With England in lockdown again, and many others parts of the UK enduring severe restrictions, people are looking to film, books, music, online art, podcasts and more for their cultural kicks.
Here, BBC presenters and journalists share their lockdown picks. It’s an eclectic list of suggestions for where to look next if you fancy some inspiration.
The Trial Of The Chicago 7 (Netflix)
I like a courtroom drama, I must say. For people who don’t know the Chicago 7, they were students and hippies and anti-Vietnam protesters who picketed at the 1968 Democratic Party Convention and were arrested for inciting riots.
If you remember that year, it was a really highly-charged time. Martin Luther King was assassinated in April, and then Bobby Kennedy in June – so this is an extraordinary snapshot of those times. It still has a resonance, particularly in how the one black defendant is treated. In the time of Black Lives Matter and the George Floyd protests, it reminds you that not everything has changed, by a long way.
Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart (Picador books)
This is set in the time of Thatcherism, and it’s a tragic tale of this young lad Shuggie Bain, who is protecting and caring for an alcoholic mother, living in extreme poverty. It’s rather Thomas Hardy-esque, in that you know everyone is doomed to disappointment or death, but it feels very real. And like the film, one suspects life hasn’t changed very much for a lot of people.
The novel is nominated for the Booker Prize, although I don’t generally take that as a massive recommendation. I have certainly brought Booker-winning novels and thought they were dreadful.
The Queen’s Gambit (Netflix)
Anya Taylor-Johnson plays Beth Harman, who’s in an orphanage at the beginning of the film, and is intrigued by the janitor who plays chess. He gradually agrees to teach her and it turns out she’s an absolute prodigy. It’s based on a novel by someone called Walter Tevis but it feels like it ought to be true. It’s about the connections you make as an orphan – friendships and connections and adoption. And there’s a lot of chess.
In fact, we started playing chess at home, inspired by it, and my wife is miles better than me and she can see several moves ahead. We don’t play anymore. It got too annoying.
The Asian Network presenter has hosted its breakfast show since 2017, having joined the station in 2015 from community radio.
Strictly Come Dancing (BBC One, iPlayer)
Watching my next door neighbour Clara [Amfo] absolutely bossing it on screen is amazing. I’m a huge fan of BBC One’s Strictly Come Dancing anyway, but seeing Clara shine like a Queen is great. Rooting for her no doubt. And I usually find anything music or dance related to be therapeutic for me. It’s fun, an easy watch and it’s a great way to wind down. Grab some munchies and sit on the sofa while having your own party. It’s perfect.
Made In Heaven (Amazon Prime)
I’ve also just finished watching season one of Made In Heaven. A couple of colleagues have been meaning to get me into it and now I’m hooked. It’s more of a drama series, but it’s so good and keeps you on the edge of your seat at the end of every episode. Can’t wait to start the second season.
Sister Sister (Netflix)
And thirdly, I’m watching Sister Sister, a 1990s US sitcom about twins Tia and Tamera who were separated at birth and reunite 14 years later. It’s brought back my youth. And you can never get enough. If you grew up watching Tia and Tamera, you already know how good it is. If you fancy a giggle, put them on.”
DJ Friction has been on the BBC airwaves since 2002, and is now presenting the Asian Network’s evening show.
Space videos (YouTube)
It’s the biggest kind of escapism – forget pandemics, let’s talk about 1,000-year journeys to other galaxies.
They’ll swing between stuff that’s happening in our solar system to real mad stuff like, what will the universe look like a trillion years from now? And then they’ll break it down using real physics and real science.
The Real Housewives of America (Sky, ITV Be, Amazon Prime Video)
I don’t watch much TV or reality shows,” says Friction. “But I fell into this hole of watching The Real Housewives of Atlanta and The Real Housewives of Potomac. It wasn’t until the summer that I went, ‘Wait a minute, they’re the only two reality shows from that franchise that feature black women. Every other show features white women.
I’m subconsciously dealing with Black Lives Matter, race and everything that’s happening this year via these reality shows. Believe me, I’ve fallen so deep into them. Anyone who asks a question about the seasons or the episodes, I have the answer.
Friction has been rediscovering The Beatles by listening to all their albums back-to-back again.
“I just got back into it and thought, my God, how did these guys write nearly every genre of music that we’re still listening to? And you’re telling me they released The White Album and Yellow Submarine and Sgt Pepper within the space of 18 months? It’s ridiculous.”
Will Gompertz has been arts editor for BBC News since 2009 and before that was a director at the Tate Gallery.
What I Love (podcast)
I’m loving this podcast, presented by the award-winning theatre director Ian Rickson. It has a simple format: one guest with whom Rickson has worked selects three things he or she loves. Chiwetel Ejiofor included a Michael Kiwanuka song, Kate Tempest picked a book by William Blake. Good listening.
Strata: William Smith’s Geological Maps (Thames & Hudson)
Some books are beautiful, others are enlightening. Strata is both. Packed with exquisite illustrations, it presents the work of William Smith, a 17th Century geologist, who was the first person to comprehensively map the earth beneath our feet. It’s the best non-fiction book I’ve read in a long time.
Call My Agent (Netflix)
French TV doesn’t get that much attention for some reason – but they produce some great programmes. Spiral is the best police procedural on telly, while Call My Agent is the perfect lockdown escape: uptight actor’s agents dealing with uptight actors in a Paris office where they end up either bickering or sleeping with each other. Or both. Tres bon!
Notes On Blindness (Download, Netflix)
This is a documentary about the writer John Hull, who went blind just before the birth of his son and started to make a diary of audio cassettes. In the film you hear all the actual recording, and it’s just incredible.
You’re immersed in a world of sound, instead of being totally bombarded with visual information. It sounds like it should be a podcast, but it really works as a film – delving into the mind and the body and dreams and memory. I think it’s a masterpiece.
Bandcamp (Independent music store)
I’m Bandcamp all the way, for everything. They do an amazing thing once a month called Bandcamp Friday, where every artist gets 100% of the profit on their merchandise or downloads or CD sales. It’s the only place that does that in the music industry.
The last thing I bought was a compilation by a wonderful little indie label called Salmon Universe, who put out a lot of ambient, electronic music. I like compilations because you’re led to artists from all across the world, from Ohio to Japan. It’s amazing.
Islands (RTÉ podcast)
This is made by the world-renowned sound recordist Chris Watson, who’s teamed up with the writer/presenter Luke Clancy to take a journey across the atlas of remote islands, from Ross Island to the Galapagos to the possibly mythical isle of HyBrasil.
It’s full of stories and sounds, and it’s beautiful. I just like the way you can use podcasts to express something emotional, rather than factual. So you get a sense of ethereal escapism within that.
Mark has been the BBC’s music reporter since 2015, and presented 6 Music’s History of Video Game Music last year.
Ted Lasso (Apple TV)
After Schitt’s Creek ended, I was desperately searching for a TV show that hit the same sweet spot of belly-laughs and heart-warming humour. This is that show.
Starring Jason Sudeikis, it tells the story of an American Football coach who comes to London to oversee a fictional Premiership team, despite knowing nothing about football. Unbeknownst to him, the club’s owner (played with delicious relish by Hannah Waddingham) is trying to get the team relegated to spite her adulterous husband. I won’t spoil the plot, but the show’s relentlessly optimistic tone is just what I needed in lockdown.
Pikmin 3 Deluxe (Nintendo)
Pikmin isn’t as well-known as Nintendo’s bigger franchises, like Mario and Zelda, but it’s been made with just as much care and attention to detail. You play as a crew of astronauts, stranded on a hostile planet, who have to enlist a crop of plant-like creatures to help them find the missing parts of their spaceship.
You command up to 100 of the little Pikmin, each of whom have different abilities (some are fighters, some are swimmers, others are impervious to electricity) to solve a bunch of increasingly tricky puzzles against a time limit. It’s simultaneously relaxing and panic-inducing; but I’ve been focusing on completing the less stressful challenge mode with my 10-year-old, who just likes throwing the Pikmin around and laughing at their cute noises.
Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia (Warner Music)
Rush-released at the start of the first lockdown, this is still my favourite record of the year. A sweat-glistened hymn to the dancefloor, it never fails to lift my mood.
The album is getting the live treatment later this month, with a virtual gig that’s been dubbed Studio 2054 – with Dua promising (deep breath) “a kaledioscopic, rocket-fuelled, journey through time, space, mirrorballs, roller discos, bucket hats, belting beats, throbbing basslines and an absolute slam-dunk of the best times in global club culture”. See you there. Hotpants optional.
The BBC Radio 3 broadcaster presents late-night show Unclassified, which showcases music by composers who might have a classical background but also draw from pop, rock, jazz, and experimental music.
Ms Ice Sandwich by Mieko Kawakami (Pushkin Press)
The Japanese author’s novella is evocative but breezy, conversational and unsentimental. She’s dealing with the difficulties and complexity of human life but in a really relatable, warm and humorous way.
It’s about the relationship between an adolescent and their mother. It’s a coming-of-age tale and about the anxieties of being a teenager, but you get to see it from both sides. You can sense what the mother’s feeling as well. She’s a fortune teller and their grandma’s ill upstairs. It’s a family tale about female identity in Japan.
Fat Out Fest (YouTube)
The annual music festival from Salford-based underground and alternative promoters, Fat Out Fest happened live online this year, and they are now putting sets on YouTube every Friday over the next month.
They really do take it to the edge. On 20 November they’re broadcasting Lone Taxidermist – her shows are wild. It’s performance art as well as music. Her new show Marra starts with her singing along to a cattle market. An actual cattle market. Her voice is synced with the auctioneer and Maxine Peake is in the video. It’s out there.
Radiophrenia is a Glasgow sound art radio station that’s streaming 24/7 until 22 November. I was listening to an Italian sound artist called Tobia Bandini. He’d interviewed all these people asking for their response to the apocalypse and then he’d mix their stories – they’re all in Italian – with electronic soundscapes.
If you want to tune out of the news then this is a really nice place to escape to. There’s all sorts in there, and a lot of it is just really pleasing and quite hypnotic.