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The Greek politician and economist takes us back to ancient Alexandria and the life of the first woman to make her name as a mathematician. But Hypatia is best known now for being brutally murdered. Yanis Varoufakis makes the case for her as a philosopher and mathematician, and explores how her story has been interpreted and misinterpreted in the c…
 
The president of Murray Edwards College, Cambridge and former Channel 4 editor champions the life of a 14th-century mystic. Like Dorothy Byrne, famous for her scathing attacks on broadcasting executives in the 2019 MacTaggart Lecture, Catherine of Siena stood up to powerful men. She lobbied Popes, attacked corruption in the Catholic church, and pla…
 
Ewan MacColl sang "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" to Peggy Seeger down the phone. When they met, Peggy says, he was in the grip of his midlife crisis. "I'm fond of saying the poor boy didn't stand a chance," she tells Matthew Parris. This programme is her attempt to set the record straight. "I'd like to do a bit of justice to him, because the…
 
When Josiah Wedgwood had part of an injured leg amputed, he encouraged his workers to celebrate the anniversary as St Amputation Day. This remarkable man from Stoke on Trent built a pottery empire that made him famous round the world. He's nominated here, on location, by the former MP for Stoke Central, Tristram Hunt, now head of the Victoria and A…
 
Hans Christian Andersen was 'a very strange orchid,' says Michael Booth. He was born in 1806 in Denmark, and today is still famous for so many stories that every child knows, 156 in total. His own life is almost as odd as the tales he told. A neurotic hypochondriac, he escaped a terrible childhood and travelled to Copenhagen to make his name. Helpi…
 
Edward III should be much better known, Rosie tells Matthew Parris. He not only won great battles like Crecy in 1346. He also championed the flourishing of Perpendicular architecture; he understood the "branding" of England, and introduced the flag of St George; and he was ahead of his time in other ways - he was the first king of England to own a …
 
Actor, comedian and Author Ben Miller discusses the colourful, complicated and uncompromising life of William Hazlitt.Born in 1778 William Hazlitt is considered one of the greatest critics and essayists in the history of the English language, but for centuries, his life and works were lost in the shadows. He was an advocate of universal rights and …
 
Singer-songwriter Arlo Parks has been nominated for three Brit Awards at just 20 years old. Her inspiration for her debut studio album is drawn from American singer-songwriter Elliott Smith. Matthew Parris and Arlo Parks are joined by Elliott’s friend and former manager of his band Heatmiser, JJ Gonson. They also hear from writer and college profes…
 
On May 10 1940, the Germans invaded the Low Countries, Winston Churchill became prime minister, and Harry Hopkins moved in to the White House. This remarkable man was President Roosevelt's closest confidante until the end of the war. A principal architect of the New Deal, he was the president's first envoy to meet Churchill and was sent off to meet…
 
Ivor Cutler is hard to categorise. Whimsical and uncompromising, depressive yet joyful, childlike and curmudgeonly, an 'outsider', championed by insiders like Paul McCartney, he's perhaps best known for his collection 'Life in a Scotch Sitting Room Volume Two" (there is no volume one) or his much-covered 1983 indie hit 'Women of the World'.Cutler o…
 
Kenny Lynch was born in Stepney, East London in 1938. He toured with the Beatles, wrote best-selling songs, was a champion boxer in the army, and a regular face on British TV. He was also - at the start of his career - one of the very few black and British singers in the UK, but he's not really remembered as a pioneer. Out to change that is his nom…
 
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown picks Nigerian novelist, Chinua Achebe, the author of Things Fall Apart. With archive contributions from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Chinua Achebe himself. He was born in Nigeria in 1930 and Yasmin Alibhai Brown met him twice in Uganda in the 1960s and remains deeply impressed by both his books and his life.The presenter is Ma…
 
Director Jonathan Kent was friends with Patricia Highsmith. He'd been playing Tom Ripley for a tv show, and staying in the hotel suite next door to her. She took a shine to him. Now he repays the debt with this revealing and intriguing programme to celebrate a hundred years since her birth in 1921. Although best known for the Ripley books, she firs…
 
In 1960s California, Mexican-American Civil Rights Leader, Cesar Chavez led the United Farmworkers union in a series of strikes, boycotts and semi-religious processions, which inspired farmworkers, students and celebrities to join him in what he called 'La Causa' 'The Cause' was his struggle to force the landowners and growers - and the system in w…
 
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…
 
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 drawing…
 
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 g…
 
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 mil…
 
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 Parr…
 
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, a…
 
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 He…
 
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 …
 
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 li…
 
“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 …
 
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 …
 
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 re…
 
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…
 
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 int…
 
“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 art…
 
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 t…
 
Sara Wheeler first read Sybille Bedford in her early twenties, and discovered a dazzling writer. The book she read was called A Visit to Don Otavio. It's set in Mexico, a country Bedford wanted to visit because of its 'long nasty history in the past and as little present history as possible.' Born Sybille von Schoenebeck in 1911 in Germany, she liv…
 
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…
 
When Sally Phillips first saw Myrna Loy, she burst into tears. It was in a film called The Best Years of Our Lives, about three veterans returning to their wives after World War Two. Myrna Loy was most famous for the Thin Man series, and she also played voluptuous baddies in flicks like The Mask of Fun Manchu. But it's not just her screen career th…
 
Maya Angelou was born Marguerite Johnson in 1928. She was a mother, writer, dancer, director, performer, friend of presidents, and author of seven volumes of memoir. The very first - I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings - returned to the top of the best-seller lists when she died in 2014. So why were people fascinated by her life? Nominating her is Bris…
 
Ursula le Guin was born in California in 1929. Her books - including A Wizard of Earthsea and The Left Hand of Darkness - have been described as masterpieces but she battled prejudice all her life from the literary elite. Choosing her because she loves both Ursula's books and who she was is the British musician Kate Stables. She's speaking to Matth…
 
"One of the best things a children's writer can do is to implant sign posts in childhood to things that are good, and to the small pleasures that will get you through life" Frank Cottrell-Boyce Tove Jansson was born in Helsinki in 1914. An artist, illustrator and writer she became best known as the creator of The Moomins, the little white trolls wh…
 
As a twenty-one year old man travelling the world, a young Rick Stein discovered The Doors and became fascinated by the band's lead singer, Jim Morrison. Over the subsequent fifty years, the life and legend of one of rock and roll's brightest stars had a lasting impact on the restauranteur. Joining Matthew Parris and Rick Stein to uncover the myste…
 
When Andi Oliver first read Toni Morrison's 'The Bluest Eye' she felt as though someone climbed inside her head. Morrison's books saved her life - both emotionally and cerebrally. The author, editor and college professor Toni Morrison chronicled the lives of African-Americans in novels such as 'Beloved', 'Sula' and 'Song of Solomon'. She once said …
 
"I am a German American, a pure one, dating back to when German Americans were still marrying each other." Kurt Vonnegut was born in Indianapolis in 1922, but the most important event in his life happened in Dresden in 1945. He was a POW and underground in a meat locker during the firebombing. When he emerged he found the city totally destroyed. It…
 
From Kansas City to New York, young Charlie Parker conquered the world of jazz.. He was famous during his life, and even more famous after he died aged 34. He's nominated here by former health minister, home secretary and chancellor of the exchequer, Kenneth Clarke. Together with Richard Williams and Val Wilmer, Ken recounts what made Bird great, a…
 
Bill Bailey has not just travelled in naturalist Alfred Russell Wallace's footsteps, he's crazy about him too. "I love him, I really do." Wallace is best known for what used to be known as the Wallace-Darwin theory of evolution. When he died in 1913, the New York Times called him the last of the 'giants belonging to that wonderful group of intellec…
 
Janice Turner recently wrote a sweet, sensitive article about packing up the contents of her parent’s house. “The experience was almost unbearable,” she began. Among the items passed down from the attic, “my entire childhood,” were a heavy sledge, Twinkle and Jackie annuals, “and a heavy trunk of 60 Enid Blytons.”60 Enid Blytons - imagine that! Jan…
 
What makes a brilliant politician? What should motivate them? Does having a faith help? Broadcaster and writer Jeremy Paxman chooses the seventh earl of Shaftesbury, Anthony Ashley-Cooper. a Victorian politician whose numerous and wide-ranging social reforms transformed working and living conditions for impoverished children, miners and chimney-swe…
 
In the early summer of 1945, Lee Miller sent a telegram back to London about what she had seen in the Nazi death camps. “I implore you to believe this is true,” she wrote. Her employers were Vogue magazine. How did a famous beauty like Miller end up covering the war?Her extraordinary life and the images she left, most famously posing in Hitler's ba…
 
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