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Re-opening The Log Books with Natasha Walker

Th Log Books cover art

INTERVIEW

Re-opening The Log Books with Natasha Walker

When Pod Bible covered The Log Books for the Good Samaritan column in issue 7 it was clear that the podcast was garnering attention due to its emotive themes. A podcast about Britain’s LGBTQIA+ history, the stories and people behind them have proved enthralling, especially given how based in reality the conversations actually are.

With inspiration taken from the work and stories that have come from Switchboard, an LGBT+ helpline that’s been in operation since 1974, The Log Books podcast has had quite an auspicious start. Natasha Walker, co-chair at Switchboard and producer of The Log Books, chats to us once again about re-opening the Logbooks for season 2 of the show.

So, what’s it been like making the podcast?

We absolutely loved working on The Log Books podcast. It was a rollercoaster of emotions, reading and listening to all these amazing stories and memories. We have all learnt so much about LGBTQ+ history, which is of course our history with all three of us (Producers – Tash, Adam and Shivani) identifying as LGBTQ+. I think it would be fair to say that this is one of the best things we have ever worked on and Season Two has been even better! We started as colleagues but are now the best of friends!

Shivani Dave, Tash WAlker and Adam Smith from the Log Books podcast

From left to right, Shivani Dave, Tash Walker and Adam Smith from The Log Books podcast celebrating their British Podcast Awards win.

It may not have been a surprise to many of us – but it did prove to be a shock for the team – The Log Books won Best New Podcast at the British Podcast Awards.

It was so amazing! We were completely overwhelmed and not expecting it at all, when they announced we had won and then the doorbell rang we just didn’t know what to do. It felt so amazing to win the Best New Podcast 2020 award not only because we are all independent podcasters and freelancers, but also because we are sharing LGBTQ+ history, which is so often ignored and untold. To have the podcast recognised as the Best New Podcast of 2020 meant so much to us and shows a really positive shift in society – this isn’t just Britain’s LGBTQ+ history, it’s Britain’s history full stop.

Can you give us a bit of a recap of what the podcast is about and what’s in the first season?

The Log Books is a podcast all about the history of LGBTQ+ life in Britain as noted by volunteers at the helpline Switchboard. Each episode centres around log book entries made by the volunteers who staffed the phones from the charity’s very first day. As a helpline for anyone who wants to talk about gender identity and sexuality, Switchboard has been hearing about, and helping, queer life since 1974. We have spoken to over 50 contributors for the podcast, who have memories and lived experiences of the themes we cover. Season One covered 1974 to 1982, with stories ranging from police entrapping gay men meeting for sex in toilets, to women losing custody of their children for being lesbians, to people kicked out of pubs for wearing pro-gay badges and those struggling with their gender identity before anyone had the right language to help them.

The log books laugh and cry with the real lives of runaways and disco-dancers, with isolated fishermen phoning to chat and people unsure about how to have sex.

Switchboard log book - photo by Imogen Forte

The first Switchboard log book – photo by Imogen Forte, Switchboard’s Archive at Bishopsgate Institute

Given the subject matter, there may have been an inevitability to a second season. Thankfully we do have one! What can we hear in this much awaited second season?

Season Two runs through the years 1983 to 1991 and takes up eleven episodes, including a three-part series focusing on the HIV/AIDS crisis. As the country was gripped by growing HIV infections, calls to Switchboard reached unprecedented volumes and intensity. The log books at Switchboard are a unique chronicle of this major health crisis — containing stories from those years that have never been told before.

In this season you hear interviews with patients and healthcare professionals, such as Leigh, a young gay man who began caring for people with AIDS-defining illnesses as soon as he started to work as a nurse.

Also, long-term survivors with difficult but uplifting stories, such as the life-affirming wisdom of George who has spent 35 years trying to keep his infection at bay by calling it ‘sleeping dragon’.

Switchboard photo archive - volunteer on a call

A Switchboard volunteer on a call – photo courtesy of Switchboard’s Archive at Bishopsgate Institute

We also have memories of Switchboard volunteers who took the hardest calls and faced down people who did not want to step into the Switchboard offices for fear of ‘catching AIDS’.

But so much more than a health crisis happened from 1983 to 1991. Britain’s LGBTQ+ communities felt more and more under attack from tabloids and social hostility, with Margaret Thatcher’s government capitalising on this by passing legislation that banned the “promotion of homosexuality”. We’ll hear from a young lesbian teacher, Catherine, whose students scratched insults into her car, and others who were watching the Six O’Clock News when lesbian activists invaded the BBC studio to call for an end to persecution. Other stories in the season include migration to the UK of people fleeing more homophobic countries, state clampdowns on obscenity including a Customs raid on a bookshop, and how Switchboard volunteers used humour to get through these dark times.

Adam Smith, Shivani Dave, Tash Walker, producers of The Log Books 3 - photo by Imogen Forte.small

Adam Smith, Shivani Dave, Tash Walker, producers of The Log Book – photo by Imogen Forte

What’s the reaction been like to the podcast, both from audiences and also from you all who work on the show?

It’s been so positive, which means so much to us and it’s wonderful to hear people’s thoughts, see their reviews online and read their messages. We felt a real responsibility to not only share this LGBTQ+ history, but also do justice to all the wonderful contributors we interviewed who shared their memories and all those who have called and volunteered for Switchboard. We wouldn’t be here today because of them, their lives and stories live on in the log books and now in the podcast too.

Like any cause and podcast with a social conscience, finding new audiences is key, so why do we all need to listen and take part in this conversation?

As a society we all have to strive to be better allies, to not make the same mistakes that we have made in the past, to learn to evolve so that we move towards a more equal society for all. Looking back through the log books, we learn so much about how the LGBTQ+ communities have got to where we are today, the discrimination, the victimisation, the love, the support, the strength – it’s all part of who we are today, as queer people, as allies, as people. You have to learn from the past, to understand what community, allyship and support really mean. The stories will make you laugh, cry and some… from sex, to police raids, to censorship – it’s all there!

the Log Books podcast art

Find season one and two of The Log Books on Acast, Spotify and wherever you get your podcasts from.

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