The week in audio: The Banksy Story; I’m Not Here to Hurt You; Prom 13; Academy

The Banksy Story (BBC Radio 4) | BBC Sounds
I’m Not Here to Hurt You Irish Independent
Prom 13 (BBC Radio 3) | BBC Sounds
Academy Wondery

The Banksy Story

John Humphrys, once of Radio 4’s Today programme, wrote a newspaper column last week in which he got upset about some of his old station’s current offering. Humphrys doesn’t like how Any Questions has become more confrontational; he’s not fond of presenters who slur their words; and – surprise! – he is far from a fan of The Banksy Story, Radio 4’s 15 minute-after-lunch series for the past two weeks. Too much background music. Too many jokes. It’s not for him.

And The Banksy Story is not really for me either, I’m afraid. It has some selling points. Our host, James Peak, is chatty, funny and clear, and there’s a lot of joy in this series, but the story of Britain’s most famous anonymous artist isn’t interesting enough to justify a 10-part podcast (20 episodes on the radio). Three and a half hours of Banksy bantz is a lot. The length means there is padding: much reputation enhancement, plus blether and daft effects. So, Banksy’s voice is played by actors as though he’s Vincent Price, or Marlon Brando in The Godfather; anyone posh is voiced like Tim Nice But Dim, anyone from street art as though they’re a dodgy cock-er-ney. All this silliness, though initially funny, eventually becomes wearing, and distracts from the deeper elements. (A bit like Banksy!) And amid all the jokey soundcraft, some of Peak’s better points are lost, such as whether street art can make sense in a gallery, or if we should let Banksy remain anonymous, because then he can carry on speaking truth to power.

If there’s gold in here, it comes from interviewee Steph, who used to work with the artist. “Banksy steals a lot of the attention and a lot of the limelight away from arguably more talented people,” she says, at one point. Peak proves this, idiotically, by going to Beyond the Streets, a street art show featuring more than 100 artists, but not Banksy, and asking the curator about… well, you know who. Steph is the star of this series, her sad story providing heart within the flightiness. Peak is good too, when he calms down. He’s also a producer and a writer, but if he fancied it, he could have a decent presenting career, if he just stopped with the never-ending hyperactive jokes.

im not here to hurt you

More conventional, though frustrating in a different way, is I’m Not Here to Hurt You, from the Irish Independent. This is a true crime tale featuring Ireland’s Most Polite Bank Robber TM, John O’Hegarty. (Another charming criminal with an interesting life story! Will true crime ever run out of such men?) Our host, journalist Kevin Doyle, has a thorough and correctly questioning approach to O’Hegarty. How did a former Trinity College MA student become a successful (and polite) bank robber?

The series is definitely worth your time; the story is fascinating. O’Hegarty explains his MO in great detail, including his disguises. He stuck his beard clippings on to his chin, to appear bearded, and once he’d completed a robbery just rubbed them away! There’s an upsetting and unexpected catalyst to the tale, and Doyle does his best to confront O’Hegarty with the upset that he’s created, even when O’Hegarty tries to play it down. Still, there are times when the storytelling feels like lip-smacking, as when O’Hegarty goes into detail about his drug-taking, or when sound effects are used to illustrate his state of mind (we get an echo-echo-echo to show that he’s obsessed with something). It feels a bit tacky, a smidge sensationalist. But Doyle really does try to be fair, and this is undoubtedly a cracking yarn.

Catherine Lamb in the crowd at the Royal Albert Hall

The BBC Proms have been on for a couple of weeks now, and I’ve been tuning in, on and off, as usual. This past week has featured a lot of opera and choral music, which is not my thing. But on Monday evening, before the main act of Prom 13, I caught a new piece for strings, brass and woodwind by Catherine Lamb called Portions Transparent/Opaque. It was exceptional: difficult and different. The tune, such as it was, grew out of a series of dense chords that seemed to expand – not swell, but grow, somehow – over three movements, and the detail within the chords was truly weird, otherworldly. Sometimes, the sounds seemed like irritation, sometimes like joy. At all times, the writing and performance were exemplary. For me, this is what the Proms are for. Not pomp and patriotism but expert experimentation.

Academy

If you have any bored teens to entertain during the holidays, you might try Academy, the new drama series from Wondery. It’s a very familiar tale of a poor but studious kid making it to a high-achieving academy, to encounter successful students and trendy cliques, and, you know, discover the truth about who they really are. It’s well-produced and peppy, moving at a good pace.

Ava is our heroine, a clever black girl determined to get into the right clique, specifically a sort of top 10 of cool and clever students called the List. She’s at Bishop Gray, a boarding school. This might make you think of Harry Potter, but as the opening blurb says, there are “sexual situations, drug use and some seriously bad decisions” throughout. This is not a PG series. There’s a lot of sex, right from the start. The acting is a bit banged-out, and the gender politics are icky (good girl/bad girl rivalry; much fuss about our heroine getting together with a particular boy; stupid situations leading to sexual encounters which, yes, you hear). The effect is that of a very racy YA novel. If that’s your bag, dive in.

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