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The BBC's Brexitcast podcast is excellent – but will the move to TV ruin it?

Brexitcast hosts Chris Mason, Laura Kuenssberg, Adam Fleming and Katya Adler are moving the show to BBC TV
Brexitcast hosts Chris Mason, Laura Kuenssberg, Adam Fleming and Katya Adler are moving the show to BBC TV

‘But what will you do when Brexit is over?” say commenters on social media every time an episode of Brexitcast goes online. Not a problem, it seems, because Brexit will never truly be over. We’ll still be talking about it in five billion years when the Sun dies. So we might as well settle in.

Perhaps that’s the thinking behind the BBC’s decision to turn the cult podcast, presented by political correspondents Laura Kuenssberg, Katya Adler, Chris Mason and Adam Fleming, into a weekly TV series on BBC One starting in September. The show will fill the Thursday night post-Question Time slot vacated by Andrew Neil and This Week.

Brexitcast is excellent: a well-informed discussion of the latest Brexit developments from the BBC’s political experts that also allows them to let their hair down a little. It’s funny, well-informed and refreshingly sane.

But does it belong on TV? Being converted to the screen is a reward bestowed on more and more podcasts lately, a way of recognising that an online-only audio series – one of the cheapest formats to produce – is popular enough for someone to want to spend money on it. It’s already happened to podcasts such as Serial, Lore and My Dad Wrote a Porno. But the podcast-to-TV conversion is risky in terms of quality, and every screen interpretation of a podcast I’ve seen so far has been disappointing. When you add visuals, you lose something.

Jo Brand joked about throwing battery acid on politicians Credit: Warren Allott

There is a fine heritage of conventional radio successfully making the jump to TV and it’s easy to think of examples of the times it’s worked a treat, from Hancock’s Half Hour to The Mighty Boosh. These are comedies, of course, and topical podcasts are untested waters. Brexitcast will be the first BBC podcast to become a TV show.

When the announcement was made, Chris Mason said that he was “gobsmacked” that “our little nerd fest”, as he called it, was being hoiked up to BBC One. To my ears, one of the best things about Brexitcast is the sense of reactivity and gossipy conversation. It feels handmade. The best episodes are the “emergency” ones, sometimes just a 10-minute reaction to some eye-popping development recorded in a Brussels café at 3am and uploaded immediately. It feels exciting and up-to-the minute. But the “little nerd fest” will become something bigger on TV, and, in the process, I’m worried it’ll lose its magic.

Radio’s unique intimacy maybe also explains the controversy, including brief police involvement, in which Jo Brand found herself when she joked about throwing battery acid at politicians on Radio 4’s comedy panel show Heresy (Tuesday). Would Brand have said such a thing if she’d been speaking on TV? Radio is fertile ground for provocative off-the-cuff comedy because people are looser of tongue when there isn’t a camera in their face. And then, to us listening at home and denied an accompanying facial expression, a joke can be heard as a statement. Brand, an experienced comedian, must surely have seen that coming. Anyway, the BBC removed the clip from the repeat of the programme and we will hear it no more.

Questions of listening and complicity are central in Book of the Week: The Deaf Republic (Radio 4, Monday to Friday), a powerful, experimental multi-voice adaptation of Ilya Kaminsky’s poetic fable with an introduction by writers including Andrew Motion and Max Porter. The performers are Arinzé Kene, Fiona Shaw, Christopher Eccleston and Noma Dumezweni.

Kaminsky’s collection of lyric poems is bound together by a dramatic narrative – a story of state violence in a town under martial law. After a deaf boy is murdered by police, the townspeople become wilfully deaf in a movement of civil disobedience. But can this deafness become detachment, or even collusion? Kaminsky was born in the Soviet Union and is hard of hearing himself. The poems ask how listening, or being unable or unwilling to listen, can be a political act.

On radio, I am finding it hard to listen to. There is torture and execution and sex and swearing, which is not exactly the norm at 9.45am on Radio 4. It’s a difficult and powerful piece of work, which says: “At the trial of God, we will ask: Why did you allow all this? And the answer will be an echo: Why did you allow all this?”

It’s lurid and unsettling. Often I’ve found myself wanting to switch it off. I think that’s the point.

Will the move to TV ruin the BBC's Brexitcast podcast? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.