About Great Lives
Biographical series in which guests choose someone who has inspired their lives.
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 Lionheart. But it was Pippi who brought her fame and fortune. She was a particular hit in post-war Germany, where it is claimed the stories helped de-nazify the Hitler youth. In the 70s and 80s Lindgren began campaigning on child, environmental and animal rights, influencing Swedish government policy and becoming known as the 'Grandmother of all Sweden'. She is still very much adored there today. Cressida Cowell is a recent children's laureate. Also joining the discussion is Johan Palmberg, Lindgren's great grandson, who recalls. "She had this understanding of what a child might be interested in ... she would be the first one to climb the trees and have the children follow her up" Produced in Bristol by Ellie Richold Image courtesy of Jacob Forsell
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 into public consciousness in the US by "The Color Purple" author Alice Walker, who famously wrote: "A people do not throw their geniuses away". With the help of fellow enthusiast Dr Janine Bradbury, Senior Lecturer in Contemporary Writing and Culture at the University of York, Adjoa makes the case that we should all know more about Zora, a trailblazer who - on top of her writing career - researched zombies in the Caribbean and helped collect the stories of slavery's last survivors. Presenter: Matthew Parris Producer: Beth Sagar-Fenton
‘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 the mainstream. Kurt’s message resonated with comedian, actor and writer Chris McCausland, but so did his music. With its raw energy and Kurt’s ‘take me as I am’ performances, Chris found a rock band that delivered the authenticity he’d been searching for. Accompanied from New York by author, journalist and music specialist Laura Barton, Chris discusses the Great Life of Kurt Cobain, his music, his message, his sense of humour and why it’s never too late to jump in a mosh pit. Presented by Matthew Parris Produced by Nicola Humphries
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.
"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 is joined by Richard Inglewood, Lord Inglewood, who knew Lord Plumb well. They explore Lord Plumb's early life as a farmer in Coleshill, his views on membership of the European Union, and his electoral success as a Member and then President of the European Parliament, which included such perks as involvement in the European Song Contest. Matthew Parris asks Minette about the challenges of balancing her work with the day-to-day demands of farming and what impact Lord Plumb made on British life. Produced in Bristol by Toby Field. Image credit: John Cottle/NFU Correction: Henry Plumb's opponent in the election to become President of the European Parliament in 1987 was Enrique Barón Crespo and not Egon Klepsch.
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 reflect on his own relationship with Sir Matt Busby in a specially recorded interview. Produced by Caitlin Hobbs for BBC Audio, Bristol.
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 B. Goode' and 'Maybellene', but never performing for a minute longer than the agreed contracted length of his set. Paul and Noddy join Matthew Parris to discuss the life of this influential pioneer who along with Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard is said to have invented rock n roll. They talk about Berry's musical influences, his rise to stardom, his shrewd approach to business and some of the darker moments that blight Berry's legacy. Produced by Toby Field for BBC Audio, Bristol.
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 Garrett, who worked alongside Christo for many years and was one of his closest friends. Olivia Laing is the author of five works of non-fiction and a novel. Her books include To the River (2011), The Trip to Echo Spring (2013) and The Lonely City (2016). Her books have been translated into 19 languages. She writes on art and culture for the Guardian, Financial Times and New York Times, among many other publications and a book of her collected essays on art, Funny Weather: Art in an Emergency, was published in 2020. Her most recent book is Everybody: A Book About Freedom (2021) and she is currently working on a book about gardens and paradise. Produced by Mair Bosworth for BBC Audio Photograph of Christopher Lloyd used by kind permission of Jonathan Buckley
"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 cultural figures who stood against the destruction of Ukrainian identity and rallied for greater freedoms. Growing up in Ukraine, Olia says she was taught so much about Russian culture, and so little about Ukrainian culture, that she wanted to fix that. Now in a time of war, Olia discovers how parts of Alla's life mirror her own. Joining her in studio is Tetyana Filevska, creative director of the Ukrainian Institute. Tetyana moved to London to escape the war in Ukraine. Future guests in the series include writer Olivia Laing on Christopher Lloyd, Bob Harris on Sir Matt Busby, and Noddy Holder on Chuck Berry. Produced for BBC Audio in Bristol by Caitlin Hobbs
Bonnie Greer OBE, playwright and critic, joins Matthew Parris to make a case for seven women from Jamaica who were hung or shot in 1865 after the Morant Bay Rebellion. Bonnie makes a case that this peasants' uprising was a pivotal event not only in Jamaican history, but in the history of the entire Caribbean region; Britain and the world. In Victorian England, the uproar following it included prominent names like Charles Dickens and Charles Darwin, who were on opposite sides of the debate. Bonnie wants to rectify the fact that the seven women who were killed in the aftermath have been largely forgotten, whilst their leaders - Paul Bogle and George William Gordon - are National Heroes of Jamaica. Joining Matthew and Bonnie is expert witness is Gad Heuman, Emeritus Professor at the University of Warwick and author of Killing Time: Morant Bay Rebellion Jamaica and The Caribbean: A Brief History. Producer: Eliza Lomas for BBC Audio, Bristol.
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 friendship that was to last a lifetime. Having survived capture during the Second World War (deepening his knowledge of opera whilst interned as a prisoner of war), he dedicated much of his time to making opera accessible to all. He strove to deliver the best of opera for everyone, with a genuine passion and commitment that inspired all those he worked with. During his career he served as Director of The Royal Opera House, Chairman of the Board of The English National Opera, Managing Director of the ENO, Managing Director of English National Opera North (now Opera North) and outside of opera he served as a Governor of the BBC and President of the British Board of Film Classification. His other great passion was football. He served as President of Leeds United Football Club from 1961 until his death and was President of the Football Association from 1963 to 1972. As Lesley recalls, he believed that both music and sport were 'levelling', that in these worlds there were no kings or paupers. Throughout his life he supported both of these passions, opening doors for everyone, instilling values of accessibility that live on till this day. He died on 11th July 2011 aged 88. Lesley is joined by Professor Alexandra Wilson, a musicologist, author and cultural historian, specialising in Italian opera and British operatic culture from the 1920's to the present day. Presented by Matthew Parris Produced by Nicola Humphries for BBC Audio Bristol
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, speaking about the train journey she took after Partition when she and her family fled to safety in Delhi, inspiring her most famous work 'Ajj Akhan Waris Shah Nu'. Produced for BBC Audio in Bristol by Toby Field
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 dying of ovarian cancer, aged just 37. Nominating Rosalind Franklin is Kate Bingham. She chaired the UK government's Vaccine Taskforce, and she also attended the same school as Rosalind Franklin - St Paul's Girls' School in London. Further contributions from Dr Patricia Fara of Clare College, Cambridge, and Howard Bailes, archivist of St Paul's School. Archive contributors include Francis Crick, Maurice Wilkins and Colin Franklin. The producer in Bristol is Miles Warde
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 extremely well. Her spirit and determination shine through. Also in studio is Dr Ems Lord, research fellow at Clare Hall and director of NRICH. The producer in Bristol by Miles Warde
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 explaining the sitar, plus George Harrison's account of their North American tour. Joining the conversation is biographer Oliver Craske, author of Indian Sun who knew Ravi well. He counts up in the programme how many relationships Ravi may have had. The producer in Bristol is Miles Warde.
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 water and blowing up the House of Commons. "The things I find attractive about him are the things I'm a little bit scared of. His work is so raw - it's so different to how I feel." Holly Walsh Joining Holly and Matthew Parris is the novelist Jonathan Coe, author of The Rotter's Club and Like a Fiery Elephant, an award-winning biography of BS Johnson's life. The producer in Bristol is Miles Warde
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 sticking to his brand of 'total football' and changing how the game was played. Pat Nevin remembers the gasp of the crowd who witnessed the 'Cruyff turn', and still admires how this thin, intelligent footballer used speed and guile to outwit opponents. But the former Chelsea and Everton great says that it's Cruyff's imprint on the way that football is now played that impresses him most, an influence, Pat says, that can be seen at the top of the Premier League table today with Pep Guardiola's Manchester City playing a version of Dutch 'total football'. As Pep himself said about his former Barcelona coach, "Johan Cruyff painted the chapel, and Barcelona coaches since merely restore or improve it." The Dutch journalist and author of 'Johan Cruyff: Always on the Attack' Auke Kok, sheds light on Johan's childhood, his early years as an Ajax player, and how Cruyff's stubborn attitude was both a strength and a weakness throughout his life. Produced for BBC Audio in Bristol by Toby Field Other guests in the new series include the UK government vaccine taskforce head, Kate Bingham; chef Romy Gill; and BAFTA winner Holly Walsh who has picked the cult sixties writer, BS Johnson.
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 the Rainbow, I thought, here is someone whose feelings seem to run as high as my own and she’s not hiding it, she’s not embarrassed by it, she’s not ashamed. She was leading with her feelings as though they were the best thing life contains." Joining Susie Boyt is John Fricke, leading Judy Garland expert who put her ability to thrill her audiences far ahead of the many tabloid accounts of her life. The presenter is Matthew Parris, the producer in Bristol is Miles Warde
Joan Rhodes picked by Anna Maxwell Martin, star of Line of Duty and Motherland. Her choice is a lovely surprise, a strongwoman who could rip up phone books and bend nails. There's archive of her holding up 14 stone cricket commentator Brian 'Johnners' Johnstone in 1949 as well as the voice of the woman who knew her well - Triona Holden, author of An Iron Girl in a Velvet Glove. Abandoned by both her parents as a child, Joan Rhodes is an inspiring character who utterly merits her selection here. Anna Maxwell Martin is the double BAFTA winning actress who has starred in Bleak House, Poppy Shakespeare and Motherland. The presenter is Matthew Parris and the producer in Bristol is Miles Warde.
Comedian and writer Rob Newman is a long-time fan of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who "saved the United States, just in time for the United States to save the world". When FDR came into office in 1933, at the height of the Great Depression, unemployment stood at more than 25% and drought in the Dust Bowl had decimated American agriculture across the Great Plains. While known for his folksy charm, Roosevelt was a shrewd and determined politician, who transformed federal government, the US financial system and the relationship between the American people and their president forever. His raft of early interventions, known as the New Deal, have become the benchmark for US presidents' first 100 days in office ever since. As 'Forester in Chief', FDR's administration initiated mass tree planting and soil conservation - all while providing employment for 3 million young men. Rob talks to Matthew Parris about how FDR's radical and ambitious environmentalism continues to inspire him, and how this man defied his sheltered upper class upbringing to reach out to working Americans and address their struggles directly. They are joined by Professor David B. Woolner, Senior Fellow and Resident Historian of the Roosevelt Institute and author of The Last 100 Days: FDR at War and at Peace, to discuss FDR's personal triumphs, his hidden struggles and his international legacy. Could or should he have predicted the divided Europe that followed hot on the heels of a hard-fought peace? With thanks to the archivists at the Franklin D Roosevelt Presidential Library. Presented by Matthew Parris. Produced by Sarah Goodman for BBC Audio Bristol.
Society & Culture
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