The week in audio: Behind the Crime: Liam; The Skies Are Watching; Time of the Week – review

Behind the Crime: Liam (Radio 4) | BBC Sounds
Limelight: The Skies Are Watching (Radio 4) | BBC Sounds
Time of the Week (Radio 4) | BBC Sounds

If you’re like me, you’ll have had quite enough politics talk over the past few weeks. Actually, I reached my fill around a fortnight ago, and have been turning away from much of the never-ending well-actually-I-think-you’ll-find-I’m-right point-scoring and, instead, tuning into some of Radio 4’s smaller, quieter, more human listening options, and enjoying them very much indeed.

The first of these last week wasn’t exactly apolitical, however. Intense deprivation and mistakes in care (driven by political choices) were the unspoken thread through new series Behind the Crime. The first episode of this show, which looks at the stories behind court sentences, told that of 19-year-old Liam, a young transgender man whose short life has been chaotic, to say the least. He talked to Sally Tilt and Dr Kerensa Hocken, vastly experienced forensic psychologists who work in prisons, and proved a lovely interviewee: open, with a surprisingly deep understanding of his own motivations. It comes from Liam having to describe his life experiences to so many people in authority, Tilt suggests.

We learn that Liam’s home life was intensely troubled. The estate where he grew up was rough (“one of the people pinned our jack russell to the fence with some nails”, he says). He lived off sweets rather than meals. Aged five, he was taken into foster care, which he loved: “It was just quiet, everyone was happy, everyone was smiling, there was no shouting… we had proper dinners.” After six months there, though, his nan and dad applied to get him home again, where he didn’t thrive.

Later, as an adolescent, Liam went through another calmer time in his life, when he was put in an emergency placement home. But it wasn’t Ofsted-registered, so after two years that placement stopped. Soon after turning 18, Liam ended up in HMP Styal, a women’s prison. While in there he actively played up so he’d be put in a segregation cell, because it was peaceful.

Liam is engaging throughout the interview, which was conducted after he’d finished his sentence. At Styal, he got involved with National Prison Radio, eventually hosting the request show (a highly prestigious slot) and really loving it. Sadly, we later learn that he has since reoffended and is back in prison. There is a small part of you that wonders if he did it just to feel safe once more. And a much larger, angrier part that feels that the system should support Liam and other young adults like him, who have so much to give but need help.

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Photograph: BBC

Last Friday, a new drama, The Skies Are Watching. Tautly written over five episodes, beautifully recorded and really well acted, this is the latest in the reliably excellent Limelight slot, which proves that Radio 4 dramas can be properly good. It’s about a 28-year-old woman, Heather, who disappears from a camping trip and turns up 12 years later, on a plane flying from Orlando to Atlanta. I don’t want to give too much as it’s a mystery show and the pacing is one of its most satisfying elements.

Our narrator is Constance, played by Guinevere Turner, who, along with a cast that includes Caitlin Stasey as Heather, is totally believable. Secondary characters such as Rodney, their dad, are so realistic that you can picture everyone in your mind. I have one quibble, which is a trend thing. A lot of new dramas (Case 63, Passenger List and The Lovecraft Investigations, for starters) involve one, two or three of the following: a plot that concerns time travel or time loops; someone who is, we think, not themselves but a replicant/replacement; and, oddly, air travel . Despite this, a hard recommend for The Skies Are Watching.

Also on Radio 4, Time of the Week is a new comedy show with a Brass Eye feel, except it’s not taking the mick out of serious news programmes, but women’s magazine shows. One of its writers, Lorna Rose Treen, used to be a producer on Woman’s Hour, so she knows of what she writes. She and co-writer Jonathan Oldfield have created a brilliant monster, Chloe Slack, who hosts the fictional live women’s radio show Time of the Week. Played by Sian Clifford, Chloe (“I’m a female journalist, or, as I like to say, GIRLnalist”) is able to smoothly segue between the first woman ever to put her whole forearm in her mouth (“My family have always been so supportive”) and a segment about whether women feel the cold more than men: “We put one of each in a fridge to find out.”

‘A Brass Eye feel’: Time of the Week’s Lorna Rose Treen (back row centre), Jonathan Oldfield (second right), Sian Clifford (front) and co. Photograph: BBC

Among other characters, Treen plays Lisa Threat, the show’s outsider reporter, who Chloe doesn’t seem that keen on. Oldfield plays all the male characters, including the MP Charles Opinion. (As you may be able to tell, part of the joy of the show is the characters’ names.) And Time of the Week is packed with the sort of items that, if you were only half-listening, you really might think are real. The MP who bans breastfeeding indoors unless the woman is “in a rush”; the woman who decides that she doesn’t want children any more, even though she already has two. “They can stay in the house, but they won’t have anything to do with me,” she says. “I will see them, I will register them, I will make their packed lunches but I will not address them.” Ha!

The Guardian

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