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A rich selection of documentaries aimed at relentlessly curious minds. Presented by Ashley John-Baptiste, this twice weekly podcast replaces the Radio 4 Documentary of the Week.




Grayson Perry: En Garde

Grayson Perry goes backwards in the archive in search of the moment the avant-garde died. It's a century since Marcel Duchamp submitted his artwork called Fountain to an exhibition staged by the Society of Independent Artists in New York. Fountain was a urinal -- not a painting of a urinal or a sculpture, just a urinal, bought from a Manhattan hardware store and signed R.Mutt. The Society of Independent Artists rejected Duchamp's provocation and the original object was lost. Nowadays...

Duration: 00:59:33

Driving Bill Drummond

Bill Drummond is many things. As well as an artist, a writer and former pop-star - he's the owner of an old curfew tower in Northern Ireland which he runs as an artists' residency. Last year some poets from Belfast's Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry stayed there and Bill published their collected work in a little black book called The Curfew Tower is Many Things. Except for a poem the award-winning Belfast poet Stephen Sexton wrote. Apparently that one went missing. So Bill has left two pages...

Duration: 00:30:45

The Race to Fingerprint the Human Voice

Impressionist Rory Bremner explores the role of the human voice in forensic phonetics. Forensic phonetics - or voice identification - has long been used in legal proceedings to help determine if the voice on a recording is that of the defendant. But with the electronic age enabling the recording and storage of more data than ever before, its role in criminal investigations is changing rapidly and the race is on to "fingerprint the human voice". Rory Bremner looks at some of the new research...

Duration: 00:30:12

Welcome to Wakaliwood

In the slums of Wakaliga, Uganda, a group of self-taught filmmakers run one of the world's most unlikely movie studios. Known as Wakaliwood they have released fifty-two feature films in ten years, with kit built from scrap metal and old car jacks. Despite this, their distinctive brand of kung fu action has found a global audience far beyond Kampala, with trailers going viral on YouTube and festivals around the world putting on sold-out screenings. Filmmaker Isis Thompson travels to Uganda...

Duration: 00:30:16

The Myth of Homosexual Decriminalisation

On the 50th Anniversary of the ground breaking 1967 Sexual Offences Act, the campaigner Peter Tatchell takes a sceptical look at its impact on Britain's gay communities. Although it was a major staging post in the long and tortuous fight for the decriminalisation of male homosexual behaviour in Britain, Peter argues that the years immediately after 1967 were far from friendly towards homosexuality and convictions of men for same-sex offences increased dramatically. Peter goes on to examine...

Duration: 00:59:54

High Rise

Since the Grenfell Tower fire in June, the architectural dream of Le Corbusier's 'streets in the sky' has, in many minds, become a living nightmare. Every high rise building in the country, and each of their residents, has become embroiled in the Grenfell story. As this debate with its practical and policy considerations continues, High Rise offers a radio meditation on the experience of tower block life. What has come of that vision of airy existence above the bustle of the streets, with...

Duration: 00:39:09

A Brief History of the Truth

It's time to travel down the rabbit hole of truth as American satirist Joe Queenan explores a murky world of fake news, prejudice and alternative facts. "Recent politics have shown that the truth is no fun," he explains. "It's like a vegetable your mother makes you eat. Yes it may be nourishing, but it tastes terrible." With archive contributions from Donald Trump, Doris Lessing, Jeremy Corbyn, Peter Mandelson and Theresa May; plus new interviews with Mark Borkowski, Edith Hall and Julian...

Duration: 00:59:14

The Pigeon Whistles

The sound of music flying through the air, carried on the tails of pigeons. "I knew it was a noise maker, but it was the only thing in the museum that I had no idea what it might sound like. Because it works in a way no other instrument does. No other instrument physically moves around you in space, flying overhead, and that seemed like magic". Inspired by the Chinese pigeon whistles in the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford, Nathaniel Robin Mann decided he wanted to revive the ancient art of...

Duration: 00:30:01

And Then There Were Nun

What is life like for nuns and monks today? With a lack of new blood coming into the traditional monasteries and convents, Bishop Martin Shaw supports some of these aging communities in their painful final days as they are forced to leave their homes. His role as an official visitor, is also to receive the vows of any new nuns and monks joining religious orders, and to hear the concerns and complaints from each community. Sister Giovanna, Sister Clare and Brother Samuel, who are all from...

Duration: 00:30:28

999 - Which Service Do You Require?

999 was the first emergency telephone number in the world when it was launched on June 30th, 1937. Within the first week, more than a thousand calls were made to the service with one burglar arrested less than five minutes after a member of the public had dialled 999. Impressive stuff. But there were teething problems... In the early days, only those wealthy enough to own a telephone could hope to avail of the service. Exchange room operators complained of stress caused by the raucous...

Duration: 00:58:23

Port Talbot Paradiso

Actor Michael Sheen explores the history of Port Talbot's Plaza Cinema. A beautiful art-deco building , first opening in 1940, the Plaza was the heart of cinema entertainment for the people of Port Talbot for decades - a place where Richard Burton and Anthony Hopkins watched everyone from George Formby to Bogart and Cagney and where, growing up in Port Talbot in the 1970s and 80s, Michael Sheen had his early encounters with the film industry in which he would thrive. But as well as...

Duration: 00:31:01

Butterbeer and Grootcakes

Aleks Krotoski takes her seat at the table to explore the amazing world of fictional food made real. Food is not a new force in fiction, but increasingly fictional food is finding its way onto the table. And fan communities from the new breed of modern cultural canon aren't just nibbling on Laura Esquivel's devastating quail in rose petal sauce from Like Water for Chocolate, but also tucking in to fried squirrel and raccoon from The Hunger Games, Sansa's lemon cakes from Game of Thrones,...

Duration: 00:30:47

When Women Wore the Trousers

Laura Barton explores the little known story of a pioneering group of women who unknowingly challenged conventional notions of femininity and their working roles. The Pit Brow Lasses worked within the collieries of 19th century Wigan, Lancashire. Their unique re-appropriation of men's 'breeches' worn underneath hitched up skirts was originally adopted as a functional response to working within mines. These early adopters of trousers reached a similar degrees of notoriety that street-style...

Duration: 00:30:04

Miss Simpson's Children

The story of how one woman offered refuge to leading intellectuals fleeing from the Nazis, helping transform the cultural and intellectual landscape of Britain and the United States. Shortly after Hitler came to power, an organisation was set up in Britain to help academics who were being thrown out of their jobs in Nazi Germany. It was called the Academic Assistance Council. The council's assistant secretary, Esther Simpson, became its dynamic force. She called all the refugees she...

Duration: 00:29:35

The Invention of the USA: Borderlands

Just two centuries ago, no one had a clue where the borders of the USA actually were. Hemmed in by the Atlantic, the Appalachian mountains and Canada to the north, early Americans could only dream of the massive territory Donald Trump and his government control today. So why is the border with Mexico where it runs today? For that matter what fixed Canadian border? The answer to both questions is war. Misha Glenny and producer Miles Warde travel across Texas and into Mexico to find out what...

Duration: 00:33:19

The Organ Beauty Pageant

Is it fair to find your own kidney donor on the internet? UK patients who need new organs are using social media to advertise their plight and appeal directly for a Good Samaritan who's willing to share their spare kidney with a stranger. As Lesley Curwen discovers, the development of such appeals on social media has caused consternation among some in the transplant community. They fear a competition to attract donors amounts to an unsavoury beauty contest, in which only the most plugged-in...

Duration: 00:39:42

Trump at Studio 54

Frances Stonor-Saunders explores how the young Donald Trump stormed into Manhattan from the outer boroughs in the late 1970s and headed straight for New York's most outrageous nightclub. He didn't dance, didn't drink, and didn't take drugs. So what was he doing in the cocaine-fuelled hothouse of the Disco revolution? And what was the link to Roy Cohn, infamous attack dog of the McCarthy era, go-to Attorney for the Mob and the man Trump was happy to call his mentor? Producer: Fiona Leach...

Duration: 00:38:24

A Woman Half in Shadow

Zora Neale Hurston. You might not recognise her name. She was an African American novelist and folklorist, a queen of the Harlem Renaissance and a contemporary of Langston Hughes and Richard Wright. But when she died in 1960 she was living on welfare and was buried in an unmarked grave. Her name was even misspelt on her death certificate. Scotland's National poet Jackie Kay tells the story of how Zora became part of America's literary canon. Alice Walker wrote in her collection of essays 'In...

Duration: 00:36:44

Rock Transition

For centuries musicians have defied gender boundaries to create some of the most evocative and provocative art and music. Journalist and culture critic Laura Snapes joins the dots of a fascinating musical history that encompasses musical icons such as Ma Rainey, Little Richard, Lou Reed, the Pet Shop Boys, Grace Jones and Madonna, and looks at how today's musicians use music and performance to express who their own gender and sexuality. In recent years the issue of gender and identity has...

Duration: 00:30:24

The Mind in the Media

If you ask the author, Nathan Filer, when he first came into contact with mental illness, he'll tell you it was in 1999 when he first became a psychiatric nurse. But, like many of us, he'd actually met it much earlier : through film, drama and the news. Like many of us, his understanding had been shaped by how the media chose to portray it. But he quickly realised how very different real life was to fiction and the reports. Now he asks what does that difference do to us - both as a society...

Duration: 00:59:29

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