Podcast: Fortunately… with Fi and Jane

BBC’s Fi Glover and Jane Garvey

The Fortunately podcast – and the joy of women being irreverent on air

Every week Garvey, presenter of Woman’s Hour and outspoken advocate of equal pay, and Glover, presenter of the Listening Project, meet in the piazza at Broadcasting House. Sometimes they have guests – previous piazza visitors include Jon Snow, Ed Miliband, Samira Ahmed and youthful iPM presenter Luke Jones, who admitted his friends had warned him that Glover and Garvey would “eat me alive”. But the podcast is at its funniest when the two women are basically just having a chat about everything from media sexism to overweight cats. As fellow fan Pippa Wright, an author who works in publishing, says, “it feels like you’re listening in to a conversation between your cleverest and funniest friends.”

Like many of its listeners, I didn’t realise just how much I needed something like the BBC’s Fortunately podcast until it was launched last year. “I was surprised, though I probably shouldn’t have been, by how refreshing people have found it,” says Jane Garvey, who co-hosts the podcast with fellow Radio 4 broadcaster Fi Glover. “Now I appreciate that we were offering something a bit different, but [when we began] I hadn’t really thought about it, to my shame.”

The podcast began after Rhian Roberts, a digital editor at BBC Radio Music, saw Glover and Garvey co-presenting at a radio conference. “They were so funny I thought it would make great sense to have them together,” she says. “They have a sort of mischievous wit with proper thinking underneath it, and giving them a podcast made perfect sense.”

The BBC are very risk-averse. Their idea of hell is two people, especially two women, talking in an unscripted fashion

Initially, the show involved the pair introducing clips of recent radio highlights. This was, says Jane, because of the BBC powers-that-be.  “[They’re] very risk-averse,” she says. “Their idea of hell is two people, especially two women, talking in an unscripted fashion.” Of course, it turned out that this was just what listeners wanted to hear. “It quickly became obvious,” says Rhian Roberts, “that listeners enjoyed the conversations between Fi and Jane and were impatiently having to sit through the clips.”

Because BBC interdepartmental rules mean podcast-only shows can’t be promoted on radio, Fortunately has relied on Twitter to gain listeners. And it’s worked. “I think we were at eight times the number of downloads in December than we were in August,” Garvey says. “It’s a brilliant word-of-mouth, well, hit is probably too strong a word, but it’s finding its target audience.”

Garvey appreciates the podcast’s freeform nature. “It’s made me even more impatient in a way with the structured and straightjacketed nature of broadcasting on radio, where I’m told at the start of an interview that this will go on for 9 minutes and 14 seconds… That’s just a nonsensical way to communicate with people.” Unsurprisingly, not everyone at the BBC quite gets how Fortunately works.  “A woman who’s quite senior at the BBC asked me ‘Who writes the scripts? How do you make it sound so natural?’” says Garvey. “I had to say ‘Can I just stop you there….’”

Glover and Garvey’s ability to cover an eclectic range of subjects in a very funny way is a huge part of Fortunately’s appeal. “I think it reflects how women really speak to each other outside of overly packaged media conversations,” says Pippa Wright. “You do have a good old tub-thumping conversation about politics or sexism, and then slip to asking your friend where she got that nice jumper from and has she done something new with her hair.”

Another thing that makes Fortunately so appealing for many women is the fact that both presenters are over 40: Garvey is 53, Glover is 48 . Podcasting has opened our ears to more female voices, but sometimes it can feel as if they were all born after 1985. “I’m too old to be a millennial, and I although I love podcasts and listen to at least six or seven a week, I do find some of them too earnest for my taste,” says Pippa Wright. “I relate far more to the humorous and slightly cynical take of two older women who’ve lived a life (or two).”

This lack of earnestness is crucial. Although they regularly deny it on the podcast, Glover and Garvey clearly like each other a lot – it was both hilarious and strangely touching when Garvey, visiting a flu-ridden Glover, cried “I don’t want you to die!”. But they do spend a lot of each episode gleefully mocking each other, and no subject, whether it’s pornography or Jane’s equal pay activism (Glover kindly suggested she should have stood on a cake tin to make herself look taller when being interviewed on the subject by Channel 4 News) is treated with reverence. Wright sees the podcast as a product of “Generation Smash Hits, which was so defining of women of a certain age – the belief that you can discuss anything at all, from the serious to the ridiculous, as long as you have wit and style and never take yourself too seriously.”

Garvey says she’s proud that Fortunately allows her and Glover to be so honest about the realities of their lives – including her own well-publicised criticism of her employers for paying women a lot less than their male counterparts. “It’s coincided with this period at the BBC where there’s been all this trouble going on about money, so it’s been rather brilliant,” she says. “I treat Fortunately and my sessions with Fi as a sort of therapy, if I’m being honest.”

Luckily there’s no sign of Fortunately running out of steam. “For me it’s genuinely a thing of pleasure,” says Garvey. “I do no work, which suits me down to the ground because I’m lazy in the extreme. I turn up, I see [Fi], she makes me laugh, she takes the piss out of me relentlessly, and as far as I’m concerned it’s a thing of beauty and I never want to stop doing it.” She laughs. “I think now we’d keep doing it even if the BBC dropped us.”

Courtesy of The Pool

One thought on “Podcast: Fortunately… with Fi and Jane

  1. I have been delighted by these two, worked my way from the present down to episode 48 in an orgy of laughter, Unfortunately Jim Al-Khalili shows these two air heads up for what they are.
    Deeply disappointed, they should stick to radio personalities and not try to be intellectual.

Leave a Reply