Here are some highlights from this week’s audio releases: “Catching the Kingpins,” featuring Carol Vorderman and Stephen Mangan, and a review of “Ending Homelessness the Finnish Way.”
The BBC Sounds app features a program titled “Gangster: Catching the Kingpins” on both Radio 5 Live and Radio 4.
Carol Vorderman (LBC) | Global Player
Stephen Mangan is a presenter on Classic FM and can be found on the Global Player platform.
The BBC World Service’s documentary, “Ending Homelessness the Finnish Way,” is available to listen to on BBC Sounds.
Catching the Kingpins is the latest six-parter from Radio 5 Live’s highly successful Gangster strand (it’s also on Radio 4, confusingly). We’ve had seasons about Paul Massey (Salford gangster), Curtis Warren (scouse gangster) and the Burger Bar Boys (Birmingham gangsters). You get the drift. If you were a naughty geezer, getting your name on a Gangster series would be a sign you’ve definitely made it.
This new show, led by the charismatic Mobeen Azhar, focuses on a group of offenders (is that the correct term?) who are all linked by one common factor – their cell phones. And while it’s true that phones serve this purpose, the specific £1,500 EncroChat phone cannot be purchased at Carphone Warehouse. It is only accessible to those with connections in the criminal community.
Azhar’s acquisition of a device, obtained from the National Crime Agency, is a significant moment. He notes that it resembles a regular Android phone and functions in the same manner. However, by swiping down three times, the phone resets and reveals a messaging system on a separate screen. According to Azhar, an EncroChat phone serves as the physical tool for participating in a criminal “fraternity” on WhatsApp.
It’s quite thrilling, isn’t it? But what’s even more exhilarating is that in 2020, the French authorities successfully hacked into the EncroChat system. They deployed a fabricated software update to all 60,000 users’ phones and used it to access all of their messages. The sheer volume of messages was immense, with thousands upon thousands arriving simultaneously. One policeman described it as being in the same room as the criminals. The French collaborated with the Dutch and British police forces, who worked tirelessly for 20 hours a day during lockdown to decipher the messages. The outcome? The largest crackdown on organized crime in British law enforcement history.
This is a well-written story and a unique true crime series that doesn’t make you feel overly frightened or disgusted. The investigation into message-hacking results in the capture of some dangerous criminals, as well as an untrustworthy police officer and his accomplice. Azhar even comes close to discovering the mastermind behind EncroChat. However, the true delight lies in the detective work, piecing together identities from subtle hints in the messages, like a photo of a girlfriend’s pet dog. Outstanding.
Carol Vorderman, who recently left her BBC Radio Wales program, stating she would not allow herself to be censored, has been offered her own segment on LBC – a surprising development. In today’s climate, it’s common for BBC hosts with political views expressed on social media to make the jump to Global. (Gary Lineker is the exception, as he is creating his own podcasting platform.) Vorderman’s new slot will be from 4pm to 7pm on Sundays, a comfortable time but still in line with the tone of LBC. Her debut show last Sunday was not flawless, but also not subpar.
She asked if Rishi Sunak should have brought the UK bombing of Houthi military bases in Yemen to a vote in parliament. I believe it was a relevant topic and she handled her knowledgeable guests effectively. However, the callers on LBC are more difficult to manage and she seemed less confident in handling them. One caller continued to speak without interruption, despite her efforts to interject.
It’s a far cry from Vorderman’s old Radio Wales gig, chatting comfortably in between music to guests such as Alison Hammond and Gyles Brandreth. LBC listeners are red in tooth and claw, and it takes nous, fluency and a lot of detailed political knowledge to know when to challenge and when to hold back. But this only comes with experience, and Vorderman is certainly smart, so I imagine that in three months’ time her show will be great.
Stephen Mangan, an actor known for his curly hair and friendly appearances on Celebrity Gogglebox, has recently been recruited by Global to host a show on Classic FM. Interestingly, this coincides with Carol Vorderman’s new role on the same station, as Classic FM has undergone some changes including Dan Walker taking over the weekday breakfast show. Mangan’s job seems to be less demanding, consisting of brief commentary between long classical pieces. However, it is also less engaging. Personally, I switched between the two shows and found myself spending more time with Vorderman and the lively personalities on LBC.
Louise Casey’s recent Radio 4 series, “Fixing Britain,” discusses potential solutions for political problems that seem impossible to solve. The BBC World Service’s documentary segment, “The Documentary,” featured a positive show on Finland’s approach to addressing homelessness. Rather than requiring homeless individuals to meet certain criteria, such as quitting alcohol or finding employment, before being provided with housing, Finland decided to reverse the process. They first housed individuals and then worked on resolving their personal issues. This strategy has proven to be immensely successful, with 90% of those housed remaining in their homes and making progress in their lives.
Currently, various nations are experimenting with a comparable strategy, such as parts of Scotland. However, some argue that Finland’s society is too dissimilar from their own for it to be successful. With a population of only 5.5 million and well-funded public sector, Finland has all the necessary resources for this approach. One Finnish expert believes that other countries lack the bravery to fully implement it, as they already have all the benefits. So, what else is needed?
Just time to mention Annie Nightingale, who died earlier this month and provided the soundtrack of my teenage Sunday nights (she was on at 7pm, straight after the Top 40). Much has been written about her being a pioneer for women on music radio, which she undoubtedly was, but she was also an exceptionally warm person in real life. You’d see her out, big hair, dark sunglasses, and she would always be fun, friendly and kind. There are many weird egos in broadcasting. Annie was never anything other than a delight.