Since it debuted in 2021, Uncanny, the BBC podcast about the paranormal, has itself become a phenomenon. Created by Danny Robins, the man behind The Battersea Poltergeist podcast and the play 2.22: A Ghost Story, Uncanny has earned millions of listeners and spawned a live show, a book and a TV programme.
Yet it is the podcast, now in its third series, that works best, thanks to the intimacy and imaginative free rein of audio. Each episode features Robins interviewing a contributor about an eye-poppingly eventful, usually terrifying, experience. There are no spurious knocking sounds or half-heard footsteps here, but rather assault by poltergeist, chats with apparitions, time slips and, in one case, a demonic boar.
[See also: The fatal flaw in the “final” Beatles song]
Whether you take these accounts seriously is by the by (although the trauma these experiences have caused, or maybe the trauma that caused them, is real enough). At its best, Uncanny crafts them into masterful narratives of escalating suspense and fear. Some episodes, such as “Harry Called” and “The Return of Elizabeth Dacre”, compare with the finest ghost stories – if it transpired that these were actors performing scripts, you might only admire them more.
The interviews are punctuated by a discussion with a sceptic offering rational explanations and a “believer” who provides a supernatural one, and usually gets the last word. As in ghost fiction, the phenomena often mirror the subjects’ more quotidian troubles: break-ups, bereavement, loneliness, even a wicked step-parent. Some are in classic ghost story locations – gloomy Victorian houses, monasteries – while others situate the unreal in the anti-gothic landscape of Barratt Home Britain.
Ghost stories tap in to some of our deepest questions and anxieties: about the limits of our physical senses and that which we cannot see; about the fear that nothing happens after we die, and the fear that something does. Uncanny might reacquaint you with them all.
[See also: Karl Ove Knausgaard’s thought experiment]
This article appears in the 01 Nov 2023 issue of the New Statesman, Labour Revolts