Podcasts... dirty elections and wartime derring-do

Podcasts... dirty elections and wartime derring-do

“The past has been badly served by the podcast industry,” said James Marriott in The Times. But now Tom Holland and Dominic Sandbrook, two of Britain’s “finest popular historians”, have made a podcast together, The Rest is History – and “it’s brilliant, thank God”. Holland is an expert on the ancient world and late antiquity, while Sandbrook specialises in postwar social history – providing a breadth that “gives the show proper intellectual agility”. In the first episode, on the theme of Greatness, the pair go “pirouetting off through the centuries”, linking up ideas and making interesting connections (from Hitler to Frederick the Great via Thomas Carlyle; from civil rights leaders to medieval saints). And there’s a nice element of friendly competition between them: “Holland racing Tiggerishly ahead, Sandbrook erudite and exasperated”. It’s early days, “but on this evidence [their podcast] might turn out to be a bit of a classic”.

Amazing War Stories is the new podcast from British ex-paratrooper and self-described history fanatic Bruce Crompton, and its purpose is to retell the stories of forgotten war heroes. It has to be confessed that Crompton rather “gives John McCririck a run for his money when it comes to loud and brash overenthusiasm”, said Francesca Angelini in The Sunday Times.

But the “tales he’s unearthed make for gripping listening”. In the first episode, Crompton recounts the story of a Lancaster bomber’s final flight, in December 1943; much went wrong, resulting in some “astonishing feats of derring-do”. In the most recent, he tells the remarkable story of Walter Tull, the professional footballer who joined the Army during the First World War, and became (it is believed) the first black British officer to lead white men into battle.

As a producer working on a US politics podcast, in preparation for last week’s “contentious and nasty” presidential election, I decided to listen to a podcast about one of the most contentious and nasty elections of them all, said Danielle Stephens in The Guardian: the Bush-Gore bunfight of 2000. This was recalled in the latest episode of the excellent Fiasco podcast, hosted by Leon Neyfakh. The result ended up turning on the count in Florida. On the night, the media called Florida for Al Gore, but then retracted that, and declared George W. Bush the winner. Then they issued another retraction, saying the result was too close to call. After weeks of rows over recounts and “hanging chads”, the matter went to the Supreme Court. It’s an impressive documentary, with first-hand testimonies from some of the key players. Every twist and turn is matched with clever, succinct scripting, and there’s enjoyably quirky use of musical backing.