Less ordinary lives (BBC World Service) | BBC Sounds
Don’t Log Out: Daria – Love and War (Radio 4) | BBC Sounds
Lady Killers with Lucy Worsley (Radio 4) | BBC Sounds
The other people. Strange, isn’t it? Strange, and far more interesting than yourself. If you are looking for these fascinating weirdos, then Outlook is – was – a daily World Service interview program that features hundreds of interviews to binge on, each program featuring the story of a captivating everyday person, from disaster expert to turtle keeper. Some of the stories have been covered elsewhere (the story of trans man Freddy McConnell giving birth, for example), but Outlook held on.
It was a nice show, but quite an old world service. Her vowel-beautiful interviewers politely probed their subjects in cool BBC fashion. Which is good, but not as catchy as it could be. But now the show has been revamped and – ta-da! – appeared last week after turning into a weekly podcast called Less ordinary lives. A much better title, and, perhaps because there’s more time on a weekly show, the production team added some more contemporary details. A few touches of background music for the tension, a recreated ambient spot. Additionally, there’s a new host, Mobeen Azhar, who joins Jo Fidgen and Emily Webb, two Outlook Veterans.
It is Azhar who starts Less ordinary lives with a crackerjack story: that of Tom Justice, a middle-class American who, at the end of the 1990s, started robbing banks, for no particular reason. (And yes, her story has already been covered, notably on Love + Radio’s choir boy.) Justice did not need money. He had the talent to do something better – he was an expert cyclist. But somewhere along the line, he had watched two movies that were under his skin. First, the grunge romantic comedy reality hurtswho clicked with his lazy mentality, and, secondly, Heat, the ultra-shiny Robert De Niro/Al Pacino vehicle that gave him the idea: “It unlocked the fantasy in me. Justice had almost made it to the Olympics but hadn’t had the discipline. Robbing a bank was, in his eyes, more him. Somewhere deep inside he thought he was a movie anti-hero.
As you can imagine, everything goes wrong, but not as quickly as you might assume. Justice’s story is a great adventure (he admits to being more afraid of his mother than of the police) and Azhar is an excellent interviewer, his optimistic and cheeky approach masking the fact that he asks all the right questions. We have one cliffhanger left, to wrap up this week (another contemporary podcast trope). A great start.
On Radio 4, Alan Dein, extraordinary interviewer of ordinary people, is back with another series of Do not disconnect. Dein is the expert at talking to unknown heroes, telling their stories, making them shine. His series Lives in a landscapealso on Radio 4, provided many of my favorite radio moments; Consequences, also. And Do not disconnect always worth listening to. It all started 20 years ago, when Do not hang up, where the fearsome Dein called random phone booths across the UK and tried to speak to whoever picked up. After a decade, he moved on to Do not disconnect, and chatted with people online (by talking, not just texting). He stayed in touch with some.
One of them is Daria, who lives in southeastern Ukraine. Dein first connected with her in 2012, and we’re meeting her again now. She is lovely, a living ray of sunshine, even if her life is not without difficulties: she is in a wheelchair, she had cancer, she had a delicate relationship with her father. Since February, of course, her life has gotten even harder, though she’s still, incredibly, a happy audio presence. I was very moved by her description of her boyfriend, from how they met to how they live now, with his parents, ears still open to the sound of sirens. Sometimes he has to pick it up and carry it to the air raid shelter. She dreams, she says, of traveling to the future, “as a tourist – not, God forbid, as a refugee – as a proud Ukrainian”, and meeting Dein in person. Unavoidable.
Also on Radio 4, historian Lucy Worsley has a new series, lady killers, on the murderous past. Women don’t tend to kill, so you can’t call these women ordinary, but the first case, at least, was very domestic. Florence Bravo was a Victorian woman who became wealthy when her first husband died. When she married her second, things got a little out of hand, and one evening husband number two died, poisoned. So: did she do it or not?
Worsley went through the investigation files and, in the manner of The long view asked lawyers and experts how such a case would play out in court and in the media today. The result was fun, if inconclusive. Today’s coercive control laws might have helped Bravo. But the media sneer at how a woman presents herself (Bravo was deemed past her prime) doesn’t seem to have changed all that much.