This is a brief list of podcasts I have enjoyed listening to over the last several years.
We tell our children unsettling fairy tales to teach them valuable lessons, but these Cautionary Tales are for the education of the grown ups — and they are all true.Tim Harford
The economist Tim Harford tells a different story in each episode of his podcast and in each case, shows how apparently inconsequential assumptions can have an incredibly disproportionate influence on events.
It’s a fascinating series, and every episode I’ve listened to has a message that resonates. During the Covid pandemic, several episodes were devoted to related matters, including one about the bubonic plague and the Derbyshire village of Eyam and another about the fan who unknowingly caused a tragedy in the life of the actress Gene Tierney through not observing isolation rules.
Harford doesn’t just talk about infection rates and vaccinations, though—there are episodes on the challenge to design and deliver an operational airship design, the moral panic around Dungeons and Dragons, and the terrible sequence of assumptions that led to the slaughter of the Light Brigade.
An interesting recent episode covered the unanticipated consequences attending the life of Thomas Midgely, the American inventor whose creations poisoned the atmosphere, nearly destroyed life on the planet, and terminated his own life in a fairly brutal fashion. He was the mind behind leaded petrol, CFCs for refrigeration, and a mechanism of ropes and pulleys for moving him about when he contracted polio and was paralysed by it (he was strangled by one of the ropes).
Brothers Gus and Luke Holwerda are devotees of the Granada TV series starring Jeremy Brett. They are also film-makers with considerable experience in production, direction, writing and cinematography
Their podcast includes interviews with other devotees like Stephen Fry and surviving actors and production personnel as well as focusing on the stories presented in the series.
Each episode of the TV series is examined in detail, starting with Gus presenting the plot and how the adaptation differs from Conan Doyle’s original story. Each new member of the cast gets a thumbnail biography which is often very illuminating since many well-known actors of the day appeared in the series (for example: Eric Porter as Moriarty, Charles Gray as Mycroft Holmes) and several actors who were yet to become famous (Kiran Shah, Nigel Planer and Jude Law amongst several others) also played parts. Notable writers associated with the series (Alan Plater and Trevor Bowen, to name two) are also profiled.
After this, Luke and Gus foregather to discuss the adaptation in more detail and award it a score rated in Persian slippers (the place where Holmes kept his tobacco in the stories). Their attention to detail and the insight they offer into the filming process is fascinating. Each episode is around two to three hours long, so it’s something of a commitment but I find the time goes very quickly and enjoyably.
It’s difficult to pick out a favourite episode, as each has its own merits and the two brothers are so enthusiastic and knowledgeable about their subject matter. The most recent show covered Silver Blaze and had insights into the difficulties of filming large crowd scenes and how the writer adjusted the parts of the plot where Sir Arthur’s limited acquaintance with the turf showed most egregiously.
In 2016, friends Kemper Donovan and Catherine Brobeck decided to start a podcast dedicated to the works of Dame Agatha Christie, in which they would examine all 66 novels closely and give a rating to each, not as some sort of absolute measure but mostly to provoke debate and interesting insights into the books. Between each novel, they examined one or two short stories with similar attention but without a rating.
Each show starts with the victim(s) of the crime and then moves onto the suspects. “The world as it appears to be” is examined, with the hosts indicating the clues that point to “The world as it really is”. After discussing the story, Kemper and Catherine consider the TV and film adaptations. Each novel is rated from 1 to 10 for plot mechanics, plot credibility, series characters (e.g. Poirot, Miss Marple), book-specific characters, and setting/tone. Deductions are made for elements of the book that are “stuck in their time”—terms that were not considered offensive at the time but which certainly are now. The book is then positioned within the list of previously rated books and ties are resolved.
Kemper and Catherine evidently had a very close friendship and their banter is always good-natured. The real proof of this came in November 2021 when Catherine suddenly and unexpectedly died from an unsuspected genetic condition. Kemper, although clearly devastated by the loss of his friend and co-host, continued to discuss and rate the six novels and short stories that remained with the help of a number of Christie experts who had previously been interviewed for the show until he completed the task in September 2022. It is difficult not to listen to these later episodes without grieving for the loss of this sparky, funny and intelligent woman, and the episode on Curtain makes for particularly emotional listening.
Warning: each episode contains spoilers for the story under consideration; some also spoil other books. The hosts are generally very good at highlighting incoming spoilers, so it’s possible to skip past the bits you don’t need to hear.
M.R. James is one of the foremost writers of Victorian ghost stories and this podcast celebrates his work and the work of others who were inspired by him or were an inspiration to him. Among those inspired are Will Ross and Mike Taylor, who have been producing their podcast intermittently since 2011.
The show has been split into several seasons, the first being dedicated to James’s short stories, the second concentrating on the authors who inspired him, the third looks at what the hosts describe as “The James Gang”: authors who were inspired by James’s writing, and the fourth season, which has just started, looks at female authors of ghost stories.
The hosts evidently enjoy their subject material and have produced the occasional special show featuring interviews with Jamesian scholars or reviewing the BBC Ghost Story for Christmas. They are easy to listen to and the subject matter is enjoyable.
Formerly The H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast, this show began by examining each of the stories written by H.P. Lovecraft and critiquing them (not always very seriously). Chad Fifer and Chris Lackey are devotees of weird tales and approach each story they cover with a mixture of genuine appreciation and comic remarks.
Chris and Chad recently decided to broaden the remit of the podcast from Lovecraft-related weird stories to any weird stories and science fiction that attracts their attention. I use the podcast to find stories I haven’t heard of before and determine whether I want to read them. They have covered stories in
The hosts are irreverent and often quite funny and at the least entertaining, and it’s probably the podcast I’ve listened to the longest. The episodes covering Lovecraft are all free; after they finished covering his stories, the podcast went to a Patreon-funded format, where only one episode per month is freely available; the others can be obtained through a monthly subscription. This is quite common in podcasts, and Chris and Chad recorded over 600 episodes covering horror and ghost stories by H.P. Lovecraft, Richard Matheson (I Am Legend), Clark Ashton Smith, Bram Stoker, Mary Shelley, and others under the H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast moniker.
In June 2022, they interviewed the British Lovecraftian writer Ramsey Campbell—this is a free episode which is well worth a listen—find it here.
H.P. Lovecraft was a very strange and not altogether pleasant man. He created the Cthulhu Mythos and wrote tales of cosmic horror which inspired writers and film-makers such as Stephen King, Michael Shea, Neil Gaiman, John Carpenter and Guillermo del Toro. He was also a snob and a racist who frequently expressed his prejudices in his work, making them uncomfortable reading in modern times. If the hosts of All About Agatha had been rating Lovecraft’s work, there would have been heavy penalties for the “stuck in their time” elements.
Lovecraft was also a prolific writer of letters and communicated with many of the notable names in pulp fiction, encouraging, editing and criticising their work with a genuine desire to improve it. He is thought to have written around 100,000 letters, which is an incredible number, and about 20% of them are still extant.
Sean Branney and Andrew Leman began the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society as part of their live action recreations of scenarios for the roleplaying game Call of Cthulhu. The Society has grown and now has thousands of members worldwide. Branney and Leman felt that although Lovecraft’s weird tales are all publicly available, his correspondence was quite unknown, so they started Voluminous.
Each show considers one or more letters written to Lovecraft’s circle: Robert E. Howard (creator of Conan the Barbarian), Clark Ashton Smith, Frank Belknap Long, and so on. The hosts read out each letter in very clear tones, and then discuss each subject touched on in the letter.
Although Lovecraft’s views on race and class can’t be sympathised with, he was a lively, funny, and interesting (if sometimes misguided) correspondent and the letters are full of interest for their portrayal of the world of New England and America in the 1920s and 1930s.
The hosts have a wealth of knowledge arising out of their experiences in roleplaying and research for the HPLHS, and their observations on the letters are fascinating.
Wisconsin-based Brett Bloczynski and Sean Kelley started this weekly podcast in 2014 to share their opinions on tabletop roleplaying games with listeners. Each episode focuses on a specific facet of gaming, usually chosen by Brett the preceding week, and the two hosts covered a huge variety of subjects before they brought the podcast to a close at the end of June 2022: gaming conventions, handling players, handling referees, inclusivity, choosing character options, and so on.
Each episode runs for about an hour and starts with announcements, moves on to Random Encounter (communications from listeners to the show) before turning to the main topic, usually selected by Brett though as time went on, they had an increasing list of subjects to address suggested by previous episodes or feedback in Random Encounter.
At the end, the hosts contribute news items and other interesting titbits to Die Roll before signing off. Some of the information is now out of date but a lot is still interesting and/or relevant. The last episode they recorded was a 150 minute long Ask Me Anything format where they answered questions sent in by their listeners.
A word of warning: neither host guards their words (Brett swears more often than Sean), so don’t listen if you’re easily offended, though to be honest they both come across as exceptionally friendly and genial people with a lot of really good ideas and interesting takes on gaming.
If you prefer a more British version, try The Grognard Files or What Would the Smart Party Do?; if you’d like an American podcast that is less gaming-focused but interesting nonetheless, try Ken & Robin Talk About Stuff.
Ken Hite and Robin D Laws are well-known designers in the world of tabletop roleplaying games. Their show has a very broad remit, covering game design concepts, film festivals, food, books, history from antiquity to the modern day and what Ken has named eliptony: reports of weird occurrences, cryptids, aliens, and so on.
Every show is split into four segments of around 15 minutes each, allowing discussion of four different subjects although large items can stretch over a couple of segments.
Some of the most entertaining material comes from the Ken’s Time Machine pieces: it is suggested that Ken has a time machine by which he can go back in history and “fix” certain events so that a particular course of history plays out. Ken Hite has a strong grasp of history and improvises impressively to outline an alternate course of history that was avoided due to him showing up and influencing the outcome by means of plying the key personality with strong liquor.
I’ve been listening to this podcast for a long time, and I enjoy it very much. Ken and Robin generally focus on the design of games rather than the played experience so it’s a different take on the subject than Gaming and BS or The Grognard Files.
Scott Dorward, Paul Fricker and Matt Sanderson have been playing horror roleplaying games for many years and have been closely involved in the most recent edition of the rules for Call of Cthulhu and associated adventures. In this podcast, they discuss tabletop roleplaying games and media with a specific focus on horror, bringing their experience and expertise to bear on subjects relating to roleplaying in general and horror in particular.
The three hosts are very entertaining and apply their considerable knowledge of the genre to provide ideas for referees and players.
Warning: you will hear the f-bomb from time to time, so another one to skip if you prefer not to hear bad language. Since the main focus of the shows is horror, some of the things discussed can make for uncomfortable listening and if you are squeamish, I wouldn’t recommend this one.
The Grognard Files is hosted by the avuncular and friendly Dirk the Dice with his co-host Blythy. In the dim mists of antiquity, as they would have it, they played many different tabletop roleplaying games before a hiatus they describe as the deep freeze supervened. Eventually they thawed out and are once again committed gamers.
Most episodes of the podcast cover a game from their past and the two hosts bicker amiably over the rules and their memories of the times they had playing them, but there have been other episodes including interviews with luminaries from British and American gaming including many of the staff of White Dwarf and Games Workshop. It now includes two Grogmeet conventions per year: one virtual and one physical in Manchester.
If you’d like a very British podcast about gaming that’s completely free of bad language and has the occasional reference to hot drinks and Hob Nobs, I recommend The Grognard Files as a contrast to Gaming and BS. Its reflections on gaming are more personal than those of What Would the Smart Party Do? so it’s perhaps a bit more accessible to the uninitiated. It covers a wider genre than The Good Friends of Jackson Elias, which is horror-centric.
James Holloway’s podcast looks at the incredible menagerie of monsters available to referees of the Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying game. Holloway looks at a handful of monsters in each episode and discusses their origin in myth, fiction or the fertile imaginations of the many designers that have had a hand in D&D through the forty years of its existence. There are also special episodes: some profile a specific monster in depth and in others Holloway is joined by a co-host who talks about “My Favourite Monster”.
The podcast began with the first edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual, but has covered other varieties of D&D since, drawing out the differences and similarities in the different editions.
Holloway is an engaging host who is genuinely enthusiastic and knowledgeable about his subject matter and each episode contains something that informs or provokes the imagination. He also hosts the “Patron Deities” podcast for subscribers to his Patreon which looks at the many pantheons of gods and goddesses that have been detailed for the D&D game during its history.
Gaz and Baz began this podcast as an extension of their frequent conversations on tabletop roleplaying games: they have a wealth of experience, which they share in this twice monthly show.
Each episode, the hosts cover a topic related to gaming: reviews of specific games, discussions of game mechanics and interviews of well-known names of the gaming industry about forthcoming games and gaming history. Gaz and Baz are easy to listen to and are great conversationalists with a great sense of humour.
The show is a British version of Gaming and BS: much less profane, and with regional accents. Baz and Gaz take a more objective view than The Grognard Files, and I always find their analysis of the games they examine interesting.
Most phones and tablets have an app for obtaining podcasts: Apple has a built-in podcast app, as does Google. There are independent podcast apps that you may prefer, and Audible and Spotify both provide podcast access. I personally use RSSRadio on my iPad.
Each podcast app will provide a means of searching for the podcast you’re interested in; if you have a direct link for the podcast (usually provided if the podcast is subscription-only), there is usually a means of entering that somewhere.