BBC Store – Initial Thoughts

After much ballyhoo, the BBC Store is finally with us, and well, um, it sells downloads and streams.

You buy episodes rather than rent them – although the prices are much of a muchness really with television. And then you play them back via the web, or in due course, mobile apps. To be honest, I’m surprised that the apps aren’t there at launch, but we’re told they’re coming.

Now it’s true that the BBC Store doesn’t offer particularly better value than other retail outlets. A few comparisons:

– Fawlty Towers costs £15.98 for two series on BBC Store, £14.99 on iTunes and £9 on DVD at Amazon
– Yes Minister costs £24.99 for three series on BBC Store, £9.99 on iTunes and £14.50 on Amazon (but you get two series of Yes Prime Minister in that boxset too!)
– Edge of Darkness costs £7.99 on BBC Store, £5.99 on iTunes, while the DVD is £4.17 on Amazon (an utter bargain whichever way)
– Planet Earth costs £10.99 for SD and £12.99 for HD on BBC Store, and the same pricing in iTunes, while the DVD is £7.71 and BluRay £10.90 on Amazon

(Note: I’ve not factored in the current 25% off they’re offering for introductory purchases)

Essentially the BBC isn’t able to undercut its rivals by selling programmes cheaper, but this random selection shows that it’s mostly more expensive.

However, if all of that sounds negative, then there is always the great redeeming feature of finding something you thought would never otherwise be available to buy.

I doubt that the current Helen Czerski series on BBC Four about Colour would have ever been made available to buy on disc, yet you can buy a download on BBC Store for a very reasonable £4.99 for the series.

Similarly episodes of BBC Four series Timeshift on some very esoteric subjects are also available to own; whereas they’d never have been made available to buy on physical media. Although it’s a shame that I can only see one episode of Arena (they claim two), which is the recent Nicolas Roeg edition, when I know there’s such a rich history to that series.

On the other hand, I’m not sure that there’s anyone alive who needs to own one of the 248 episodes (at time of writing) of Bargain Hunt that are available to own for £1.89 a pop, unless you actually appeared in it. In which case, didn’t you either record it at the time, or get the production company to send you a copy? But fill your boots otherwise!

Casualty isn’t the kind of series that regularly got DVD releases either, but there are 137 episodes (at time of writing) up for grabs if you just can’t get enough Charlie.

And every episode of Eastenders since August 2014 is there to buy too. (And there are over 400 episodes of Doctors come to that!)

I would imagine that the cost of adding programmes to the BBC Store is low, so putting these episodes online is probably near automatic and for the few devotees who do want to buy individual episodes then there’s minimal cost to stocking these programmes and selling them to those who want to own them. That’s the beauty of digital.

The store does let you know when episodes are still available to watch free of charge on iPlayer which is good, because episodes can reach the store as soon as they’ve aired.

Programmes usually include subtitling and occasionally sign language – almost certainly a rarity. And there is a parental lock available on programmes labelled as such. I must admit that I find these things fairly arbitrary – either being unrated (family friendly) or “G.” Who knows what determines a “G” rating?

But there are a few problems.

We’re promised mobile apps will follow, although I’d have thought that they should have been there for launch. And I can’t access my programmes from within the TV app versions of iPlayer right now. I can however reach them from the regular iPlayer site within My Programmes > Purchases. Again, we’re promised that this will be fixed in due course. This is all a bit unfortunate because I like to watch TV on, well, my television. I ended up using the Windows 10 app, and outputting the pictures via Micro DisplayPort on my PC to HDMI on my TV. All a bit messy really. Incidentally, there was a free Fast Show offer for users of the Windows 10 app.

It doesn’t make clear anywhere whether episodes are in HD or not – you have to click on a price before it tells you. Clearly that won’t be the case for older archive material, but it’d be nice to know from just looking at the programme that it is available in HD. I also don’t like the practice of hiding higher HD prices behind lower SD ones. Sky is also guilty of this.

And while we’re told that HD is at least 720p, my TV is capable of more than that. I’d like to know that I’m getting 1080p if the programme was made in HD, as I would if I bought a BluRay.

There’s a serious lack of meta data behind the store from what I can see. I can’t search by actor, writer or director, unless the store has already created a section for them – so I can search for Benedict Cumberbatch or Dennis Potter, but few others. That’s a big miss as both Netflix and Amazon realise a lot of people look for things starring particular people. It would be great for finding “before they were famous” appearances in Casualty and the like.

I did find some pricing oddities including a Timeshift episode priced at £1.89 for SD and £12.99 for HD! Definitely a mistake, and in any case, it’s a bit dubious having increased HD prices for a series made up largely of SD archive material anyway that for the most part has just been upscaled to HD.

The FAQ on the BBC Store downloader only mentions Windows 7 to Windows 8.1. They might want to mention Windows 10 – even just pointing you to the app (I searched for it in the Microsoft Store). Similarly OSX stops at 10.10 with no mention of the now current 10.11. And the use of Microsoft SilverLight for offline downloads is a serious disappointment since it’s no longer being actively developed by Microsoft, and support is beginning to be removed from major browsers as most video streamers move to newer technologies.

One download device per account is very stingy. Let’s hope that’s upped when mobile apps come along otherwise it’s unsustainable.

There are also issues around descriptions of programmes. It’s nice that I can buy BBC Proms concerts, but I’d probably have to go somewhere else to get a bit more information:

Episode 13: Friday Night at the Proms: Bernard Haitink Conducts
4 Sep 2015 120 mins
Schubert’s Italian Overture and Ninth Symphony, and Mozart’s A major Piano Concerto.

I’d also like to know the orchestra, and it wouldn’t be hard to include a bit of additional detail in there from the Proms website.

I note that they’re steering clear of allowing user reviews.

And of course everything is full of DRM meaning that long term, I can’t be certain I’ll have continued access. From the help section:

We cannot guarantee that you will be able to stream or download content that’s in My Programmes forever. However, when our right to make content available is due to expire, we will do our upmost to inform you of this by email so that you have the opportunity to download and then continue to playback the content through the BBC Store Download Manager.

If I had DRM free copies of course, I could make them part of my back-up regime, and should the BBC Store ever close down, I wouldn’t lose anything, or be reliant on technology that might have limited or no future support. This is the key issue with all DRM-d media, and it’s why for the most part I continue to purchase physical copies ahead of DRM-filled downloads. Even though there is encryption on DVDs and BluRays, they can be ripped, and I can maintain access once players become redundant (I confess, I’m not looking forward to days of ripping however).

But I will forgive an awful lot when I find a series I’ve been after for years, is now available to buy on the BBC Store. In this instance I’m talking about Tender is the Night, the 1985 Dennis Potter adaptation of the F Scott Fitzgerald novel with Mary Steenburgen and Peter Strauss. I’ve longed to be able to get hold of a copy of this, and missed the recent BFI screening. Curiously the series is not listed in the Dennis Potter section of the store.

For me, issues surrounding pricing and playback options at launch can be mitigated by depth of catalogue. So let’s see BBC Store add more classic material to its output. I’d like to see things that aren’t currently available on DVD or BluRay, but have never been released before.

So dig deep into the archive and surprise me! (And get those mobile and smart TV apps sorted out.)

Note: Prices correct on 20 November 2015 when I wrote this.

[To readers of James Cridland’s Future of Radio newsletter – welcome! I should point out that the BBC still has a BBC Shop – it sells physical discs and, er, Doctor Who Christmas jumpers. BBC Store is their online only operation. Interestingly when Google first opened their online offering in the UK they localised it to be the “Google Shop.” They subsequently reverted back to Google Store. Yes, it’s Americanised, but I’m not sure that it’s not the right name for a digital outlet.]



In many respects, I chose the wrong time of year to visit the Shetland Islands. Going in November means that the sun rises at around 0800 and sets at about 1545. So not too many daylight hours to see the landscape. Then there’s the weather – if you’re going to remote northerly islands in November, you know that there are a few risks that come with it. Finally, if you are going to visit the Shetland Islands in the depths of winter (OK, it’s been mild this winter thus far), then you might as well choose the last Tuesday of January and take in the spectacle of Up Helly Aa – the fire festival celebrating the islands’ Viking heritage. Indeed I’d been wanting to visit this for ages, and while I could go in January, a return visit so soon now seems a bit previous.

I visited to see a bit of the landscape and to attend Shetland Noir, the “borrowed” Icelandic crime fiction event which was taking place over the weekend in the Mareel, Lerwick’s rather wonderful arts centre.

Actually getting to the Shetland Islands is part of the fun of a visit. The islands lie some 50 miles north of the Orkney Islands, and 300 miles north of Edinburgh. It’s only 200 miles to reach the Norwegian coast, and the Faroe Islands are also around 200 miles away to the northwest. So they’re remote.

That means that you either fly in, as I did, or take an overnight ferry from Aberdeen. For someone who lives in the south of England, flying seemed the preferable option since getting to Aberdeen would be quite an adventure in itself – 7 hours on the train to begin with.


So I flew from Stansted on an Easyjet flight to Edinburgh. I spent a few hours in Edinburgh itself, getting the bus into town, and new tram back (I could swear the bus was actually faster), before catching an evening FlyBe flight to Sumburgh airport on the southern tip of the mainland. Aircraft that fly into Sumburgh are necessarily smaller than your usual planes, with a twin engined Saab delivering me in relative comfort. It’s worth noting that I needn’t have paid extra for the emergency exit since the seats are well spaced to begin with on those flights.

One thing you do need to take into account in weight. Bags are carefully weighed when loading the smaller plane, and you’re only permitted a measily 6kg of handbaggage in the cabin. Then again, the small overhead lockers wouldn’t take much more.

I arrived in the evening and had decided to get the bus from Sumburgh to Lerwick. Although this is only 25 miles, the bus takes an hour since it pulls into some of the smaller towns along the route. The bus I caught was the last of the evening, and I seemed to be the only passenger catching it. Everybody else had taxis, hire cars or family picking them up. I mostly rejected the taxi because I knew the cost was pretty high – especially if you’re travelling solo without anyone to share it with. On the other hand £2.70 for the hour long ride was a bargain, and the friendly driver dropped me right outside the B&B that I was staying at.

As I checked in, the first thing my landlady said to me was, “Have you heard about the storm?”

This is the first winter that the Met Office is naming storms in the UK, and the very first of them – Storm Abigail – was due to be hitting much of northern Scotland in the next 24 hours or so. It was already breezy, and I’d felt the plane being buffeted as it landed earlier.

I headed out to pick up some food, and I could already feel that the wind was rising.


The next morning I was a little apprehensive. Although the storm wasn’t due to hit until around 4pm, I know that the weather can change quickly in places like this. The good news was that it was actually going to be worse a bit further south of the Shetland Islands, so it couldn’t be that bad could it?

Either way, I was going to use today to take photographs around the island, and to facilitate that, I was picking up a hire car to get me around. Once I’d established that I needed to engage both the clutch and brakes to start my Kia, I was off and running.


There are around 300 islands in the entire Shetland archipeligo, of which 16 are inhabited. These are connected via ferry and for some, plane services. Perhaps the remotest of all is Fair Isle, home of the knitwear, and sitting about equidistant between the Orkneys and rest of the Shetland Islands.


But I wasn’t attempting to leave the large Mainland, and headed northwest to the Eshaness lighthouse and cliffs on Northmavine. Overall the roads are good throughout the islands, with oil and gas money clearly having been brought to bear. As you get further off the beaten path, single lane roads are more usual, but I didn’t find anywhere that wasn’t properly tarmacked.

The clifftop car park at Eshaness was nearly completely deserted, with just one other car. The views are spectacular but the drops are steep, and the cliffs overhang in places. In a high wind, you’d want to watch your step, but there are some spectacular walks along the cliff edge.


From Eshaness I headed east stopping along the route in various places that looked interesting.

At one point I had my first encounter with Shetland ponies. The islands are, of course, famous for these diminutive animals. I came across a group of three of them blocking the road in front me. I hopped out to take some photos, and they immediately approached me – probably expecting some treats from the tourist.




They really are quite short animals, standing perhaps a metre tall. Their hair is shaggy, to protect them from the mercilous winds, and they’re stout animals that you know could cause some damage. They let me stroke them, and once I’d taken a wealth of photos, I got back in my car, at which point the boldest started to lick or chew the door handle: “You’ve stroked me, so now give me an apple!” Then he went around the other side of the car, and proceeded to do the same to the passenger-side door!

I had to gingerly drive off to escape their loveable clutches.

I did stop a bit further down the road, however, just to check that they’d done the car no more damage than covering it in saliva!


When I return to Shetland, I will spend more time at some of the numerous archaelogical sites scattered across the islands. I did stop at Stanydale Temple near the village of Gruting. You reach it from the road by walking half a mile across the hillside, the route marked with poles. Recent rainfall meant that the ground was soggy, and you had to be careful, but it was well worth the trip. The site is neolithic in origin with the first buildings dating from perhaps 1000 BC. They’re remarkably well preserved – perhaps because they’ve not really been re-used in recent times since they sit well away from the sea and other populated areas.



As with Iceland, you become very aware that Shetland has a dearth of trees. The harsh winds that rattle across the landscape mean that they simply don’t survive. And yet wood has been necessary in buildings for thousands of years, so it was traded with Nordic visitors.


The sun set, and the wind started to arrive. As I parked up and began to explore the shops along the windy Commercial Street in the town centre, the rain arrived. I retired first to a pub, and then to an Indian restaurant (Food options, it must be said, are pretty scarce in Lerwick aside from fish and chips, Indian and Chinese restaurants).

As I returned to my lodgings later that evening, even the protected harbour was seeing the water swell up, and in places it was crashing over the side of the harbour walls.

That night I was woken by the storm at around 3am when it was probably at its peak. With gusting at around 70mph I suspect that it was not that unusual an occurrence in these parts in winter. That said, the schools were shut down on Friday, leading to someone in a pub saying, “If I didn’t turn up to work because it was windy, I know what’d happen to me.”


The islands are heavily reliant on connections with the outside world – ferries and planes. That Friday I wasn’t able to buy a paper because planes weren’t landing and the Aberdeen ferry had been stopped in Kirkwall in the Orkneys. No Guardian Friday review section for me.


Shetland Noir-13

Shetland Noir-8

The Shetland Noir event I was attending was held in Mareel, a fairly new entertainment complex on the harbourside in Lerwick. I knew of it a little because Mark Kermode talks about it when he’s in Shetland each year for the Shetland Film Festival. As well as a sizeable main auditorium that can used for hosting a variety of events (including a crime fiction festival), there are two well equipped cinema screens, as well as a range of other rooms to support Shetland arts in general. And of course there’s a fairly busy bar.

I saw a couple of films while I was in Lerwick. Steve Jobs, the new Danny Boyle film, with a script from Aaron Sorkin, was well worth seeing. I loved the three act structure and the punchiness of the film. It does however paint Steve Jobs as an utterly despicable character. He really does have hardly any redeeming features if this film is anything to go by. But Michael Fassbender is really excellent playing him, as is Kate Winslet as his long suffering marketing executive Joanna Hoffman.

The festival also showed Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil which somehow I’d never seen previously. But it was terrific seeing it on the big screen with the famous continuous take that the film opens with (Spectre recently did a very similar thing with a very similar outcome).


Alongside Mareel, also on the harbour front is the Shetland Museum. This is well worth a visit, with a great collection of exhibits that tells the story of the islands throughout its history. There’s also a very decent restaurant attached to the museum that makes a good lunch spot.

Shetland Noir was a really interesting event, with a range of authors talking mostly on panels about a range of subjects related to crime fiction. The event is effectively “borrowed” from Iceland Noir which returns next year, and as such features Icelandic and Scandinavian writers as well as “Tartan Noir” authors.

I came away with an enormous list of books I want to read, and it was nice to chat with some of the folk who were there. I did get the feeling that I’d come an unduly long way compared to many of the attendees who were local!


While I was visiting, the local leisure centre was hosting a big craft festival, so I ducked out of a couple of sessions to see what they had for sale. Fair Isle is famous for its knitwear, and it quickly becomes clear that the work required to make these garments mean that prices are a bit more than Primark would charge for a sweater. The craft fair made clear that the islands are full of people making things, from artworks made from material washed up on the shoreline, to photography, leather work and of course, knitwear.

So, no, I didn’t come away with a sweater, or even a scarf.

Not that I saw many locals wearing the clothing their islands are famous for. Indeed the most common clothing I saw was heavily waterproofed clothing in high-vis colours! It seems that everyone goes about their business in high-vis. Perhaps to help be found in an emergency. My Barbour jacket saw me through OK.


I should probably say a word about local media. The Shetland Times is the main paper for the islands, coming out weekly each Friday. The big news while I was there was surrounding a special election court looking into interviews given my the local MP prior just prior to the General Election in May.

In radio terms, you’ve got one commercial station – the Shetland Islands Broadcasting Company or SIBC. It’s a decent station, although it sounds like it’s automated for much of the day, with a fairly hits-heavy playlist. The BBC has BBC Shetland, but that’s really only an opt-out of BBC Radio Scotland with just a few hours of local programming a week. I found FM signals for both services strong wherever I went. But there is also DAB – with the BBC’s multiplex available in Lerwick (But obviously no BBC Scotland or SIBC on DAB, nor any other commercial services). With something a population around 25,000, there are clearly only going to be limited services locally.

Some of the population is quite transient. When you first arrive in Lerwick harbour, you can’t miss the Sans Vitesse, an accommodation barge (essentially a ferry), painted in black and white zebra print, and housing workers on the Shetland gas project. Further down the harbour there are more vessels with more temporary accommodation.


As the time to fly home got closer, I became a little obsessed with weather apps on my phone. It’s worth noting that Shetland has very poor mobile phone coverage, but you do find WiFi in most built up areas with many communal areas offering free access. I was checking to see what the weather would be like for the day I left, concerned that high winds might delay my return. I had a “connecting” flight to catch in Edinburgh – except that it wasn’t really an actual connection. In the event, the flight was a little bumpy taking off, and a lot more landing, but it was all on time.

Overall I enjoyed my time in the islands. Next time I visit, I would like to spend more time and have more sunlight to explore the island. Obviously I didn’t get a chance to visit any of the smaller islands like Fair Isle which would have been interesting. And I’d have liked to have visited more of the archaeological sites around the islands. So a return visit is very much in order. Perhaps I’ll take a bike!

More photos of Shetland here, a handful of Edinburgh here, and lots of Shetland Noir authors here.


Responding to Consultations

If there’s one thing the internet has made easier, it’s responding to consultations. Previously the domain of just the time rich, today it can be much easier. Indeed, only a small amount harder than signing some internet petition.

This week I’ve responded to two consultations on wildly differing topics, and I thought I’d repost what I sent here. Both consultations close tomorrow, so you still have time to send yours in!

Independent Commission on Freedom of Information Call for Evidence

Dear Sir/Madam,

I am writing to you as a citizen who is concerned that the Independent Commission on Freedom of Information might see more restrictions placed on what can

I am especially alarmed when Chris Grayling, leader of the House of Commons, is quoted as saying that the Freedom of Information Acts was being used as a “research tool” to “generate stories” for the media.

Absolutely it is.

These are important stories that should be reported. The list of 103 stories published by the FoI Directory website is an excellent list that proves the point.

To at this point go back on what citizens believe should be in the public domain would be absurd and a travesty. The relatively low cost (in overall budget terms) easily justifies the importance of citizens’ rights to know about our supposedly open government.

I therefore strongly oppose any measures that would see a weakening of the Act, or a reduction in bodies included under it.

Review of Consumer Protection Measures relating to Online Secondary Ticketing Platforms

Dear Sir/Madam

I am writing to you in my personal capacity as a consumer who buys tickets to concerts and events.

While I don’t work in the industry, I have worked in commercial radio, where relationships with promoters to sell concert tickets are a significant part of the business.

Event ticketing is not a simple supply and demand model. Quite often demand vastly exceeds supply and an artist or event can’t simply add additional dates to meet that demand. And it’s important to understand that artists and promoters don’t actually always set ticket prices at levels that simply maximise revenues. But setting those initial prices is something that is up to the promoter/artist. If they want to look like they’re gouging fans, that’s their decision. On the other hand, not all concert/events costs are equal.

In general and simple terms, I’m very much against so-called “secondary ticketing” since it simply breaks the overall model.

In my view, secondary ticketing is simply a legal form of ticket touting.

Many events and concerts have terms and conditions that explicitly don’t allow tickets to be resold, and yet only in very specific circumstances is the law adjusted to reflect this. For some reason, football and the Olympics have ticket reselling banned, but pretty much everything else is legal. Frankly that’s arbitrary and absurd.

As mentioned artists and promoters tend to find a balance between pricing their ticket to allow access to their fans, yet at the same time there is also a view from some in the industry that they’re simply missing out on profits made by touts, groups, and individuals that use secondary ticketing.

Promoter Harvey Goldsmith recently appeared on BBC Radio Four’s Front Row (16 November 2015), and explained that for a recent event he had promoted, he’s made it a condition of sale that the purchaser was limited to the number of tickets purchased, and that photographic ID was used to enter the venue. But this isn’t a sustainable option for many venues. While events regularly claim that they may need proof of purchase, it’s rare that it’s actually carried out. The London 2012 Olympics was a key case in point – with none of the dozen or so events I attended requiring any proof that I was the ticket purchaser. Indeed despite severe warnings to the contrary, I’ve never had to provide such proof, beyond using a credit card to collect tickets at a box office.

I would also be wary of claims made by secondary ticketing firms that a high proportion of their ticket inventories are sold at face value or less. That’s because many events – perhaps most – do not sell out, and promoters are able to use these sites to offload unsold inventory as an event’s date draws closer.

I would want to see a very close analysis of who is selling what tickets to what kinds of events at what prices to draw an accurate picture of what’s going on. Broad overall brush strokes do not help. It would be informative to learn the distribution of customers who carry out repeat transactions. If I sell a pair of tickets once in a year, then I might be a genuine fan offloading my tickets. But larger volumes suggests touting – quite probably on an industrial scale. This review should call in detailed sales data from the major sites.

A Solution

The number of individuals who truly need to resell their tickets is actually marginal. While it’s true that some events sell out months or even a year or more in advance, the proportion of attendees who cannot subsequently attend is a very small proportion of the audience.

The notion that secondary ticketing is for “fan to fan” exchanges is quite simply disingenuous. Simply the fact that tickets are instantly being sold on secondary ticketing sites from the minute that their first on sale is proof of this. Essentially anyone with a credit card and an internet connection can become a tout.

I would propose a system where tickets are resold by the agency that sold them initially, with perhaps a 10% margin for managing the secondary selling.

In the past, if you ended up with theatre tickets you no longer required you simply left them at the box office, and once the house’s own tickets had sold out, the box office would sell the “returns” at a either a small mark-up, or at a small cost to the original purchaser. There was a simple reliable point of purchase for those looking for access to an event at the last minute, and a safe and reliable way for someone to attempt to recover the cost of tickets they could no longer use.

With the advent of the internet, ticketing apps, and print-at-home tickets, this process becomes ever easier to manage, and keeps costs low (whatever the various booking costs charged by these sites to consumers are).

The online agency that initially sold the tickets would handle the reselling, and they would recover additional administration costs and a small profit from the 10% margin.

Ticketing Concerns

I also believe it to be the case that a number of tickets for major promotions go directly to secondary ticket agencies in the first instance. I would hope that this investigation will shed some light on this practice.

This means that those tickets were never marketed at any kind of “face value” even if they appear in the same blocks as other tickets that were available for purchase.

There is very little light being shone on this practice, and it bears investigation, because it shows that not all those tickets that “instantly” show up on secondary sites when

Other Pricing Models

I know that some promoters and venues are using “airline” style pricing with flexible prices dependent upon demand. That’s a choice they can make, and they should be free to do so. Personally, I wouldn’t choose to buy tickets on that model, so good luck to those producers with them. But at least they can manage inventory and maximise profits based on demand if they choose to do so.

The market will in the end dictate whether that’s a sustainable business model.


Put an end to legalised touting through secondary ticketing sites.

If promoters and artists want to earn more money from their events, they should be up front in their pricing mechanisms. And it simply can’t be fair that football has one rule, but every other sport and event has another.

Institute best practices, and allow the resale of tickets only at a modest increased cost over face value via the agency that sold the ticket.

Google and Podcasts – More Thoughts

Google Play Terms of Service

This is a follow up to the post I wrote a few days ago when it was first announced that Google was getting into podcasts.

Go away and read that if you’ve not already done so!

A few things are worth noting that I hadn’t quite understood initially.

Google Serving Podcasts and Metrics

It’s very much worth noting that Google will host your podcast for you. They will take a single copy from the server you use to host your audio, and they’ll re-encode it to meet their needs (which may in itself be an issue for some podcasters), before serving files to Google Play Music users.

I imagine that there will actually be a range of differently encoded versions available, perhaps based on bandwidth of the user. But this will really only become clear when the service is live.

As mentioned previously, this does mean that Google will be the only source for downloads of podcasts from Google Play Music. I know that operators like LibSyn will be able to pull these metrics back into their own system to provide a better overview, but it’s worth noting that there will be differences. Will Google have a different view on what is and isn’t a “play” for example? We’ll have to wait and see.


I foolishly suggested previously that Google might be somehow sharing revenues with podcasters either in terms of advertising or perhaps a share of subscriptions as a music artist would get for a curated listening experience via Google Play Music.

That really doesn’t seem to be the case.

Here’s the key passage from Google’s Terms of Service for the Google Play Music Podcast Portal:

7. Google Advertising/No Revenue Share. For the avoidance of doubt, Google has the right to present audio, video and/or display advertisements in connection with Google’s distribution of the Podcast Content on Google Play. Notwithstanding the foregoing, Google acknowledges and agrees that Google will not display any pre-roll or mid-roll advertisements in connection with the Podcast Content and will not sell or target advertisements directly against specific Podcast Content or any particular Podcast Creator. For the avoidance of doubt, Podcast Creator shall not be entitled to any royalties, revenue or any other any monetary compensation in connection with Google’s distribution of the Podcast Content in accordance with these Podcast Terms, including, without limitation, any monies Google may receive (including, without limitation, advertising and subscription revenues) in connection with Google’s display of advertising pursuant to these Podcast Terms. [Taken from the October 7, 2015 version.]

In other words, Google will run ads at the end of a podcast, and the podcast creator won’t see a penny of that. While it’s true that this doesn’t massively disrupt the models of those who are running their own advertising currently – mostly the bigger podcasting networks – this really doesn’t help the smaller guys who probably see no commercial revenue from their work.

Now I appreciate that not everyone in podcasting is there to make money, and are perhaps doing it for the fun of it. But it’s disappointing that Google isn’t offering a way to help make a business out of podcasting for those who’d like to be able to. (It’ll be interesting to see how this works with, say, the BBC who will not want advertising adjacent to its podcasts.)

While a direct comparison with YouTube doesn’t quite work because regardless of platform, unlike podcasts you have to use the YouTube website or app to watch videos, it’s notable that video creators do get options to monetise their videos with Google and share in the revenues earned.

Google is undoubtedly offering a massive distribution opportunity, with a chance for podcasters to grow their audiences enormously. And for many that will be enough. But as Google builds an audio advertising model, there’s no option here to share in that revenue which feels frankly quite mean.

There are other ways to earn revenue from advertising of course. Stitcher, for example, has a content provider programme that pays revenues based on listens via the Stitcher app according to a specific formula. Spotify is also carrying a selection of podcasts, but these seem to be invited onto the platform from the major providers. Although I can’t see it explicitly anywhere, you would expect that there’s some kind of revenue sharing model underlying these deals too.

Perhaps in time, as podcasting grows, Google will begin to offer pre-roll advertising that it can share with partners who choose to work with Google. I suspect that at the moment, Google is making cautionary steps into the marketplace and is trying not to rock the boat – the bigger guys all having worked out their commercialisation options. So maybe it’s a question of wait and see.

Google and Podcasts


This week we heard the first news that Google is starting to get into the podcast game. Recode had the first decent report on the move.

Currently, Apple dominates podcasts. Indeed, the word “podcast” might seem to imply to casual listener, that listening to a podcast means having an actual “iPod” to listen to them on. It doesn’t, although Apple’s inclusion of podcasts into iTunes fairly early on gave the medium a massive boost. At a time when you had to sync your mp3 player with some software on a PC, podcasting was technically complicated business. Tying it into the same system that got your music on your portable audio device was a smart move by Apple.

But in a mobile world with WiFi networks and 4G, podcasting should have become simpler. Apple spun out its Podcasts app, and a myriad of apps appeared on Android devices.

So why then are podcasts listened to on mobile devices still so heavily skewed towards Apple? It’s reported that Libsyn-hosted podcasts see more than five times as many iOS downloads as Android ones! That’s astonishing. And awful.

It’s so skewed because Apple fully supports podcasts, and when you turn on a new iPhone, you have the Podcasts app waiting to go. You can browse easily within the app for something to listen to, and when podcasts you might have caught because someone shared a link on social media, suggest you subscribe, they invariably mention that this podcast can be found in iTunes – where you can leave a review!

And so it becomes self-fulfilling. Indeed, too many people continue to believe that if they’ve got their podcasts in iTunes, then a simple link to that page is all they need to share. (See also my Top Tips for Podcasters.)

Yet while all of this is going on, there are more Android handset owners than iPhone owners in pretty much every market. Way more.

Podcasters are missing out. More to the point, they’re missing the opportunity to more than double their audience. But it’s not their fault. There’s just an in-built bias towards Apple in the podcasting ecosystem.

If we assume that an Android user is no more or less interested in audio than an iPhone user, then that leaves a lot of low hanging fruit ready to be picked. I’ve written about this in the past as The Android Problem. Yes, I know that iOS users buy more games and spend more money per device – maybe their more engaged with smartphones overall. But that doesn’t account for those massive discrepancies.

Earlier this year when I last wrote that piece, I was hoping that Google would get into this game, because podcasts are the obvious part of the iTunes store that the Google Play store is missing.

But what Google is talking about, as far as I can see, is something a bit different to Apple. Apple essentially allows anyone to place their podcast on iTunes. You complete a form, upload some graphics and meta data, find a host to serve your podcast and you’re away. If you have a podcast, you have to place it on iTunes.


But Google looks like it’s suggesting something a little beyond this. Yes, they want podcasters to upload their wares. And yes, they say that you’ll be able to search for and browse for podcasts by category – the same ones as Apple. But from what they’re talking about in their blog piece, they also want to automatically recommend appropriate podcasts – which sounds a little more like services such as Stitcher.

Since Google bought Songza, they’ve been implementing smart technologies to deliver music appropriate to the time of day and what you’re doing. Initially this was solely available in the paid-for Google Play Music subscription offering, but in the US, there’s now also a free version of this, with advertising support and limitations on how much music you can skip. (Regular readers may recall that as a UK listener, I was tortured with getting access to this, and then losing it for several weeks!)

Incorporating podcasts into this sort of thing is interesting, and listening to Google Play Music product manager Elias Roman on The Feed, it’s clear that this is a major part of what they want to offer. Indeed, it’s worth noting that as well as Android, there will be iOS and web apps to enable wide adoption of what they’re planning.

But at the moment, there’s nothing to actually listen to, and in any case, only US podcasters seem able to upload their podcasts to the site. I understand that a service that’s potentially supported by advertising may want to launch on a regional basis, but whisper it: Americans do listen to podcasts from outside America too!


Google also seems to pushing very hard the fact that their app – presumably Google Music – will be the default pre-installed way to listen to Podcasts.

Anyway, this all leaves lots of unanswered questions:

1. When will anyone be able to upload a podcast to Google, regardless of geography? At the moment the site geo-blocks non-US uploaders. Even if the service isn’t available outside the US, it’d be nice to be able to get international podcasts hosted there!

2. Will podcasts in Google Play be essentially open to all as with Apple, or is Google looking for premium suppliers only? It would seem to be the former.

3. Advertising – how will it work, if at all, and what might I earn? The US-only free Google Play Music service is ad-supported. There’s obviously a revenue-sharing operation currently working with music rights holders. I assume that’s why this whole thing is limited to the US at the moment as it’s the advertising market Google is most comfortable with. But what kind of deals will be on the table for podcasters, if any? Who can earn what? And in the longer term, what if anything will that mean for podcasts and podcast networks that already have very profitable ad operations? I note that the likes of Panoply and Gimlet are already on board with Google, and they are already ad-supported. The episode of The Feed I mentioned above is well worth a listen because a lot of basic questions are answered, but advertising was not – aside from the fact that Google will not be dicing or slicing your podcast or removing adverts already embedded into your podcasts. [See my follow-up post for more on this]

4. What does this all mean for other podcast app providers on Android? Is Google effectively killing them off? Do the likes of PocketCasts or Doggcatcher have enough points of difference to keep going? iOS has other podcast providers – PocketCasts is one of them. Will I be able to directly subscribe to a podcast in PocketCasts from Google Play – in the same way that I get to choose my choice for apps like browsers and music players. It doesn’t sound like it’ll work that way.

5. Are we going to end up in a messy world of platform exclusives? Let’s hope not.

6. Might this pave the way for better metrics? I think this is critically important from an advertising and accountability perspective. Google says that it will be taking a copy of your podcast from your feed, re-encoding it themselves, and then hosting it for listeners. That means that your metrics will come from Google, and at this point that sounds like a basic play count a la YouTube. What Google is talking about doing is different to iTunes. Apple does not host your podcast – you sort out your hosting requirements yourself – perhaps with a specialist like Libsyn. That provider may well offer a measurement service so you can see detailed statistics on your podcasts’ performance. Now Stitcher also caches a local copy of podcasts, but I understand that it pings your feed so that your host’s stats are broadly correct tallying Sticher plays with wider downloads (Stitcher also has a bespoke stats platform you can view). Will Google do this? I must admit, that I don’t know what happens with TuneIn, and whether it caches a copy or just redirects to your host. And there are a myriad of other places of varying scales. Some hosts provide some of this, taking account of duplicated and failed attempts to download. But if podcasts are held in multiple systems with multiple sets of metrics, coming to a cumulative picture of your podcast’s performance becomes hard. Every podcast provider would love to be able to determine whether just because a podcast was downloaded, was it actually listened to, and was it listened all the way through? That really helps support advertising. Google could potentially supply that information back to podcasters as it does to YouTube creators via their analytics platform.

7. How will Apple react? In some respects, they’ve never really developed podcasting beyond separating the app out of their overall music player. Will they be incorporating podcasts into their Apple Music offering?

There are just some of my initial questions.

Further down the line, it’ll be really important to see how Google promotes the very existence of podcasts in its software. This is how consumers can be motivated to at least try podcasts and see if they’re something they find interesting. I still have a feeling that Google needs to work hard to promote Google Play much more – particularly its Music offering which is where podcasts will sit. That will be key to how successful this is.

But overall it can only be fantastic news that Google is properly supporting podcasts now.

Oh, and Google is sticking with the name “Podcast.” So no need for anyone to reinvent the terminology now.

[I wrote a follow-up post covering advertising in particular]

RAJAR Q3 2015

RAJAR Q4 2013

This post is brought to you in association with RALF from DP Software and Services. I’ve used RALF for the past 8 years, and it’s my favourite RAJAR analysis tool. So I’m delighted to be able to bring you this analysis in association with it. For more details on RALF, contact Deryck Pritchard via this link or phone 07545 425677.

The end of October brings Halloween, and also the latest set of RAJAR numbers. Insert your own joke about the two of them here.

Let’s have a canter through the numbers and see how stations have done.

National Stations

At a time of intense scrutiny over Charter Renewal, BBC radio has had a really good RAJAR with increases nearly across the board.

Radio 1 has seen its second increase in reach in a row, heading over 10.5m listeners again, and even seeing a fractional year on year increase. Hours are very marginally down, and I fear that it will be this measure that people should really be looking at, or average hours per listener (currently 6.3) rather than reach itself.

Radio 2 has also recorded a second consecutive rise, and is heading back towards the dizzying heights of 15.5m listeners. Listening hours have fallen a little this quarter, but are still up on the previous year. The average Radio 2 listener listens for 11.8 hours a week.

Radio 3 experienced its traditional Proms uplift, and is once again just north of 2m listeners. While Radio 4 has also had a a decent result with 10.8m listeners, although like Radio 3, saw some listening dropoff over the summer.

Radio 5 Live is also looking to finally recover a bit from its big schedule changes, now a year ago. It’s back to 5.5m reach, although it’s still down on last year.

But it’s the BBC’s digital channels that really bear some examination, as they continue to grow massively. Radio 4 Extra has just broken its own record reach of a couple of months ago, with 2.2m people listening a week. Over on 5 Live Sports Extra, Ashes cricket would seem to have been the catalyst for yet another record reach for that station, with 1.7m listeners and nearly 7m hours (also a record). And 6 Music has also had record reach and hours with just fewer than 2.2m listeners a week, and it has passed 20m hours for the first time.

All of that means that BBC Radio accounts for 53.3% of all radio listening in the UK (with Radio 2 accounting for 17.5% on its own).

Does that mean commercial operators have had a dreadful quarter? Well not exactly.

Classic FM has had a very decent quarter, up 4.0% in reach to very close to 5.5m, as well as a similar increase in hours.

Talksport has also had an excellent quarter with a 3.9% increase in reach, taking it very close to 3.2m listeners. Indeed, both Classic and Talksport are very consistent players.

Absolute Radio has had an excellent quarter. It’s reach is up to over 2m for the first time since 2008 – in other words, for the first time since it rebranded from Virgin Radio. Hours are down a fraction, but that needs to be put into perspective with the network performance (see below).

Absolute 80s had a slight fall from last quarter’s record reach. On the other hand, Absolute 70s saw its reach climb to a new all time high.

Kiss had a good quarter, up 5.2% in reach, although listening hours fell. Like Radio 1, I fear that these need to be monitored very carefully.

Kiss Fresh did well getting over 500,000 again in reach, while Kisstory was flat at 1.3m.

Capital Xtra saw a big jump this quarter, up nearly 25% in reach, and nearly 20% in hours. I can’t really explain that change – although in the London market we’re used to that sort of thing.

LBC was flat in reach with just shy of 1.5m listeners – still equalling its record reach since turning truly national. Hours did dip a little however.

Xfm became Radio X on 21 September, the day after the end of this RAJAR quarter. As such, although Radio X appears in the survey for sales purposes, in actuality, it was recorded by listeners as Xfm at the time. But the impending closure of Xfm perhaps piqued listeners’ interest because reach across the network surged up to over 1m – a 14% increase on the previous quarter. Otherwise there’s simply no information in this survey as to how Radio X is performing.


As alluded to above, the Absolute Radio Network achieved a new all-time high of nearly 4.2m listeners. Hours dropped off a little, but the strength of digital performance has been key to Absolute Radio’s success.

The Capital Network has performed well this quarter up 4.9% in reach, and also seeing an increase in hours. In this period, Capital’s owners, Global Radio, bought Juice FM in Liverpool from UTV. The rebranding is apparently due for early next year, so look for the Capital Network to continue to grow.

The Heart Network also had a good quarter with its reach up 3% to just over 9.1m for the first time. It’s a new record for them.

Overall Global Radio now reaches 22m people a week listening for 194m hours.

Bauer Radio reachs 16.7m people listening for 146m hours. Both major groups are up. It’s a competitive landscape out there.

It’s worth noting that both Global and Bauer actually sell even larger audiences since they operate as sales houses for some other groups.

UTV is the third biggest group, and following the sale of the television assets to ITV, and that of Juice FM to Global, I would expect a corporate rebrand will be forthcoming, particularly with their D2 services due to launch next year. They did suffer a little unlike their big competitors, down 2.5% in reach, although broadly flat in hours. They reach 4.4m people a week delivering 32m hours.

Overall Radio Listening

Overall, radio listening is down a fraction on last quarter, but flat on the year. 89% of the population listen to the radio at least once a week, spending 21.6 hours doing so.


It’s breakfast that gets a lot of people excited, so here are a few highlights from this quarter.

Nick Grimshaw has seen his audience fall a small amount, with a 1.0% drop from last quarter, set against an overall increase for the station.

Chris Evans has also seen a a drop, losing about 275,000 listeners on the previous quarter.

The Today Programme on Radio 4 is of course the second biggest “breakfast show” in the country, and it has increased a little to nearly 6.8m listeners this quarter (up 1.2%).

In the commercial world Christian O’Connell saw a big jump, up 6.2% to 1.8m listeners across the entire Absolute Radio Network of services.

Aled Jones on Classic FM has nearly 1.7m listeners, up 1.8% on the last quarter. But Alan Brazil has seen his reach drop to just below 1.4m listeners on Talksport (again, against an overall station rise).

The Kiss breakfast nationally has fallen nearly 10% this quarter, and LBC will be disappointed with Nick Ferrari falling 12% this quarter to just over 900,000.


London listening is always interesting, with a competitive marketplace and a surprising degree of change from RAJAR period to RAJAR period (disturbingly).

The chart above shows the reach of the main commercial stations in London, as well as BBC London (or BBC Radio London as it is now known).

What this chart shows in particular is that Capital and Kiss are neck and neck in reach terms. In fact, Kiss shades Capital by 3,000 people this quarter. But Capital will also be able to say it’s the biggest [commercial] station in London with more listening hours than Kiss.

This chart also illustrates to what extent Heart’s reach has bounced around over the last few quarters. From a record low in Q3 2014, they bounced up in Q4, bak down in Q1 2015, then surged in Q2, before falling down again this quarter. You could make a decent rollercoaster out of Heart’s performance chart.

Otherwise LBC and Magic have had disappointing reach perforances this time out, with Absolute flat, and both Smooth and Xfm seeing increases – the latter again perhaps because of its imminent demise towards the end of this period.

Finally BBC London got its best result in a couple of years just ahead of its rebrand. There’s a new schedule coming there soon too, so it’ll be one to watch.

Finally, because people tend to forget it, it’s worth reminding ourselves that Radio 4 is actually the biggest station in London with 2.7m listeners and 31m listening hours (i.e. 3 times what the largest commercial station gets!). Radio 2 is actually number 2, while Radio 1 slots in behind Kiss, Capital and Magic.


The big news here is that 41.9% of listening to radio is now via a digital platform. This figure had been threatening to creep over 40% for a while, and it’s now onward to 50% which is what gets people talking about digital switchover in radio.

At the same time, those who say they listen via AM/FM has fallen to below 50% for the first time (The difference is made up of people who don’t state their platform).

Both DAB and internet listening are up to record levels with 27.7% of listening being via DAB, and 6.9% of listening via the internet, including mobile apps.

The chart above really makes clear the growth in internet listening, although broadcast DAB is still much more important.

The chart below shows listening through the day (Mon-Fri average) by the different platforms. AM/FM listening is the most normalised, while the morning and evening drivetime peaks for DAB aren’t as clearly defined because we’re less likely to have DAB in our cars.

Internet listening tends to be a post-lunchtime thing, with a peak at around 5pm. One could surmise that a lot of that is at work, but the listening on that platform continues into early evening.

On the other hand, digital TV has a clearly defined daytime trend.

Listening Location

It’s a while since I last looked at this, and although it rarely changes much, I thought it was useful to put some updated information out there on where people listen to the radio.

It doesn’t move around massively, with listening at home making up the vast majority of listening.

But with the growth of digital in-car offerings, as more and more people connect their smartphones to their car’s entertainment system (Or “infotainment” system as the manufacturers would have it), I thought it was worth seeing the extent to which internet listening in-car is growing.

We know that services like Apple Carplay and Android Auto are coming soon, and already in select models, so this will be something to keep an eye, particularly given the range of audio options the connected car will offer the driver.

The numbers are a little “fuzzy” since some of the sample sizes, particularly for 15-24s, are low. But this shows that digital is beginning to make an impact in-car, with nearly 20% of in-car listening being via a digital platform. That drops to just 1.0% for internet radio, although it’s 3.0% for the younger 15-24 demographic. Something to keep an eye perhaps, as people get better data plans, and they find it easier to hook-up their phones to their cars.

Further Reading

For more RAJAR analysis, I’d recommend the following sites:

The official RAJAR site and their infographic is here
Radio Today for a digest of all the main news
Go to Media.Info for lots of numbers and charts
Paul Easton for analysis including London
Matt Deegan has some great analysis
Media Guardian for more news and coverage
The BBC Mediacentre for BBC Radio stats and findings
Bauer Media’s site.
Global Radio’s site.

[Updated to correct a 1Xtra/6 Music figure]

Source: RAJAR/Ipsos-MORI/RSMB, period ending 20 September 2015, Adults 15+.

Disclaimer: These are my views alone and do not represent those of anyone else, including my employer. Any errors (I hope there aren’t any!) are mine alone. Drop me a note if you want clarifications on anything. Access to the RAJAR data is via RALF from DP Software as mentioned at the top of this post.

The Stone Tape

Nigel Kneale is perhaps not as recognised a name as he should be. He was one of the UK’s major screenwriters for 50 years writing popular fare including in particular the Quatermass series. He adapted George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, in perhaps the definitive 1954 Rudolph Cartier screen adaptation (still unreleased on DVD despite at least two major attempts to do so). In 1968 he wrote The Year of the Sex Olympics, a play that is now widely thought presage the rise of reality television like Survivor and Big Brother.

And in 1972 he wrote The Stone Tape, which was made into BBC2’s Christmas ghost story that year. The cast includes Michael Bryant and a young Jane Asher as a group of scientists who are working on a new recording medium in an old building. Strange things begin to occur in this sometimes claustrophobic play that deals with the paranormal and science.

It’s this play that Peter Strickland (Director of The Duke of Burgundy and Berberian Sound Studio) has chosen to adapt for his part of Radio 4’s upcoming Fright Night on Halloween.

And indeed it lends itself well. The play deals with sound itself, and as with Berberian Sound Studio which was like The Stone Tape set in a 70s setting, the world of analogue sound recording suits the radio medium. Here Strickland is working with Life on Mars’ Matthew Graham.

And then there’s the binaural sound.

This play, and its Fright Night sister, an adaption of Ring, have both been recorded using binaural recording techniques. So if you listen back via a pair of headphones, you will hear an immersive 360 degree surround sound version of the play. To be clear, you don’t need special headphones. Good ones ideally, but any will do.

If you’ve never heard binaural audio before, then head over to YouTube and plug some headphones in for a few demos. I’ve recorded one or two things in binaural myself in the past.

In The Dark held a series of binaural previews of the two Fright Night plays last week, and I went along to one in a church crypt in Holborn. We took our seats wearing wireless headphones (think “silent disco” without the dancing), and then the lights were turned off and we listened to a spooky play.

The play makes excellent use of the space and the sound capabilities. A recurring audio motif of someone running and then screaming works really well (the screamer gets her own credit!). As I mentioned, the play maintains its 70s setting, and that means lots of analogue recording gear, all dutifully name-checked. If you’re an audiophile, you’ll love those details.

Sitting in a darkened room, with just the glowing green LEDs of other attendees illuminating things, worked really well. Radio is traditionally a secondary medium – you’re doing something else while you listen. It’s nice to be able to sit back without distractions and just listen. That, of course, is the raison d’etre of In The Dark.

The cast is strong with Julian Rhind-Tutt playing Dr Cripps and Romola Garai as Jill Creely. In the original TV production, her character was played by Jane Asher. In a nice touch, Asher has a cameo as Creely’s mother on the end of an authentic sounding analogue telephone line.

As I say, the production sounds amazing so congratulations to all concerned with the music, effects and sound mix.

Listen out for it on Saturday evening, along with its sister production. And ideally listen with headphones, in a darkened room with no distractions…

[Update: The Guardian published a good piece on making The Stone Tape, and BBC R&D has explained in some detail how the productions were made. Although they used a dummy head to record some of the atmosphere, because the production uses lots of audio sounds effects that aren’t actually there in the room (this isn’t a documentary after all), they used some clever bespoke audio techniques to create an apparent binaural audio image. This included using the mid capsule in a mid-side microphone – a stereo microphone that ordinarily allows more control over the stereo spread of sound, even after the recording has been made. The work that BBC R&D has been doing into binaural is clearly a critical part of this. Thanks to Eloise Whitmore who produced the sound mix, Chris Price from BBC R&D and Tony Churnside who helped record The Stone Tape for the extra information.]

Cycling Lights

The clocks have gone back, and so, while it was getting dark before when I returned home, we’re now in guaranteed darkness – at least if you finish work after 5.30pm or so. And as ever, it appears a lot of fellow cyclists really haven’t thought about their lights for a long time.

Yesterday, as I was riding a longer than usual route home, I was disappointed to see so many fellow cyclists not having lights.

One woman had a little rear light on her bike yesterday, but it wasn’t properly attached, meaning that most of the light was pointing forward. I tried to tell her at a set of traffic lights, but she just nodded and ignored me rather than spend two seconds righting the light.

I would actually have no problem if the police targeted days like yesterday along common cycling routes and gave warnings/fines to cyclists who weren’t illuminated. I believe that some police forces in the past have issued such tickets, with cyclists able to avoid the fine if they prove they’ve been out and got a light. It’s not as though lights are expensive either, with sets of lights available for less than £10.

MC Escher and Lee Miller

Last weekend saw me visiting a couple of exhibitions that don’t really have a great deal in common – although both artists will have been vaguely contemporaries – but are both of interest.

The Amazing World of MC Escher is said to be the first every exhibition of Escher’s work in the UK.

The exhibition is actually curated by the National Gallery of Scotland where it has been for the last few months, before transferring down to the excellent Dulwich Picture Gallery in London.

Maurits Cornelis Escher is probably most famous for his repeating patterns, that have a mathematical slant.

Escher himself wasn’t really that much interested in mathematics, although mathematicians were interested in him. A particular exhibition in the 1950s in the Netherlands that coincided with a mathematics conference meant that a number of mathematicians including Sir Roger Penrose and his father Lionel ended up getting in touch with him with new impossible things to feature in his woodcuts.

The skill of Escher in his print production is remarkable. He handprinted much of his own work over his career, and it must have been so technically complicated with the repeating patterns, having to match everything up perfectly.

Perhaps his most famous work comes later on in the exhibition. Ascending and Descending dates from 1960 and features the Penrose stairs – a seemingly ever climbing set of stairs arranged in a square. In the Escher image, some monk-like characters are seen either ever-ascending or ever-descending, as we view from on high.

Overall, a thoroughly good exhibition, and it works well with a recent BBC Four documentary, presented by Sir Roger Penrose himself, on Escher. Unfortunately, by the time you read this, it’ll have dropped off the iPlayer. But look out for a repeat in due course.

I should warn you that this is a popular exhibition, and therefore you may well want to book your tickets in advance – especially if you’re planning to attend at the weekend. You will need a bit of time in front of the pictures, and be able to get relatively close in to see the details in the prints.

I must admit that I’ve been a bit slow coming to photographer Lee Miller. There was an excellent Man Ray exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery back in 2013, which used one of his portraits of Miller as its “hero” image in publicity. In fact Miller was working as a model at the time, and went to him to study photography.

The superb new exhibition at the Imperial War Museum – Lee Miller: A Woman’s War – concentrates mostly on her war work, but it does encompass her early life, including her troubling upbringing (she was raped at young age by a family friend, and her father seemed to take a large number of nude photos of her when she was young), and early years living around the world, before her most important work during the war.

Miller, a US citizen, was living in London, and worked her way into Vogue magazine where most of the photographers of the time were male. At the outbreak of war, many of the men became war photographers, and so Miller managed to start getting assignments in the UK, concentrating initially on female workers. Most magazines started supporting the war effort, and when, for example, the ATS was running short of recruits, Vogue would publish a feature on the ATS to help drive recruitment. When cloth was in short supply, it was essential that Vogue backed fashions that utilised less material.

Assignments Miller gained included women taking on new responsibilities in the workplace, including munitions factories and various supporting jobs in the war effort. Miller went around the UK recording this, taking often absorbing photos, or bringing to bear some of the Vogue glamour to otherwise mundane jobs, sometimes bringing workers back to Vogue’s studios for the full shoot.

By the time of the Normandy landings, she had become recognised as a War Photographer – one of just handful of women to gain that acceptance. It’s fantastic to be able to see the uniform she had made for her in Saville Row.

Just three weeks after D-Day, she was in Normandy and recording the work of the field hospitals. Before long she was accompanying the troops as they crossed Europe, recording a liberated Paris, including photos of collaborators having their heads shaved, and finally into Germany.

By now Miller was not just filing Vogue with war photos, but she was filing her own accompanying copy. She even arrived at the concentration camps, which clearly affected her greatly.

One of the most famous photos of Miller is one she constructed with a colleague when they found themselves sleeping in Hitler’s apartment in Munich. The photo is of Miller having a bath in Hitler’s own bath-tub, her muddy boots on the floor, and a picture of Hitler propped up on the edge of the bath. It was a two-fingered salute to the tyrant.

The exhibition ends post-war, but Miller’s own work died down then too, and she suffered from depression in her later years, dying in 1977 at her home in East Sussex.

She was a remarkable woman, and the work speaks for itself. And a photography fan like me might lust after a Rolliflex or Zeiss Contax II such as the cameras she used – the newly printed exposures for this exhibition are so fresh.

I can’t recommend a visit to this exhibition enough.