Life, love and the acceptance of loss
You, Me and the Big C
Radio 5 Live Living for the City Radio 4 Woof: True Tales of Romance and Failure Radio 4
Nick Revell: BrokenDreamCatcher Radio 4 “Rachael was nails,” said Mike Holt. “She propped us all up.” The You, Me and the Big C podcast on 6 September was an emotional listen: touching and uplifting, sad and professional. Rachael Bland, who came up with the idea for the podcast – a show about cancer presented by three women with cancer – died on 5 September. Her co-presenters, Deborah James and Lauren Mahon, along with producers Holt and Al Entwistle, dedicated the next day’s programme to Bland.
It went to No 1 in the iTunes podcast chart. There were interviews with those who had been on the show: cancer-sufferer Emma Agnew reminisced about coming on and talking more honestly than she ever had before; Richard Bacon described how Bland had visited him in hospital when he was ill. “She was facing the end,” he said, “and yet she was very concerned about me.”
There were jokes too: “There’s so much pressure on me to stay alive now,” said James, who has stage 4 bowel cancer and, in 2016, was given an 8% chance of living for five years. “Yes, it can’t be Me, Me and the Big C!” said Mahon. At the end, they played The Killers’ All These Things That I’ve Done. Not a dry eye in the house.
Last week’s episode was a pre-record, made when Bland was still alive. And now the team are going to take a short break before returning with the show in a few weeks. Continuing the podcast is right, especially with all its new fans, but it will be difficult. James and Mahon need to come to terms with the empty chair behind the main microphone, both personally and professionally. Bland was the most experienced of the three when it came to presenting; it will take a little time for James and Mahon to find out how best to work without her. The appalling suddenness of someone being there, and then not, is a shock. All that personality, that living physical presence – gone. It takes time to adjust.
Another moving listen last week was Radio 4’s Living for the City. Singer Corinne Bailey Rae returned to Leeds, where she grew up. Bailey Rae was an excellent tour host, honest and descriptive – especially about what it was like being a teenager, waiting for buses, which she did a lot: “It was always raining, you’d always be freezing.”
She didn’t appear to mind, though. When she first went to Los Angeles, she was called “the sunshine girl”, but there is something tough in Bailey Rae. Her description of the night her husband, Jason, went out and didn’t come back (he died in 2008 of an accidental overdose) was immensely sad. And the travelling woman, who’d gone from waiting on buses to flying around the world, didn’t want to travel any more. “It was such a huge chasm, such a big break, my life slowed down to minimal movement – like being in water or being in treacle,” she said. “In a way, I could say it was 10 years, I didn’t do anything.” A wonderful programme, sensitively produced by Falling Tree.
Shall we cheer ourselves up? Here are a couple of short, latenight comedy programmes worth checking out. Woof: True Tales of Romance and Failure, on to its second episode of four last week, is a treat. Like a rapid-fire English David Sedaris, Chris Neill tells his funny tales of rubbish dates. Every word is perfectly chosen and perfectly used; actually, he has something of Alan Bennett, too.
Nick Revell (above) gives us a different style of comedy storytelling, where he takes his audience by the hand and leads it to unexpected, magical places. Last week, he examined the world of conspiracy theories. His list of Illuminati members made me laugh. Both of these shows are easy listening, because the comedians in them are so good. Uplifting stuff.
‘She propped us all up’: Rachael Bland, far left, who died earlier this month, with You, Me and the Big C co-presenters Lauren Mahon and Deborah James. Photograph by Claire Wood