The arrival of Brian Reed’s next project under the Serial banner is imminent, and it looks like we’re getting a mix of international intrigue, conspiratorial thinking, and (probable) governmental chicanery. Almost half a decade after the release of S-Town, his groundbreaking podcast that garnered critical acclaim for its novelistic approach to telling the story of a very complicated man from a very complicated place, Reed is heading to England to tackle one of the stranger political affairs in that country’s recent history.
The Trojan Horse Affair will see Reed collaborating with Hamza Syed, a British journalist working on his very first story, as they dig into a political scandal from the early 2010s that was sparked when an anonymous letter was sent to the city council of Birmingham — where Syed is from — alleging some sort of extremist Islamist conspiracy to take over the city’s school system. The inflammatory accusations in the letter would later be debunked, but when the letter was leaked to the British press, it sparked a nationwide brouhaha that led to the British government enacting harsher policies that ultimately targeted the country’s Muslim communities. (It’s hard not to see some possible parallels with the ongoing American tensions around “critical race theory” in schools, but let’s not get too ahead of ourselves here.)
The team gets into the story by asking a fundamental question that has seemingly never been answered, despite the scandal being almost a decade old: Who wrote the Trojan Horse letter, and why? This being a Serial Productions joint, that question is probably just the beginning. As the show’s press release notes: “Together, Hamza and Brian discover that who wrote the Trojan Horse letter was really only the first mystery to solve, as it started to seem like officials knew more than they were letting on. Had an entire country been duped?”
The podcast will mark Serial Productions’ third release since its sale to the New York Times in the summer of 2020, following Nice White Parents, Chana Joffe-Walt’s dive into the American school system through the lens of a single school in Brooklyn, and The Improvement Association, Zoe Chace’s investigation into allegations of election fraud in Bladen County, North Carolina. While This American Life, the famed radio show and podcast that spun off Serial Productions, has done a bunch of stories in other countries over the years, this appears to be Serial Productions’ first adventure abroad. It’s edited by Serial’s Sarah Koenig, and it’s also produced by Rebecca Laks.
All eight episodes of The Trojan Horse Affair are scheduled to drop on February 3. You can listen to the trailer here.