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Last update: 2013-06-05

GreatLives: Florence Nightingale 28 May 13

2013-06-05 :: BBC Radio 4
Length: 27s

Dr Lucy Worsley, historian and Chief Curator at the independent charity, Historic Royal Palaces, chooses 'The Lady with the Lamp', Florence Nightingale. She's joined by biographer Mark Bostridge. Matthew Parris chairs. Producer: Lizz Pearson…

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GreatLives: Primo Levi 21 May 13

2013-05-21 :: BBC Radio 4
Length: 27s

Edmund de Waal chooses a writer he believes is one of the greatest of the modern age - Primo Levi, author of the Periodic Table. Born in 1919 in Turin, Levi was an Italian Jew, one of the few deported to Auschwitz who would escape alive. Ceramicist and author Edmund de Waal joins Matthew Parris to discuss how Levi's work inspired The Hare With Amber Eyes - his own memoir of his family's history as Jews in 19th and 20th century Europe. And biographer Ian Thomson, one of the last to interview Levi, explains why we shouldn't confuse Levi the writer with Levi the man. Producer: Lizz Pearson…

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GreatLives: Salvador Dali 14 May 13

2013-05-14 :: BBC Radio 4
Length: 27s

John Cooper Clarke, poetry's Punk Laureate and the Bard of Salford, nominates Salvador Dali for great life status - melting clocks, Mae West lip sofas, lobster telephones and all. Producer: Mark Smalley…

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GreatLives: Bill Shankly 7 May 13

2013-05-07 :: BBC Radio 4
Length: 27s

Mumsnet founder Justine Roberts champions the football manager Bill Shankly, who nurtured Liverpool to become one of the world's greatest sides. Matthew Parris chairs. Producer: Jolyon Jenkins…

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GreatLives: Arthur Conan Doyle 30 Apr 13

2013-04-30 :: BBC Radio 4
Length: 27s

Broadcaster Gyles Brandreth nominates Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as his "Great Life". Matthew Parris chairs, assisted by biographer Andrew Lycett. Producer: Jolyon Jenkins…

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GreatLives: David Livingstone 23 Apr 13

2013-04-23 :: BBC Radio 4
Length: 27s

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. Producer: Jolyon Jenkins…

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GreatLives: Kenny Everett 16 Apr 13

2013-04-16 :: BBC Radio 4
Length: 27s

Chris Tarrant nominates Kenny Everett, mad little geezer and genius deejay. Matthew Parris presents with help from biographer James Hogg and Captain Kremmen of the Star Corps.…

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GreatLives: Galileo 09 Apr 13

2013-04-09 :: BBC Radio 4
Length: 27s

Bobby Friction - DJ and broadcaster better known for his Bhangra music remixes - champions Galileo Galilei, the Italian physicist and astronomer. For Bobby Galileo is almost 'God like' - If he didn't recant it would have been the ultimate two-fingered salute". Expert contributions come from Dr David Berman from Queen Mary, University of London. Producer : Perminder Khatkar.…

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GreatLives: George Bell 02 Apr 13

2013-04-02 :: BBC Radio 4
Length: 27s

Peter Hitchens chooses George Bell, bishop of Chichester, who spoke out against the area bombing of Germany in 1944. Matthew Parris presents.…

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GreatLives: William Robinson 29 Jan 13

2013-01-29 :: BBC Radio 4
Length: 27s

Gardener Carol Klein's great life is a hero of the wild garden, William Robinson. Matthew Parris presents with expert help from Robinson's biographer Richard Bisgrove.…

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GreatLives: Aubrey Beardsley

2013-01-15 :: BBC Radio 4
Length: 27s

Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen on the Victorian artist Aubrey Beardsley, whose shocking originality he compares to that of Alexander McQueen. Laurence's first foray into art was copying Beardsley drawings to sell at his school - with the more erotic ones fetching a premium price... Biographer Matthew Sturgis fills in the detail of Beardsley's short but extraordinary life, and Matthew Parris presents. Producer Beth O'Dea…

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GreatLives: JS Mill

2013-01-08 :: BBC Radio 4
Length: 27s

Max Mosley chooses John Stuart Mill, British philosopher and author of On Liberty. Matthew Parris presents.…

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GreatLives: Rasputin

2013-01-01 :: BBC Radio 4
Length: 26s

Was Rasputin really the lover of the Russian queen ? Richard Herring nominates his hero with help from Bob Service. Matthew Parris presents.…

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GreatLives: Vaughan Williams 25 Dec 12

2012-12-25 :: BBC Radio 4
Length: 24s

Classical composer Ralph Vaughan Williams is the hero of 6Music presenter Stuart Maconie. Matthew Parris is intrigued, and brings along the Chair of the Ralph Vaughan Williams Society to tell us more.…

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GreatLives: Jean Cocteau

2012-12-11 :: BBC Radio 4
Length: 27s

Children's author Francesca Simon chooses for her great life the writer, poet, filmmaker and artist Jean Cocteau. Matthew Parris presents.…

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GreatLives: 04 Dec 12 Dick Francis

2012-12-04 :: BBC Radio 4
Length: 27s

Dick Francis, champion jockey and bestselling author, chosen by Martin Broughton. Matthew Parris presents.…

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GreatLives: George Orwell

2012-09-28 :: BBC Radio 4
Length: 28s

In conversation with Matthew Parris, former Home Secretary Alan Johnson explains why Orwell was crucial to his education and political development. He's surprised to learn that Orwell is not on the National Curriculum, and insists that Orwell would have hated I.D. cards. They're joined by Jean Seaton, Professor of Media History at the University of Westminster and Chair of the Orwell Prize. Orwell was in the news recently when the outgoing Director-General of the BBC, Mark Thompson, turned down a proposal to erect a statue of George Orwell outside BBC Broadcasting House, reportedly telling Joan Bakewell that it was 'far too Left-wing an idea.' Producer: Toby Field…

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GreatLives: Edith Wharton

2012-09-25 :: BBC Radio 4
Length: 27s

"If only we'd stop trying to be happy we could have a pretty good time." Edith Wharton is as well known for her wit as for her novels. Born in 1862, she was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize, for The Age of Innocence in 1921. She is nominated by Naomi Wolf, the provocative American commentator and author of The Beauty Myth. Presenter Matthew Parris is also joined in the studio by Janet Beer and Avril Horner. The producer is Jolyon Jenkins.…

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GreatLives: Karel Reisz

2012-09-11 :: BBC Radio 4
Length: 28s

Film director Stephen Frears discusses the life of his mentor, Czech-born director, Karel Reisz, with the help of critic and Reisz's friend, John Lahr. Frears is one of Britain's most successful directors, responsible for "My Beautiful Laundrette", "Dangerous Liaisons", and "Dirty Pretty Things", among many others. Reisz is probably best known for "Saturday Night and Sunday Morning", and "The French Lieutenant's Woman". "Karel took me into his life and into his family and he took on the business of turning me into whatever it is I've become," Frears has said. "Without him, I wouldn't have become a film director". Matthew Parris chairs the discussion.…

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GreatLives: Stan Laurel

2012-09-04 :: BBC Radio 4
Length: 27s

Comedian and performer Ken Dodd tells Matthew Parris how Stan Laurel inspired him to go into comedy, with the help of expert Glenn Mitchell.…

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GreatLives: Juvenal

2012-08-29 :: BBC Radio 4
Length: 27s

Matthew Parris invites writer and comic Natalie Haynes to explain why her nomination for a Great Life is a Roman poet about whose life we know very little.…

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GreatLives: Leonard Maguire

2012-08-21 :: BBC Radio 4
Length: 26s

Matthew Parris finds out why the actor Bill Paterson nominates the Scottish actor Leonard Maguire for Great Life status. The expert witness is Leonard Maguire's writer daughter, Susie.…

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GreatLives: Sir Walter Scott

2012-08-14 :: BBC Radio 4
Length: 28s

Tory MP, author and adventurer Rory Stewart champions the life of Sir Walter Scott. Matthew Parris is joined by biographer Stuart Kelly. Did Scott invent the idea of Scottishness?…

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GreatLives: Josephine Bonaparte

2012-08-07 :: BBC Radio 4
Length: 27s

Jospehine Bonaparte, wife of Napoleon and first empress of France, nominated by Janine di Giovanni. Matthew Parris presents and expert advice from Andrea Stuart.…

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GreatLives: Henry Cooper

2012-07-31 :: BBC Radio 4
Length: 28s

Des Lynam nominates Henry Cooper, who fought Muhammed Ali twice. Matthew Parris presents and expert advice comes from Norman Giller.…

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GreatLives: Sebastian Walker

2012-05-22 :: BBC Radio 4
Length: 27s

Lynn Barber talks to Matthew Parris about why Sebastian Walker remains such a memorable friend. They're joined by Walker's sister and biographer Mirabel Cecil.…

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GreatLives: Goya

2012-05-15 :: BBC Radio 4
Length: 27s

Diana Athill joins Matthew Parris to explore the life of the Spanish painter, Francisco de Goya with the help of art historian Dr Sarah Symmons and reader Javier Marzan.…

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GreatLives: John Ford

2012-05-08 :: BBC Radio 4
Length: 28s

John Ford, director of Stagecoach, The Searchers and The Grapes of Wrath, is chosen by Eric Pickles for Great Lives. Matthew Parris presents.…

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GreatLives: Edward Said

2012-04-26 :: BBC Radio 4
Length: 28s

In Great Lives, comedian and author Alexei Sayle explains to Matthew Parris why Edward Said inspired him.…

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GreatLives: George Lyward

2012-04-24 :: BBC Radio 4
Length: 28s

Musician and broadcaster Tom Robinson tells Matthew Parris how educationalist George Lyward saved his life. Dr Norman Alm provides expert assistance.…

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GreatLives: Gertrude Stein

2012-04-17 :: BBC Radio 4
Length: 27s

Activist and best-selling novelist Erin Pizzey chooses the American poet and writer Gertrude Stein. Joining presenter Matthew Parris in the studio is Diana Souhami, author of "Gertrude and Alice".…

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GreatLives: Oscar Wilde

2012-04-10 :: BBC Radio 4
Length: 28s

Will Self chooses Oscar Wilde, author of The Importance of Being Earnest. Matthew Parris presents with expert contribution from Franny Moyle, biographer of Mrs Oscar Wilde.…

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GreatLives: Dylan Thomas

2012-04-03 :: BBC Radio 4
Length: 28s

Dylan Thomas proposed by another Welsh poet Owen Sheers in a specially recorded edition at Bristol's More Than Words Listening Festival. Includes Richard Burton reading Under Milk Wood. Matthew Parris presents.…

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GreatLives: Razia Sultana 31 Jan 12

2012-01-31 :: BBC Radio 4
Length: 27s

Co-chairman of the Conservative party Sayeeda Warsi tells Matthew Parris why she's fascinated by the much mythologized thirteenth century Indian princess Razia Sultana, who ruled for less than four years in the 1230s but has long been celebrated as the first female Indian Muslim leader. They are joined by writer and expert on India, William Dalrymple.…

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GreatLives: Vera Brittain 23 Jan 12

2012-01-24 :: BBC Radio 4
Length: 27s

The pacifist Vera Brittain - who bore witness to the toll of the First World War on her generation - is discussed by her daughter Baroness Shirley Williams and Dr Clare Gerada. Presented by Matthew Parris.…

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GreatLives: Gracie Allen 1 Jan 12

2012-01-17 :: BBC Radio 4
Length: 27s

Matthew Parris is joined by the actress Emma Kennedy to explore the life of the American comedienne Gracie Allen.…

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GreatLives: Joseph Rotblat 10 Jan 12

2012-01-10 :: BBC Radio 4
Length: 28s

Astronomer Royal Sir Martin Rees tells Matthew Parris why his hero, physicist Joseph Rotblat, lived a "great life". Rotblat was a brilliant physicist who was the only scientist to resign from the Manhattan Project once it became clear that Germany would not make an atomic bomb. Joining them in the studio is Rotblat's friend and colleague Kit Hill.…

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GreatLives: Lonnie Donegan 3 Jan 12

2012-01-03 :: BBC Radio 4
Length: 27s

Downton Abbey actor Jim Carter tells Matthew Parris why skiffle king Lonnie Donegan is his hero. Lonnie Donegan is probably best remembered for the novelty hits "My Old Man's a Dustman" and "Does Your Chewing Gum Lose its Flavour? " However, early hits like "Rock Island Line" were instrumental in inspiring the likes of John Lennon, Brian May and Roger Daltrey to perform.…

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GreatLives: Ludwig II of Bavaria 27 Dec 11

2011-12-27 :: BBC Radio 4
Length: 27s

Brian Sewell on his long-standing love of "Mad" King Ludwig II of Bavaria, who built the ultimate fantasy castle at Neuschwanstein. Presenter Matthew Parris and contributor Simon Winder find out more...…

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GreatLives: Thomas Hobbes 20 Dec 11

2011-12-20 :: BBC Radio 4
Length: 27s

Thomas Hobbes: the writer and psychologist Steven Pinker joins Matthew Parris to discuss the life of the great English philosopher. Noel Malcolm from All Souls College, Oxford provides the expert analyis. Power and violence are themes of the discussion of Hobbes who, Steven Pinker argues, was "perhaps the first cognitive psychologist."…

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GreatLives: Ludwig Wittgenstein 13 Dec 11

2011-12-13 :: BBC Radio 4
Length: 28s

Ludwig Wittgenstein, the fascinating and misunderstood genius who changed the course of philosophy, is chosen by writer Raymond Tallis. With biographer Ray Monk, he brings alive this most enigmatic of men and his singular life. And to make sure that they don't get lost in Wittgensteinian thought, presenter Matthew Parris brings along a whistle to blow whenever he feels in danger..…

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GreatLives: Philip K Dick 06 Dec 11

2011-12-06 :: BBC Radio 4
Length: 28s

Actor Michael Sheen (Frost/Nixon; The Queen; Midnight in Paris) explores the life of Philip K Dick, and explains how this enigmatic science-fiction writer has influenced his recent production of Hamlet.…

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GreatLives: Shakespeare 30 Aug 11

2011-10-07 :: BBC Radio 4
Length: 28s

The bard himself, William Shakespeare, is nominated for great life status by poetry curator, Daisy Goodwin. Dominic Dromgoole of the Globe Theatre joins Matthew Parris.…

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GreatLives: 27.09.11: Gerald Durrell

2011-09-27 :: BBC Radio 4
Length: 28s

Great Lives. Former England footballer Graeme le Saux champions the life of conservationist Gerald Durrell. Also joining presenter Matthew Parris is Geralds widow Lee Durrell.…

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GreatLives: Hildegard von Bingen 20 Sept 11

2011-09-20 :: BBC Radio 4
Length: 27s

The singer and broadcaster Cerys Matthews tells Matthew Parris why she thinks the life of the 12th century nun, Hildegard von Bingen qualifies as great.…

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GreatLives: Lutyens 13 Sept 11

2011-09-13 :: BBC Radio 4
Length: 27s

Edwin Lutyens, architect of New Delhi and the Cenotaph, chosen for Great Lives by Simon Jenkins. Expert advice from Lutyens great grand daughter Jane Ridley and presented by Matthew Parris.…

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GreatLives: Hans Fallada 06 Sept 11

2011-09-06 :: BBC Radio 4
Length: 28s

Fast Show comedian Simon Day tells Matthew Parris why he's fascinated by the life of German author Hans Fallada. Matthew is also joined by Fallada's biographer Jenny Williams.…

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GreatLives: Eduardo Paolozzi 23 Aug 11

2011-08-23 :: BBC Radio 4
Length: 27s

Restaurateur Antonio Carluccio nominates his friend the sculptor and forefather of Pop Art Eduardo Paolozzi as a Great Life. Joining Antonio and presenter Matthew Parris in the studio is cultural historian Sir Christopher Frayling.…

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GreatLives: Kirsty MacColl 09 Aug 11

2011-08-09 :: BBC Radio 4
Length: 28s

Broadcaster Janice Long tells Matthew Parris why her friend singer-songwriter Kirsty MacColl led a "great life" despite her tragically early death in a boating accident in 2000.…

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GreatLives: Graham Greene 02 Aug 11

2011-08-02 :: BBC Radio 4
Length: 27s

Graham Greene, author of Brighton Rock and The Third Man, proposed by Tim Butcher. Matthew Parris presents and David Pearce battles bravely to defend the reputation of a writer who played Russian Roulette when bored.…

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GreatLives: Harold Pinter 24 May 11

2011-05-24 :: BBC Radio 4
Length: 27s

Playwright Harold Pinter is chosen by Diane Abbott MP. With expert assistance from the critic and biographer Michael Billington and presented by Matthew Parris.…

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GreatLives: Jack Johnson 17 May 11

2011-05-17 :: BBC Radio 4
Length: 27s

Jack Johnson, the Galveston Giant, was the first African American heavyweight champion of the world. Chosen by Matthew Syed both for his boxing skills and for what he came to represent. Matthew Parris presents.…

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GreatLives: Petra Kelly 10 May 11

2011-05-10 :: BBC Radio 4
Length: 28s

Matthew Parris presents the biographical series in which his guests choose someone who's inspired their lives. Green MP Caroline Lucas nominates German Green politician Petra Kelly.…

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GreatLives: Lewis Carroll 03 May 11

2011-05-03 :: BBC Radio 4
Length: 28s

Matthew Parris and writer Lynne Truss discuss the life of author Lewis Carroll. Famous for the Alice books, Carroll was also a brilliant mathematician and early photographer.…

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GreatLives: Kathleen Ferrier 27 Apr 11

2011-04-26 :: BBC Radio 4
Length: 27s

Broadcaster Sue MacGregor nominates singer Kathleen Ferrer, who died tragically young. Matthew Parris presents, with the help of Christopher Fifield who edited Ferrier's letters.…

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GreatLives: Simone de Beauvoir

2011-04-19 :: BBC Radio 4
Length: 25s

Actress Diana Quick tells Matthew Parris why Simone de Beauvoir changed her life after reading "The Second Sex". Lisa Appignanesi is the expert witness.…

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GreatLives: Bernstein 12 Apr 10

2011-04-12 :: BBC Radio 4
Length: 28s

Leonard Bernstein, composer of West Side Story, was one of the greatest musical figures of the twentieth century. He's chosen by conductor Charles Hazlewood. Presenter Matthew Parris asks Bernstein's colleague and friend, Humphrey Burton, blunt questions about the great man's sexuality.…

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GreatLives: Thomas Edison 05 April 11

2011-04-05 :: BBC Radio 4
Length: 26s

Sir Clive Sinclair nominates fellow inventor Thomas Edison. Edison invented sound recording, the electric light bulb and moving pictures, but also had his fair share of duds along the way. Sir Clive invented the first electronic calculator but also the ill-fated C5 electric car. Separated by a century, do the two men have anything in common? Joining the discussion is Edison's biographer Neil Baldwin.…

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GreatLives: Marcus Garvey 01 Feb 11

2011-02-01 :: BBC Radio 4
Length: 28s

Kwame Kwei-Armah chooses Marcus Garvey, the inspirational black leader of the early twentieth century. With biographer Colin Grant and presenter Matthew Parris.…

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GreatLives: Mary Stott 25 Jan 2011

2011-01-25 :: BBC Radio 4
Length: 28s

Katharine Whitehorn nominates Mary Stott, the great campaigning journalist and the first editor of the Guardian women's page. Dame Liz Forgan shares her memories of working with Mary, and Matthew Parris presents.…

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GreatLives: Gertrude Bell 18 Jan 11

2011-01-18 :: BBC Radio 4
Length: 28s

Iraqi-born physicist Jim al-Khalili explores the life of Gertrude Bell, adventurer, archaeologist and arguably the founder of modern Iraq.…

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GreatLives: Aneurin Bevan 04 Jan 11

2011-01-04 :: BBC Radio 4
Length: 28s

Matthew Parris explores the life of Aneurin Bevan, the founder of the NHS, chosen by the former leader of the Labour Party, Lord Kinnock. John Campbell adds biographical detail.…

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GreatLives: Sammy Davis Jr 28 Dec 10

2010-12-28 :: BBC Radio 4
Length: 27s

Lionel Blair chooses his friend and dancing partner Sammy Davis Jr - Puerto Rican, Jewish, and possessing only one eye, but a great all round performer. Paul Gambaccini offers expert advice and Matthew Parris presents.…

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GreatLives: Beckett 21 Dec 10

2010-12-21 :: BBC Radio 4
Length: 28s

Sir Gerry Robinson chooses fellow Irishman Samuel Beckett. Matthew Parris presents and Jim Knowlson, a personal friend of the playwright, offers the expert's view.…

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GreatLives: DH Lawrence 14 Dec 10

2010-12-14 :: BBC Radio 4
Length: 27s

Matthew Parris is joined by John Hegley and Geoff Dyer to discuss the life of DH Lawrence, author, poet, painter, who died aged just 44 but made a giant contribution to literature.…

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GreatLives: Malcolm McLaren 07 Dec 10

2010-12-07 :: BBC Radio 4
Length: 28s

Was Malcolm McLaren a musical great, or the great rock n' roll swindler ? Mark Borkowski joins Matthew Parris and Chris Salewicz in a discussion centred around compelling archive.…

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GreatLives: Walt Disney 28 Sept 10

2010-09-28 :: BBC Radio 4
Length: 28s

Gerald Scarfe, creator of some of the most savage cartoon images of the last forty years, chooses Walt Disney for Great Lives. Brian Sibley and Roger Rabbit creator Richard Williams join presenter Matthew Parris in the studio debate.…

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GreatLives: Montaigne 21 Sept 10

2010-09-21 :: BBC Radio 4
Length: 27s

Robert Winston chooses Michel de Montaigne, one of the most influential writers of the French Renaissance. Adding their help are biographer Sarah Bakewell and presenter Matthew Parris.…

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GreatLives: Winston Churchill 14 Sept 10

2010-09-14 :: BBC Radio 4
Length: 27s

Winston Churchill's is the Great Life chosen by Lord Digby Jones, former Director General of the CBI. Expert contribution comes from Professor David Reynolds. Both men have vivid memories of the day in 1965 when, as children, they heard that Churchill had died. Surprisingly this is the first time that Churchill has been nominated in the series.…

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GreatLives: Golda Meir 07 Sept 10

2010-09-07 :: BBC Radio 4
Length: 27s

Golda Meir was the Iron Lady of Israeli politics, a straight-talking, intransigent leader who once said, "There is a type of woman who does not let her husband narrow her horizons". She is the choice of former Conservative government minister Edwina Currie. Matthew Parris presents and historian Ahron Bregman joins as expert witness.…

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Great Lives

Biography series exploring the greatest people who ever lived. Matthew Parris interviews an eminent guest and an expert to reveal the truth behind their history heroes.

Great Lives


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