Compiled by Noah Keate
From celebrities to politicians, music artists to influencers, it seems everyone now has a podcast. With so many on offer, choosing which ones to listen to can be overwhelming. A list of podcasts worth your time has never felt more needed. Covering a range of genres, engaging presenters and fascinating themes, here are my top podcasts to listen to right now.
Politics, News and Current Affairs
Genre: Politics and Current Affairs
Host: Steve Richards
There are few better places you can go for in-depth political insight than Rock n Roll Politics with Steve Richards. With the name suggesting the turbulent nature of politics, Steve provides clarity and context in a 24-hour political news climate. Starting each episode with an incisive monologue on one of the week’s events, he uses the past to frame the present and speculate about the future. With questions from listeners, the Rock & Roll Politics community is one of the kindest, engaged and analytical groups you could ever come across.
For the Many
Genre: Current Affairs and Entertainment
Hosts: Iain Dale and Jacqui Smith
Not for the faint hearted, this podcast combines two titans of broadcasting and politics respectively. Coming from different wings of the political spectrum, LBC presenter Iain Dale and former Labour Home Secretary Jacqui Smith discuss their thoughts on the news of the week. Having been running for over four years, the spark and humour which has developed between the two pundits will have you cackling. Also involving listener questions, their humour, sheer inappropriateness and deep empathy became essential listening, especially during the pandemic.
Genre: Current Affairs
Host: Helen Lewis
A podcast discussing new ideas in public policy might sound as dull as dishwater, but not when it’s hosted by Helen Lewis. The former deputy editor of the New Statesman, she invites different guests with a key area of expertise to discuss their idea for making the world a better place. With topics including abolishing prisons, changing our attitude to excluding pupils, building more houses and reforming trade, this is a podcast where boredom is impossible. Making you completely rethink the world, it provides a visionary, engaging approach towards the future.
Hosts: Alice Levine and Matt Forde
Matt Forde hosts one of my favourite political podcasts, ‘The Political Party’, and he now co-stars in British Scandal. Doing precisely what it says on the tin, the podcast looks at a variety of political scandals over numerous series. Forde and Levine excellently narrate each series, providing a guide and informing the audience. From Murdoch’s phone-hacking to the Profumo affair, each episode is gripping listening and it’s impossible to turn off. It’s immensely profound and moving.
The Rest is Politics
Genre: News and Politics
Hosts: Alastair Campbell and Rory Stewart
The new kid on the block when it comes to podcasts, former Director of Communications to Tony Blair, Alastair Campbell, and former Conservative International Development Secretary, Rory Stewart, team up to discuss all things politics. Beginning at the start of the Ukraine crisis, they use their in-depth knowledge and experience to form personal judgements. Though both could be described as ‘centrist dads’, they do manage to find areas of disagreement, most recently over private schools. The podcast is in its early days and the gel between the two will naturally improve as the podcast develops.
Genre: Current Affairs
Host: Jonny Dymond
This podcast could not be more timely. Examining the Russian tyrant who has invaded Ukraine, Jonny Dymond shows the BBC at its best by providing a broad, in-depth analysis of the leader. Moving through Putin’s early childhood, period in the KGB to his eventual takeover of Russia, the podcast is designed for those who feel their knowledge might be limited. It makes for an essential, if terrifying, listen.
Culture: Books, Film, TV Art
Kermode on Film
Host: Mark Kermode
Mark Kermode is probably Britain’s best known film critic. Reviewing the latest cinema and streaming releases for the BBC and the Observer for decades, this podcast allows Kermode to delve deeper into movies that interest him. It includes a great mix of interviews with writers, actors and directors who Kermode has admired over time. Similarly, there are recordings from Kermode’s live show down at the BFI Southbank every month. Always a brilliant form of escapism, it ensures you will be more cineliterate when discussing films.
Does this podcast even need any explanation? The Archers has been Radio 4’s flagship soap opera since the 1950s. Originally created with a remit to promote agricultural education, it has broadcast nearly 20,000 episodes. Though there is a broadcast at 7pm every Sunday – Thursday, many, me included, enjoy listening via BBC Sounds, which allows your own omnibus. I often listen to a week’s worth of episodes in one go while completing household chores. With empathetic 3D characters, a fantastic sense of setting, there is a clear reason for its longevity.
Hosts: Mark Kermode and Ellen E Jones
Yes, the second appearance of Mark Kermode here, this time with established culture writer and broadcaster Ellen E Jones. Introduced late last year on Radio 4 to replace The Film Programme, it looks at current cultural moments and provides some deeper context. For example, when one-take film Boiling Point was released at the start of this year, the duo took a broader look at the history of one-take films from Rope to 1917. With great interviews and sparky engagements between the two, there’s a brilliant, timeless back catalogue to enjoy and treasure.
In Our Time
Host: Melvyn Bragg
Whoever said that history was something solely learnt in school could not have been more wrong. For over 20 years, In Our Time has provided an incisive guide every Thursday morning on Radio 4 into a specific area of history. Yet its listenership is often best found in podcast form, as intellectual food for thought at the end of a long day. Inviting academics from Britain’s leading universities to discuss topics as varied as The Great Gatsby and The War of the Roses, it is one of the jewels in the BBC’s crown for an unashamed celebration of academic exceptionalism. Perfect for delving into the nuggets of history you thought had long been forgotten.
The Best Pick
Hosts: John Dorney, Jessica Regan and Tom Salinsky
Awards may have little meaning in the end but, if you had to pick one, there is none of higher value than an Oscar. Over three years, the hosts randomly picked each film to have won Best Picture at the Oscars. Discussing the context of that year, the merits and flaws of the film as well as other movies that weren’t even nominated, it’s an engrossing adventure with film buffs at the top of their game. Though the series has now finished, a book – Best Pick: A Journey Through Film History and the Academy Awards is now out, while the trio continue devoting episodes to other notable great films.
Archive on 4
If you want to delve into an aspect of the past through the medium of audio, you could not find a better programme than Archive on 4. Each week, a different host utilises the rich and detailed archives of the BBC to construct a programme which fondly and intelligently discusses an aspect of the past. From examining the relevance of contemporary feminism to exploring the changing ways of accessing films, Archive on 4 entices you into a catalogue of fascinating history. Best of all, it’s free!
Lifestyle: Food, Interviews
Comfort Eating with Grace Dent
Host: Grace Dent
During the lockdowns I, along with half of the country, tried to improve my culinary abilities. However, the endless hours spent in the kitchen are unlikely to please The Guardian restaurant critic Grace Dent. In her new podcast, Comfort Eating, Dent speaks to a range of celebrities about the food they consume behind closed doors. It is an insightful look into their honesty about their real choices. With guests including Nish Kumar, Stephen Fry, Russell Tovey and Tom Watson, you have many delightful culinary hours of listening to look forward to.
Genre: Lifestyle, Nature
Host: Clare Balding
Clare Balding has been a fixture on the BBC for as long as I can remember. Although best known for her sporting commentary, I have most enjoyed her episodes of Ramblings. Broadcast on Radio 4 for over 20 years, Clare joins notable and interesting people for a walk through the British countryside every week, with sounds and descriptions painting a picture of the landscape. While it is beautiful to have a programme based on the outdoors, it is the people who have ties to the local area, along with Balding’s brilliance, which really make Ramblings a success. Highlights of 20 years of Ramblings broadcast during the first lockdown were a joy to listen to.
Host: Kirsty Wark
The Reunion is a fascinating programme on Radio 4 that works just as well as a podcast. Broadcast since 2003, it brings together four or five people united by a moment of modern history. The episodes are both timeless – making the back catalogue particularly desirable – and also rooted in a moment of time. Previously hosted by Sue MacGregor, Kirsty Wark is now at the helm. Given the breadth of history and expertise of panellists, an immense amount of research is required. Yet where the show shines is in its accessibility to all. From Strictly Come Dancing to the Maastricht Treaty, Foot-and-mouth disease to Love Actually, the programme is never dull.
Host: James O’Brien
The LBC mid-morning weekday presenter since 2004, James O’Brien’s slot is now the station’s most popular show. Yet it’s his podcast where I believe the presenter really shines mainly because, as O’Brien admits at the start of every episode, it gives him the chance to talk to his guest for longer than is available on the radio. Whoever the subject of O’Brien’s podcast, he goes beyond the interrogation and argument stereotypically associated with radio to deliver an intelligent, and often emotional story that someone is desperate to convey. A must listen.
How to Fail
Host: Elizabeth Day
It is perhaps a great irony that one of the most successful podcasts of recent years is about the concept of failure. Presented by journalist and author Elizabeth Day, it invites people in the public eye to recount three periods of great failure in their lives. Letting guests delve into tricky periods, it is often moving and deeply emotional. Reflective and witty, Day’s introductions to her guests are second to none. One episode I won’t forget any time soon is with X Factor winner Alexandra Burke. Raw and deeply honest, her courage to reveal the most private parts of her life is a testament to Day’s hosting abilities.
Yours Sincerely with Jess Phillips
Host: Jess Phillips
Jess Phillips must be one of the most efficient MPs ever. Representing Birmingham Yardley, she manages to serve in the Shadow Cabinet, write numerous books and present her own podcast. Yours Sincerely is based on the brilliant premise that letter writing – with pen and paper – is a valuable endeavour despite the age of emails. Interviewing special guests, including the Reverend Kate Bottley and Deborah Frances-White, she asks them to write a letter to someone they love, someone who’s no longer around and someone who doesn’t realise how important they are to them. Such a simple premise, yet the letters spark so much depth, warmth and intrigue. Whatever your political affiliation, you won’t fail to be moved.
Alex and Jude Talk
Hosts: Alex Elbro and Jude Clarke
Local podcasts can be just as valuable for giving a listener a sense of connection to their community. Alex Elbro and Jude Clarke achieve just that in their brand-new podcast. Based in Cambridge, the duo discusses a particular topic, picked out of a hat, in each episode. Clearly great friends who talk a lot of the time off air, their relationship translates magnificently to the airwaves with their warm, dulcet tones. With both hosts reflecting on a high (peak) and low point (pit) of their week, it allows for an unfiltered, wry examination of local Cambridge life. Bring on more episodes!
Hosts: Siofra Connor and Stacia Briggs
Find forgotten treasures with this unmissable, yet profoundly unusual podcast set in one of my favourite UK counties. Siofra Connor and Stacia Briggs explore different, forgotten aspects of Norfolk which might cause you to raise an eyebrow. With topics ranging from an old field – ’No Man’s Friend’ – now lost to the sea to shrieking pits in Northrepps, an engaging, witty podcast with two clear friends is guaranteed. They’re now places I’m desperate to explore myself.