Intrigue: Mayday

BBC Radio 4 podcast, November 2020

This series is aptly named. Really intriguing true stories, well-researched, told in a way that deeply explores fascinating events. The previous story was about an escape tunnel built from East to West Berlin in the early 1960s. In my opinion, it blew the hit US podcast Serial (which is super good) out of the water.

Intrigue: Mayday is about James Le Mesurier, the man who led volunteer rescuers in war-hit Syria. Mayday was the organisation that trained and gathered funding for the people who became known as the White Helmets, civilian volunteers who risk their lives to pull survivors from bomb-wrecked buildings and make videos to show the world what’s going on.

Mayday has folded since the death of Le Mesurier just over a year ago (listen to the podcast for the full yet murky details of why). But the White Helmets continue their – heart-breakingly still very necessary – work.

So it’s a very contemporary story, this one. Themes like fake news, conspiracy theories, and social media trolling are woven in to the glam-yet-tragic personal story of a posh ex-army humanitarian who seemed to be trying to make a positive impact with his life. In the end he was driven to suicide (maybe, or was it the Russians? No-one knows for sure).

The team have done an exceptional job with their research, looking into all the nooks and crannies and getting interviews from many perspectives. There are so many complex threads, they did well to untangle it all to make it into something coherent.

And in the end, they gave the last word to a Syrian surrounded by bombing, fear and horror. This is daily life for him, never mind all the Twitter arguments over who’s doing what. It’s easy in our comfortable European garden to forget this awful war is still dragging on, destroying so many lives. I was very moved indeed.

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