Joanna & the Maestro (Cup & Nuzzle, Burning Bright Productions and Bauer Media) | Planet Radio
Conversations from a Long Marriage (Radio 4) | BBC Sounds
Real Money: The Hunt for Tether’s Billions (Tortoise Media) | Tortoise
Ken Bruce (Radio 2) | BBC Sounds
All-the-medals national treasure Dame Joanna Lumley has a new classical music podcast with her husband, Stephen “Stevie” Barlow. It’s called Joanna & the Maestro and it’s quite the most wonderfully fruity thing you ever heard. Just 10 minutes in its company and you find yourself describing things – even quite ordinary things, such as a cup of coffee or the dog – as divine. Beautiful. Exquisite. Gorgeous.
Gorgeous is what Lumley does, and gorgeous is what she loves, as she explains in the first episode. When she was young, she loved the piano and wanted to play. But she struggled with reading the notes, so lessons went no further. Still, she and her family listened to classical records, and she heard music, too, when doing dance classes in Malaya, specifically Offenbach’s Barcarolle: “I can hear it to this day.” When pop came along, “I liked gorgeous music, so I loved the Everly Brothers… Elvis had a beautiful voice.”
Barlow, the maestro of the title, and just as fruity as Lumley, is an esteemed conductor. He has an office in their garden – “the music room” (pronounced “rum”) – where he works and where the podcast is recorded, and occasionally he pops over to the piano and tinkles out a tune. We learn that, in contrast to Lumley, Barlow had two piano teachers when he was young, one for theory, one for playing, and progressed to the King’s School, Canterbury, where his talent was nurtured further. His knowledge leads to some interesting details, such as the order in which members of an orchestra are listed on a score and a discussion about castrati and countertenors.
Oh, it’s all divine, delicious and lovely, including the music, and they are sweet company, though I was slightly brought up short when Barlow exclaimed: “I’m discovering so many things about you!”, in contrast to Lumley’s encouraging him to tell stories she clearly already knows. He’s been primed to excel throughout his life, while she has a tendency to put down her own knowledge, just to encourage him some more. “Stevie, this is what I wanted us to do in these shows,” she says. “Me being the average listener and you being the above-average musician, able to give answers.”
In an odd piece of timing, Lumley is also appearing on Radio 4 as one half of a happily married couple, this time fictional. Conversations from a Long Marriage, starring Lumley and Roger Allam, written by Jan Etherington, is being rerun ahead of season 4, and nestles happily in its 6.30pm comedy slot. It’s cosy and gentle and – for me – slightly phoned in by these two great actors. The stories and jokes often revolve around one of them desiring a bit more attention from the other: we’ve had Joanna wanting Roger to be more physically affectionate, like a lusty couple they know, and Roger being grumpy about Joanna working with a dynamic younger man. Surely most long-term couples are relaxed about such things, while being far spikier about others? Perhaps I’m wrong, and everyone else, apart from me and my husband, is in an exquisite Joanna & the Maestro-style relationship. Whatever, I will always have time for Lumley, who somehow manages to make everything in life, even ludicrous garden bridges, more absolutely fabulous (sorry). There are few people who can do that.
Another woman who never lets you down is the excellent tech journalist Aleks Krotoski. As host of Radio 4’s The Digital Human she is full of delighted, doggedly earned knowledge about the virtual world, but also, vitally, she’s a great storyteller. Her scripts are consistently on point, and she delivers them with panache.
Krotoski has spent the past year looking at cryptocurrency for Tortoise Media, and Real Money: The Hunt for Tether’s Billions is the result. Cryptocurrency Tether’s USP is that it is tethered to the US dollar. One tether equals one dollar, so it seems a safe bet. Before you start yawning, not only does Krotoski sell Tether’s story well, it’s a very interesting tale. Tether has never published its accounts, and a man called Nathan Anderson has offered $1m to anyone who can pin down just what Tether’s investments actually are. Even more intriguing is a central character called Brock Pierce, who has done many things in his life, including being a child actor in a 90s ice hockey film. Pierce is Tether’s daddy. Did you know that the physical centre of cryptocurrency – its Silicon Valley – is Puerto Rico? Me neither. Krotoski and producer Joanna Humphreys are there, tracking Pierce down – “It’s like we’re chasing ghosts” – and this show brings along even the least crypto-interested with them.
Finally, what a shocker re Ken Bruce, eh? Bauer’s Greatest Hits Radio has pulled off a genuine coup in getting Bruce – plus his beloved PopMaster quiz – over to its station. The most successful commercial radio groups have been tempting big BBC talent to the dark (read: better-paying) side for the past few years, and it’s quite a tally once you start counting. Bauer has Simon Mayo and Ken Bruce; Global has John Humphrys, Andrew Marr, Emily Maitlis, Jon Sopel; Wireless has Chris Evans, Graham Norton and Vanessa Feltz. That’s five big ex-Radio 2s, three ex-Radio 4s and a BBC One-er. Plus, Greatest Hits also has Alex Lester, Richard Allinson, Mark Goodier and Jackie Brambles…
So who will take over Ken’s old slot in March? Radio 2 has been shifting from golf club bants to a campier, female-friendly, 90s kitchen disco vibe for a few years now. Liza Tarbuck? Rylan Clark? We shall see.