Audio lovers, shall we discuss the spin-off show? There are so many of them these days. Originally they involved a couple of comedians celebrating/ripping apart a series of rubbish films (How Did This Get Made?) or, indeed, one film (The Worst Idea of All Time), or getting excited about old telly programmes (Sentimental in the City, Veronica Mars Investigations). Then we had shows that did the same but for contemporary shows: (The Receipts on Love Island). Over the past few years, the shows themselves have got in on the act, with old stars trawling through old episodes (90210MG, Talking Sopranos) and new series such as The Crown and Strictly commissioning “official” podcasts to keep fans hooked until the next episode comes out.
Official shows have an advantage because they can pull in the show’s actual stars to give the juicy inside story. The disadvantage is that the guests don’t ever do that. No one admits that any other actor on the show is annoying, that the work is dull, even that the lunches are a bit rubbish. These shows are all celebration, no mickey-taking.
Which brings me to No Time to Die: The Official James Bond Podcast. Hosted by the always great James King, this has interviews with actors Daniel Craig, Léa Seydoux, Rami Malek and director Cary Joji Fukunaga, plus producers Michael G Wilson and Barbara Broccoli (I am obsessed with BB, by the way; she is at least as fascinating as James Bond himself), plus lots of behind-the-scenes talent. King, a film critic, works hard to get a flavour of what goes on, and you do get a sense of the scale of the production, the weight of Bond’s history, just how staggeringly complicated it is to create a blockbuster that’s familiar but new. I enjoyed the interview with Chris Corbould, who’s in charge of the vehicles and highly chuffed that Bond’s Aston Martin gets to be “aggressive” this time round.
Writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade are interesting, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge is fabulously charismatic while saying nothing at all. Still, cheerleading without spice or spoilers can wear very thin, so thank God for Bond composer David Arnold, who didn’t work on this particular film and thus can be casually honest: “All composers are faced with the incredible history of that music … when you stray too far from that, your core Bond music fans make their opinions heard.”
I’ve also been very much enjoying Arnold’s own 10-part series, The Music of James Bond, on Scala Radio. This was broadcast in its entirety in May, for those with a Scala subscription, but is now being repeated, programme by programme, every Sunday. We’ve just reached Arnold’s personal Bond era – he wrote the score for five Bond films, from Tomorrow Never Dies to Quantum of Solace – and he’s exceptionally insightful about what a score can do for a film, even when the tune itself is dreadful (I had to mute for the 80s extravaganza of Patti LaBelle’s If You Asked Me To).
A different type of epic story: The Sandman was a DC comic series written by Neil Gaiman in the late 80s to mid-90s. The tales of skinny Robert Smith-alike Dream and his weird siblings, Destiny, Death, Desire, Destruction, Despair and Delirium (and Dappy: no, not really), it was madly popular and has recently been revived into various spin-offs, including a Netflix series, out soon. Last year, Audible brought out an audio version of The Sandman, and now The Sandman: Act 2 is out.
The cast is star-studded, and includes James McAvoy as Dream and Miriam Margolyes as Despair. Gaiman himself provides the narration, and the thoughtful, enveloping sound design is thrilling. If you’re not a comic book fan, steel yourself for the camp pomposity of it all: people saying “well met” instead of “hello”, casually wearing ripped fishnet body stockings, hanging out in the awfully foggy Garden of Destiny. If you’re already a comic book fan, you’ll probably already be into contemporary audio drama, and such gothic hoo-ha will turn you on. No matter who you are, the amount of narration makes this drama more of an audio book, though as ever our mind-pictures surpass even the original drawings. Be warned: everything takes a lot longer than reading any comic ever did. Set aside 13 hours for this one.
A strand that knows exactly how to use audio is Radio 4’s occasional documentary series Lights Out. Itsmost recent two episodes, The Last Taboo and Kaleidoscope, wouldn’t work in any other broadcast medium, simply because visuals would mean identifying the speakers and their stories need an element of privacy. In The Last Taboo, a single voice spoke about in-family child abuse – not the detail of the abuse, but how it was dealt with afterwards – to moving effect.
And in last week’s Kaleidoscope we heard from young trans people, aged 10, 15 and 16. The 10-year-old’s mum spoke too, and her description of the difficulties the family has faced due to the constant media chatter about trans issues was awful. The Sun sent a reporter to her child’s primary school! Ugh. As a side point, I do wonder why Lights Out hasn’t been made into a BBC Sounds podcast. It seems made for it. BBC Sounds is very occupied with launching new podcasts, when some of its existing radio programmes would be absolutely perfect as podcasts, with no effort at all.