Enjoy this short retrospective of the podcasts we’ve covered on the Pod Bible website in 2021. Plus, 20 of the best podcasts from this year…
I think it is safe to say that the 2021 podcast game has been strong: across ten ‘New This Month’ articles, I’ve written about more than 108 new podcasts, and 36 new seasons of classic pods and we’ve sent over 50 newsletters with recommendations of new, classic and indy podcasts. And that doesn’t even scratch the surface!
I’ve been able to sample plenty of new podcasts as soon as they came out, but there were still many podcasts missing from those articles (a couple even made it into my favourites for the year).
We now know that the rise of the celebrity podcast wasn’t confined to the first lockdown of 2020: this year has had more celebrity podcasts than we can shake a mic-stand at. On the Pod Bible website alone, we’ve covered podcasts from Alan Cumming, Hayley Hasselhoff, French and Saunders, Oti Mabuse, Dominic Monaghan, Clive Anderson, Rob Brydon, and many more!
Let’s not forget the classic podcasts we’ve seen go from strength to strength. As well as the podcasters that have launched books and live shows, we’ve seen the return of podcast events like the London Podcast Festival, milestones of 100, 200 and 400 episodes, and big news from companies like Spotify, Apple and Acast.
But from a listener point of view, all this means content that is getting better all the time. So, without further ado, these are some of 2021’s best podcasts you need to listen to right now!
If you listen to one podcast on this list, make it this one! The short way I would describe this Broccoli Productions show is “a British 1619”. More accurately, Human Resources explores the British involvement in the transatlantic slave trade, and how the trade has influenced every part of modern Britain (my mind was blown thinking about how Isaac Newton relied on data gathered from slave routes.) Read our interview with the host, Moya Lothian-McLean, to find out more. Listen now on your app >>
The Log Books
The Log Books first launched in 2019, and looks at the LGBTQ+ history of the UK. Now, I’m sad to say it’s in its final series. I love the use of the notes from the log books, alongside interviews with Switchboard volunteers. As a straight, cis woman, I’m finding that the current series from 1992-2003 is teaching me about a world that runs parallel to my own memories. Listen now on your app >>
You’re Dead To Me
Firstly – I love a podcast with a pun in the title. Secondly, You’re Dead To Me is the perfect mix of learning and fun (with a bit of rudeness and innuendo for good measure). I love how keen the comedians are to learn, and how the historians are passionate about their subject without being precious about it. The show has covered a lot of historical periods now, and it looks at countries from around the world so there really is something for everyone! Listen now on your app >>
Unobscured “looks at parts of history we think we know” but the fourth season was about the Romanovs and Rasputin, which I actually knew very little about. I feel like I know more now! (although I do have Boney M. on near-constant repeat in my head…) This show is one of the non-fiction offerings from Aaron Mankhe’s Grim & Mild, and as such, there is a great storytelling element to the narration. Listen now on your app >>
Broccoli Content has been one of the most prolific and innovative production companies in the UK this year, so it’s no surprise that a second show of theirs made it onto my list. I think the style of Cancelled is really interesting – each episode is a monologue about a high-profile ‘cancellation’ in recent years (Piers Morgan, Doja Cat and Nike are some examples) written by different authors but all narrated by Cameron Bernard Jones. The music is fun and Jones is hilarious as the narrator. Listen now on your app >>
Women Vs Hollywood
This film podcast takes a look at the history of cinema, and women’s role in it – including some of the triumphs that women have had at different points in film history. Hosted by Empire journalist Helen O’Hara and based on her book of the same name, the episode about the Silent Era was the biggest surprise – I went away from the podcast and watched The Hazards of Helen! (NB this podcast was part of a limited series on the same feed as Helen’s other podcast, Bah Humbug, so you’ll have to scroll to get to it!) Listen now on your app >>
Windfall from Outside/In
Offshore wind farming could invest tens of billions of dollars in America’s economy, reshape their coastal communities, and be a green energy solution in the fight against climate change. So why is it taking so long to get them built? This miniseries from Outside/In looked at the politics, history, economics and more of wind turbines in the USA. It was a really great insight into something that seems like a simple solution. I also found the disclosure about journalistic integrity refreshing. Listen now on your app >>
Unearthed is unique on this list because it is the only podcast that we haven’t covered in Pod Bible – print or digital. But we really should have! Ryan Latto’s podcast unearths the truth about Scottish history, folklore and myths by speaking to people whose lives are still connected to them. This series looked at Scots in America and I was going to pick a favourite episode, but honestly I loved them all! As a journalist and tour guide, Latto has great storytelling and attention to detail. But he also enjoys the freedom of the podcast format with updates on his return to nursing during the vaccine push, and bonus episodes countering opinions he thinks are dangerous. Listen now on your app >>
The Town That Knew Too Much
I like podcasts that make me want to go away and look things up. The Town That Knew Too Much made me do this a lot (and I am particularly pleased I found out what the golden hare from Episode 4 looked like). This is the second series from journalist Nick Hilton that focuses on the idiosyncrasies and histories of towns in the UK (this series was about Cheltenham). Hilton was Broadcast Editor at the Spectator before leaving to create his company Podot, so the production is top notch. Listen now on your app >>
Stuff The British Stole
This Australian podcast is also the only podcast on this list not from the UK or USA. I enjoy this history podcast for the true-crime twist it puts on the genre. This year, Stuff The British Stole has looked at some famous stuff (‘Losing Your Marbles’) and heartbreaking stuff (‘Not Your Venus’). Sometimes the items are returned, and sometimes they are not. The British Empire really took a lot of stuff, but it should mean there are several more seasons of this to come! Listen now on your app >>
Whistle Through The Shamrocks
It’s a celebrity making a podcast! And this is especially amusing considering this tweet from one of the creators last year. But Nicola Coughlan (Derry Girls) and Camilla Whitehill are really levelling up the celebrity-podcast. The sleepy Irish village of Ballysnavougherenn is the scene for an epic audio drama about foul winds, potato farming, and evil English lords. But in the framing of the drama, we hear Coughlan and Whitehill directing the play. This is actually the only fiction podcast on my list (and does it count as fiction if Coughlan is playing a form of herself..?) Listen now on your app >>
In the summer of 2021, there were a number of Olympic and Paralympic themed podcasts that came out around the time of the Tokyo games. But whilst most were celebrating sports, Blind Landing ran an investigation into a catastrophic mistake during the gymnastics at the 2000 Games in Sydney. This is a pretty specific topic, and the podcast is a passion project, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t got universal appeal. Listen now on your app >>
Storytime with Seth Rogan
It’s another celebrity making a podcast! But as the description says, this is “not a typical comedian-hosted chat show!”. Episodes are short and sweet, and we hear a guest’s story interspersed with Seth’s monologues, conversations with people who know the storyteller and music breaks from all genres. The first episode, Glorious Basterds, has Seth talking to a Jehovah’s witness-turned-comic about her journey to comedy, which involves a Quentin Tarentino film and Paul Rudd. But does Paul Rudd remember..?! Listen now on your app >>
One thing I’ve noticed more of this year is professional producers dropping epic passion projects for us to enjoy. Coiled is a great example of this. Producer Leanne Ali works in Podcast Commissioning at the BBC, but her own podcast with Sylvie Carlos explores black afro hair in society and history, framed with a personal journey as Leanne transitions back to her natural hair. They go so deep into topic, there’s something for all listeners. Listen now on your app >>
Pieces Of Britney
Britney is free! In November 2021, Britney Spears was legally released from a 13 years conservatorship that curtailed a lot of her human rights. I found this BBC Radio 4 podcast a great way to begin to understand how it got to that stage. Pandora Sykes takes us through Britney’s life using a mix of documentary, archive audio and interviews. The dramatic interpretation woven through the episodes (written by playwright Katie Hims) could have been melodramatic, but instead really helped to humanise the megastar. Listen now on your app >>
Arguably, every family’s myths are worthy of a podcast. But when you throw in Soviet Russia, the world-renowned Mariinsky Ballet school and a daring escape from a locked hospital, you have the makings of a great investigative podcast. Read my full review of Finding Natasha or listen now on your app >>
Aberfan: Tip Number 7
For those who are old enough, the name of this small Welsh town is well known, but for me, this was almost entirely new. In 1966, 150,000 tonnes of coal waste slid down a hillside, killing 116 children and 28 adults in the village of Aberfan. This BBC podcast goes into how and why this happened. The interviews from those affected by the disaster – survivors, their family and rescuers – are sobering and the sound design is harrowing. Listen now on your app >>
Okay, so I know Off Menu is in many people’s favourite podcast list already. BUT one of the main reasons I wanted to include it is the centenary episode we were treated to back in June. We finally got to hear James and Ed’s own dream menus and restaurants. And some of it surprised even themselves. If you’re new to Off Menu and not sure where to dive in, be sure to read this Point Of Entry article by super-fan Twitter account @nocontxtoffmenu to get started. Listen now on your app >>
From the amount of ‘end of year’ lists Sweet Bobby is on, it may be as popular as Off Menu (in fact, it’s currently #3 in the Apple Podcast charts). And for good reason – the subject of the series is just astonishing. British woman Kirat Assi befriended a man on Facebook called ‘Bobby’, and got reeled into an epic catfish scam that lasted over a decade. To give you an idea of the scale, host Alexi Mostrous was actually researching for another show when he came across Kirat’s story, and decided there was so much to this story it could be a whole series itself. Listen now on your app >>
A last-minute entry, I only started listening to Harsh Reality this week, but I’ve already caught up with the 5 episodes available. It investigates a shocking example of the ‘cruel reality TV’ that thrived in the noughties. Miriam Rivera was already a model and star of the ballroom scene, but saw a new dating show as her chance to become a superstar. Instead, There’s Something About Miriam chose to surprise the men she dated with the fact that she was trans. The fact there are several content warnings at the start of the episodes tells you a lot: this is a gripping and heart-breaking listen. Listen now on your app >>