Hosted ByJohn Mitchinson & Andy Miller

The literary podcast presented by John Mitchinson and Andy Miller. Brought to you by Unbound. Visit

All Episodes

The Children of Men by P.D. James

Novelist Andrew Hunter Murray and biographer Laura Thompson join us to discuss The Children of Men (1992), a dystopian thriller by the late P.D. James. The author is probably best remembered as one of Britain’s greatest exponents of detective fiction, an heir to the Golden Age of female novelists such as Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, Dorothy Sayers et al. In The Children of Men, however, James depicts a nightmare near-future in which the world is literally coming to an end. The book became a bestseller; in 2006, it was adapted for the big screen by the Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón. We look at the ways in which James explored issues that seem eerily contemporary: the societal impact of an uncontrolled virus, falling fertility rates, an ageing population, the rise of populism and accompanying exploitation of migrant labour. She also knew how to grip her readers to the very last page. Phyllis Dorothy James, Baroness James of Holland Park, lived a long and remarkable life and it was a pleasure for all of us to revisit her work and biography in this episode.

All My Pretty Ones by Anne Sexton

Award-winning poet Emily Berry joins us to consider the work and troubled life of Anne Sexton. We focus on her brilliant second collection All My Pretty Ones (1962). Sexton was a trailblazing American poet of the so-called ‘confessional’ school of the 1960s, one whose writing continues to provoke controversy and debate; her friends and contemporaries included Sylvia Plath and John Berryman. We hear from Sexton herself, in recordings of readings and interviews, and fronting own experimental jazz-rock ensemble, Anne Sexton and Her Kind, and also from her daughter Linda. Please note: Anne Sexton was an unflinching chronicler of her own struggle with mental illness, and this episode contains extensive discussion of suicide and sexual abuse.

Coffee Table Books

This fully illustrated, lavishly produced episode of Backlisted represents the last word in coffee table books. Join John, Andy and Nicky as we dip into the origin, design and continuing appeal of specialist hardcover publishing, via some of our favourite cookery books, exhibition catalogues and sumptuous volumes simply too beautiful to leave on the shelf. Thank you to our Patrons for their contributions to our virtual quarto library; as you will hear, we loved making this show, which is as deep as it is long. And remember: a coffee table book is for life, not just for Christmas.

A Life in Movies by Michael Powell

This episode of Backlisted is devoted to A Life in Movies (1986), the first volume of memoirs of the filmmaker Michael Powell who, with his partner Emeric Pressburger, is responsible for some of the finest, most magical and soulful films ever to come out of the UK: The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, Black Narcissus, The Red Shoes, and many more. Joining us for a discussion of Powell’s life and work – and his vision of cinema as a space in which all the other arts may find expression – are memoirist and critic James Cook and film writer and academic Melanie Williams. We focus on four productions of the Archers that between them tell the story of Powell and Pressburger’s achievement: The Spy in Black, A Matter of Life and Death, “I Know Where I’m Going!” and Gone to Earth. If for some reason you have yet to see these films, or any of Michael Powell’s work, set aside some time for your next personal obsession. You’ll be glad you did.

Scouse Mouse

This episode was recorded in the great city of Liverpool and celebrates the life and work of a great Liverpudlian: George Melly, sometime writer, jazz and blues singer, artist, critic, lecturer and aficionado of surrealism. We are joined by two resident experts: the writer Jeff Young and the playwright and screenwriter, Lizzie Nunnery. The book under discussion is Melly’s Scouse Mouse, which is chronologically the first part of Melly’s memoirs. It was first published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson in 1984 and was the third to be released despite covering the first fourteen years of Melly’s life, painting a vivid portrait of growing up in a middle-class Liverpool family, tinged with eccentricity and theatricality, and his painful experiences at boarding school. Subtitled ‘I Never Got Over It’, it was preceded by Rum, Bum & Concertina, an account of his time in the navy, published in 1977, and Owning It, which covers his years as an aspiring musician in the jazz world of the 1950s, first published in 1965. The final volume, Slowing Down was published in 2005, two years before Melly died. Scouse Mouse was his Melly’s personal favourite of the four: ‘I don’t know why the events of over sixty years ago should be so much clearer than those of yesterday afternoon, but they are.’ He also adopted that ever-useful motto for the memoirist: ‘Life is lived forwards but understood backwards.’ How much this classic childhood memoir helps us understand the outrageous, complex and multi-faceted life of the grown-up George Melly is just one of the things the panel explore. They also revisit his brilliant book on the pop culture of the1960s, Revolt into Style, a book Andy first discussed back on episode 22 on Randall Jarrell’s The Animal Family.

Love On The Dole by Walter Greenwood

We are joined by the writer Andrew Hankinson to discuss Walter Greenwood’s classic novel of Northern working-class life. First published in 1933, Love on the Dole, revolves explores the fortunes of the Hardcastle family, who live in industrial Salford in the 1930s, just as the Depression is beginning to bite. Greenwood’s authentic portrayal of the corrosive effects of mass unemployment and poverty was well received by critics, but it wasn’t until the 1934 stage version had become a hit, that the book became a bestseller. It is estimated that a million people has seen the play by the end of 1935 and the book has remained in print ever since. However, it had to wait until 1941 before being made into a classic film which featured Deborah Kerr in her first starring role. We discuss the books connections to other working-class novels, its wider cultural impact and its influence on the gritty social dramas of the 1960s, the interesting differences between the book and the film adaptation, and we ask why, despite the classic status accorded to Love on the Dole, Greenwood himself and his nine other novels have faded into obscurity.

Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence

For this first episode of 2024 we are joined by the chair of Virago Press, Lennie Goodings to discuss a novel by her fellow Canadian, Margaret Laurence. First published in 1964, The Stone Angel is a landmark in modern Canadian fiction. The narrator is the unforgettable Hagar Shipley, a spiky, sharp-tongued, proud and profane ninety-year-old who is trying to resist her family’s attempts to transfer her into a nursing home. This battle is interwoven with memories of her long and difficult life, much of it spent in the Manitoban prairie town of Manawaka, a place closely based on Laurence’s own home town of Neepawa and which would provide the setting for three more novels and a collection of stories. We discuss the book’s place in the Canadian pantheon and speculate on why it hasn’t become and established classic outside Canada (it is no longer in print with Virago). We also discover some unexpected coincidences among Margaret Laurence’s neighbours during the years she lived in England in the late sixties and early seventies. This is a book that deserves to find many more new readers. Also here’s a reminder that if you’d like to sign up to our monthly newsletter which features book recommendations from our guests and as well as the three of us, please click here.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

For this year’s Backlisted Christmas Special we are joined by the poet and novelist Clare Pollard and our producer Nicky Birch to discuss not just a book, but adaptations of a book – and there are hundreds to choose from – and all have contributed to making it perhaps the most famous Christmas story of them all: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. Written in six weeks in 1843, it was a massive and immediate success, selling out its first run of 6,000 copies by Christmas Eve. It has been in print ever since and has come to define the festive period for millions of readers, listeners and viewers. We explore why and how this fable – terrifying in parts, warm and reassuring in others – has exerted such a hold on our collective imagination. We each pick a favourite version (you’ll have to listen to find out which) but also range over others from Richard Williams’ celebrated 1971 animation to those featuring Mister Magoo and Ebeneezer Blackadder. Plus Andy has compiled a special festive playlist for you to listen to over the mulled wine and marzipan fruits. There never was such an episode! And finally, on this most special of days, we’d like thank you all for your support during the year and to wish you: A VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Briggflatts by Basil Bunting

Today’s episode focusses on a single long poem – Briggflatts by the Northumbrian poet Basil Bunting. It was recorded live in St Mary’s Church, Woodstock in Oxfordshire, as part of the Woodstock Poetry Festival. Andy and John are joined by Neil Astley, the founder of Bloodaxe Books, who knew and published Bunting, and Kirsten Norrie, a poet and composer who writes and performs under her Highland name, MacGillivray. The episode begins and ends with recordings made in 1977 of Bunting reading from the poem, which was first published in 1966. Until that time, Bunting, who in the 1930s had been a friend to W. B. Yeats and Ezra Pound, was living in semi-obscurity in rural Northumbria. It was his live readings of the poem, subtitled ‘An Autobiography’ at the medieval Mordern Tower in Newcastle that transformed his reputation. We discuss his remarkable and sometimes controversial life – before his exile he was at various times a music critic, a sailor, a balloon operator, a wing commander, a military interpreter, a foreign correspondent, and a spy – and its relationship to his work, and particularly Briggflatts, now regarded as one of the greatest English poems of the 20th century.

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