Great Lives
Great Lives
BBC Radio 4
Biographical series in which guests choose someone who has inspired their lives.
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
Xuanzang, Chinese monk and traveller
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
Sep 29, 2020
27 min
James Graham on John Maynard Keynes
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
Sep 22, 2020
27 min
Sir David Adjaye on Okwui Enwezor
“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
Sep 15, 2020
27 min
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