Great Lives

Aug 04 2015 57.3k

Billy Bremner of Leeds United
May 19 2020 27 mins  
Anand Menon, director of the UK in a Changing Europe, chooses the life of infamous Leeds United Captain, Billy Bremner. Billy Bremner played for Leeds as a midfielder from 1959 until 1976. He scored 115 goals for the team and captained them for 11 years during the most successful period in their history. 5’5”, with a mop of red hair, he was known as “ten stone of barbed wire” "Wee Billy and “Midfield Terrier”. He grew up near Stirling in a working class family, moving to Leeds at 16 to where he returned in the 80s as manager. At the time, Anand was a schoolboy in Wakefield. Before he became a Professor of European Politics and Foreign Affairs, he was first and foremost a Leeds fan. Anand was also at school with Telegraph journalist Rob Bagchi - author of the forthcoming biography of the club. Growing up in West Yorkshire instilled a lifelong devotion to Billy and the club in both of them - in spite of their "Dirty Leeds" reputation and the ups and downs of a team often destined to narrowly miss out on chances. "If being a Leeds fan has taught me anything, it's that anything which can go wrong, will go wrong." But there is another side to this story, both Anand and Rob are children of Indian parents. Elland Road was well known for the presence of the National Front on the terraces as they were growing up, and so Anand only saw Billy in the flesh a few times. But when Billy returned as manager in the 1980s, he went to great lengths to turn the culture of the terraces around. Presented by Matthew Parris Produced by Polly Weston

Catherine de Medici nominated by Helen Lewis
Apr 18 2019 27 mins  
Journalist Helen Lewis rehabilitates the reputation of the “Black Queen” of France, Catherine de Medici. Helen is joined by Dr Estelle Paranque, history lecturer at the New College of Humanities and author of a new book on the relationship between Catherine and Elizabeth I. Catherine’s life is a remarkable story of female resilience in the face of adversity. Born and immediately orphaned in Florence, Catherine’s Medici name meant she was married off to the French King’s second son. When she arrived in France, she was shunned. Her new husband was already completely in love with another far older and more beautiful woman. He showed little interest in her. And no one expected her to come to the throne. But, following a series of unfortunate deaths, Catherine would go on to become one of the most powerful women in Europe – Queen regent, and mother to three kings across decades of a volatile period in French history. Helen became fascinated by her aged ten when she realised with a kind of horror that had she been a medieval princess she was the right age to be shipped off to a strange land to marry some duke she’d never met. Helen Lewis is associate editor at the New Statesman. She argues that Catherine was a savvy political operator, and that her reputation as “the serpent of Paris”was largely due to the fact she was a female in power at a very difficult time. A fascinating insight into a major character little known over here. The presenter is Matthew Parris and the producer in Bristol is Polly Weston.

Pioneer girl Laura Ingalls Wilder nominated by broadcaster Samira Ahmed
Dec 04 2018 30 mins  
In the summer of 2018 the name of Laura Ingalls Wilder was erased from a children's literary medal set up in her honour six decades ago. Readers of the Little House on the Prairie series of books were widely perplexed, but the original American pioneer girl now finds herself at the centre of the culture wars in the US. Nominating her is the broadcaster and superfan Samira Ahmed, who has been to Rocky Ridge Farm, now an historic museum in Missouri and Laura Ingalls Wilder's home. Joining Samira in studio is the novelist Tracy Chevalier. president of the Laura Ingalls Wilder club at the age of eight. At the centre of the controversy - the depiction in these books of native Americans. “Her works reflect dated cultural attitudes toward indigenous people and people of colour that contradict modern acceptance, celebration, and understanding of diverse communities,” was the judgment of the ALSC. This programme also includes Laura Ingalls Wilder's biographer, Pamela Hill; plus the Commanche writer Paul Chaat Smith in an extract from The Invention of the USA. "I feel worried," says Samira Ahmed, "that we've lost the ability to have nuance. I cannot read these books without feeling aspects of racism, but why shouldn't we be able to read them and still see the beauty in them." The presenter is Matthew Parris and the producer in Bristol is Miles Warde. Future programmes include Matt Lucas on Freddie Mercury, and Mark Steel on Charlie Chaplin on Christmas Day.

Cornelia Parker on Marcel Duchamp
Dec 12 2017 27 mins  
Marcel Duchamp, the father of conceptual art, and responsible for that famously provocative urinal signed 'R Mutt, 1917', is the great life choice of fellow artist Cornelia Parker. She explains to Matthew Parris why he's influenced not only her work but that of so many other artists since his death in 1968. As an art student in the 1970s she recalls the attraction of Duchamp's 'readymades', such as a bicycle wheel or suspended wine bottle rack - manufactured items that the artist selected and modified, antidotes to what he dismissed as conventional 'retinal art'. They are joined by Dawn Ades, Professor of the History of Art at the Royal Academy, who's curated the current RA exhibition on Duchamp and Dali. Dawn recalls an occasion when, whilst she didn't actually meet Duchamp, she once saw him completely absorbed in a game of chess in a café in the Spanish seaside town of Cadaqués, whilst visiting Salvador Dali. They also discuss Duchamp's intriguing female alter ego, Rrose Selavy (Eros, c'est la vie or "physical love is the life") Man Ray's photographs of whom featured in some Surrealist exhibitions. We hear how Duchamp let the world know that he'd given up being in artist in favour of devoting himself to chess whilst still in his 30s. He played the game at a high level, representing France at international tournaments, whilst covertly continuing his art work. Cornelia Parker explains that his works spoke not just to the Pop Art and Op Art movements of the 1960s, but more broadly to American artists like Bruce Nauman and the composer John Cage, and whose influence can be seen today in the work of, for example, fellow English artist, Rachel Whiteread. Producer: Mark Smalley.

Konnie Huq on Ada Lovelace
Sep 17 2013 27 mins  
TV presenter Konnie Huq chooses the mathematician and daughter of Lord Byron, Ada Lovelace. With Matthew Parris. From Banking, to air traffic control systems and to controlling the United States defence department there's a computer language called 'Ada' – it's named after Ada Lovelace – a 19th century mathematician and daughter of Lord Byron. Ada Lovelace is this week's Great Life. She's been called many things – but perhaps most poetically by Charles Babbage whom she worked with on a steam-driven calculating machine called the Difference Engine an 'enchantress of numbers', as her similarly mathematical mother had been called by Lord Byron a "princess of parallelograms". Augusta 'Ada' Byron was born in 1815 but her parents marriage was short and unhappy; they separated when Ada was one month old and she never saw her father , he died when was eight years old. Her mother, Annabella concerned Ada might inherit Byron's "poetic tendencies" had her schooled her in maths and science to try to combat any madness inherited from her father. She's championed by TV presenter and writer – Konnie Huq, most well known for presenting the BBC's children's programme - 'Blue Peter' and together with expert– Suw Charman- Anderson, a Social technologist, they lift the lid on the life of this mathematician, now regarded as the first computer programmer with presenter Matthew Parris. Producer : Perminder Khatkar. First broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in September 2013.

Florence Nightingale
Jun 05 2013 27 mins  
Dr Lucy Worsley chooses a figure as familiar as she is unknown, the great champion of Victorian nursing, Florence Nightingale. Known as 'the Lady with the Lamp' for her work in the Crimea. Born in 1820 into an upper middle class family, Florence experienced early life as a bird in a gilded cage and suffered frequent 'nervous collapse'. Prodigiously intelligent, she was also deeply religious, and at 16 declared she had heard the voice of God, calling her to nursing. By her thirties, and despite opposition from her family, Florence had succeeded in training as a nurse. She was working in a Harley Street establishment for the care of gentlewomen when Britain and France joined Turkish forces against the Russians in the Crimea. As reports came in of the men's suffering, she became convinced of her ability to help. Commissioned by the War Office, Florence set sail for the Crimea in 1854, and her work there quickly became well known. Walking the corridors with her lamp, she was adored by the men for her determination to spare them the diseases like cholera and typhus that were decimating their numbers. But she was as steely as she was compassionate, and ran her troop of nurses with a military discipline. In Britain her reputation grew. By the time of her return two years later, Florence was a reluctant celebrity, frail and ill. While her mother and sister basked in her glory, Florence retreated from the limelight, and for some years was bed-bound. It's now believed she had brucellosis, an illness contracted through infected milk, which leads to depression and severe pain. Yet this did not stop her engagement with medicine, and even from her bed she was instrumental in changing the way that healthcare was implemented both in the Army, and in society at large. Statistics was key to this, and a passion for Florence, who saw in the gathering of data, the evidence of God's patterns at work. She also famously established a school for nursing, and professionalised nursing work. Dr Lucy Worsley, television historian, writer and Chief Curator at Historic Royal Palaces, the independent charity that looks after buildings including Hampton Court and the Tower of London, joins Matthew Parris to discuss the complex background of 'the Lady with the Lamp'. And biographer Mark Bostridge explains why Nightingale has a right to be regarded as a great genius of the Victorian age. Producer: Lizz Pearson First broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in 2013.

David Livingstone
Apr 23 2013 27 mins  
Dr David Livingstone was the Victorian equivalent of an astronaut - a man who ventured into the interior of Africa to report on territory that was wholly unknown to Europeans. In this programme, the explorer Colonel John Blashford-Snell explains why he admires his predecessor. Matthew Parris chairs the discussion, assisted by Dr Sarah Worden of the National Museum of Scotland. Livingstone went to Africa as a missionary but succeeded in making only one convert, who soon lapsed. Frustrated, he switched his focus to exploration, crossing southern Africa from east to west and back again. He discovered the Victoria Falls, but his attempts to reach the interior by going up the Zambezi were a disaster when he discovered that the rapids he had been warned about were impassable. On his recommendation, missionary families came out from England to settle in what is now Malawi but - as he should have anticipated - many of them died of disease. Despite these failures, he was and is regarded as a hero. As a self-made man who put himself through university on his wages from working in a cotton mill, he embodied the Victorian can-do spirit. His map-making, natural history observations, facility with languages and sheer endurance in the face of overwhelming obstacles made him a formidable character. Above all, his legacy in helping to end the east African slave trade mean that he is still revered in Africa today. Produced by Jolyon Jenkins. First broadcast on Radio 4 in 2013.

George Bell
Apr 02 2013 27 mins  
"I remember seeing him sitting on the bishops' bench, and I went to him and said, George, I believe you are going to make a speech. He replied, yes I am. I said, George, there isn't a soul in this House who doesn't wish you wouldn't make the speech ..." Lord Woolton, 1944 George Bell, Bishop of Chichester, was the most famous churchman of his day. His brave speech attacking the allies' bombing tactics in World War Two is justly remembered here by Peter Hitchens as one of the clearest, most coherent and measured statements ever made about the war. But his contemporaries did not see it quite the same way. "Don't let's be beastly to the Germans," sang Noel Coward, in part inspired by Bell's anti-war stance. But George Bell was not a pacifist - he just believed that the British should not be as barbaric, as he saw it, as the Nazis who had provoked the war. In his speech Bell said, "... to justify methods inhumane in themselves by arguments of expediency smacks of the Nazi philosophy that Might is Right." The controversy surrounding the tactics of bomber command remain alive today. Peter Hitchens is a columnist on the Mail on Sunday, and was once described by a contemporary as a 'deeply compassionate man with the air of a propher about him; and like all prophets, doomed to be scorned by so many'. The programme discussion also includes Andrew Chandler, director of the George Bell Institute; and the presenter Matthew Parris. The producer is Miles Warde. First broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in 2013.

William Robinson
Jan 29 2013 27 mins  
Gardener Carol Klein's great life is a Victorian hero of the wild garden, the writer and horticulturalist William Robinson. Matthew Parris presents, with expert help from Robinson's biographer Richard Bisgrove and reader Stephen Hogan. William Robinson was a radical and persuasive writer and designer whose influence on British gardens has been compared to that of William Morris on interiors. You may not recognise his name but his influence lives on: 'we are all Robinsonians now, even if we don't know it', according to one recent review. Born in 1838 in Ireland, he started young as a garden boy for the Marquess of Waterford. Little more is known about Robinson's early life, but his rise to prominence was swift once he'd arrived in London. Within a few years he'd been elected as a fellow to the Linnaean Society, sponsored by Charles Darwin and James Veitch. He founded, wrote and published his own gardening periodicals and almanacs as well as writing best-selling books on gardening which struck a chord with the newly wealthy English middle classes who were beginning to build their own gardens in the suburbs around London. Carol Klein is the garden expert and star of Gardener's World, who started life as an art teacher. Her gardening hobby became a successful career, with a trugful of gold medals from RHS shows and many best selling books on gardening, as well as her own TV series, most recently 'Life in a Cottage Garden'. She shares Robinson's passion and what she calls his 'empathy' for plants, too, making the best of their individual features, whatever they may be. Producer...Mary Ward-Lowery

Walt Disney
Sep 28 2010 28 mins  
Satirical cartoonist Gerald Scarfe nominates Walt Disney. Gerald Scarfe spent much of his childhood in his sick bed, so it's not surprising that Disney cartoons and feature films meant so much to him. He can still recall the thrill at the prospect of seeing Pinocchio at the cinema, and then the agony of being lead away again in the rain because the tickets were too expensive. Walt Disney came from a working family. His god-fearing father Elias, said by one writer to have 'hated Capital, and favoured Labour, but really needed to make a buck', found work where he could. So Walt lived a peripatetic childhood, and sought solace in drawing and play acting. Hard times early on did not make Walt frugal with money in adulthood, and despite the huge successes of the golden era of Disney, it was only with the opening of Disneyland that Walt attained any substantial personal wealth. You don't have to look far to find myth surrounding Walt Disney. Even after his death, rumours that his body had been cryogenically frozen spread so widely that they soon slipped into folklore. He had actually been cremated, but the readiness with which the cryogenic claim was accepted perhaps bears witness to a man who was terrified of dying, who believed in the white hope of technology and who, some might say, had been searching all his life for an escape into an immortal, fairytale world. Matthew Parris, Gerald Scarfe and guest experts Brian Sibley and Richard Williams, creator of Roger Rabbit, discuss the life of a complex cultural icon. A man who was seemingly unpretentious, and did not fit the image of movie mogul with his scruffy tweed jacket and awkward demeanour, yet a man who was accused of being a tyrannical egomaniac. The son of a socialist who ended up naming names at the House of Un- American Activities committee. Above all else perhaps though, they discuss the life of a man who strove tirelessly for perfection and who changed the cultural landscape of a little boy called Gerald, and arguably of the world, for ever. Scarfe himself is best known for his classic images lampooning the great and the good of politics, and also in his iconic animation for Pink Floyd's The Wall. He reveals in this programme that he also spent time working on the Disney production Hercules. The producer is Miles Warde.

5 • 1 Ratings

Ian Aug 05 2020