The week in audio: Terri White: Finding Britain’s Ghost Children; From Gay to Ze; Who Killed Aldrich Kemp?

·5-min read

Terri White: Finding Britain’s Ghost Children (BBC Radio 5 Live) | BBC Sounds
From Gay to Ze (Lotte Jeffs/Stu Oakley) | Apple Podcasts
Who Killed Aldrich Kemp? (BBC Radio 4) | BBC Sounds

Terri White is a gifted journalist and communicator who had a tough time in her youth. She was abused, physically and sexually, by her mother’s boyfriends. Her refuge was school.

“Can you remember when I joined your class?” she asks her old teacher, Mrs Webley. “How did I seem?”

“I can,” says Mrs Webley, doughty and warm, like all the best primary teachers. “It seemed to me, looking back at it now, that as soon as you were on those premises, you knew you were in a safe place.”

Feeling – and actually being – safe is the subject matter of White’s new 5 Live series, Finding Britain’s Ghost Children. Lockdown made many people unsafe, but especially children in violent households. Domestic abuse and violence increased. Schools were shut. And though things are now officially back to “normal”, many kids have lost the habit of going to school and have fallen out of the system. There are far fewer attending than before the pandemic. More than 140,000 school children were officially “severely absent” in the summer term of 2022 and those numbers are going up.

We have long excelled at well-spoken heroes delivering quips with vim and hilarity. Aldrich Kemp is an excellent audio version

So where are these “ghost” kids, each one a real life child, disappearing to? Why does nobody seem to know? How can we find them or at least track them when they vanish? Questions that will, I’m sure, be tackled in White’s new series; in the opening sequence, there are snippets from future episodes of her talking to officials and experts in child welfare. The first episode, though, is more personal. We hear a bit about White’s childhood and meet Mrs Webley, a lovely few minutes. But we also hear about the terrible final months of six-year-old Arthur Labinjo-Hughes, who went to live with his dad and partner during lockdown and was tortured, starved and abused by both. They kept him from school when it was reinstated. He died, in June 2020, when his father’s partner assaulted him. White talks to one of Arthur’s relatives, who describes the little boy, gives us an insight into his personality. It’s very upsetting.

Arthur’s case was extensively covered by the media and it is still dreadful to hear. White warns us before playing a clip of Arthur in distress and I have to say I skipped it. Should I have? We should be listening, hearing these stories. As a society, the safety of such children is our collective responsibility. At the moment, much of the responsibility for their safety falls on to individual teachers, who spot the absences and physically turn up to homes, looking for these missing kids. White is a sympathetic, emotional host and this series ought to be required listening for our political leaders.

If only all children could be born into a family as calm and caring as those featured in podcast From Gay to Ze. Hosts Lotte Jeffs and Stu Oakley, both gay, both parents, are sweet and questioning, dedicated to informing listeners about how modern families and queer lives intersect and overlap. The podcast is always an interesting listen, but the most recent episode, about equal parenting, is completely fascinating. In queer relationships, gender expectations make little impact. But in straight ones, having a child can make parents stumble into unhelpful, stereotypical parental roles. You know, where the father is defined as “useless unless told what to do” and mothering is instinctive and sacred, somehow morally better than the paternal alternative.

Phoebe Fox
Phoebe Fox plays a secret service agent in Who Killed Aldrich Kemp? on BBC Radio 4. Photograph: Ian West/PA

In this episode, investigative journalist and gay parent Paul Morgan-Bentley put paid to these hackneyed tropes. He’s written a book, The Equal Parent, and during his research, found scientific evidence that parental roles are not biologically determined. Mothers are not “naturally” better at looking after their babies, not biologically more attuned. It’s the active responsibility that makes you good at being a parent, the doing of it. In fact, research shows that whoever is the primary caregiver for a child will actually have their brain changed by that experience (the amygdala activity increases). “There’s nothing in the science that shows that men can’t be as maternal – whatever that means – as women,” said Morgan-Bentley. “Our bodies change… There’s a brilliant scientist who talks about mothers through adoption and she calls them biological mothers, because their bodies change.” We’re all biological parents, as long as we bother to, you know, parent.

A very different kind of family – of underground, posh, assassin-spies – has returned to Radio 4. In Who Killed Aldrich Kemp?, the second Aldrich Kemp series, secret service agent Clara Page (Phoebe Fox) is once more. on a mission, this time dressed as an air hostess as she follows a Venezuelan assassin – “Tango 1” – into an airport. Typically, she’s being a bit snotty about the whole thing (“Yes, I can see him, I’m not blind,” she barks into her hidden two-way radio). Anyway, it all goes wrong, she has to take off her high heels, pelt into a tunnel, follow a Malay-speaking female assassin on to the runway and, you know, get knocked out.

What’s so enjoyable about this series, which also features Nicola Walker, is the way it uses audio. Oh, and the OTT action. There’s a hilarious section in episode two where you follow what’s going on through the sound of explosions and motorbike revving and automatic gunfire and the pouf of a silenced bullet and “Oh crap!”. It made me laugh out loud. It’s joyous. The UK has long excelled at the upper-class spy mystery, at well-spoken heroes and dubious baddies delivering twists and quips with vim and hilarity. Aldrich Kemp is an excellent audio version and this daft series is just the tonic for rainy weekends or the horribleness of news.