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BBC Radio 4’s The Untold returns with offbeat human stories

Episodes can be heavy in subject matter or dovetail with broader topical issues – the Windrush scandal, Brexit and Covid-19 – but they never opt for the obvious approach.

By Anna Leszkiewicz

The columnist Grace Dent has been hosting BBC Radio 4’s documentary series The Untold for five years. Each episode tells a small human story: a long-distance romance; the dreams of a choirboy; an adult woman’s struggle to learn to ride a bike. They can be heavy in subject matter or dovetail with broader topical issues – such as the Windrush scandal, Brexit and, increasingly, Covid-19 – but they never opt for the obvious approach.

The first episode of this year’s series (5 April, 11am) comes from inside the Hard Knocks Gym in Bradford, a boxing club caught illegally holding a fight with a full house of spectators in October last year. After a police raid, the gym was fined £10,000, which has as yet not been enforced. Dent seeks out the organisers and discovers some striking characters, who are disarmingly candid and nonchalant about their misdemeanour. “Well, it was good fun!” the organiser Darren Moffitt says. “They said in the papers there was about 30 or 40 [spectators], but there must have been 200.” He gives a full belly laugh. “I don’t think I’m doing anything wrong.”

[see also: BBC Radio 4’s Conspiracies is a deep, broad consideration of conspiratorial thinking]

Gym owner Scott Midgley is torn. He admits that at first he was keen to follow the rules, but as the crisis dragged on, he struggled. “I’m not bothered about the police or the government, I’m bothered about my fighters and my friends,” he says. When he insists, “I’m not a trouble-causer, I might have been a little rascal when I was younger, but…” Dent interjects, brightly: “Well, you said you’d been in prison.”

Ultimately, even with all their hubris, it feels hard to judge those who have seen their main source of income devastated by the pandemic. Darren’s bravado softens. “Well, I say it was 200 – it wasn’t,” he hedges. Dent encourages him to open up about past mental health issues that left him suicidal and his fears for his isolated friends. She pushes him on whether he’d feel differently about his choices had his beloved mum contracted Covid. He sounds pained. “Urm… I don’t know what to say. You’ve put me on the spot there. My mum, bless her.” A more vulnerable side emerges. At the end, he asks Dent: “Do you think I come across alright?”

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The Untold 
BBC Radio 4

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This article appears in the 14 Apr 2021 issue of the New Statesman, Careless people