The week in audio: Exactly With Florence Given; Desperately Seeking Wisdom; The MLK Tapes

Exactly. With Florence Given (Somethin’ Else) | somethingelse.com
Desperately Seeking Wisdom | desperatelyseekingwisdom.com
The MLK Tapes (iHeartPodcasts/Tenderfoot TV) | apple.com
BBC Sounds Audio Lab | BBC Sounds

Florence Given, 23, is an illustrator and the bestselling author of Women Don’t Owe You Pretty. Her drawings have a kitsch 1960s Pucci feel; her writing, like her social media, is punchy, feminist, sexual and funny. She has a 600,000-strong Instagram following of, mostly, other young women. So, a huge, ready-made audience and an acknowledged desire to be seen and heard… she’s the perfect new podcast host. You could be snooty about this, bemoan her lack of broadcasting experience, but some people are born for the public eye, and Given is one.

And here is her new podcast, Exactly, in which she promises to discuss “really meaty and broad topics” in “conversations that allow for complexity”. Her topics are: sex, social media, feminism, relationships and body image. Perhaps not as broad as she claims, but this show sits firmly within Given’s world, which is all about promoting other noisy, sexually confident women. Et voilà! Her first interviewee is Erica Storm, who’s a dominatrix and, more interestingly, runs sexual self-empowerment classes. Storm gets her pupils to shout “pussy power” and look at their vulvas in a mirror. None of this is radical, or hasn’t been done before (Vagina Monologues; Our Bodies, Ourselves), but every generation of young women needs guidance to negotiate the slings and arrows of the patriarchy, as well as the shame and fear that can result.

Given and Storm together are loud, funny and relentlessly positive; the show is one long “yas kween!”. At one point, Storm informs us that she replied to a work colleague’s question by saying: “I’ll have to ask my pussy and get back to you.” You’d have to be a right curmudgeon not to smile, and Given greets most of Storm’s answers with “Incredible! I love it!” There are tweaks that could improve things: Given’s opening five short questions are pretty lame, while the closing advice-to-listeners section is hit and miss. One answer, about a man not wanting to use condoms, was excellent: “Safe sex is self-care.” Another, for a woman who’d never had an orgasm, could have been more helpful. Still, these are niggles. Exactly is a proper blast, a pie-in-the-face slap of upbeat enthusiasm that will, you hope, help less assertive young women dance through their days into sexually satisfying evenings.

Exactly is, despite its “you be you” mantra, a self-improvement show (“do the work!”). Seemingly very different but secretly along the same lines, Desperately Seeking Wisdom is a new podcast from Craig Oliver, who used to be director of communications for David Cameron, when Cameron was PM.

Oliver’s old job, plus his other, very impressive stint as a TV news editor, mean that he has a bulging contact book. His first interviewees are George Alagiah, Richard Curtis and Ruth Davidson. All three interviews are definitely worth your time, because all these people are interesting, and of an age and personality where they’re happy to talk. But they’re pulled a little off course (especially Davidson) by Oliver’s desire to make his interviewees delve more deeply into their tough times and tell him how to live “simply”.

Welcome, yet again, to midlife crisis man. I don’t want to be mean – I’ve written a book on midlife crises myself – but the MLC of the rich man is always the same: “Oops, I spent the whole of my life working ridiculously hard for corporations, stoking my ego and my pension, and now I find that I don’t know my family and my job doesn’t mean anything, whither me?” Yes, who knew that shilling for the Tories would leave you wondering what to do with your life? Oliver seems like a nice enough guy, and his podcast is good. I just wish it wasn’t called Desperately Seeking Wisdom, when the wisdom he seeks has been staring most people in the face for years.

(As an aside, he could try reading some Jung or Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich or anything by Oliver Burkeman, whose series The Death of Nuance series was repeated last week on Radio 4 and was as excellent as the first time round.)

Or he could take his mind off his own self – often a good idea – by listening to The MLK Tapes. This podcast started just under a fortnight ago and went straight to the top of the iTunes charts. Martin Luther King Day was on 17 January this year, and it’s more than 50 years since King was shot in Memphis by felon-on-the-run James Earl Ray. Writer and podcaster Bill Klaber has been given taped interviews with various people who were nearby when the assassination occurred. The link is another Bill – Bill Pepper – himself a close acquaintance of the civil rights leader. Pepper came into King’s orbit after Pepper wrote about Vietnam war atrocities. Their friendship led to King making an anti-Vietnam war speech in 1967, and Pepper makes a good case for this being a tipping point for the US federal authorities wanting King to disappear.

The first episode drops several interesting truth bombs, including how King’s usual all-black security team was suddenly reassigned before Memphis, and that his room at the Lorraine Motel was changed for one with an outside balcony. It’s fascinating, incendiary, convincing stuff – it reminds me a little of James Ellroy’s books – and another feeder for anyone who likes to lip-smack over American conspiracies.

Finally, a small hoorah for the BBC’s Audio Lab, an initiative that invited new podcast-makers to submit their ideas to be made as BBC Sounds podcasts. Last week it announced its winners and their shows, which include the story of black British activist Michael X, a mother-and-daughter project, and tales from the window boxes and community gardens of the UK’s council estates. This is the smaller stuff that the BBC does so well. Who knows how long it can continue?

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