Westminster Insider with Jack Blanchard, Politico

There’s a new political podcast on the block, as if we haven’t got enough already. Time will tell if this one – hosted by Jack Blanchard – has the necessary addictive qualities to attract a large audience. Blanchard is known to Westminster insiders through his three-year editorship of the Politico London Playbook early morning email. This became essential reading for any Westminster watcher or player, and this first episode is devoted to how it came into being and what it’s like to write it. Pretty dry fayre, you’d think, but Blanchard interviews others who write these emails, like Ben Brogan, who really pioneered the genre back in the day when he worked for the Telegraph. Paul Waugh from HuffPo and Esther Webber from the Times Red Box also appear, as well as George Osborne, who had some good tales to tell. At first, I thought it might be a bit too “in”, but as the 37 minutes came to an end, I came to reflect that this is just the sort of stuff that you used to get on Radio 4 in their People & Politics programme, or in the 15-minute documentaries which used to appear at the end of the Westminster Hour. No longer, now that the BBC has more or less given up on any political coverage which actually costs money to commission.

I imagine, hope and expect this podcast will succeed, largely because of two things. First, Jack Blanchard himself. He’s one of the few political journalists who everyone likes and respects and he’s got a certain refreshing sense of wonderment and even naivety sometimes, which is hugely endearing. He’s also the ultimate political geek. And what’s not to like about that, given that I am prone to the odd bit of political geekery too. Secondly, it has the marketing power of Politico behind it and in today’s crowded market of political podcasts, you need that if you’re to build any sort of meaningful audience. 

It’s a Sin, Channel 4 

Not since Queer as Folk in 1999 has there been such a fuss about a gay themed TV series. It says something that it’s taken 20 years for that to be repeated. And, of course, both Queer as Folk and It’s a Sin are written by Russell T Davies.

Yes, there was the TV adaptation of Alan Hollinghurst’s brilliant novel Line of Beauty, but it’s been pretty thin gruel for proper gay related drama. It’s odd, when you think of the proportion of gay people in TV and film, which for whatever reason far outnumbers that in society in general.

The first episode of It’s a Sin takes us back to the early 1980s and the advent of HIV and AIDs. We are introduced to a stream of characters, all from different backgrounds, and covering the whole gamut of gay life. Of the three main characters, the undoubted star and lynchpin of episode 1, and I imagine the whole series, is Ritchie Tozer played by Olly Alexander, lead singer of the synth-pop band Years and Years. Ebullient, effervescent and energetic he is the personification of the quasi camp, slightly androgynous, stereotypical gay teenager who we’ve all met. Immensely likeable, from a working-class conservative background, he’s one of life’s natural rebels. He knows what he wants and he’s going to go full out to get it. Yet at the same time, he’s desperate not to rock his parents’ cosy life and cause them needless upset. There’s a scene where he goes home for the weekend from university with a female friend and we’re led to believe he’s going to come out to them. He doesn’t. Instead, he tells them he’s quitting his degree course and switching to drama.

Colin is a Welsh lad, drawn to London in order to live a lifestyle which wouldn’t have been possible in the valleys. Dressed like Alan Partridge, he’s a fish out of water. He’s also like a kid in a candy store, and can hardly believe some of the things he is witnessing. I remember that feeling, albeit ten years later. Colin is also part of a traumatic subplot in which his colleague at a Savile Row tailors falls ill with a mystery disease. There are several appalling scenes, which depict how people with AIDS were shunned, not just by ordinary people, but also by medical professionals. At one point, his meal is left on a tray outside his hospital room door. Heart-breaking.

Inevitably, there are quite a few sex scenes in the programme, some of which you certainly wouldn’t want to watch with your Maiden Aunt. There are threesomes, foursomes and God knows what else. No sign of a willy, though. Wasn’t it ever thus?

The AIDS pandemic, for that’s what it was, has slipped into distant memories in western countries due to the development of new drugs, but in sub-Saharan Africa it’s very different. This series is a welcome reminder of how it rampaged through gay communities, particularly in big cities. Episode 1 of It’s a Sin was a fairly gentle introduction to what I am told is to come. For that reason, I haven’t binge watched it (You can do so on All4). I get the distinct feeling it will become as emotionally upsetting as Band of Brothers was. I could only ever watch one episode at a time. I remember thinking about the fact that is I had been a teenager or in my twenties in the 1940s, I too could have been on that battlefield in the Ardennes. I cried in every episode.

I suspect when I watch the rest of the episodes of It’s a Sin there will be a distinct feeling of “there but for grace of God, go I”.