It was an extraordinary journey, and a life that reads like a fairy tale. Xuanzang was born at the start of the seventh century in China. He studied as a monk and travelled for 16 years - first westwards, and then in a crescent back and down over the Himalayas to India . He returned a famous man, laden with Buddhists texts and artefacts. Historian Michael Wood has followed much of his route; he first discovered Xuanzang at university and became intrigued about his life. "I'm tempted to say this is one of the greatest lives in all the civilisations of the world," says Michael. Joining him in discussion is Frances Wood and the presenter Matthew Parris. The producer in Bristol is Miles Warde
James Graham, the award-winning playwright whose work includes the TV dramas "Brexit: The Uncivil War" and "Quiz", tells Matthew Parris why he is inspired by the life and work of John Maynard Keynes. Keynes was not just the revolutionary economist who helped shape the course of post-war history. The programme explores his colourful love life and lifelong passion for the arts. Matthew and James are joined by Linda Yueh, economist and author of "The Great Economists: How Their Ideas Can Help Us Today". Producer: Chris Ledgard
“I was astonished by the experience of standing there, where the two oceans met. I knew at that very moment this would be my concept: the meeting of worlds". Okwui Enwezor. For centuries, the art establishment had been defined and dictated by predominantly white, wealthy, western critics and curators. Then in the early 90’s a young man who was born in Nigeria and studied Political Science in New York came onto the scene and said, ‘no more’. With an eye for aesthetic and a burning fire of political concern, curator and educator Okwui Enwezor transformed the art world. He placed non-western art histories on an equal footing with the long-established narrative of European and North American art. He was a man with a mission, utterly confident and determined. Sir David Adjaye, the architect perhaps best known for his largest project to date – the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of African American History and Culture - champions the ground-breaking life of Okwui Enwezor, who became both his friend and collaborator. He is joined by Chika Okeke-Agulu, one of the foremost scholars of African Art and Professor of African and African Diaspora Art at Princeton University. Presented by Matthew Parris Produced in Bristol by Nicola Humphries
Comedian and presenter Tom Allen first discovered Kenneth Williams as a young boy, watching the Carry On films and listening to Round the Horne with his mum. He joins Matthew Parris and Kenneth's biographer, Christopher Stevens, to explore the life of the famous twentieth century entertainer. Together, they discuss stealing the show, sexuality and living solo. Featuring clips from Kenneth's performances from Parkinson to Just a Minute, Desert Island Discs to Hancock's Half Hour, the trio reflect on Kenneth's dexterity and complexity, as a performer and as a person. Producer: Camellia Sinclair
Ernie Bevin led an extraordinary life. Born in Somerset in 1881, his father is unknown and his mother died when he was eight. He left his job as a farm labourer age 11 and moved to Bristol, where he helped to found the Transport and General Worker's Union. He was Churchill's Labour minister in the wartime cabinet, and heavily involved in postwar reconstruction as Foreign secretary under Clement Attlee. He smoked too much and drank too much, and made a massive impression on everyone he met. So why is he not better known? Nominating him is Frances O'Grady, General Secretary of the TUC, Matthew Parris presents and also contributing is his biographer, Andrew Adonis, author of Ernest Bevin: Labour's Churchill. The producer in Bristol is Miles Warde
Jessie Ware is a singer, songwriter and podcaster. Her latest, critically acclaimed, album, What's Your Pleasure?, draws inspiration from soul, funk, boogie, and disco - and, notably, the work of the Queen of Disco, Donna Summer. Jessie joins Matthew Parris and Pete Bellotte, co-producer and co-writer of many of Donna Summer's biggest hits - I Feel Love, Love to Love You Baby, and Hot Stuff, among others - to explore the life and work of her musical heroine. Jessie, Pete and Matthew discuss Donna's Protean vocal abilities, her eventful childhood and how post-war Munich provided the perfect environment to create some of disco's most momentous hits. Pete reveals how a three-minute demo of Love to Love You Baby became a seventeen-minute breakout hit and together they explore why disco has endured despite an early backlash. Jessie ponders whether life has changed for a woman in the music industry and reflects on Donna's personal legacy. With additional contributions from Danyel Smith, author of Shine Bright: A Personal History of Black Women in Pop (published Spring 2021). Produced in Bristol by Camellia Sinclair
Bearded, profoundly deaf and somewhat eccentric, Tsiolkovsky's theoretical work means he is, for many, the "father of space travel". He died in 1935, and so never saw his research come to fruition. To discuss Tsiolkovsky's life and achievements, Matthew Parris is joined by Peter Frankopan, Professor of Global History at Oxford and author of the international best-seller, The Silk Roads: A New History of the World. Matthew's other guest is Doug Millard, Curator of Space Technology at the Science Museum. Producer: Chris Ledgard
“We’re talking here about a woman who was Mexican, dark skinned, disabled and queer, who produced art and didn’t allow her disabilities to define her. She defined who she was on her own terms," says Circe Henestrosa, co curator of Frida Kahlo: Making Herself Up. Circe joins Jessie Burton, author of The Miniaturist in discussion about the Mexican artist known for her self-portraits and her distinctive look - the dresses and flowered hair, the monobrow, the piercing stare. Born in 1907, Kahlo's life was a collage of strength, beauty and pain. She survived polio and a bus crash that should have killed her, as well as a complex, passionate marriage to fellow artist Diego Rivera. Nominator Jessie Burton celebrates Frida Kahlo as a remarkable life who triumphed over adversity with true grit, glamour and great wit. The presenter is Matthew Parris. The producer in Bristol is Nicola Humphries. Jessie Burton is author of The Miniaturist, The Muse and The Confession. Circe Henestrosa is a fashion curator and Frida Kahlo scholar.
September 1943, and German troops have just landed in gliders to rescue Benito Mussolini from the mountain resort where he was being held. “I knew my friend Adolf Hitler would not desert me,” he said later. But Mussolini died before the end of the war, shot and then strung up with his mistress in Milan. Who was this man, and is he still relevant today? Nominating him is Professor Margaret MacMillan, not as her hero but as someone she says must not be dismissed as a buffoon. Mussolini founded and led the fascists in Italy, was a brilliant propagandist, and would have probably died in his bed but for the war. Winston Churchill, speaking in 1927, told him his fascist movement "has rendered a service to the entire world." Only later did he dub him the Italian Miscalculator. Mussolini declared war on Britain just as France was poised to fall. As well as archive of Mussolini, Churchill, and the Italian journalist Luigi Barzini, the programme features Professor John Foot of Bristol University. Margaret MacMillan is the author of Peacemakers and a former BBC Reith lecturer. The programme is presented by Matthew Parris. Future great lives in this series include Frida Kahlo, Donna Summer, Hendrick Witbooi and Kenneth Williams of Carry On fame. The producer in Bristol is Miles Warde
Dolly Alderton's love of Doris Day began when she watched Calamity Jane as a young child. And for Dolly, the incandescent film star was as much of a poster girl as The Spice Girls. But Dolly's view of the legendary actress and singer has changed as she's matured. Dolly joins Matthew Parris and Dr Tamar Jeffers McDonald, Reader in Film and Head of the School of Arts at the University of Kent, to discuss dancing, divorces and dogs. Together they explore whether the image of Doris Day as a happy-go-lucky girl-next-door is a true reflection of the life and character of one of the twentieth century's most famous stars. Producer: Camellia Sinclair Credit: Love Me or Leave Me (dir. Charles Vidor, MGM); Pillow Talk (dir. Michael Gordon, Arwin Productions).