Great Lives
Great Lives
BBC Radio 4
Biographical series in which guests choose someone who has inspired their lives.
Chinua Achebe, Nigerian novelist
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown picks Nigerian novelist, Chinua Achebe, the author of Things Fall Apart. With archive contributions from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Chinua Achebe himself. He was born in Nigeria in 1930 and Yasmin Alibhai Brown met him twice in Uganda in the 1960s and remains deeply impressed by both his books and his life. The presenter is Matthew Parris, the producer is Miles Warde
Apr 15
27 min
The Talented Mr Ripley author, Patricia Highsmith
Director Jonathan Kent was friends with Patricia Highsmith. He'd been playing Tom Ripley for a tv show, and staying in the hotel suite next door to her. She took a shine to him. Now he repays the debt with this revealing and intriguing programme to celebrate a hundred years since her birth in 1921. Although best known for the Ripley books, she first broke through with Alfred Hitchcock's film adaptation of her novel, Strangers on a Train. She was, says Kent, not so interested in murder as in what happens to a character after the crime is done. "I read sometimes how odd she was - I didn't find her odd at all. She was shy, very shy. She had a fringe, a sort of hank of hair that would fall over her eyes and I would catch her sneaking looks at me. But there was nothing odd about her. Perhaps my standards of oddness are different." Jonathan Kent The programme features extensive archive of Highsmith, plus the film director Anthony Minghella; at least one other Tom Ripley actor; and her award winning biographer, Andrew Wilson, who has a few Highsmithian novels on the way. This is the first in a new series which also features the African novelist, Chinua Achebe; the Plantagenet king Edward III; and the British entertainer Kenny Lynch. The presenter is Matthew Parris, the producer is Miles Warde.
Apr 7
27 min
Rights activist Cesar Chavez nominated by Cori Crider
In 1960s California, Mexican-American Civil Rights Leader, Cesar Chavez led the United Farmworkers union in a series of strikes, boycotts and semi-religious processions, which inspired farmworkers, students and celebrities to join him in what he called 'La Causa' 'The Cause' was his struggle to force the landowners and growers - and the system in which they operated - to recognise farmworkers as human beings who deserved dignity, respect and basic rights. Senator Robert F Kennedy was a fan, describing him as a "heroic figure". Joan Baez sang at his rallies. Years later, President Obama stole his slogan and opened a national monument to his memory. And yet he is little known internationally or even outside latino communities in the US. The lawyer and founder of Foxglove, Cori Crider, tells Mathew Parris why she is inspired by his legacy and why the lessons from his life are needed now more than ever. Matthew and Cori are joined by Miriam Pawel, the author of The Crusades of Cesar Chavez. Clips of Eliseo Medina were taken from an interview conducted by the producer. Producer: Ellie Richold
Jan 26
32 min
Caroline Catz on Delia Derbyshire
The actor Caroline Catz chooses Delia Derbyshire, the musician and composer who is best known for her work at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop where she realised the theme tune to Doctor Who. With Dr David Butler from the University of Manchester who looks after Delia's archive. Delia was born in Coventry in 1937 and describes her earliest recollections of sound as the sound of the German blitz and the air-raid sirens. She studied music and maths at Cambridge and joined the BBC Radiophonic Workshop where she could create sounds that had never existed in the world before. Her 'realisation' of Ron Grainer's theme tune to Doctor Who brought both her and the Workshop to greater prominence, but she later left the BBC and London and moved to Cumbria where she worked on a series of projects, as well as being briefly employed as a radio operator at the Gas Board. She was a pioneer of sound and her work is celebrated each year by Delia Derbyshire Day. Caroline was terrified by the Doctor Who theme tune as a child but fascinated by the woman, and later discovered tracks like 'Ziwzih Ziwzih OO-OO-OO' and 'Blue Veils and Golden Sands' from Radiophonic Workshop mix tapes. The discovery of 267 tapes in Delia's attic provided another portal into the extraordinary sonic world of Psyche-Delia and the mystery surrounding both how she created her music and the choices she made in life provided the inspiration for Caroline's film 'Delia Derbyshire: The Myths and the Legendary Tapes' in which she plays the lead. Delia appears in archive recordings to give Matthew Parris his first taste of a Wobbulator. Producer: Toby Field
Jan 19
28 min
David Jonsson on Jean Michel Basquiat
Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat rose to fame in the 1980's Lower East Side New York arts scene. Andy Warhol was his friend and collaborator, Madonna a one time girlfriend and David Bowie a huge admirer. But beyond this club scene personality raged a prolific artist, writer and musician. During his short career Basquiat created no less than 1000 drawings, 700 paintings and many sculpture and mixed media works. In 2017 he became one of a handful of artists whose work broke the $100 million mark. His life challenged the boundaries of ‘blackness’ but also the boundaries of American art. He is championed by actor David Jonsson best known for his work on 'Deep State' and 'Industry'. He has described Basquiat's life as both an inspiration and a cautionary tale. He is joined by Jordana Moore Saggese, Associate Professor of American Art at the University of Maryland College Park and author of two scholarly books on Jean-Michel Basquiat. These include The Jean-Michel Basquiat Reader: Writings, Interviews and Critical Responses. Presented by Matthew Parris Produced by Nicola Humphries for BBC Bristol Featuring excerpts from Radio 4's 'I Was...Basquiat's Partner in Noise' presented by Andrew McGibbon and available on BBC Sounds.
Jan 12
27 min
Rob Rinder on Jessica Mitford.
Jessica Mitford was the fifth born of the notorious Mitford Sisters. Born into the aristocracy, as a child she had her own language, collected a running-away fund and fought to set herself apart from her fascist siblings. As an adult she was in turn a communist rebel, an investigative journalist, a civil rights activist and pop singer - opening a gig for Cyndi Lauper and recording an unlikely duet with her friend and fellow mischief maker Maya Angelou. She’s championed by Robert Rinder, the criminal barrister and television personality known to many from the reality courtroom series ‘Judge Rinder’ and more recently, ‘My Family, The Holocaust and Me’ who reveals the impact her story has had on his own life. Robert Rinder is joined by guest expert Laura Thompson, author of the New York Times best seller, 'The Six: The Lives of the Mitford Sisters'. Presented by Matthew Parris Produced By Nicola Humphries for BBC Bristol
Jan 5
27 min
Diane Morgan on Air Chief Marshal Hugh Dowding
Comedian and actor Diane Morgan chooses the life of Air Chief Marshal Hugh Dowding. Air Chief Marshal Hugh Dowding is best known for his role in the Battle of Britain. He is widely regarded as the architect of Britain's unlikely victory, using an intelligence strategy known as the Dowding System. The Battle of Britain was at the very end of his military career - his nickname by then was "Stuffy" Dowding - and shortly after he was side-lined. But he cared deeply for every one of his pilots, and following his retirement he became focused on what had happened to all his "dear fighter boys" lost in the war. He wrote extensively on the after life and spiritualism - many bereaved families wrote to him seeking answers as a result. He met his second wife after a medium suggested he take her out for lunch having received a communication from her late first husband from beyond the grave. Together they were prominent advocates of spiritualism, and of animal rights, with Dowding giving his maiden speech in the Lords about the need for ethical standards in slaughterhouses. Diane picked up Dowding's book by pure chance through her local book shop during the first lockdown, and has since become fascinated by the life of this man. Together with Dowding's stepson, David Whiting, and historian Victoria Taylor, Diane discusses Dowding's legacy. Is there a paradox between this great military figure's career, and subsequent fascination with spiritualism and ethics - or does it all make perfect sense? Presented by Matthew Parris Produced by Polly Weston
Dec 29, 2020
27 min
David Spiegelhalter on Frank Ramsey
Frank Plumpton Ramsey contributed original ideas to the fields of logic, mathematics, economics and philosophy. He was a friend and respected interlocutor of Keynes, Wittgenstein, Russell and Moore, who considered him to be one of the sharpest minds around. His contributions are all the more remarkable given that he only lived to be 26. Matthew Parris and David Spiegelhalter are joined by Cheryl Misak, author of "Frank Ramsey: A Sheer Excess of Powers". Producer: Ellie Richold
Dec 17, 2020
27 min
The Great Lives of Great Lives
Back in the late summer of 2001, a new biography series aired on Radio 4. Matthew Parris was not the first presenter, but he has chaired more editions than anyone else. His very first episode was about Morecambe and Wise, since when he's listened to claims for Leon Trotsky, Donna Summer, Doris Day and Benito Mussolini. So what makes a great life, and can anyone join? Here, with some help from the first programme's producer, he starts to draw some conclusions of his own. Extracts include Toni Morrison, Frank Sinatra, Muhammad Ali, Virginia Woolfe, Kenny Everett, and Clement Attlee, Nominators include Jessie Ware, Christopher Hitchens, Ken Dodd, Andi Oliver, Penelope Keith, David Attenborough, and Grace Dent. The presenter is Matthew Parris, the producer in Bristol Miles Warde
Dec 11, 2020
28 min
Katherine Parr, sixth wife of Henry VIII
In her book The Taming of the Queen, Philippa Gregory asks a simple question of her subject, Katherine Parr. Who would marry a serial killer? Katherine Parr has been largely overlooked because she survived the monstrous Henry VIII, but she was a remarkable woman. She married four times, wrote books and successfully navigated the choppy waters of Henry's reign. In popular culture she's written off as matronly or nurselike. In fact she was younger than Anne Boleyn when she married the king, and died tragically in childbirth the year after he expired. She also may have inspired Elizabeth I. Philippa Gregory is the author of the Taming of the Queen and the Other Boleyn Girl. Suzannah Lipscomb is the author of The King is Dead: The Last Will and Testament of Henry VIII. Future guests in the series include David Spiegelhalter, Diane Morgan and Rob Rinder The presenter is Matthew Parris, the producer in Bristol Miles Warde
Dec 8, 2020
27 min
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