To celebrate the launch of the Country Life Podcast, we've curated a list of our favourite podcasts to help cut through the noise.
Podcasts. Everywhere you look, either in the real world or online, there are podcasts. ‘Listen to my podcast,’ the person says. ‘I talk about politics, or climate change, or eels, or model railways, or football.’ If you are Gary Lineker, you talk about all of those things. Your children are listening to them. Your parents are listening to them.
Ten years ago, there were no podcasts. Now, it is all podcasts, an endlessly growing tidal wave of voices, rushing towards you in every direction, demanding that you listen. It can feel overwhelming. I find it overwhelming, but, then again, I find the agonies of daily life overwhelming. I digress.
The good news is that I have been tasked with cutting through the static and providing the Country Life-approved list of podcasts that you, the discerning reader, will enjoy. However, before we get to the ‘what to listen to’ — and the why — it is important to understand the what.
Reading Wikipedia, as I often do, returns a variety of interesting theories as to the beginning of the podcast. The internet of the early 2000s was a largely lawless place, until Apple and others came along and tidied everything up. It was in a 2005 update of iTunes that a ‘podcast’ tab first appeared, thus bringing the term and the format to the wider consciousness. Indeed, the term ‘podcast’ is itself a portmanteau of ‘iPod’ and ‘broadcast’, which explains why the format has since become so popular.
“From five minutes to five hours, there will always be a podcast”
With expert guidance (from me) and curation (also from me), you can effectively create a portable radio station, tailored to your interests, that turns on and off when you want it to. Imagine, if you will, Nick Robinson following you around, itching to read the Today programme to you, but only doing so when you’re good and ready. Utopia itself. Or hell. Depending on your proclivities. The point is, it doesn’t have to be Mr Robinson. It can be someone, or something, you like.
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That all sounds quite enticing doesn’t it? The industry has grown to such an extent that pretty much everyone you like now has their own podcast or at least features regularly on someone else’s. The variation of content also extends to a variation of running length, meaning that, no matter what you’re doing, there is a podcast to fill the time. From five minutes to five hours, there will always be a podcast. Again, I can imagine this is all a bit overwhelming. Country Life is here to help you.
I myself have listened to many podcasts and am a man of great taste. I have also asked members of the Country Life team, as well as some other contributors, for their recommendations. What I have created is a charcuterie board heaving with tasty little morsels for your ears. Dig in.
‘Nothing but the best to begin with. Launched at the tail end of 2023, our very own podcast features weekly discussions with distinguished guests from the magazine and beyond about all things country life and Country Life. Best enjoyed in a comfortable living room in front of an open fire. Brandy optional.’
‘By day, Kevin Stroud is a practising attorney. By night (or weekends), he is the creator, producer and host of the History of English podcast. From its first episode in 2012, Mr Stroud has been agonisingly exploring how the English language developed from its proto-Indo-European roots to what we know today. He is on episode 173 and has just reached Shakespeare, so plenty has been covered — and there is plenty more to go.’
‘It’s difficult to go anywhere these days without bumping into Rory Stewart and the same applies to the world of podcasts. The former Conservative MP has joined forces with the ex “King of Spin” Alastair Campbell to talk contemporary politics and news, with the maxim of “disagreeing agreeably”. Endorsed by many of the Country Life team.’
‘When it comes to all things leather and willow, look no further than Wisden. This podcast, hosted by Yas Rana, features guests from across the cricketing world, Mark Butcher getting angry about things, as well as opinion and analysis from the wider Wisden staff.’
‘The effervescent Gyles Brandreth and lexicographer Susie Dent delve into all things language, examining the origins of words and phrases, from scurryfunge to bang-a-bonk [excuse me? Ed] and confelicity, with plenty of name dropping and amusing diversions along the way.’
‘No topic is too obscure or unlikely for Dr Cat Jarman, historian Charles Spencer and the Revd Richard Coles, who each examine a different subject each week, burrowing into the provenance of everything from pantomimes and débutantes to seabeds and the fez.’
‘Michael and Hilary, parents of comedian Jack Whitehall, witter on about their lives, their families and famous friends, answering conundrums posed by ‘Dear Listeners’ with humour, warmth and, occasionally, a full-on rant.’
‘To discuss the past and “detangle the present” is the goal of The Rest is History. The first podcast to win the President’s Medal from the British Academy, topics such as Putin and Russia, Watergate and Nixon, as well as Alexander the Great, all are analysed under the erudite eye of hosts Tom Holland and Dominic Sandbrook.’
‘A light-hearted and often amusing look at all the monarchs of England and Scotland, exploring their character, life and reign. As the name of the podcast suggests, the monarchs are then reviewed on a number of qualities and a decision is made as to whether or not they have the star-quality “rex-factor”.’
‘An excellent source of information for dinner party titbits, the illuminating Stuff You Should Know podcast explores a range of subjects from the mechanics of vaping to deepfakes, hurricanes and aspirin. Ideal for long car journeys when a change of audio tempo is needed.’
‘Something is always the best thing since sliced bread. Or is it? BBC business journalist Sean Farrington looks into products, ideas and lifestyles that will supposedly revolutionise our lives and puts them to the test.’
‘No list would be complete without a podcast about the most glorious of pastimes, flyfishing. On My Kind of River, host Patrick Tillard invites authors, fishers, sportspeople and anything in between to build their dream river. “Five beats or stretches, in pursuit of any species, reimagined into one fly-fishing nirvana”, they say. One of the more recent guests is our very own Editor.’
‘Actor Brett Goldstein (Roy Kent in Ted Lasso) asks people from the world of film, television and beyond to imagine they are dead. He then dissects their lives through the medium of the films they watched, loved and hated. You would be surprised to hear what your choice of film says about you.’
‘In a magical restaurant, comedians James Acaster and Ed Gamble can produce any food or drink that the heart desires. Celebrity guests are invited to create the menu of their dreams, discussing what their choices mean to them, as well as talking about their own lives and careers.’