Following the breadcrumb trail on BBC Sounds

When I listened to The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread? podcast, the Sounds app amusingly began suggesting bread-related content.

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What started with a rant about vulvas, ended on a rare recording of an elderly woman who had as a child witnessed the 1870 siege of Paris. My afternoon; plugged into BBC Sounds, which, some 18 months after it was launched, seems to have come into its own – as the no less than 250 million plays of its various content this quarter would suggest. Its app and website are certainly easier to navigate: it generously offers up the countless curios fished by researchers or algorithms (I did ask which – but nobody got back to me) out of the BBC radio archive, like prize pike from an immense lake. 

The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread? podcast, which investigates quackery, hurried out a special edition last week concerning Gwyneth Paltrow, who it turns out – tch! – knows not the difference between her vulva and vagina. Obsessive Paltrow critic and gynaecologist Dr Jen Gunter was mid-tirade on the podcast (“I knew it! I mean HONESTLY!”) when Sounds amusingly began suggesting bread-related content. Not too much, mind: eight programmes, initially. Perfect. Enough to feel curious, not overwhelmed. (This is clever, and key.) 

First up: the 1991 series Give us our Daily Bread, with various champions of the British bagel and director Ismail Merchant considering the Indian roti. He insisted it should be “soft. Like a handkerchief. Like a good muslin. You could put it in your pocket and stroll in the garden.” (His every sentence was a marvellous little scene.) Then, came more: programmes on medieval bread-throwing rituals in the Forest of Dean. Communal baking ovens in Sweden. And the old siege of Paris witness, a voice from the startling past, like Tennyson on a wax cylinder: “‘Oh grandma,’ I wailed, ‘I’m so hungry,’… ‘Eat this bread slowly, there’s so little left,’ she said…”

After which I came to, because I’m not all that interested in bread. Or vaginas. But it was a nice few hours, enjoying that feeling (somehow less headache-inducing on the radio than it is on screen) of bingeing, of hunting while not being sure why. Of holding onto a rising balloon of suggestions. Anyway, point is, we own this stuff. So let’s enjoy it – before the corporation collapses. 

The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread?
BBC Sounds

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She presents The Film Programme on BBC Radio 4. She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article appears in the 07 February 2020 issue of the New Statesman, Europe after Brexit

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