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Radio 1's Stories slot ups its game with politically and socially charged documentaries

  • @FionaSturges

Back in the middle ages, Radio 1 documentaries used to be disaster zones, full of thirtysomething men talking down to teenagers while said teenagers sat heaving with embarrassment. You hoped that sometime before the end, Chris Morris would finally reveal himself and the presenters would leave silently to collect their P45s.

Lately, though, the station has upped its game with a series of thoughtful politically and socially charged documentaries chronicling the frontline experiences of our youth. The Monday night Radio 1's Stories slot is a prime example. Yes, there have been instances when, during 10 Moments That Made Pharrell Williams, or The Story of Ed Sheeran, the nation would have been better off getting an early night. But we've also had Jameela Jamil talking about how students are turning to sex work, Professor Green talking about suicide and Gemma Cairney reflecting on feminism in music.

This week's episode, Staying Out, came courtesy of Paris Lees, the journalist, presenter and equality campaigner who, through experience and hard-won wisdom, knows more than most about issues affecting young people.

Here she explored the problems faced by young offenders and how best they can stay out of prison after release. Ten years ago, when still in her teens, Lees herself was sent to a young offender institution for taking part in a robbery. Here she recalled the terror of leaving court and climbing into a prison van. She also remembered how, when she emerged from prison, she was given a curfew and shown the exit with no guidance as to what to do next. "It's [about] slowly rebuilding your life," she reflected. "But you don't start off whole. It's very unstable."

The figures were stark. We learned that 73 per cent of people who have been in custody go on to commit more crimes within a year of being released. In January last year there were 1,500 under-18s in custody. Out of those, 20 per cent had harmed themselves and one in 10 had attempted suicide.

Lees' empathy was palpable as she talked to fellow ex-offenders and reflected on the knockbacks, the suspicion and the temptation that comes with the first months out of jail. She also met mentors and volunteers, many of whom had been in similar trouble as teens, trying to stop ex-offenders from reverting to their old ways.

It was a sad subject simply and affectingly explored. I wondered about the wisdom of so many musical breaks (do 16-to 25-year-olds really have such short attention spans that they need their shows sliced into bite-sized portions?) but the interviews were heartbreaking, and the issues very real.

This week BBC 5 Live announced its new autumn schedule. With the imminent departure of Victoria Derbyshire, Richard Bacon and Shelagh Fogarty, a rejig was clearly in order though the announcement that there would be no more solo female presenters aside from Eleanor Oldroyd (for just an hour, mind) on Fridays was just depressing. Shouldn't presenters be hired on merit not gender, many of you cried on Twitter? Well, that would be ideal if it was a level playing field to start with, but look at the figures provided by the pressure group Sound Women on gender balance and you will find it is not.

Adrian Chiles and Peter Allen were the big appointments for the daytime schedule. Yes, there were plenty of women in the new line-up, all of them (bar Oldroyd) co-presenting with men. This sends out a sad if familiar message that female broadcasters are not capable of steering a show by themselves and it's the male listeners that should primarily be catered for. Back to "Radio Bloke" then.