Story of the American women who made the telephone system in France run during the First World War. The pre-existing French network had been badly damaged during three years of fighting; American engineers were able to lay their own, but the men the army could provide to work as operators were slow at the job and mostly unable to speak French. However, advertisements in the US quickly produced the “hello girls” — bilingual women already working on civilian switchboards back home. Thanks to them, vital troop movements were communicated accurately and swiftly (14m02s)
First of a series looking back at a major political scandal in Britain ten years ago and how journalists brought it to light. The revelations, dripped out in many stories over days and weeks in 2009, that hundreds of MPs had been maximising their expenses claims for their own benefit fundamentally shifted how politics works in the UK. Here, the original reporters explain how they were locked in a room to scroll through thousands of leaked, unsearchable PDFs to find the anomalies (like the infamous duckhouse) that embarrassed the establishment and sent politicians to jail (30m05s)
Comedian Lucy Porter rhapsodizes about Ellen Degeneres' first TV stand-up special and explains how her own craft was built on everything she learned from it. There’s a playfully dark heart to what Ellen delivers on stage — she might look nice and blonde and have lovely Southern manners, but when analysed like this her jokes are brilliant, but weird and even unsettling. During the interview, Porter also provides a fascinating insight into what she calls the “life of a jobbing British comic”, from the feast-and-famine calendar of the stand-up’s year to motorway service station etiquette (69m24s)
Interview with Johnny Greaves, known as “Britain’s most famous journeyman”, a boxer who fought 100 professional fights and won only four of them. It’s a record that most athletes would have nightmares about, but Greaves considers his career to have been a “massive success”. He’s refreshingly unmaterialistic — he got to box in some of the country’s biggest arenas, his kids got to eat steak, and the family had nice clothes. “For every winner there’s got to be a loser, and I was that loser, but I got paid pretty well for it,” he says. His classic East End accent is also delightful to hear (23m31s)
Live tour around the bookshelves of Irish broadcaster and essayist Sinéad Gleeson, who can move seamlessly from dissecting the pleasures of Agatha Christie to the intricacies of Edna O'Brien. The slightly rambling, casual nature of this podcast is very enjoyable; the clever recording and fading of the action from one side to another enhances the feeling for the listener of actually being in the room where the conversation is taking place. Especially good for those in want of a new reading direction — Gleeson is so persuasive you’ll want to set off for the bookshop straight away (61m18s)
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