What an award-winning podcast taught me about podcasting

Nick Hilton
7 min readMar 27, 2024


The Movers and Shakers collecting the Podcast of the Year award

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Six people with Parkinson’s walk into a pub — no, it’s not a joke. It’s something that happens, every few weeks, thanks to the Movers & Shakers podcast. The six Parkies are Rory Cellan-Jones, Mark Mardell, Jeremy Paxman, Gillian Lacey-Solymar, Paul Mayhew-Archer and Sir Nicholas Mostyn, and together they represent some of the UK’s most prominent people living with the condition.

We get them into the pub — a fancy one in west London — and cram them into one of the tiniest, least Parkinson’s friendly, spaces you can imagine. I ply them with drinks (bitter for Rory and Jeremy, “the cheapest lager” for Sir Nick) and scuttle around trying to keep them from getting tangled in the mess of wiring that accompanies all our podcast recordings. And then they sit down and talk about living with Parkinson’s, a degenerative neurological disorder that affects hundreds of thousands of Britons (and many more worldwide). Episodes last for about half an hour, are filled with humour and wisdom (predominantly, though not exclusively, from our range of expert guests), and are listened to, each Saturday morning, by vast swathes of the Parkinson’s community. Last week the show was honoured with the Podcast of the Year gong at the Broadcasting Press Guild awards, which took place at a swanky hotel in central London.

That award felt like a moment to reflect on the show, what it means, and what it has taught me about podcasts. As regular readers of my blogs and newsletters will know, I am something of a unicorn in the world of podcasting (or a reverse unicorn, where the horn, rather than protruding out of the head, is being driven into it). Where professional podcasters have long been championing the medium and its opportunities — and evangelising for the revenue-generating potential — I’ve often struggled with the “why podcasts?” question. In short, I’ve been a bear in a bull market.

“Why a podcast?” people ask me. The reasons I usually give are simple. They’re pretty cost effective, I say. They’re more dynamic than text-based communications, and therefore more likely to be consumed by your target audience, I might add. The very best podcasts, I go on, are every bit as consumer-friendly as the best of radio or TV or film. But the real answer to the question of “why podcasts?” is more simple: because I make podcasts.

And the reason I make podcasts is simple and twofold. Firstly, they are easy to make, compared to basically any other multimedia format. I have a bag full of microphones, stands, cabling and recorders. All in, that bag is worth a couple of thousand pounds. And with that, I record dozens of shows. Those microphones — bought from a dingy shop off the Tottenham Court Road — have recorded Tony Blair, Mary Beard, Tilda Swinton, one of The Wiggles, and hundreds of other luminaries. So, the kit is simple.

The second reason is that I’m in control. I get to decide what the episodes sound like, how long they are, what they’re called and about. I launch a new show when I’m ready, not when a broadcaster is ready. And so I feel like I’m in charge.

But these are practical reasons that essentially amount to the trite observation that podcasting is easier to create than, you know, high-quality video content. Duh. What I’ve always struggled with is finding something that podcasts can do better than any other format. At times, it has felt to me like podcasts represent a compromise: always cheaper, often easier.

Movers and Shakers has taught me a valuable lesson, which I want to reflect here. Winning a major award like Podcast of the Year from the BPG (an award which, the year before, went to Jon Ronson for Things Fell Apart) for a show about Parkinson’s feels like a watershed moment. It is a recognition that, over the past year or so, we’ve built a community for the podcast, and also managed to become a loud, activist voice for that community. But more than anything, it is a tribute to the format: 30 minutes of laughter, reflection and advice. Weekly episodes on everything from how to play walking football to whether how you can pre-prepare end-of-life medical decisions. For the Parkinson’s community, it has come a pillar; a regular ballast that takes the impact of the disease, by turns, very seriously and deeply unseriously.

When we first started thinking about Movers and Shakers there was a conversation about whether the show should be offered to the BBC, the UK’s public broadcaster. After all, Rory, Jeremy, Mark and Gillian are all long time broadcasters for the Beeb, not to mention the fact that Paul co-wrote The Vicar of Dibley, one of the corporation’s greatest ever comedy series. We didn’t do that, mainly because nobody wanted to spend months, if not years, jumping through commissioning hoops. We wanted to get out there and make the show.

The gang in the pub (plus two guests)

But the reality is that the BBC wouldn’t have been interested in Movers and Shakers, as it ended up. Even with the award win proving, objectively, the show’s success, the responsibilities of the BBC, as a taxpayer funded broadcaster, are very different from our responsibilities as a ragtag group of advocates and journalists. So far, we’ve produced 35 episodes, and we show no sign of letting up. If the BBC were to make a radio programme about Parkinson’s they would commission a one-off for Radio 4. After all, there is an onus on them to represent the broadest possible range of people in their programming. They only have a few slots a week to talk about health, and how many different conditions are there that need talking about? So you probably get a package about Parkinson’s every several months, and that makes sense given their priorities and requirements.

But for the community of people living with Parkinson’s, that’s not enough. For them, Parkinson’s isn’t something that can be thought about a few times a year — it’s something they’re living with, day in and day out. You can’t have an honest, humorous, heated conversation about an illness if you only give it a half-hour slot every several months. And this is true of almost every medium: there will only be so many newspaper features about Parkinson’s, only so many ITV news inserts, only so many sub-plots in Sky dramas. And so it falls to a more flexible, dynamic medium to pick up the baton.

Podcasting has proved the perfect home for Movers and Shakers. It’s allowed us to access an audience of many, many thousands of people who either live with the condition, have loved ones living with the condition, or are fascinated by the banter between some broadcasting legends. It has allowed us to dive into a level of detail that makes people feel seen and heard. These are people who often feel let down by the health service, by their doctors and nurses, employers or benefits assessors. It is an entertainment product, first and foremost, but it’s also a support group. That’s why, despite the fact it’s a technical nightmare, we still record the show down at the pub: so that people feel like they’re having a pint with the gang, joining in with a laugh and a moan, and the sharing in the experiences of living with Parkinson’s.

Could the Movers and Shakers phenomenon be replicated? Part of the magic of the show is that it’s always been basically non-commercial. This is something that podcasting facilitates, but the reality is that there are ever more commercial interests and stakeholders involved in the podcasting scene. Is there a world in which a podcast for UK Parkies generates £20,000 of advertising revenue per episode? No, I don’t think so. And attempting to do that would impinge on the product, cluttering it with awkward advertising or introducing product placement that undermines the show’s integrity as a voice for the community. No, I think the reality is that, for a show like this — which addresses a single specific community, and treats their lives as real and big and vital — you have to sand the edges off the natural capitalistic impulses.

But that’s doable. Movers and Shakers exists because six fabulous broadcasters give up their time, for free (or, at most, for a pint and a scotch egg), to champion their cause. It exists because I am a terrible businessman and would rather make something I’m interested in than something that makes me *shudder* money. All producers and production companies should, I think, be willing to take on projects like this at cost. Not just out of the charitible impulse, but because they’re important. They’re important for putting your name, your company’s name, out there, but also for showing what podcasts can be. They don’t just have to be middle-aged politicians chatting about what they got right and wrong in government. They don’t have to be two Gen Z women talking about which rapppers’ yachts they’ve done coke on. They don’t have to be inane arguments about how to make Manchester United great again. They can also be something special, something that couldn’t exist in any other format. (And if you’re interested in replicating the Movers and Shakers format for a different illness or under-represented community, my inbox is always open).

What I’ve learned from Movers and Shakers is a valuable lesson in how important podcasts can be. Each week we get messages and letters from listeners, with the recurring theme that people love the show because they finally feel like people are talking about their lives. Human lives are so diverse, the experiences so differing. Podcasting allows for a depth and representation that linear programming can never accommodate. And that’s why I think it’s important that a show like Movers and Shakers wins an award like Podcast of the Year: because it is a triumph, not just for the content we make, but for the possibilities of what podcasts can be.

Listen to Movers and Shakers below.



Nick Hilton

Writer. Media entrepreneur. London. Interested in technology and the media. Co-founder podotpods.com Email: nick@podotpods.com.