The week in audio: Taking on Putin; Fighting for Ukraine; Never Have I Ever | Podcasts


Taking on Putin (Black Dog Woof! Woof!)
Fighting for Ukraine Podbean
Never Have I Ever With Joel Dommett and Hannah Cooper

The veteran journalist John Sweeney is a man born to broadcast. Emotional, dogged and funny, with a strong moral sense and fantastic way with words, he has been reporting for years, notably for the Observer and the BBC’s Panorama strand. A natural iconoclast, Sweeney’s outspokenness has, on occasion, got him into hot water (he left Panorama after some spiky run-ins with supporters of Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, AKA Tommy Robinson). Because of this, there’s always been a sense of him being too outré for traditional outlets: too direct, too bumptious, too partial, too much.

But these days, news is different – more direct, bumptious, partial etc – and Sweeney is stepping into his own spotlight. He went straight to Kyiv as soon as the Russians invaded, and he’s been there ever since, occasionally popping up on news outlets in his distinctive orange woolly hat, and making his own excellent – if strongly worded – filmed reports for Twitter. (Someone recently compiled a selection of orange-topped Sweeney saying: “Fuck you, Putin.” It happens a lot.) He is a war reporter who delights in being on the ground.

And now, rightly, he’s making a podcast. Eighteen months ago he made Hunting Ghislaine, a great six-parter about Ghislaine Maxwell. Now he has turned his attention to, yes, Putin, with Taking on Putin. I’d rather have had a daily Sweeneycast from Kyiv, but, really, we can get that from his Twitter feed, and this show gives him a chance to demonstrate his vast knowledge and great contacts. Even if you’ve already absorbed Radio 4’s excellent Putin series, or any of the many other “who/what/why is Putin” podcasts out there, Sweeney’s take is definitely worth a listen. He weaves the Russian leader’s past with snapshots from today’s war. He pulls up old recordings of him doorstepping Putin – “my voice is high because I was scared” – to ask questions about the 2014 shooting-down of Malaysia Airlines flight 17. He even makes the very well told tale of the murder of Alexander Litvinenko into something different, likening the particular radiation poisoning used to different types of salad dressing. It was, says Sweeney, like garlic. Very easy to identify. We’re three shows in, and the punchiness hasn’t stopped. A great listen from an alternative national treasure.

Yuriy Matsarsky.
Yuriy Matsarsky.

For another take from the ground in Ukraine, I highly recommend Fighting for Ukraine. These are short, regular dispatches from another experienced war reporter, Yuriy Matsarsky. The difference is that Matsarsky is now a soldier, fighting for his country.

This podcast is unlike anything I’ve heard about the war; weirdly, it reminds me of Alastair Cooke’s Letter from America. Matsarsky has the same reporter’s eye for revealing detail. He wonders why the Russians always leave their battle positions in such a filthy state. He describes his scooter, making reference to Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday, to Phil Daniels in Quadrophenia. He speaks of how he can’t read news reports because his brain is too fried. How he communicates with reporters from other countries through a few short jokes, for the same reason. And – sadly, by describing the anti-Ukrainian barbarism of the Russian troops – he also disabuses us of the idea that the war has only one bad guy, sitting at the end of his long golden table. Sometimes, Matsarsky drops out of making his podcast for a few days, because he’s been sent to a different area in Ukraine to fight. But his words remain in my head.

Joel Dommett and Hannah Cooper.
Joel Dommett and Hannah Cooper.

There is no way to segue smoothly from this to Never Have I Ever, a new podcast from The Masked Singer host, comedian Joel Dommett, and his wife, model Hannah Cooper. This podcast has been heavily promoted, with billboards all over the shop, and is clearly designed to be a husband-and-wife hit in the manner of Shagged Married Annoyed. But there’s a concept: the Dommett-Coopers try out a new activity every week!

Hmm. It’s telling that they have to visit strip clubs or try puppy yoga in order to have something to talk about. None of the so-called action is in the show (there are a few online clips), so it’s just them recalling what went on, and this mostly seems to be Dommett feeling a bit jealous of his lovely wife giving any other living thing – a personal trainer, a male stripper, a puppy – some attention. It’s all sweet enough, but the banter never gets above lukewarm.

So, this show is not for me. Still, they clearly love each other, so I hope they enjoy expanding their hobby horizons, maybe to something that’s not based around the body beautiful. Next week’s suggestions are going to church, trying a life drawing class or colonic irrigation. (Betcha any money it’s the last one.)

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