A word in your ear: The Century Speaks, Gotcha

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The Independent Culture

The Century Speaks (BBC, 4 hrs, £8.99) is a skilful patchwork of the reminiscences of ordinary people about everyday lives which was filleted from over 6,000 interviews, recorded between 1998 and 2000. This ambitious project of oral mass observation is now lodged as a permanent resource in the National Sound Archives, but it was also used to make a millennial eight-part radio series presented by Corin Redgrave in autumn 2000. I imagine it is popular demand which has led to its issue on this long-running double cassette.

It is again presented by Redgrave, whose voice is the perfect frame for frankly described experiences of home and roots, work and play, sex and the city, crime and punishment. As a bonus, the pithily honest opinions are expressed in a gorgeous gallimaufry of regional and various accents. Nothing I have come across gives a more vivid and varied vision of the last 100 years.

Gotcha (Macmillan, 3 hrs, £8.99) is a rather more focused exercise in memory. This is the tale of one of the most lucrative heists ever: a daring daytime raid on an all-but impregnable Security Express depot, masterminded by John Knight and brother Ronnie (famously, Barbara Windsor's one-time husband).

The gang got away with over £6m in a couple of hours. Every tiny detail of both the heist and the investigation is drawn by author Pete Sawyer from the Knights themselves and Detective Inspector Peter Wilton, the man who caught up with them. Getting Christopher Ellison (Burnside of The Bill) to read it was a neat idea; although not the world's most animated narrator, he gives huge life and energy to the direct speech that makes up most of the story.

It's interesting how many bestselling authors had previous lives as, er, not bestselling authors. Ian Rankin's former existence as Jack Harvey is now being made much of with the audiobook issue of such thrillers as Bleeding Hearts and Witch Hunt (both Orion, c.6hrs, each £12.99). Though it is possible at times to mutter "prentice work" to oneself, it's rather refreshing to get away from grouchy old Inspector Rebus and Edinburgh.

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