating how and why a single-issue lobby group came to exert such powerful influence over its workplace policies and practices. This is urgent, “important” journalism, and it deserves a wider audience.

The Labour MP Jess Phillips possesses that rare kind of charisma that you “barely register as charisma at all”, said James Marriott in The Times. I would call it the “charisma of sincerity” – that quality present in the sort of people “you meet one moment and in the next you’re blubbing to them about your dead grandmother”.

In Phillips’s new podcast, Yours Sincerely, the set-up is that each guest she interviews has written letters to three people: someone they love, someone who is no longer around, and someone who doesn’t realise the impact they’ve had on the guest’s life. In the wrong hands, this could be painfully “cheesy, fake or boring”. Instead, it’s insightful and compelling.

In one episode, the TV vicar Kate Bottley speaks movingly about her childhood, and about how her life was changed by a council-funded Sheffield theatre group. It turns out “it’s not just the guests who cry... Sometimes reviewers do too.”

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