Radio review: It’s spy gadget paradise out there

It’s spy gadget paradise out there
It’s spy gadget paradise out there

A History of the World in Spy Objects, Podcast

Tweet of the Day, Radio 4

WHAT was the sharp pain that George Markov felt in his ankle as he crossed London’s Waterloo Bridge one day?

Spoiler: it doesn’t end well for George.

A compass hidden in a jacket button, a pen with a hidden microphone – there is plenty to tempt your inner James Bond in this podcast series hosted by historian Alice Loxton.

Be aware that the presentation is full on – it’s drama and a thonking bagload of sound effects.

“What ghosts lie hidden in the archives of espionage?” intones Alice.

Scary music, strange echoes... channel your inner Halloween on this podcast.

Enter artist Daniel Arsham and you can hear the door clunk shut behind him. Still, Alice and her guests know their stuff and it’s interesting.

Take the sad tale of Markov, a Bulgarian dissident and his encounter with that poisoned umbrella tip.

Architect and designer Thomas Heatherwick and host Alice Loxton tell it well.

Take Jackson Pollock – yes, that famous US artist – and his 1949 masterpiece Number 8. What had an abstract expressionist and his exploding colours to do with the CIA?

Ah, you may well ask.

This is a strange deep dive into the spy archives to a world where you have to ask yourself why a coffee-maker kept moving around a Soviet flat or how the B-2 stealth bomber was invented.

We are also promised a hoke into Napoleon’s briefcase of secrets.

It’s spy gadget paradise out there – a Christmas gift for those of us intrigued by that other world or just enjoy a bit of James Bond with baddies wearing a full set of metal braces or stroking a white cat.

If you’re not tempted by spy ware, then maybe take time to visit the natural world with David Attenborough.

Tweet of the day featured the Blue Bird of Paradise. The lesson courtesy of this magnificent bird is that you can’t have everything in life.

Yes, the cobalt bird may be a thing of beauty – “a shimmering vision” – and yes, he dips over and hangs upside down on his perch to attract a female so he is quite the acrobat, but once he opens his mouth, what a let down.

Not so much paradise as the caw of a cracked bell.

I’d much rather hear our blackbird sing in our winter garden.