Podcasts of the week: from French and Saunders to Vladimir Putin

Featuring Whatever Happened to Baby Jane Austen?, Comfort Blanket and Taking on Putin

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New Radio 4 comedy ‘Whatever Happened to Baby Jane Austen?’ will put a smile on your face
(Image credit: Grinvalds/Getty Images)

Need something to put a smile on your face? The new Radio 4 comedy Whatever Happened to Baby Jane Austen? has the feel of a future classic, said Patricia Nicol in The Sunday Times. It’s not just the “honed chemistry” between Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders, it’s also the “hyperbolically loopy lines” courtesy of writer David Quantick (whose TV credits include Brass Eye and Veep). French plays author Florence Ransom, who is “driven doolally” by her movie-star sister Selina Mountjoy (Saunders).

Also highly recommended is Comfort Blanket, a “thoughtful” new series from Joel Morris (of the Rule of Three podcast). In it, he talks to “people who do cool stuff I like about some warm stuff they like” – a book, film, TV show or record they go back to again and again. Whether it’s Rufus Jones on Raiders of the Lost Ark, or Caitlin Moran on the “giant-hearted” reality TV show Curvy Brides’ Boutique, it is wonderfully engaging, not least “because each choice is explored so seriously”.

Fallen Women, a “chilling” new instalment of Tortoise Media’s Slow Newscast series, is a “small masterpiece”, said James Marriott in The Times. Reporter Louise Tickle investigates cases of women killed or seriously injured after falling from height – balconies, tower blocks, multistorey car parks. Of the 51 cases she found, 27 were deemed suspicious by police; those deaths led to 23 arrests and only five convictions.

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Asking if at least some of these cases were “homicides hiding in plain sight”, the podcast focuses on the tragedy of Bianca Thomas, a 25-year-old woman who fell to her death from the 11th floor of a Birmingham tower block in 2018. The story is “expertly told and the script is moving and understated”. It’s a sobering listen “powered by an important moral mission”.

The former Panorama reporter John Sweeney has “been on Putin’s tail” since he saw first-hand evidence of the alleged war crimes perpetrated by the Russian army in Chechnya, more than 20 years ago, said Fiona Sturges in the Financial Times. “Back then, no one listened to me,” says Sweeney, in his new podcast Taking on Putin.

He started work on the series more than a year ago, but since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in late February, he has been in Kyiv, filing “gonzo” reports from the streets via social media, in his “lucky orange beanie”. His podcast combines dramatic reports from Ukraine with wide-ranging stories and analysis covering Putin’s two decades of murderous repression.

Sweeney left the BBC in 2019, and just as on his previous podcast, Hunting Ghislaine, about Ghislaine Maxwell, this one “features a liberated Sweeney free to rant, swear and speak his mind, with no management telling him to apologise”.

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