Saturday, 5 March 2016

In Praise of The Secret History Of Hollywood

It began with a question asked on Facebook by Michael Legge. He'd listened to lots of comedians' podcasts and wanted recommendations for more. Many suggestions came in. I, for my part, suggested the best of BBC iPlayer Radio, which has formed the bulk of my in-car listening on my travels since I got my new car with its Bluetoothed jiggery-pokery a little over a year ago. (I began by discovering Serial, then being run on 4Extra, then soon discovered the rest of iPlayer radio, so I no longer needed to listen to what was on live. Then I found the archive podcasts including hundreds of Alistair Cooke's Letters From America. And so much more).

Someone, in Michael's replies, recommended The Secret History Of Hollywood so heartily I downloaded it and lined it up to play on my next journey. Having already listened to a few podcasts, I was geared up to expect a programme of between half an hour and an hour. Yet after a two hour car journey, this podcast about the history of Universal Pictures' monster movies, was still going on. As it happened I had another 2 hour car journey at the end of the same day, by the end of which the podcast was still going on.

In the end this single episode of The Secret History Of Hollywood turned out to be four and a half hours long. And four and a half of the best written, most riveting hours, that they made the time fly by as if I were reading a book on a train journey. But, unlike a talking book or a work by someone I'd ever heard of before, this was a podcast. A free podcast, easily the length of a book, and telling the story of this part of Hollywood's history better than I'd heard it told before. Who on earth makes this thing?

The answer is not immediately easy to come by. Even when you read the About page on his own website, which explains how his podcast about movies, Attaboy Clarence, expanded into the full length documentaries I've started listening to, you learn how he has a day job as a chef, that he has three kids and a loving wife. But you don't find his actual name.

However as this article, which he kindly links to, reveals, his name is Adam Roche, and this series of documentaries is a genuine labour of love that's grown from a hobby, and is produced when time allows. I sincerely hope time does allow him to do more because, although I haven't embarked upon listening to the shorter Attaboy Clarence podcasts themselves, the full length documentaries have seen me through some epic car journeys this last month.

Most impressive has been the Adventures of Alfred Hitchcock, which comes in three separate chunks, the first being 5 and a half hours long, the second five hours, and the final part an astonising 9 and a quarter hours. Yes, that's just short of 20 hours of one man reading his book about Alfred Hitchcock. That would be a 6 month long TV series on BBC 4 in old money. In fact I hope it becomes just that, because I can't imagine anyone writing it better.

Individual chapters about, for example, Clark Gable and Carole Lombard, or Grace Kelly, are stand alone books in themselves.

Having also got through Hunting Witches With Walt Disney - the story of the Communist Witch Hunts of the 40s and 50s (I now know more about Dalton Trumbo and Dorothy Comingore than I ever did before); Sex In Monochrome (the Hayes committee); Universal Monsters; and The Game Is Afoot - the story of the Rathbone and Bruce Sherlock Holmes series; I only have Bullets and Blood (gangsters) to go and I'm all out of Secret Histories.

It's possible to support Adam's podcasts through Patreon, and I would urge everyone to do so. And to listen to these podcasts if you, like me, spend entire days driving, and love a well written history of the movies.

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