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Radio review: World Questions: The future of work, and Brixton: Flames on the frontline

23 April 2021

PA/Alamy

Police armed with riot shields group near Lambeth Town Hall, in Brixton, in July 1981. The 40th anniversary of the riots is marked by Radio 5 Live’s weekly podcast, Brixton: Flames on the frontline

Police armed with riot shields group near Lambeth Town Hall, in Brixton, in July 1981. The 40th anniversary of the riots is marked by Radio 5 Live&rsq...

OF ALL the neologisms to which the pandemic has given birth, one of the most absurd and insidious is surely “Remotopia”. The apotheosis of modern working practice, in Remotopia you never have to commute again: you can roll out of bed, straight into the office, you can work all hours God sends, and even eat your meals at your desk. What could be more liberating?

We heard about Remotopia from Manish Bahl, the head of the “Centre for the Future of Work” at a technology consultancy, Cognizant; and it was at least a relief to find that the other experts lined up by Katya Adler for World Questions: The future of work (World Service, Saturday) did not share Mr Bahl’s visionary fervour. In fact, the international panel were otherwise in agreement that news of the death, post-pandemic, of the office has been exaggerated. We still long for those water-cooler moments, not least so that Nigel from accounts can explain to us what on earth happened last night in Line of Duty.

And yet it is the Cognizant dystopia that continues to haunt. Take Mr Bahl’s predictions for the future jobs market, in which we will be required to retrain for jobs in a world that sounds much like a Terry Gilliam movie: “flying-car developer”, “personal-memory curator”, and “digital tailor”. It will come as no comfort to somebody whose job in hospitality is under threat to know that, with the appropriate dose of “upskilling”, they might apply for a job as a “vertical-farm consultant”.

At a time when arguments about racial justice are again prominent in public discourse, Radio 5 Live is releasing a weekly podcast — Brixton: Flames on the frontline (new episodes released each Friday) — marking the 40th anniversary of the Brixton riots. This is a panoramic affair (I can find no indication of how long the series will last), which, in the first three episodes, has covered various interlocking stories from the 1960s and ’70s, including significant miscarriages of justice perpetrated against the Mangrove Nine (1970) and the Oval Four (1972).

The podcasts are presented by the rapper and TV presenter Big Narstie, while protagonists’ testimony is voiced by actors, with a credit for “dramatisation” given to Roy Williams. The extent of this intervention is unclear; but this is not intended as a straightforward historical account, or a documentary in which we are invited to hear dispassionate accounts from both sides in a dispute. Rather, this is an anthology for stories that serve a passionate polemic about longstanding antagonisms.

This is a period in which, for this first time — as a result of the Mangrove Nine case — it was officially acknowledged that racism might have been a motivating factor in the actions taken by the police; and this podcast is a fascinating and challenging textbook to its history.

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