The Week In Radio: From So Solid Crew to a star behind the mic

We're in for weeks of it now. Weeks of MPs trading promises, lies and fake indignation. Wall-to-wall agonising about immigration and tax and the economy stupid. Of exhausted middle-aged men wearing make-up and arguing about the deficit. And it's all fabulous, uncut, 100 per cent proof for political junkies like me. And yet... the week leading up to Easter is traditionally a time for seeing things from a different perspective. For making time to consider the human end of politics. And for that, you need radio.

Take prison, for example. Listening to politicians squabble about crime, how often do you hear at length the voices of those who have actually been incarcerated? There are more young people locked up in England and Wales than any other country in Europe and Ashley Walters, once known as Asher D from So Solid Crew, did a valiant job on Radio 1's Jail Tales when he visited young offenders and got them to talk about the reality of prison. He is an impressive presenter and he chose Feltham Young Offenders Institute, where he was once banged up himself.

Given that most cells have a television and PlayStation, the usual complaint is that prison doesn't differ much from a normal existence, and Ashley didn't duck that idea. Indeed several inmates concurred. "I thought of going to prison just for a holiday. I've heard there's a gym with free membership." Others attested that the advantages outweigh the inconveniences. "When you go to prison the girls want you," said one offender. "That's how it is." Intercut with tracks by Ghetts, JME, Shola Ama and Durrty Goodz, this rather depressing programme offered no sententious conclusions, only moments of insight, as when one convict reflected, "The first time that door slams shut, that's when you notice there's no handle on the inside."

Asylum seekers, too, may feature in the upcoming election campaign, but there's unlikely to be a better chance to hear the voices of actual refugees as on Radio 4's Between Ourselves, where two musicians, Mohammed from Iran and Zirak from Kurdistan, told Olivia O'Leary what it is like to be among the 25,000 who apply for refugee status every year. Threatened with execution, Zirak paid $3,000 to be among 40 people smuggled in a lorry from Turkey with no clue where he was heading. There was a stifling three days standing up until English police opened the lorry, and as he said, "We are like rabbit coming down the hole."

He now lives in Birmingham, where there are 9,000 Kurds already and he loves it. He has been back to Kurdistan, where he is no longer in danger, but didn't feel he could live there. His house was different, even the school had changed, his friends had moved away, he explained. Who wouldn't sympathise with that? And yet behind her gentle probing you felt Olivia O'Leary was circling around a difficult question. If a refugee is no longer in danger, is he still entitled to refuge? But perhaps because this was not current affairs, or perhaps because she didn't have to, she left that one to the politicians.

The idea of listening to people telling a series of lies with the hope of spotting a concealed truth seems more like the Today programme than comedy right now, but it seemed as good a time as any to listen to The Unbelievable Truth. I've taken a while to get round to this panel game, and can hardly believe it has already embarked on its fifth series, yet it does seem curiously appropriate to our times. Whereas a format like Just a Minute relies on old-fashioned verbal fluency, the success of this show, developed by Graeme Garden, rests on the modern taste for factoids coupled with our newfound habit of subjecting everything we hear to a kind of plausibility pre-screening.

The likeable David Mitchell, who has managed in a very short time to step into Stephen Fry's commodious shoes, rules with a kind of brainy decency and surely has Radio 4 engraved on his heart. But the result is quirky rather than hilarious.

Up for discussion were beer, babies and spiders and among the diverting facts that emerged were that "most babies cry in the key of A", that Germany has a unique species of flea that is only found near beer-mats, and that Isaac Newton's only reported speech in the House of Commons as an MP was to ask someone to close the window.

Some of the alleged truths seemed a bit suspect to me, though. A spider is the only animal that sleeps on its back, for example. What about my cat, as I and a lot of other listeners protested? Then again, these truths are probably as reliable as anything else you'll hear this side of a general election.

Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special

tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas

Arts and Entertainment
Dapper Laughs found success through the video app Vine

comedy Erm...he seems to be back

Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)

tvReview: No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Arts and Entertainment
Bruce Forsyth and Tess Daly flanking 'Strictly' winners Flavia Cacace and Louis Smith

tv Gymnast Louis Smith triumphed in the Christmas special

Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Shenaz Treasurywala
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump


Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all