Read on to learn about the bizarre and brilliant facts podcasts have taught us, from the truth about McDonald’s fries to Ed Miliband’s badger fears.

Podcast: Revisionist History
Episode: McDonald’s Broke My Heart

During my many years working at McDonald’s, I must have cooked several tonnes of fries. I thought I knew all there was to know about those chips until I heard an episode from series two of Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast. Older heads would claim some McDonald’s products aren’t as tasty as they used to be, But they were right: McDonald’s altered the formula of the beef fat used to cook the fries in 1990, and the reasons for the change are fascinating, as are the food scientists who recreate the old-fashioned chips.

Those wobbling inflatables outside car showrooms are based on Trinidad carnival dancers

Podcast: 99 % Invisible
Episode: Inflatable Men

Are they “Tube Men”? “Fly Guys”? “Air Dancers”? They are not. They are “Tall Boys” and, while you’ve seen them everywhere from the opening ceremonies of sporting events to the forecourts of garages, you probably have no idea as to their origins. As this episode of the beloved design podcast reveals, they were invented by Trinidadian carnival artist Peter Minshall, who imagined them emulating the “limpid and loose” dance moves of the carnival. What he failed to foresee though was that, after an appearance at the 1996 Olympics, he would be beaten to a patent and would have to deal with seeing his undulating creations swaying towards him every time he went for a drive. Happily, he seems to have taken it graciously in his stride.

Hackers are trying to steal your username – and it’s a booming business

Podcast: Reply All
Episode: The Snapchat Thief

Most announcements on the tube are voiced by a husband-and-wife team

Podcast: Everything Is Alive
Episode: Chioke, Grain of Sand

A 1940s newspaper editor used to crash far-right rallies and challenge fascists to a fight

Podcast: Working Class History
Episodes: 35-37, The 43 Group

How’s this for campaigning journalism? On 17 August 1947 Frederic Mullally, the political editor of the Sunday Pictorial (these days known as the Sunday Mirror), squared up to the growing British fascist movement in print, calling them “dupes” and “imbeciles” and announcing that he would attend their rally in east London that very evening to “see the stuff” they were made of. He did so and was narrowly saved by the 43 Group, a Jewish-led gang of militant anti-fascists, from a fatal beating. The story of the 43 Group forms a standout set of episodes of Working Class History, a deep dive into historical struggles against bigotry and oppression. 

Orson Welles subsisted on giant plates of steak tartare

Podcast: You Must Remember This
Episode: Polly Platt, the Invisible Woman, Part Four

The sixth season of Karina Longworth’s You Must Remember This, about old Hollywood, dives into the unfinished memoir of the late film producer Polly Platt. In 1970, Platt arrives to work on Orson Welles’s The Other Side of the Wind, and the director insists on making her his “signature” dinner. Using “three pounds of top-of-the-round beef” for two people, Platt recalls, “he would fix this giant serving of steak tartare, mashing it around in this great big bowl with his own hands. Then he’d plop an Orson-sized pile of it on a plate. When I didn’t finish mine, he would actually be hurt.” The pair washed it down with an entire bottle of brandy – and then ate it again the next night. Welles died of a heart attack at 70.

From Disneyland to hallucinogens, every writer is guided by a small set of obsessions

PodcastLongform Podcast
Episode: 347

Michael Pollan has written books on hallucinogens, caffeine addiction, cooking, eating and architecture. His journalism is even more wide-ranging (one highlight is his 1997 piece on community friction in the Disneyland Florida town of Celebration). Yet, as he says in his June 2019 episode of the Longform podcast, his work is always underpinned by a small set of what he calls “final questions”. Every writer has these, he says: the persistent curiosities that shape the worldview you bring to any subject. His are “nature and God”. Working out what yours are is harder than it sounds – it took Pollan finishing his second book to decipher his.

Stephen Hawking held a soiree for time-travellers – but only told them after it finished

Podcast: Cartridge
Episode: Stephen Hawking’s Time Travel Party

In an unusually high-minded episode of this video game podcast we learn that on 28 June 2009, Professor Stephen Hawking held a party at the University of Cambridge specifically for time-travellers, with Krug champagne and hors d’oeuvres. In order to prevent frauds from attending, the renowned theoretical physicist only announced the party after it had finished. Sadly, no one turned up. Theories as to why Hawking was left as a Billy No Mates include: he sent the invites to an alternative reality; time-travellers don’t like hors d’oeuvres; or Hawking had them all killed to avoid disrupting the time-space continuum and imploding the universe. 

If you ever see Christina Aguilera live, avoid sitting in the third row

Podcast: Legends Only
Episode: 10 Years of Christina Aguilera’s Bionic

This riotous pop culture podcast hosted by NYC-based “media gays” Bradley Stern and T Kyle MacMahon focuses on pop star-related escapades. Occasionally it also unleashes anniversary specials, including a two-hour dissection of Christina Aguilera’s near career-killing Bionic album. Despite being a pop obsessive, I’d somehow missed the fact that seconds before a performance of heart-tugging ballad You Lost Me live on The Today Show, Xtina had removed a piece of gum from her mouth and lobbed it into the third row. The crowd-shot video, entitled “Christina Aguilera throws gum at her fans”, is fast approaching 600,000 views on YouTube, making it one of her most enduring hits.

Pete Doherty would fall asleep on stage during Babyshambles gigs

Podcast: 22 Grand Pod
Episode: Alan McGee

With its title riffing on 22 Grand Job by the Rakes, there is no mistaking the subject matter of this series: the grimy indie scene of the mid-00s. Each week, interviewers Harry H and Tom Atkin of the Paddingtons interview one of the era’s protagonists. While they haven’t got round to scene king Pete Doherty yet, the interview with Patrick Walden of Babyshambles reveals that the band went onstage in such a state of disrepair that Doherty would catch a nap mid-gig. Alan McGee also tells the bloodcurdling story of how, three days into managing the Libertines, he turned round to find Carl Barât with his eye dangling from its optic nerve after an encounter with a sink. The first operation on it sewed it back incorrectly; McGee had to stump up £8,000 to get it fixed.

John Glenn thought he saw a message from God in space. It was actually the contents of his toilet

Podcast: The Memory Palace
Episode: The Glowing Orbs

Brilliant, bite-sized history series The Memory Palace reached celestial heights with an episode about Ohio-born John Glenn, who was the first American to orbit the Earth in 1962. Over a gently tinkling soundtrack, host Nate DiMeo tells of the mysterious dancing lights that began to swirl round Glenn as he floated in space. Glenn, a religious man, decided they were a gift from God; it took more than 30 years for less holy minds to solve the mystery. What had looked to the astronaut like tiny seraphs were in fact particles of urine – Glenn’s own – expelled from the capsule on its journey around the Earth.

Alan Moore will never watch the Watchmen

Podcast: Cinematic Universe
Episode: 105

When news broke last weekend of the death of journalist Seb Patrick, many paid tribute to his career spent celebrating geek culture. Particularly loved was this podcast in which he and James Hunt dissected comic book-inspired movies. In one fascinating episode, the pair explained why they wouldn’t be covering the recent Watchmen TV show. Watchmen is now a cultural behemoth, but when the comic launched in 1986 nobody could have imagined it would still be available to buy a month later – let alone 34 years. That was why creators Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons signed a contract with DC that dictated the rights to the story would revert to them as soon as the comic was out of print. Unfortunately, it was a roaring success and has never been allowed to go out of print, a decision Moore believes was in part a ploy to swindle him out of his dues. It’s why he is never involved with any of the cash-ins, and why Patrick and Hunt refused to recognise Watchmen the show.

Dogs are pretty impressive – even if Louis Theroux isn’t a fan

Podcast: Grounded With Louis Theroux
Episode: Rose McGowan

This fact comes from Theroux – “not a dog person” – less than a minute into his lockdown chat with actor and activist Rose McGowan. She’s been prescribed a therapy puppy, and Theroux tries to ingratiate himself with her by sharing fascinating dog facts. (They can sniff out cancer, it turns out.) In this 10-part series, Theroux remotely interviews people he’s “always been interested in meeting but have never had the chance to”; others include Watford footballer Troy Deeney and YouTuber KSI. Expect all the probing questions of his TV documentaries with added insight into Louis’s own lockdown life. Plus, it turns out, the oft-impersonated interviewer is not too bad at impressions himself.

Source : The Guardian

Looking for more Arts & Literature?