A rich selection of documentaries aimed at relentlessly curious minds. Presented by Ashley John-Baptiste, this twice weekly podcast replaces the Radio 4 Documentary of the Week.


  • Waiting for the Van

    23/07/2021 Duração: 37min

    "I couldn't stand back anymore and just watch people die." In September 2020, drug policy activist Peter Krykant decided he'd had enough. The former heroin addict, turned frontline campaigner, bought a minivan and kitted it out with sanitisers and needles, a supply of naloxone- the medication used to reverse an opioid overdose- and a defibrillator. He parked it in Glasgow's city centre and opened its doors to homeless drug users who are most at risk of overdose. The van is operating as a drug consumption room (DCR), which are widely used in Europe and North America. But in Britain they're considered illegal under the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act, though legal experts dispute that. Scotland now holds a per capita death rate three times higher than anywhere else in Europe, tallying six straight years of record-setting, drug-related deaths. The SNP government has expressed support for bold initiatives, like DCRs, but claims its hands are tied by Westminster. A few years ago the Home Office had stepped in to hal

  • King Louis the First of Britain

    20/07/2021 Duração: 28min

    The great jazz trumpeter and vocalist Louis Armstrong died 50 years ago today, in New York. In his near 70 years on Earth, the man known to his fans as "Satchmo" and "Pops" made friends and created admirers wherever he played. It was no different in Britain. Louis came here first in 1932 and lastly in 1968. He influenced many jazz performers including one of this country's finest trumpeters, Byron Wallen, who first picked up the trumpet after hearing "Satchmo" play. In this programme- "King Louis the First of Britain", Byron sets out to find out just why Louis made such a connection with people here - a connection that is just as strong today. A 6foot6 production for BBC Radio 4

  • Reflections on Hi-Vis

    16/07/2021 Duração: 29min

    Chances are at some point today you’ve come across someone wearing a hi-vis vest or jacket - seeing a cyclist, accepting a delivery, passing a construction site, watching a protest on TV, being told you “can’t park there” or glancing across the dance floor at the weekend’s rave. People wear it for a variety of reasons - safety, status, security, solidarity. In Reflections on Hi-Vis, Steph McGovern asks why a safety item has become so ubiquitous. What does that say about us? Are we more safety conscious? Or has the day-glo uniform come to signify authority in all its forms? After all, no event is complete without a fluorescent-clad army pointing and directing. Politicians never miss an opportunity to appear on TV in a hard hat and a glowing jacket. In France, hi-vis came to symbolise a whole protest movement – the eponymous Gilets Jaunes. Ironically hi-vis was born out of an industrial accident. Student Bob Switzer had a summer job unloading trays of tomatoes at a Californian Heinz Factory. In 1933 he fell,

  • Thank You & Goodbye

    13/07/2021 Duração: 58min

    Love or loathe it, once the News of the World bit the dust after 168 years in print — engulfed in phone-hacking scandals — it was clear that the British media would never be the same again. The paper's demise marked the end of big-budget, mega-selling tabloids that could demolish careers, ruin lives, or influence a nation. How did the biggest selling English language newspaper in the world suddenly lose the ability to claim that they represented the public? Was the News of the World - for so long the financial engine room of Rupert Murdoch's News UK - ultimately doomed by the advent of online journalism, tightening privacy laws, and changing attitudes to the stories it specialised in? And in the wake of the Leveson Inquiry, has tabloid journalism learned its lesson? Marking 10 years since the paper put out its final issue on 10th July 2011, The Guardian’s media editor Jim Waterson tells the inside story of the once mighty red top's final death throes. Speaking to those on the inside as well as those who br

  • My Cat, The Judge

    09/07/2021 Duração: 29min

    Meet Velma: a cat with attitude. (Possibly...) And her owner, ​comedian Suzi Ruffell, who adores her pet - but thinks she's been getting a tad tetchy since they started spending more time together during the past year's various lockdowns. Is Suzi just projecting her own feelings onto an unsuspecting animal, or are those pointed stares a sign that Velma's passing frosty judgement on her owner's life choices? Together, they embark on a journey of discovery to find out more about cat behaviour and cognition, the world of feline research and the bond between cats and humans. And of course, to discover the answer to Suzi's burning question: is her cat judging her? Presented by Suzi Ruffell Produced by Lucy Taylor for BBC Audio in Bristol Featuring excerpts from: - The ending of an episode of the television show 'Pointless', produced for the BBC by Remarkable Television with theme tune composed by Marc Sylvan; - A video of Texas lawyer Rod Ponton appearing as a cat during a virtual court session, as shared on

  • Lost for Words

    06/07/2021 Duração: 29min

    Struggling to find words might be one of the first things we notice when someone develops dementia, while more advanced speech loss can make it really challenging to communicate with loved ones. And understanding what’s behind these changes may help us overcome communication barriers when caring for someone living with the condition. When Ebrahim developed Alzheimer’s Disease, for example, he’d been living in the UK for many years. Gradually his fluent English faded and he reverted to his mother tongue, Farsi - which made things tricky for his English-speaking family who were caring for him. Two decades on, his son, the journalist and author David Shariatmadari, seeks answers to his father’s experience of language loss. What can neuroscience reveal about dementia, ageing, and language changes? Why are some aspects of language more vulnerable than others - and, importantly, what are the best approaches to communicating with someone living with dementia? David reflects on archive recordings of his dad, and sp

  • The Woman-Machine

    02/07/2021 Duração: 58min

    While the history of electronic music includes many notable men whose stories have been frequently celebrated, the genre has also provided a space for a wide range of extraordinary women to create a musical room of their own. Working with machines meant being able to sidestep many of the hurdles that stood in the way of women aspiring to a musical career, such as access to orchestras, commissions and concert halls, and an over-riding failure to be taken seriously by the male musical gate-keepers. Elizabeth Alker examines the connections between early pioneers such as Eliane Radigue and Daphne Oram (who gained access to studios thanks to the second world war), those musicians who followed in their immediate wake such as Suzanne Ciani and Laurie Spiegel, and today’s generation of female composers. Anna Meredith, Holly Herndon, Afrodeutsche and JLin all speak with Elizabeth about their own work and the debt they owe their predecessors. Central to the story is the composer and academic Pauline Oliveros, who fou

  • Detoxifying the Classics

    29/06/2021 Duração: 28min

    Why are white nationalists and the far right so fond of Ancient Greece and Rome? Katherine Harloe, Professor of Classics and Intellectual History at the University of Reading, looks at the ways in which the classical world is both used to lend respectability to the politics of hate, and distorted to give the false impression that it was an all-white space. But this is not just a modern problem - from British colonial India to fascist Italy, Katherine delves into the last 300 years of history to explain how the ancient world and white supremacy became entwined, and asks what classicists today can do about it. Produced by Nathan Gower An Overcoat Media production for BBC Radio 4

  • Blue: Pain and Pleasure

    25/06/2021 Duração: 29min

    Marking the 50th anniversary of the release of Joni Mitchell's seminal album Blue, Laura Marling tells the story behind the writing and recording of the album, and explains why Blue is regarded by critics as one of the greatest albums of all time. Joni Mitchell’s masterpiece was conceived and created with raw emotion at its heart and she poured everything she had into the writing and recording of her music. As Joni said at the time, "I couldn’t look at people without weeping, I was just dripping in earnestness and sincerity. I realised a lot of people were listening to me, so they better find out who they’re worshipping, let’s see if they can take it, let’s get real - so I wrote Blue, which horrified a lot of people. I just revealed human traits. When people see themselves in it the communication is complete." Laura explains how she first became aware of Blue and describes the enormous impact the album had on her - artistically and personally. Laura will also include contributions from other fans of Joni's

  • Return to the Homeless Hotel

    22/06/2021 Duração: 28min

    A year after rough sleepers were given emergency accommodation during the first coronavirus lockdown, has the unprecedented operation had a lasting impact? In March 2020, Simon’s life was transformed, from sleeping in shop doorways in Manchester to an en suite room at the Holiday Inn. He was one of thousands of homeless people across the country offered somewhere to stay as the Covid-19 pandemic reached the UK. The highs and lows of Simon’s experience were captured in Radio 4’s The Homeless Hotel as he dealt with the challenges of his addictions, illness, and the fear of ending up back on the streets. In Return to the Homeless Hotel, reporter Simon Maybin asks where Simon is now. What’s happened to the hotel? And has the radical approach to accommodating people who are street homeless resulted in a radical reduction of rough sleepers - or a return to the status quo? Reporter/producer: Simon Maybin

  • Adults, Almost

    18/06/2021 Duração: 29min

    Frank and fearless teenagers from Company Three youth theatre spent 2020 making a time capsule of their lives in lockdown, from the day their schools shut down to the present. Re-cording on their phones, they created lively, intimate scenes from family life, reflecting on what it means to come of age without the usual rites of passage like exams and school leaving parties. They have lost much - but, as the year went on, they found sides to themselves that took them by surprise, and a new appreciation of relationships with other. Presented by Kezia Adewale and Shilton Freeman, the programme includes songs, jokes, sound recordings and thoughts from many other members of Company Three. Sound design and composition: Jon Nicholls. Producer: Monica Whitlock

  • A Sense of Music

    11/06/2021 Duração: 29min

    Music can make us feel happy and sad. It can compel us to move in time with it, or sing along to a melody. It taps into some integral sense of musicality that binds us together. But music is regimented, organised. That same 'sense' that lets us lean into Beethoven makes a bad note or a missed beat instantly recognisable. But does that same thing happen in the minds of animals? Can a monkey feel moved by Mozart? Will a bird bop to a beat? Do animals share our 'Sense of Music'? Charles Darwin himself thought that the basic building blocks of an appreciation for music were shared across the animal kingdom. But over decades of scientific investigation, evidence for this has been vanishingly rare. Fresh from his revelation that animals' experience of time can be vastly different to our own, in the award-winning programme 'A Sense of Time', presenter Geoff Marsh delves once more into the minds of different species. This time he explores three key aspects of musicality: rhythm, melody and emotional sensitivity.

  • Descendants: Episode One

    01/06/2021 Duração: 28min

    One year on from the toppling of the Colston Statue in Bristol, Descendants asks... how close is each of us to the legacy of Britain's role in slavery? And who does that mean our lives are connected to? Yrsa Daley-Ward narrates seven episodes telling the stories of people whose lives today are all connected through this history. The story begins with Jen Reid – whose image first captured attention of the national and international press after a replacement statue of her appeared on the plinth where Colston once stood. In the first episode, we discover the connection between Jen's ancestors in Jamaica and another family 3000 miles away in Detroit. Scrolling backwards and forwards in time, their stories span 200 years and take us on a journey from a plantation field in Jamaica to a football pitch in Scotland and a connection to a legendary figure of the 20th century. Producers: Polly Weston, Candace Wilson, Rema Mukena Editor: Kirsten Lass Academic consultants: Matthew Smith and Rachel Lang of the Centre for

  • Daft Punk Is Staying at My House, My House

    25/05/2021 Duração: 29min

    It was 1994, and legendary techno duo Slam were booked to play an event in Disneyland Paris. “We had a couple of days to kill, and a friend got in touch to say he knew these two young French musicians who wanted to give us music they’d made.” The “young French musicians” Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo were still in their teens at that point, and Daft Punk was under a year old. Stuart McMillan distinctly remembers hearing their 4-track demo for the first time; “We were blown away!” Composed of Orde Meikle and Stuart McMillan, Slam launched independent electronic record label Soma in 1991. It had a very DIY ethos. Along with manager Dave Clarke, they’d overseen a number of influential releases. It was Slam’s own track ‘Positive Education’ that piqued Thomas and Guy-Manuel’s interest. They recognised Slam as kindred spirits, and Soma as the label they wanted to launch Daft Punk, and that's when things went really wild. This is the story of Daft Punk's earliest beginnings on Glasgow's techno

  • One Night in March

    21/05/2021 Duração: 38min

    One night in 2012, Anthony Grainger went out and never came home. He was shot dead by Greater Manchester Police in an operation beset with errors and blunders. Why is his family still fighting for accountability?

  • Thinking In Colour

    18/05/2021 Duração: 28min

    Passing is a term that originally referred to light skinned African Americans who decided to live their lives as white people. The civil rights activist Walter White claimed in 1947 that every year in America, 12-thousand black people disappeared this way. He knew from first-hand experience. The black president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People had blonde hair and blue eyes which meant he was able to investigate lynching in the Deep South, while passing in plain sight. In a strictly segregated society, life on the other side of the colour line could be easier. But it came at a price. Here, Gary Younge, Professor of Sociology at Manchester University, explores stories of racial passing through the prism of one of his favourite books, Passing, by Nella Larsen. The 1929 novella brought the concept into the mainstream. It tells the story of two friends; both African-American though one 'passes' for white. It's one of Gary Younge's, favourite books, for all that it reveals about

  • Life On Hold

    14/05/2021 Duração: 29min

    The number of people accessing mental health services in the UK has reached record levels since the start of the pandemic. Many are seeking help for the first time, for others delays in treatment have made life in lockdown much harder. The Royal College of Psychiatrists claims the number of adults experiencing some form of depression has doubled since March 2020. They say NHS services are struggling to cope with demand, meaning some people are having to wait weeks for referrals. Life on hold follows six people as they navigate their way through mental health services. They tell us how they have coped, offer their experiences of support and set out their hopes for life post-lockdown. Among them is Jessie, a frontline worker, who started experiencing anxiety while working to help those suffering from coronavirus. Matt’s ongoing battle with depression became worse after losing his job at the start of the pandemic, while Anjani, a student at Nottingham University struggled being thousands of miles away from her

  • After a Death

    04/05/2021 Duração: 38min

    News of people being killed in knife attacks recurs with tragic regularity, but the reports rarely touch on the impact on the victim’s family and friends. In this programme Sarah O'Connell sets out to understand these ripple effects — some perhaps expected, others likely not — as she explores the case of Russell “Barty” Brown, who was stabbed to death in Bethnal Green, east London, in September 2016. As she speaks to Barty's friends and family, to the medic who treated him and a witness to this terrible incident, Sarah hears about the gap he has left in all their lives, and what kind of a man he was in life. Producer: Giles Edwards Executive Producer: Martin Rosenbaum Sound Engineer: Hal Haines.

  • The Northern Bank Job: Episode One

    27/04/2021 Duração: 15min

    It was the biggest bank robbery in British and Irish history. Days before Christmas 2004, gangs of armed men take over the homes of two Northern Bank officials in Belfast and County Down. With family members held hostage, the officials are instructed to remove cash from the vaults of Northern Bank headquarters in Belfast city-centre and load it into the back of a van - not once, but twice - before the van disappears into the night, along with more than £26.5 million in new and used notes. With the finger of blame pointed at the IRA, the raid makes headlines around the world and sends shock-waves through an already faltering Northern Ireland peace process. Through dramatized court testimonies, new interviews and archive, Glenn Patterson takes us into the unfolding story of a meticulously planned heist and its chaotic aftermath. Military precision giving way to soap powder boxes stuffed with cash. The bickering of politicians against the silence of the man said to be the robbery’s mastermind. There are even ru

  • A Pyrotechnic History of Humanity: Fire

    20/04/2021 Duração: 29min

    This is the first in a four-part series looking at the energy revolutions that drove human history. In this programme Justin Rowlatt goes right back to the origin of our species two million years ago to explore how the mastery of fire by early humans transformed our metabolism, helping us to evolve our uniquely energy-hungry brains. The physical evidence for early use of fire is frustratingly thin on the ground, according to archaeologist Carolina Mallol. But primatologist Jill Pruetz says she has learned a lot from observing chimpanzees interact with wildfires on the African savanna. Research collaborators Rachel Carmody and Richard Wrangham theorise that our ancestors' unique ability to cook their food transformed the way our bodies access the energy it contains - something Justin seeks to test out by going on a raw food diet. The bounty of metabolic energy it delivered may have enabled us to become the formidably intelligent species we are today, according to neuroscientist Suzana Herculano-Houzel, trans

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