Episodes
"It's the complicated ones I enjoy the most." Matthew Parris Tony Benn, MP from 1950 to 2001, packed so much into a long career. He renounced the peerage inherited from his father, served in the Labour governments of both Harold Wilson and Jim Callaghan, led the Stop the War Coalition from 2001 and became pretty much the country’s pre-eminent rock star politician in older age. Comedian Ellie Gibson says she was a Tony Benn groupie and saw him speak many times. A brilliant orator and...
Published 06/01/23
When Jon Ronson was growing up, he went to see The Specials play in Cardiff. "I went on my own to Sophia Gardens," he says. "The crowd was fantastically wild. There’s a lot to not like about the feral nature of British street culture – i.e. getting beaten up - but out of turmoil can come great art, songs like Ghost Town and Concrete Jungle. Anyway, before The Specials came on, I made a decision: I would pretend to faint in the hope that I could watch the show from the side of the stage. It...
Published 05/16/23
Edward Coke was born in Norfolk in 1552. He's best known as a judge and Parliamentarian, the link says Jesse Norman between Magna Carta and the English Bill of Rights. He was also, the programme claims, an occasionally appalling human being who used his own daughter in a marriage deal to buy himself favour with the King. Joining Jesse Norman in studio, often backing up his claims for Coke's greatness, is Dr Alexandra Gajda of Oxford University. Jesse Norman is a government minister, former...
Published 05/10/23
In 1997 Kofi Annan became the seventh Secretary-General of the United Nations. The nineties were a turbulent period for the organisation and it had received criticism for a lack of action in both Rwanda and Bosnia leading to thousands of deaths. Kofi was born in Ghana and after a brief spell in the USA slowly worked his way up through the organisation and his appointment was seen by many as a return to a consensus and multi-lateral approach to diplomacy. Choosing Kofi is the writer,...
Published 05/02/23
"The most important thing to do in your life is not to interfere with somebody else's life." Frank Zappa was born December 1940 in Baltimore, USA. Comedian John Robins - who is obsessed - reckons that it was his subsequently itinerant childhood that had much to do with what happened next. Frank's musical output was prodigious and varied, but John laughs out loud when pushed on whether he had any hits. That wasn't the point of Frank Zappa - the music was everything, creating it and performing...
Published 04/25/23
Frederick the Great had a brute of a father. When young Frederick was captured trying to run away, he was locked up and forced to watch his friend - possibly his lover - being beheaded in front of his eyes. King of Prussia from 1740, Frederick was also a musician, a composer, a writer and a chancer who took extraordinary military risks to secure his place in Europe. Adolf Hitler thought the world of Frederick the Great, but how do Germans view him today? Joining Matthew Parris to discuss a...
Published 04/11/23
New series - Arthur Ashe was born in Richmond, Virginia, a state in the US that in 1943 was still part of the segregated south. If Arthur wanted to compete with white players, he had to leave for St Louis and then California to play. His story is staggering, and not just his success in a notoriously elitist sport. His mother died when he was six, he had a heart attack when he was 36, and he died of AIDS when he was just 49, contracted from a tainted blood transfusion. Film maker and ...
Published 04/04/23
The best-selling author of How to Train Your Dragon, Cressida Cowell, explains her love for the Swedish author, Astrid Lindgren. Born in 1907, Lindgren invented the Pippi Longstocking stories to tell to her children during the war years, only writing them down for a publisher years later. Following the immense success of Pippi, Astrid Lindgren went on to write Emil of Lonneberga, Children of Noisy Village and the fantasy novels Mio, my son; Ronia the Robber's Daughter; and The Brother's...
Published 02/20/23
Actor Adjoa Andoh has a list of TV, theatre and film credits as long as your arm. She's best known worldwide as Bridgerton's Lady Danbury, and is due to direct - and star in the title role - in a new production of Richard III. Her great life is the 20th century American writer and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston, author of "Their Eyes Were Watching God". An iconic figure in the literature of the jazz age, her name was all but forgotten after her death in 1960, before being pulled back...
Published 01/24/23
‘For me, it’s all about his authenticity’. Chris McCausland Kurt Cobain, lead singer, guitarist and songwriter of the band Nirvana became the voice of a generation and is to this day considered one of the most influential musicians in the history of alternative rock. His angst ridden, often politically driven lyrics challenged the conventions of the day and resonated with youth audiences around the world. He championed the underdog and stood up for all those who had ever felt excluded from...
Published 01/17/23
Matthew Parris travels along the Thames to meet Nick Hayes - illustrator and author of The Book of Trespass - to discuss the life of Roger Deakin. They also enjoy a naked swim. Joining them, in his pants, is Patrick Barkham. His new biography of Roger Deakin is published this year. The producer in Bristol is Miles Warde.
Published 01/09/23
"I was born an Englishman but I'll die a European." Those are the words of Henry Plumb, Lord Plumb, a farmer who was President of the National Farmers Union in the 1970s and who became the first British person to be elected President of the European Parliament. Championing his life is the farmer and current President of the National Farmers Union, Minette Batters. She says that Henry supported her from the outset and that he would offer advice and support wherever it was needed. Minette...
Published 01/03/23
The voice behind The Old Grey Whistle Test and Radio 2’s country music show, Bob Harris, tells us why Manchester United Football Club manager Sir Matt Busby is his Great Life. Bob and Matthew hear how Sir Matt led the club out of the ruins of World War Two, through the tragedy of the Munich Air Disaster and on to European glory in 1968. Joining them is genealogist, historian and lifelong Manchester United fan Dr Michala Hulme. And you’ll also hear legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson...
Published 12/27/22
In 1972 Chucky Berry was onstage in Coventry. Seeking some audience participation Chuck launched into a cover of an unusual novelty record called 'My Ding-a-Ling'. One of the men who can be heard in the crowd singing about their "Ding-a-Ling' was Noddy Holder whose band Slade were supporting Berry on his UK tour. This track became Berry's only UK number one and by default, one of Noddy's seven. Paul Gambaccini also saw Berry live in the 1970s and remembers him playing hits like 'Johnny...
Published 12/20/22
Known to his friends as Christo, Lloyd spent his whole life, from childhood until his death aged 85, at work in the same garden: Great Dixter in East Sussex. He wrote a weekly column for Country Life for 42 years and was the author of 25 books, including The Mixed Border in the Modern Garden (1957) and The Well Tempered Garden (1970). Christo is the choice of the writer Olivia Laing, herself a passionate gardener. She and Matthew Parris go to Great Dixter to meet Head Gardener Fergus...
Published 12/13/22
"Cooking is like therapy to us. I grew up where my big extended family would come together in summer under the walnut tree. The adults would drink and we’d eat, stories would be told and we'd break into song. It was a healing process." In the first of a new series, the cookbook author Olia Hercules tells us why she's picked the Ukrainian artist and activist Alla Horska as her Great Life. A member of the Sixtiers, Alla was a part of the Ukrainian dissident movement of writers, artists and...
Published 12/09/22
The playwright Bonnie Greer nominates the women of the Morant Bay Rebellion in Jamaica.
Published 09/28/22
As Grandson of George V, George Lascelles was a first cousin to Queen Elizabeth II and with his distinguished beard and Nero style jackets, he was the very image of aristocracy, moving in the highest of royal circles, yet it was in the Royal Circles of Britain's opera houses that he felt most at home. It was at English National Opera North (now Opera North) that Lesley Garrett first met George. With their shared love of all things musical, and both proudly from Yorkshire, they developed a...
Published 09/13/22
Chef Romy Gill remembers her Mother reading Amrita Pritam's poems to her when she was growing up. Romy was drawn to Amrita's fierce independent spirit and began to learn about her importance as a Panjabi writer whose work was heavily influenced by Partition, and in particular the experiences of women during this period. Romy's joined by the poet Rupinder Kaur who performs extracts of Amrita's work and says her work and influence still resonates today. Amrita Pritam's own voice is heard,...
Published 09/06/22
Rosalind Franklin was born in 1920 and studied Natural Sciences. After working in Paris at the Laboratoire Central - where she became an x-ray crystallographer - she moved to King's College London. Here she helped to take the famous Photograph 51 which led to the discovery of the double helix shape of DNA. Her contribution was famously and disgracefully downplayed by the men who won the Nobel Prize. Later at Birkbeck College she undertook pioneering work of the structure of viruses before...
Published 08/30/22
Dame Kathleen Ollerenshaw was born Kathleen Timpson in 1912. Deaf from an early age, she went on to have a brilliant career and is best known for her contribution to pandiagonal magic squares. She was also heavily involved in the establishment of the Royal Northern College of Music and was an advisor to Mrs Thatcher's government on education. She died aged 101. Nominator Sir John Timpson is chairman of the high street shoe repair shop that bears his family name and knew Dame Kathleen...
Published 08/23/22
Ravi Shankar was born in India in 1920 and came to prominence just as India gained independence from Britain in 1947. He was initially a dancer and then a virtuoso sitarist and composer, and became famous internationally because of his collaborations with Yehudi Menuhin and George Harrison and the Beatles. Bobby Seagull's parents came from Kerala, and while Ravi Shankar's music came from the north, Bobby still remembers hearing him play growing up. There are early clips of Ravi Shankar...
Published 08/16/22
BS Johnson was born in Hammersmith in 1933. A wartime evacuee, he never quite shook a sense of dislocation for the rest of his life. Holly's favourite book, she calls it the gateway drug to his work, is Christie Malry's Own Double-Entry. It's the tale of a disaffected accountant who applies the principles of double-entry book keeping to his own life; any perceived slight permits him to repay the same on somebody else. These stretch from minor acts of personal revenge to poisoning London's...
Published 08/10/22
Pat Nevin chooses Johan Cruyff who was part of the Dutch revolution of the 1970s. He burst onto the international stage at the 1974 World Cup with an incredible piece of skill against Sweden later dubbed the 'Cruyff turn'. Cruyff went on to play for Barcelona before retiring young only to be forced to return after some poor business investments wiped out his fortune. He played in the States before returning to coach at his beloved Ajax and Barcelona where he amassed more trophies, steadfastly...
Published 08/02/22
Susie Boyt picks Judy Garland, the child star who became one of the most famous entertainers of the twentieth century. June 2022 will be the centenary of her birth. "All people ever said to me was, ‘You have got to toughen up,'" Susie told us. "You cannot go round nursing these wild cascades of feelings, or you’re never going to have a happy life. Then one day my mother took me to see The Wizard of Oz. It was the first film I ever saw at the cinema, and when I heard Dorothy singing Over...
Published 05/31/22