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The week in audio: Fur & Loathing; Dead Man Running; About the Boys; Vanessa Feltz – review
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The week in audio: Fur & Loathing; Dead Man Running; About the Boys; Vanessa Feltz – review

Fur & Loathing | Project Brazen
Dead Man Running | BBC Sounds/BBC Scotland
About the Boys (BBC Radio 4) | BBC Sounds
Vanessa Feltz | LBC

Yet more new investigative podcasts last week. First up, Fur & Loathing from Nicky Woolf, an excellent internet-and-beyond journalist, whose previous series tracked down both the likely Q from QAnon and the sound of the Havana syndrome. This time, he’s looking at something that initially seems a little dafter. Fur & Loathing’s starting point is a 2014 convention of furries, in Rosemont, Illinois. Furries are people who like to dress in cartoony animal costumes – a bit like mascots at sports matches. A particularly cute penchant; the furry community is larger than you might imagine. Anyway, back in 2014, on the final night of the Midwest FurFest convention, everyone was having a lovely time, drinking, dancing and socialising, when they became aware of a terrible chlorine smell. Properly strong stuff that burned their eyes and throats. Someone had let off deadly chlorine gas inside the hotel hosting the convention. Nineteen people were hospitalised, but nobody was charged.

Ten years on, Woolf is clever enough to acknowledge the dichotomy at the heart of this story. This was a major chemical weapons attack, but because the people affected were wearing funny costumes, it’s never really been taken seriously. “Nobody died, all’s well that ends well, it’s probably just a prank, anyway, it’s just those weird furries being weird,” is how he summarises it. And there definitely is an innate silliness to the case, which the podcast itself makes use of in its title and with an upbeat soundtrack. But Woolf being Woolf, there’s also some proper in-depth investigation here. He teams up with Patch, a furry news blogger who’s been on the case for years, and they start unpicking all the original federal investigation’s mistakes. Because, yes, the costumes are funny, but this is big stuff. The 2014 FurFest attack was the biggest chemical weapons attack on US soil in 50 years. And those costumes don’t offer much protection. A strangely gripping show that uncovers more than you might imagine (and, no, that’s not a furry joke).

The second investigative show is hosted by Myles Bonnar, who won a deserved gold for best news coverage at the Arias last week for the excellent series Shiny Bob. His new podcast, Dead Man Running, kicks off in 2019, when a Scottish man disappears while swimming off the California coast at Monastery Beach in Carmel. A huge rescue operation is put in place… until a few days later, when it’s revealed that not only does the swimming story fail to hold up, but the same man is wanted for serious sexual offences. The rescue turns into a manhunt.

Leaping children silhouetted against a sunset. View image in fullscreen

Dead Man Running is a good show, but less appealing than Fur & Loathing, simply because the central character is so horrible. Kim Avis was a “personality” in Inverness during the 00s; a busker with a stall in the centre of town, who attracted anyone alternative into his orbit, young and old. But he wasn’t as harmless as he seemed. In episode two, we hear the harrowing tale of Jade Skea, a young woman whom he subjected to coercive control and rape over a period of years. Bonnar interviews Skea very sensitively and he follows Avis’s trail to just outside Colorado City, Arizona, meeting one of the friends he made there. Bonnar is an excellent journalist, but I found this a hard listen.

I missed this in my previous column. Catherine Carr’s short series About the Boys for Radio 4 about teenage boys and the difficulties they have with their lives. What a huge subject! Contemporary masculine tropes affect all young people, and Carr, who’s a beautiful interviewer, talks to a variety of young men. There are some gorgeous moments with some primary school kids (one sings her an impromptu song) and the discussions with the older boys are wide-ranging, from mobile phone use to sex. Lots of different life stages are covered. There’s the staying-in-your-room-playing-computer-games stage (“If I go to my friend’s house,” said one lad, “we can’t play our games together”); the don’t-tell-anyone-your-real-feelings stage (one lad points to the different reaction to a girl bursting into tears in class. A boy just… can’t); and the how-do-we-know-how-to-have-sex stage. This is, obviously, the part that’s got the most press attention, but the whole series is worth a listen. Sensitive and interesting.

Vanessa Feltz sitting at a desk in an LBC studio. View image in fullscreen

There’s been a lot of upset and online hoo-ha about LBC’s changes to its weekend schedule (almost as much as there has been about the Alice Carter alcoholism/car-crash storyline in The Archers, which I’ll cover in my next column). On Saturday afternoons, Sangita Myska’s old slot has been taken over (partly) by Vanessa Feltz, whose new show runs from 3pm to 6pm. But before Feltz was announced, about 25,000 listeners had signed a petition to have Myska reinstated. Seen as one of the station’s more leftwing presenters, Myska conducted a forthright interview in her last show (14 April) with an Israeli government spokesperson about Iran’s missile and drone attack on Israel. Since then, she’s not been on air.

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For a couple of weeks afterwards her slot was taken by former Tory party parliamentary candidate Ali Miraj, who’s now landed his own Saturday show; The News Agents’ Lewis Goodall gets a Sunday morning politics show. It might be that Myska wasn’t seen as “name” enough for the new weekend schedule. It might be that her politics were deemed unsuitable (though the channel says she simply reached the end of her contract). Feltz is a brilliant radio presenter, one of the best in the business; but Myska is great too. It’s a real shame that Feltz’s new show has been overshadowed by this furore.

Source: theguardian.com