Bear with me. I haven’t thought this one through. And I’ve still not yet worked out if I’ll be able to use the word barquentine in it or not…
One of the great things about being in touch with m’colleague Hannah Cooper at CSTonline is that she will flag up things which she thinks you might well be interested in. And they’re all good picks and not too many of them – it’s not a bombardment that leaves you feeling guilty because you can’t act upon what you know is a good recommendation because there’s already too much to read/watch/listen to in the world… and even more of it all the time.
Anyway, the other week her two Hot Picks were a couple of TV-related podcasts [i] which she thought I’d like for different reasons. And she was bang on. One was RetroTube and the other was Spybrary and both were – effectively – all the better because at their core it was about people doing that thing of sharing their enthusiasm for television, but in different ways.
RetroTube is a lovely, charming little idea – a format which I’ve seen variations of before, but this is a particularly enjoyable example of the notion. What we have here are two old friends – Adam and Heather – who, as they explain, come ‘from completely different spheres of geekery [and] unleash their favourite television shows from the 1960s-1980s on each other.’ Isn’t that rather lovely?
So, the one I dipped into concerned the original version of the fantasy/adventure caper series Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) (1969-1970) – a British film series that was heavily derided by the critics on its original run. But the critics were probably, y’know, grown-ups. Fortunately, I was about five-years-old at the time so I wasn’t reading what the critics said and the notion of a private eye working with the ghost of his late partner whom only he could see or hear was just what I was after in between doses of Ace of Wands (1970-1972) and Pardon My Genie (1972-1973). And I’m still rather fond of it now in adulthood – although, fair dos, I do now understand where the critics were coming from.And Heather’s very fond of it too. In fact, it’s a very special series for her. And she wants to share it with Adam. Which is lovely. So, they watch two episodes – A Disturbing Case and For the Girl Who Has Everything – and chat about them. He asks good, searching questions, she gives good, informed answers. He makes good observations, she develops these to deliver more good background.
So, as you can imagine, it’s already been lovely, and now it’s rather interesting because Adam’s take on the two episodes is actually the inverse of what I was expecting… and what Heather was expecting too. And Adam explains his take very clearly. And he does see the flaws and some of the unintentional humour in a show now over half-a-century old… but he’s never disparaging, never nasty, never dismissive because you can tell how delighted he is that his friend is sharing with him something that’s very important to her.
Meanwhile over on the Spybray podcast devoted to spy literature and cinema, host Jeff Quest is having a chat with academic Joseph Oldham, a lecturer in Communication & Mass Media at the British University in Egypt and the author of the volume about British spy and conspiracy television Paranoid Visions (Manchester University Press: 2017). Joseph is doing a different job here – he’s explaining all about series such as Callan (1967-1972), Special Branch (1969-1974), The Sandbaggers (1978-1980), Bird of Prey (1982-1984) and Spooks (2002-2011) [iii] – to an American host who is largely unfamiliar with these series in particular and British broadcasting in general.
But, even trickier, when Joseph starts to throw around arcane acronyms like ATV and ITC, there’s a good chance that he’s going to lose his audience who are more attuned to the work of Len Deighton than the work of Lew Grade. As such, not only does he offer a massively accessible assessment of the virtues of the selected shows, but – at no extra cost – he throws in one of the deftest explanations of the generally baffling and antiquated commercial television network of the 1950s/1960s that I’ve ever heard.
So, two great podcasts. Which cheered me up… because, generally, I still – after all these years – struggle with podcasts. I don’t think I really know what they are…
Hang on, I’m still thinking this one through a bit…
I was introduced to podcasts well over a decade ago by a kind and thoughtful gentleman called Michael Gilroy-Sinclair who was even generous enough to send me a CD with some selected examples for me to sample and find out what was to my taste. He himself had been producing a very fine title – a solo item called the Tin Dog podcast where the approach was the delivery of a pre-scripted talk on a subject – an angle which I found most enjoyable. But with some of the other approaches – then, as now – I struggled…
There’s lots of podcasts where I sample a first episode and never proceed to the second. Sometimes the format doesn’t grab me – sometimes the content lets me down. There’s certain groups which I now gravitate towards less. Group discussions with an assembly of fandom mates tend not to appeal – they often involve ongoing jokes which the protagonists know but which I don’t and so can’t engage with. It’s a bit like going out for a meal in a restaurant [iv] and at the next table there’s a works party with a group of people who work together in an office [v] and they’re laughing and joking and having a great time about not being in the office… but you can’t follow or engage with any of it because it’s all about their little circle of people. And you don’t begrudge them having fun and laughing and enjoying a nice meal and something to drink – goodness knows, they’ve probably worked hard and earned it – but you don’t need to hear it as well.
This kind of overlaps with podcasts which are primarily composed of banter. Or just an entertaining train of thought bounced back between two voices without a sense of direction. It’s a great skill I know. Just to be entertaining with words. But… really? Bantz? Okay – maybe put that one down to me being horribly middle-class and never really listening to Radio 1. Again, what is on offer here is a talent – and a highly saleable one. But I tend to prefer content…
… but content which has been assembled and thought about. This brings me to the vehicle where two people of similar perspectives reckon some stuff to each other. They reckon what’s going to happen next in an ongoing narrative, or reckon what’s in the mind of a show-runner, or reckon what the broadcaster has in mind with scheduling, or reckon who’s going to be on the panel at the next Comic-Con. Often on the basis of very little evidence – and that’s fine because they’re enthused and engaged and this is good, unknown stuff to reckon about.
But where I do really struggle with the reckoning, is where people try to reckon – having watched a show on DVD – what the intent of a particular scene was according to the script. What do you reckon the writer’s intention was? And I find myself ruminating: ‘Well, why don’t you humping put the disc in your computer – which I suspect you own to make the podcast – and open the PDF and find out?’I mean, why reckon when you can research? So many DVDs do now come with scripts on PDF. Or for some shows, scripts have been published. And if they’ve not been published then why not check out the holdings at the BBC Written Archive Centre or the BFI Library or Kaleidoscope and maybe book in to go [vii] and consult the documents in question to reach an informed, authoritative conclusion on the matter…
… which is why, as you can see, I struggle with podcasts. For me, locating documentation about a show is what I do. It’s second nature. It’s comparatively easy.
But how would I even begin to make a podcast? I have no idea. I don’t even own a microphone – and I guess you need one of those. I guess you need special software. And short of phoning all my potential listeners individually or resorting to just opening the window and yelling, I have no idea how I’d get my words heard. And all of a suddenly I realise that some things that seem very easy to me are very difficult for the podcasters… while a whole raft of digital and technical skills well beyond my comprehension are as natural to them as breathing. They have their skills, and I have mine. And I think theirs probably make a better set.
And, of course, the other reason that podcasts confuse me is that I don’t know if they’re one-way or two-way forms of communication. Because they come from the internet, I instinctively believe they’re two-way. The internet for me is e-mail. You send an e-mail (“Dear Kim, here’s another blog about podcasts which doesn’t really go anywhere, whatcha reckon?”) – and you receive an e-mail back (“Hey Andrew, that’s fine, nobody else has written anything else this week anyway, I reckon we can get away with it”). Or it’s a forum where people discuss things.
And the podcasters often say “Get in touch” or “Drop us a line” or “We’d love to hear from you”… and I think “Oh good – they’ll want to chat about Counterstrike (1969)”. And of course, most of the time, they don’t. Because it’s more one-way – like a magazine correspondence column, inviting feedback because it’s hungry for content from the audience. But I often still drop them a line anyway. I say “Hello, that was a mighty-fine podcast you did on that show and I’d be happy to listen to some more of the same if you’d like to make them”. And occasionally I do hear back. And – indeed – some of the people I hear from become good friends.
So, I suspect that it’s really all down to me being a bit confused about this notion of one-way or two-way communication. I mean, look down there at the bottom. Go on, scroll down, below RELATED POSTS to where it says LEAVE A REPLY. Because instinct told me originally that this was two-way communication like a message board. But it’s not – most of the traffic tends to be from non-academics. And I reckon that that’s simply because academics don’t have the luxury of the time to use these like message boards, or to become involved in communicative strands when they need to be dispensing tertiary education to the masses. As such, the conclusion I’m starting to draw – although I’ve not researched it in detail – is that academic blogging is a one-way rather than two-way process. That’s what I reckon…
And one-way is a process that I’m used to because of radio and television. The above example podcasts that Hannah recommended and that I enjoyed were finished products with goals and objectives achieved by their conclusion. And because of my experiences, for me that sounds like wireless [viii]. So, that’s probably why part of me feels that I want podcasts to be the one-way radio form that I’m used to and have enjoyed for decades – from the days of BBC1’s The Day of the Triffids (1981) being reviewed on Radio 4’s Kaleidoscope (1973-1998) to people whom I respect like Matthew Sweet, Mark Gatiss, Steven Moffat and Una McCormack discussing the impact of the Quatermass serials (1953-1959) on Radio 3’s Free Thinking (2006-)… which is probably my favourite ever, ever radio discussion programme in the history of everness.
But those are professional things… and so maybe podcasts tend towards the amateur. I mean, heaven forbid, these could just be people enjoying themselves. I mean, these things often don’t feel finished… they just sort of sound like a work in progress… almost as if it’s just some mates have got together and are having some fun about something.
Still pondering this…
I suspect that they’re sharing their enthusiasms about their favourite shows.
And I guess that makes it all okay. It’s just that I’m too stupid to see that. But I’m not entirely convinced.
But I do reckon that the last thing you’d ever catch me doing would just be to take an unresearched, unfinished, unconsidered train of thought without a specific destination in mind and present it as a blog.
And I didn’t even manage to include the word barquentine.
Told you I hadn’t thought it through.
Andrew Pixley is a retired data developer. For the last 30 years he’s written about almost anything to do with television if people will pay him – and occasionally when they won’t. And he’s deeply sorry if you weren’t able to spend the holidays with family and loved ones as you’d hoped, because he knows just how awful that feels.
[i] podcast (n) digital audio file available for downloading from the internet and playable on a computer or mobile device; (v) to make a digital audio file available online
[ii] Or, for those of you on the other side of the Atlantic[iii] Or MI-5 (2002-2011) for those of you on the other side of the Atlantic.
[iv] You remember doing that, don’t you?
[vi] Okay – I admit, it’s not necessarily that easy. A lot of computers and laptops these days don’t come with disc drives because – hey! – who needs physical media? And even if you do own a machine old enough to offer this facility, you may have decided to enjoy your favourite film series looking all pristine on Blu-ray, and you can’t just take a Blu-ray and shove it in the same PC drive as you use for a DVD… and that would entail additional expense to buy some extra kit and possibly software to enable you to watch and get the PDFs off the Blu-ray. So, yes, it’s a fair cop, again, I’m making something potentially awkward and costly seem very cheap and simple here because you have to remember that I’m still living about a decade behind you people in the future and you’re smarter than I am.
[vii] … but, erm, best not when there’s a pandemic on, eh? Obvs. I mean, I love researching television shows, but even I’m not going out and making it any worse for anyone at the moment.
[viii] wireless (a) lacking wires.