THE true-crime podcast is a genre as distinctive now as the murder mystery in literature. With characteristics and conventions borrowed from the American founders — the wildly successful Serial in particular — the slow-burn, box-set form allows for bagginess and back story, which is the antithesis of the televisual penchant for the taut and elliptical.
Playing out over ten episodes, the World Service’s latest venture into the form — The Lazarus Heist (episodes released every Monday) — might have offered plenty of work for a zealous editor, but there is so much texture in this bizarre tale that the resulting fillet would have been a good deal less appealing.
The action opens, appropriately enough, on the MGM film lot, the headquarters of Sony Pictures and the target, in 2014, of a devastating computer hack. Not only did all systems break down, but a great silo of emails were stolen, later to appear in the public realm, to the huge discomfort of staff and celebrities.
The assumption is that this was the work of a well-resourced North Korean group, retaliating for the insult perpetrated on their beloved premier in the Seth Rogen film The Interview. Making no attempt to conceal real places and people behind fictitious aliases, the film depicts the assassination of Kim Jong-un in vivid detail. You don’t have to be a fan of the Supreme Leader to feel uncomfortable with this shade of satire, and we hear in the podcast from people close to the Korean situation who are critical of this kind of provocation.
It is fascinating stuff; and we are nowhere near the finale, which involves a massive bank heist, apparently perpetrated by the same group. And, if it sounds like a mere cinematic jape, then spare a thought for the staff at Sony, some of whose internet histories were so compromised that they were rendered unemployable.
The old fogies among us might shake our heads and blame the modern, digital age. Things were so much easier when you could store everything you needed on cassette tapes. You wouldn’t get any argument from Andy Kershaw, who has returned to Radio 3 for a two-part Sunday Feature survey of his cassette-tape library.
Once upon a time, before a tragic fall from grace, Kershaw seemed to be everywhere on the airwaves. Radios 1 and 3 hosted his regular shows, and he even managed, in 1989, to persuade Radios 1 and 4 to broadcast a three-part documentary about music from Mali simultaneously. Kershaw was the man ever ready with his Sony Walkman Pro to capture impromptu performances in seamy South American bars and unprepossessing suburban sitting rooms. He would be the man to turn to if you were not sure whether that band of pan-pipers at your holiday hotel were the real deal or a bunch of hacks after tourist tips.
“World music” is a phrase that is falling out of favour in the new politics of decolonisation, but only the most puritanical heart would not warm to Kershaw’s voracious enthusiasm for such eclectic musical styles, and the personalities that express them.