finding BBC Radio audiobooks

The short answer to finding BBC Radio audiobooks that you can listen to outside the UK, is use BBC – Programmes – Categories: Audiobooks – Available now and then look for only the books that say “BBC Radio” after them.  Books that say “BBC Sounds” are not available outside the UK.

This doesn’t cover all of the things you may consider to be audiobooks, as BBC categorizes many of them as “Drama”.  The BBC website doesn’t provide any way to filter out just drama based on books.  It also doesn’t have any way to filter just drama presented on BBC Radio 4 Extra (which is mostly books).

Dramas are also not consistently named.  Sometimes it’s by author.  Sometimes it’s by author and book title.  Sometimes it’s by character name.  e.g.

  • BBC Radio 4 Extra: Dick Francis (author) – “Adaptations of the popular thrillers by the British steeplechase jockey turned crime writer.”
  • BBC Radio 4 Extra: Jack London – The Sea Wolf (author and title)
  • BBC Radio 4 Extra: Miss Marple (character) – “June Whitfield stars as the iconic sleuth created by the queen of the whodunit, Agatha Christie.”
  • BBC Radio 4 Extra: Sherlock Holmes (character)

The two main audiobook programs are Book of the Week and Book at Bedtime.

  • Book of the Week – BBC Radio 4 – audiobooks, usually in 5 or 10 episodes
    • Note books are only available for a limited time; only books with a speaker icon are actually available online
  • Book at Bedtime – BBC Radio 4 – audiobooks, usually in 5 or 10 episodes

It used to be the case that the multipart BBC Radio 4 audiobooks would be made available on BBC Radio 4 Extra in combined omnibus episodes at the end of the week (on Sundays I think), usually one omnibus for every 5 episodes.  However once the current pandemic crisis got underway, BBC Radio 4 Extra stopped posting omnibus editions, so you will have to listen to the individual episodes for now.

SIDEBAR: Don’t use the very similar BBC Sounds – Category – Audiobooks page as it doesn’t show which books are BBC Radio and which ones are BBC Sounds.  END SIDEBAR

Culture online in a time of crisis

What can you listen to and watch?  The following content is free, uninterrupted by ads (with a few exceptions that I will flag) and uninterrupted by news.  There are thousands of hours worth of audio and video listed below.  All of the content below is available in Canada (as far as I know there are no geographic restrictions).


I’m mostly an audio person.  Plus which audio uses much less bandwidth than video, which is particularly important on weekdays when high demand may interfere with the delivery of essential services.  Note that some BBC audio is only made available for a limited time, often for 30 days from date of airing.  Many of the BBC Radio websites listed below are also available as podcasts, but BBC Radio podcasts have ads outside the UK.

  • Gramophone magazine – Artists in isolation: enjoy performances by musicians from around the world
  • audiobook – The Peregrine (abridged) by JA Baker, read by David Attenborough – in 9 parts – BBC Radio 4 – 8 months left to listen as of March 21, 2020
  • Sunday Morning – BBC Radio 3 – three hours of classical music, hosted by Sarah Walker
  • Essential Classics – BBC Radio 3 – three hours of classical music every weekday
  • The Essay – BBC Radio 3 – 5-part thought-pieces around a theme. No omnibus; only separate episodes. – 1390 episodes available
    • The Essay – Higher Thoughts and the Meaning of Welsh Mountains – Episode 1, Snowdonia – “Jon Gower, writer and keen walker of the Welsh mountains, explores unique features of each of Wales’s five ranges, reflecting on what they mean to the people who live among them.”
  • In Our Time (Archive) – BBC Radio 4 – Melvyn Bragg and guests (usually university professors) discuss a topic.  It’s kind of like attending a university symposium. – One of my favourite shows.  – 896 episodes available
  • Moonrise – by Lillian Cunningham at the Washington Post – there are ads, but it’s a good enough podcast that I could endure them – “the origin story behind the United States’ decision to go to the moon” – in 12 episodes
  • 13 Minutes to the Moon – Season 1: The Apollo 11 story – BBC World Service – in 12 episodes
  • 13 Minutes to the Moon – Season 2: The Apollo 13 story – BBC World Service – has 6 episodes available, but there won’t be a final episode 7 for a while
  • Desert Island Discs – BBC Radio 4 – “Eight music tracks, a book and a luxury: what would you take to a desert island? Guests share the soundtrack of their lives.” – over 2000 episodes available
  • The Life Scientific – BBC Radio 4 – “Professor Jim Al-Khalili talks to leading scientists about their life and work, finding out what inspires and motivates them”
  • Ramblings – BBC Radio 4 – “Clare Balding joins interesting people for a walk through the countryside”
  • Folger Shakespeare Library – seven complete audio performances of Shakespeare plays, available for free streaming until July 1, 2020
  • You can find episodes of the first through sixth series of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy with varying availabilities.
  • audiobook – Landmarks (abridged) by Robert Macfarlane – in 5 parts – BBC Radio 4 Extra – 25 days left to listen as of March 21, 2020
  • You can listen to the first, original Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galxy 1978 radio series, in seven parts: Fit the First, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth – 17 days left to listen as of March 21, 2020
    • For the moment the first two episodes of the second series are available, with the rest coming week by week: Fit the Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh, Twelfth – 23 days left to listen as of March 21, 2020
  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is 42 – BBC Radio 4 Extra – 17 days left to listen as of March 21, 2020

For more audiobooks than I have highlighted above, you can check out:

I used to listen to CBC Radio literally all day long, mostly CBC Radio 2.  But now I listen pretty much exclusively to the BBC.  Mostly because I find the CBC hammers me with ads while BBC (from their website) is ad-free.  Nevertheless…

Audio – Podcasts I listen to

Podcasts I listen to, sorted by largest number of episodes I’ve listened to:

  1. 99% Invisible – by Roman Mars – it’s sort of a podcast about design, but I think of it more as a podcast of interesting things – this is free to listen to, but it does have ads (after the main episode) and is listener supported, you can donate to the PRX network
  2. The Memory Palace – by Nate DiMeo – this is sort of a podcast about history, but I think of it more like little carefully-crafted gems of stories, often with a strong emotional impact – this is free to listen to, but it does have ads (after the main episode I think) and is listener supported, you can donate to the PRX network
  3. Travel with Rick Steves – I don’t think anyone is going to be travelling for a long time, so this may be a way to voyage vicariously – Rick Steves is a good interviewer and ranges widely – it’s not just episodes about destinations, he also talks to travel writers and other authors, he has even done segments about space missions – currently at 597 episodes (I don’t know if all of them are online)
  4. Spacepod – by Carrie Nugent – she interviews a space scientist about their research, in some detail
  5. Talking Headways (audio only on libsyn, episodes with descriptions and transcripts on Streetsblog) – by Jeff Wood – “a weekly podcast about sustainable transportation and urban design” – listener supported, you can donate to The Overhead Wire on Patreon
  6. The Urbanist (from Monocle 24) – usually hosted by Andrew Tuck – “the show all about the cities we live in”
  7. BBC History Extra – now has Acast ads inserted at roll-in and part-way through the show regardless of whether you listen on the website or by podcast.  If your podcast app has the ability to skip intros, skip the first 30 seconds, which is now ads.
  8. Emperors of Rome – by Matt Smith – You can find it on Apple podcasts or the direct URL from La Trobe University is
  9. Gresham College Lectures – this is what it says on the tin, lectures by university professors for a general audience, usually a series of lectures on a particular theme – you can find the audio podcast in Apple podcasts or the full videos of the lectures in the video section below
  10. When in Rome – by Matt Smith – this is a subscription podcast, it is starting its fifth series, you can subscribe through the Kickstarter (44 hours left as of this writing) – you can also find it on Apple podcasts or Google podcasts – “place and space in the Roman Empire”
  11. Carbone 14, le magazine de l’archéologie – France Culture


Be mindful about when you’re watching video, as it can use a lot of bandwidth.

  • The Gardener – TVO – Frank Cabot’s extraordinary garden Les Quatre Vents, in La Malbaie, Quebec.
  • L’espace concerts de France Musique
  • New York Metropolitan Opera – “Each day, a different encore presentation from the Met Opera Live in HD series is being made available for free streaming on the Met website, with each performance available for a period of 23 hours, from 7:30 p.m. Eastern until 6:30 p.m. the following day.” – I am not actually an opera fan, but you may be.
  • The UK Royal Institution Christmas Lectures (started by Michael Faraday in 1825).  The lectures present scientific subjects to a general audience.  They have lectures as far back as 1968 (not every year is available).
    The 2019 lectures were by Hannah Fry and called Secrets and Lies.  “An unseen layer of mathematics governs every aspect of our world.”
  • Story Time from Space – astronauts on the International Space Station read stories.
  • Carl Sagan’s Cosmos: A Personal Voyage (1980) on Twitch.  Start at 03:03:51 for Episode 1 “The Shores of the Cosmic Ocean” – this link will take you directly there:
    (Yes, it’s an official site supported by Ann Druyan.  She co-wrote the Cosmos series and married in Carl Sagan in 1981.)
  • Salma The Syrian Chef read by the author Danny Ramadan on Twitter (Periscope).
    More information and link to buy the book at
  • L’Orchestre symphonique de Montréal – with a new concert available every Monday, Wednesday and Friday
  • London Symphony Orchestra“Each Sunday and Thursday from 22 March 2020 we will be streaming a concert from our archive on our YouTube channel.”
  • Gresham College Lectures – this is what it says on the tin, lectures by university professors for a general audience, usually a series of lectures on a particular theme – you can also download PDFs of their presentations as well as PDF transcripts
  • British Museum – I don’t know how long they will keep the exhibition tours online
    May 20, 2020 – Pompeii Live – NOTE: contains sexual references and swear words that may be unsuitable for some audiences
    May 27, 2020 – Vikings Live
  • UK National Theatre – National Theatre at Home – theatre productions available on YouTube for a week starting Thursdays at 7pm UK time (2pm Eastern)
    May 21 – A Streetcar Named Desire, with Gillian Anderson
    May 28 – This House
    June 4 – Coriolanus
  • Ontario Stratford Festival – theatre productions released on YouTube each Thursday at 7pm Eastern, available for three weeks.  Follow their Twitter @stratfest for more info.
    May 21, 2020 – Timon of Athens
    May 28, 2020 – Love’s Labours Lost
    June 4, 2020 – Hamlet
    June 11, 2020 – King John
    June 18, 2020 – The Adventures of Pericles
    June 25, 2020 – Cleopatra
    July 2, 2020 – Romeo and Juliet
    July 9, 2020 – The Taming of the Shrew
  • France + Canada TV5 Unis – many excellent shows in French, e.g.
    Des racines et des ailes has episodes typically available for a week from Thursdays to Thursdays

I literally never watch CBC TV (I can’t stand ads).  But anyway…

  • CBC Gem (online TV)
  • is a paid service that is temporarily free in the current situation – “ is a subscription-based educational streaming platform … thousands of programs, documentaries, audio content and archival material from CBC/Radio-Canada”

Public Broadcaster Guides