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Philippa Langley on Richard III


Episode description

When Philippa Langley and other members of the Richard III Society helped to discover the body of the king in a Leicester car park, Richard's life once again became a hotly contested debating point. Philippa joins Matthew Parris to defend Richard III as a Great Life, with expert witness and Richard biographer Annette Carson. Can the man who may have been responsible for the disappearance of the Princes in the Tower really be described as "great"? Or was he the victim of Tudor propaganda and Shakespearian slander?

Producer Christine Hall.

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Jeremy Deller on The Beatles' manager Brian Epstein

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Caroline Criado-Perez nominates Jane Austen

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Conductor and composer Ferruccio Busoni

May 1st, 2019


Pianist Kirill Gerstein chooses the conductor and composer Ferruccio Busoni. Matthew Parris presents.

When Busoni died in Berlin in 1924, his pupil Kurt Weill said, "We did not lose a human being but a value." …

Malcolm Lowry, writer, nominated by Ian McMillan

April 23rd, 2019


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Ian first discovered this twentieth century …

Catherine de Medici nominated by Helen Lewis

April 18th, 2019


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Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians, chosen by Tom Holland

April 16th, 2019


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Shappi Khorsandi on Emma, Lady Hamilton

April 2nd, 2019


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Matt Lucas on Freddie Mercury

January 22nd, 2019


Matt Lucas chooses Freddie Mercury of Queen. The author of Bohemian Rhapsody, Lesley-Ann Jones, joins him to dissect a legend.

To what extent can a …

Colin Chapman, creator of Lotus Cars, nominated by Rohan Silva

January 15th, 2019


The arrival of Lotus shook up motor sport in 1960s and 70s. In Formula One, Colin Chapman made his cars lighter and quicker than anyone else, often …

Oliver Sacks chosen by neurologist Suzanne O'Sullivan

January 8th, 2019


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Nikesh Shukla on the undefeated Muslim wrestler the Great Gama

January 1st, 2019


Ghulam Mohammad, or the Great Gama Pehlwan as he was more commonly known, was a Muslim wrestler born into a Kashmir family in India in 1878.
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Sathnam Sanghera on Alexander Gardner

December 28th, 2018


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Charlie Chaplin - not just funny but a political rebel according to Mark Steel

December 25th, 2018


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Tim Smit on Humphrey Jennings, Film Maker

December 19th, 2018


Tim Smit has admired Humphrey Jennings since seeing Danny Boyle’s Olympics Opening Ceremony in 2012.
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Russell Kane on Evelyn Waugh

December 11th, 2018


Comedian Russell Kane nominates the novelist Evelyn Waugh, with help from literary critic Ann Pasternak Slater. Chaired by Matthew Parris.

One of the greatest prose stylists of 20th century literature, not to mention one …

Pioneer girl Laura Ingalls Wilder nominated by broadcaster Samira Ahmed

December 4th, 2018


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, …

Christina Lamb on Benazir Bhutto

September 25th, 2018


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Helen Glover on Alison Hargreaves

September 20th, 2018


The Olympic rower Helen Glover is Matthew Parris' guest this week, choosing the life of the mountaineer Alison Hargreaves to discuss with the help of her biographer Ed Douglas. Alison Hargreaves' short life was defined …

Mark Carwardine on Douglas Adams

September 18th, 2018


"Imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, this is an interesting world I find myself in - fits me rather neatly, don't you think?"
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Cherie Blair on Dame Rose Heilbron

September 11th, 2018


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When …

Greg Jenner on Gene Kelly

September 5th, 2018


Greg Jenner on the great song and dance man Gene Kelly, star of Singin' In The Rain. "He was so much better than he had any right to be."
Born in …

Patricia Greene on Bess of Hardwick

August 21st, 2018


Patricia Greene, the actress who plays Jill Archer, makes the case for Elizabeth, Countess of Shrewsbury, or Bess of Hardwick as she's more commonly known. Like her heroine, Patricia was born in Derby and was aware of …

Simon Evans on JS Mill

August 14th, 2018


Towards the end of his comic rant about the descent of man, Simon Evans does something very dangerous. He starts to read out to his audience an extract of John Stuart Mill. Potential comedy death? In this programme he …

Erica Wagner on Roald Amundsen

August 8th, 2018


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Hanif Kureishi on David Bowie

July 31st, 2018


"Suddenly this light comes into your life" - says Hanif Kureishi, referring to his hero, his great life, David Bowie.
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Barbara Stocking on Catherine the Great

May 29th, 2018


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Suzy Klein on Hedy Lamarr

May 22nd, 2018


Hedy Lamarr was described by her studio as the most beautiful woman in the world. A recent film, called Bombshell, argued that she was a brilliant …

Mica Paris on Josephine Baker

May 15th, 2018


For soul singer Mica Paris, when she first dreamt of becoming a singer it was Josephine Baker who inspired her most. Baker was a young black American …

Simon Callow on Orson Welles

May 9th, 2018


The actor Simon Callow nominates one of the giants of the golden age of Hollywood, Orson Welles. He once said of himself he 'started at the top and …

Ayesha Hazarika on Jayaben Desai

May 2nd, 2018


Stand up comedian and political commentator Ayesha Hazarika's hero is Jayaben Desai who led a two year strike at Grunwick Film processing factory in …

Tej Lalvani on Richard Feynman

May 1st, 2018


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Laura Serrant on Audre Lorde

April 26th, 2018


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Adrian Utley of Portishead on Miles Davis

April 17th, 2018


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"He's always been really important in my life, right from early on when my dad used to play him. It was part of the atmosphere …

Jim Moir on Captain Beefheart

April 3rd, 2018


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Gisela Stuart on Joseph Chamberlain

January 25th, 2018


Gisela Stuart, the former Member of Parliament for Birmingham Edgbaston makes the case for Joseph Chamberlain to be nominated as her great life.
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Great Lives

January 23rd, 2018


Liza Tarbuck on Nikola Tesla

Justin Marozzi on Herodotus

January 16th, 2018


Herodotus - father of history or father of lies?

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Hertha Ayrton

January 2nd, 2018


Helen Arney, self confessed science nerd, stand-up entertainer, and once nicknamed a "geek songstress", tells Matthew Parris why she's chosen Hertha Ayrton, the pioneering Victorian physicist, inventor and suffragette, …

Nazir Afzal on Gandhi

January 2nd, 2018


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Daniel O'Connell

December 19th, 2017


On a field outside Dublin, Daniel O'Connell met and shot a former royal marine in a duel. John d'Esterre had been outraged when O'Connell, the later …

Cornelia Parker on Marcel Duchamp

December 12th, 2017


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 …

Will Gregory on Flann O'Brien

December 5th, 2017


Goldfrapp's Will Gregory is centre-stage at the Colston Hall in Bristol to tell Matthew Parris why he feels a kinship with Irish writer Flann O'Brien …

Helena Morrissey on Rachael Heyhoe Flint.

September 26th, 2017


City Boss Dame Helena Morrissey champions the life of Rachael Heyhoe Flint, the pioneer of women's cricket who was regarded as a ground breaker who ruffled feathers and shook up a male dominated sport.
Helena Morrissey …

Andrea Catherwood on Constance Markievicz

September 19th, 2017


Constance Markievicz led an amazing life - a leading figure during the Easter Rising of 1916, she was the first woman elected to Westminster though she never took her seat. Markievicz was born into a wealthy anglo-Irish …

Nicholas Stern on Muhammad Ali

September 12th, 2017


Nicholas Stern is IG Patel Professor of Economics and Government at the London School of Economics, among other positions, and former Chief Economist …

Helen Sharman on Elsie Widdowson

September 5th, 2017


How many people realise the impact Elsie Widdowson had on the way we view nutrition? She was a food scientist who devoted her life to improving the …

Tracy Chevalier on Mary Anning

August 29th, 2017


Matthew Parris and his guest - novelist Tracy Chevalier - discuss the life of Mary Anning, the working class woman from Lyme Regis who discovered …

Don McCullin on Norman Lewis

August 22nd, 2017


In 1968 Norman Lewis wrote an article called Genocide in Brazil. The photographs that accompanied it were by Don McCullin.
Lewis later said that this …

Maxine Peake on Ellen Wilkinson

August 9th, 2017


The actress Maxine Peake nominates her working class hero, Ellen Wilkinson, as a great life. Ellen is regarded as one of the most important figures …

Stephen Fry on PG Wodehouse

August 8th, 2017


Stephen Fry nominates his hero P.G Wodehouse, a writer who he says simply cheers him up like no one else. Fry wrote to his hero when he was a …

Peter Williams of Jack Wills chooses Steve Jobs

June 1st, 2017


This week it's the turn of Peter Williams, founder of the British retail chain Jack Wills who is nominating Steve Jobs as his great life. For …

Iain Lee on Andy Kaufman

May 30th, 2017


There were so many hoaxes in Andy Kaufman's brief career that for years his fans believed that he wasn't really dead. Kaufman's best known as Latka Gravas in the American sitcom Taxi, and his life was undoubtedly weird. …

Sue Cameron on Emma of Normandy

May 16th, 2017


Twice Queen of England and mother of two kings, but have you heard of Emma of Normandy? Doyenne of Whitehall and Westminster journalists, Sue Cameron names William the Conqueror's aunt as her great life.

Matthew Parris …

Steven Knight on Sitting Bull

May 9th, 2017


For Steven Knight, the screen writer and director of Peaky Blinders and Taboo, it was easy to nominate his great life. For him there was just one …

Peaches Golding on Shirley Chisholm

May 2nd, 2017


The American born Peaches Golding OBE, Bristol's new Lord Lieutenant and first black female High Sheriff chooses the African American politician …

Anton du Beke on Arnold Palmer

April 25th, 2017


Biographical series presented by Matthew Parris.

Ermonela Jaho on Mother Teresa

April 20th, 2017


Since her death in 1997, it's been fashionable in some quarters to decry the work of Mother Teresa among India's poor. Here fellow Albanian - the opera singer Ermonela Jaho offers an alternative view of the nun who …

Germaine Greer on Dame Elizabeth Frink

April 11th, 2017


This week's great life has been rather neglected by many; making the case that she deserves better is Germaine Greer.

Dame Elizabeth Frink was best …

Gary Kemp on EW Godwin

April 4th, 2017


Gary Kemp, songwriter and guitarist with hit 80s band Spandau Ballet, chooses the architect and designer Edward William Godwin as his great life.

Chris Patten on Pope John XXIII

January 24th, 2017


Chris Patten, Lord Patten of Barnes, nominates a great life who was born a peasant and became a Pope. Pope John XXIII did well at school but was no …

Len Goodman on Lionel Bart

January 17th, 2017


Len Goodman's great life was one of the biggest figures in creating British musicals and pop music in the 1960's. The writer and lyricist behind the hit musical Oliver, knew everybody who was anybody, made a fortune and …

Akram Khan on Srinivasa Ramanujan

January 10th, 2017


In 1914, a self-taught Mathematics student called Ramanujan left India for Trinity College Cambridge where, alongside the celebrated English …

Suzannah Lipscomb on CS Lewis

January 3rd, 2017


Step though the wardrobe on Great Lives as CS Lewis - creator of the Narnia Chronicles - is this week's choice. Lewis was a fascinating and extremely complicated man. Born in Northern Ireland, his mother died when he …

Ruth Holdaway on Helen Rollason

January 3rd, 2017


Ruth Holdaway, the Chief Executive of Women in Sport picks the sports broadcaster Helen Rollason who in 1990 became the first woman to present …

Orlando Murrin on Dinu Lipatti

December 20th, 2016


For many piano music lovers, Dinu Lipatti, the Romanian concert pianist, stands head and shoulders above others. He lived during a time of great …

Sir Ben Kingsley on Elie Wiesel

December 14th, 2016


Biographical series presented by Matthew Parris. Sir Ben Kingsley tells Matthew Parris why holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel means so much to him.

Lucy Porter on Cary Grant

December 2nd, 2016


The comedian and writer Lucy Porter champions Cary Grant as her Great Life finding that, despite his troubled relationships with women off screen, his on screen charm and generosity towards his female co stars redeems …

Cyrus Todiwala on Dadabhai Naoroji

September 27th, 2016


Chef Cyrus Todiwala chooses Dadabhai Naoroji, the 'Grand Old Man of India' who in 1892 became Britain's first Asian MP for Finsbury Central. He later returned to India and petitioned for the country to be …

AA Gill on Arthur Neville Chamberlain

September 20th, 2016


The writer and critic AA Gill nominates Neville Chamberlain as his great life. But, his choice is someone who is regarded as one of the worst Prime Ministers Britain ever had. Chamberlain, is someone entrenched in …

Eliza Carthy on Caroline Norton

September 13th, 2016


Eliza Carthy chooses the life of nineteenth-century poet and campaigner Caroline Norton to discuss with Matthew Parris.

Following separation from her …

Maureen Lipman on Dame Cicely Saunders

September 7th, 2016


Dame Cicely Saunders was known as 'the woman who changed the face of death'. At almost 6 foot tall, she could be intimidating, tiresome and …

Tony Hawks on Marshall Rosenberg

August 30th, 2016


Marshall Rosenberg was the stern faced creator of nonviolent communication, a man who spent his life finding ways to eradicate hate. Often armed only …

Georgina Godwin on Dag Hammarskjold

August 26th, 2016


Matthew Parris presents a dramatic account of the life and death of Dag Hammarskjold.

Sara Pascoe on Virginia Woolf

August 16th, 2016


Sara Pascoe champions the life of Virginia Woolf, author of 'Mrs Dalloway' and 'A Room of One's Own', describing her as a sensible feminist. Sara …

Alex Salmond on Thomas Muir

August 9th, 2016


Alex Salmond chooses Thomas Muir for Great Lives, whom he describes as the Father of Scottish Democracy.

"I have devoted myself to the cause of The …

Hilary Devey on Gracie Fields

August 2nd, 2016


A singer and a comedienne from Rochdale, Gracie Fields was the nation's darling. But in the midst of World War II, and at the phenomenal peak of her career, our great life fell in love and married an Italian and had to …

Frank Turner on Joseph Grimaldi

May 31st, 2016


Frank Turner chooses Joseph Grimaldi, the first celebrity of Pantomime who changed the face of Clowning forever. Matthew Parris presents, and Mattie Faint is the expert.

Grimaldi was born into a theatrical family, making …

George Fox

May 24th, 2016


George Fox, born in 1624 in Leicestershire, is best known as the founder of the Quakers. In early life he was apprenticed to a shoemaker, and for a while he worked as a shepherd as well. But it was as a preacher …

Charles Moore on Gordon Hamilton-Fairley

May 17th, 2016


Gordon Hamilton-Fairley was a brilliant cancer specialist, the father of oncology in the UK. Then in 1975 he was killed by an IRA bomb intended for a …

Richard the Lionheart

May 16th, 2016


Richard the Lionheart has been portrayed on screen by Sean Connery, Anthony Hopkins and Patrick Stewart, quite a starry list. But what is the reality behind the legend of this famous king? Richard's nominator is Timmy …

Graeme Lamb on Christine Granville

May 3rd, 2016


Former British SAS commander Graeme Lamb champions the life of wartime spy Christine Granville.

Sudha Bhuchar chooses the life of Zohra Sehgal

April 26th, 2016


She was known as 'the grand old lady of Indian cinema' who starred in many Bollywood films famous in India, but not at first in Britain. We got to …

Ray Peacock chooses the life of Lenny Bruce

April 21st, 2016


To his followers Lenny Bruce was a genius and a free speech hero. To his detractors he was labelled sick and dirty.
Bruce shocked his audiences …

Nancy Dell'Olio chooses the life of Lucrezia Borgia.

April 21st, 2016


Nancy Dell'Olio champions Lucrezia Borgia, a Renaissance woman who was much maligned.

Lucrezia Borgia was the Pope's daughter and, over the centuries, her name has been a byword for poison, incest and intrigue. Novels, …

Anthony Horowitz chooses the life of Alfred Hitchcock

April 7th, 2016


Anthony Horowitz regards Alfred Hitchcock as a genius who changed the language of cinema and made some of the most memorable films of the twentieth century.
However, the film director is also seen as a troubled man who …

Eliza Manningham-Buller on Abraham Lincoln

January 26th, 2016


This week it's the turn of a former director of MI5, Eliza Manningham-Buller, who tells Matthew Parris why she regards Abraham Lincoln as a great …

Nitin Sawhney on Jeff Buckley

January 20th, 2016


In this edition, musician and performer Nitin Sawhney champions the life of Jeff Buckley who he regards as a genius singer, songwriter.
The expert is Steve Abbott who was a friend of Buckley's and released his debut …

Susan Calman on Molly Weir

January 13th, 2016


Matthew Parris invites his guests to nominate the person who they feel is a great life. Comedian Susan Calman chooses the Scottish actress Molly Weir …

Martin Jennings on Charles Sargeant Jagger

January 5th, 2016


In this episode, you might not know the name of the Great Life but you have probably walked past his work. At London's Hyde Park Corner - the 'Royal Artillery Memorial' stands - a huge stone monument.

Charles Sargeant …

Scientist Precious Lunga chooses Wangari Maathai

January 4th, 2016


Matthew Parris's guest this week is the epidemiologst Precious Lunga, who nominates for Great Life status that of the Kenyan environmental activist …

Alvin Hall chooses James Baldwin

December 22nd, 2015


Alvin Hall is the friendly face of financial reality, lecturing, writing and broadcasting on the subject of managing money. But he is also passionately interested in fine art, music and literature, and his nomination …

Roger Saul founder of Mulberry chooses garden designer Gertrude Jekyll

December 16th, 2015


Matthew Parris invites fashion designer Roger Saul, who created the Mulberry brand, to nominate a great life. He has chosen the early 20th century …

Dickie Bird on the life of Sir Leonard Hutton

December 8th, 2015


Harold 'Dickie' Bird, now retired but one of our best known cricket umpires champions the life of Sir Leonard Hutton.
According to Dickie, this …

Toyah Willcox on Katharine Hepburn

September 29th, 2015


Dubbed an 'oddity' and 'box office poison', she liked to goad the press and public with her eccentric behaviour and unconventional love life. Her …

Nick Stadlen on Bram Fischer

September 22nd, 2015


This week's Great Life might have become an Afrikaner Nationalist Prime Minister of apartheid South Africa, but instead became its most prominent white opponent. A formidable advocate, he led the defence of Nelson …

Hannah Rothschild on Thelonious Monk

September 15th, 2015


Hannah Rothschild champions the life of the jazz musician Thelonious Monk. Brilliant, eccentric and one of the true giants of jazz, Monk was an incredible pianist, the composer of jazz standards such as 'Round …

Monica Ali chooses Richard Francis Burton

September 1st, 2015


Sir Richard Francis Burton was an explorer, adventurer, soldier, author, poet, sexologist and translator. He brought us the Kama Sutra and spoke 29 …

Ade Adepitan on George Washington Williams

August 25th, 2015


George Washington Williams was an incredibly early, mould-breaking, self-made black intellectual who fought in the American civil war and went on to …

Michael Howard on Elizabeth I

August 19th, 2015


Matthew Parris meets the former leader of the Conservative Party Michael Howard to discuss the life of Elizabeth I of England.

They're joined by …

Vicky Pryce on Melina Mercouri

August 11th, 2015


Vicky Pryce, the Greek born economist who attracted media headlines on her conviction for perverting the course of justice over speeding points incurred by her former husband, Chris Huhne, nominates Melina Mercouri as a …

Ian McKellen on Edmund Hillary

August 4th, 2015


On May 29 1953, Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay reached the summit of Everest. Both men immediately became famous worldwide. The actor Sir Ian McKellen, then a young teenager in Burnley, was clearly struck by the …

PD James by Val McDermid

June 2nd, 2015


Val McDermid thinks crime writing is most definitely a suitable job for a woman. She believes women are good at observing the minutiae of life and incorporating them into clue development. Despite writing a book …

David Blunkett on Louis Braille

May 28th, 2015


Matthew Parris hears why David Blunkett has chosen Louis Braille, the 18th century French boy who blinded himself in his father's workshop, as his great life - with the help of guest expert the RNIB's Kevin Carey.

US Ambassador Matthew Barzun on JG Winant

May 19th, 2015


Matthew Parris meets the American Ambassador Matthew Barzun whose choice of great life is his wartime predecessor, John Gil Winant - the man widely held to have helped seal the special relationship between Britain and …

Antonia Quirke on Marlon Brando

May 12th, 2015


Marlon Brando - greatest actor of the twentieth century ? Film critic Antonia Quirke definitely thinks he is. But the star of the Godfather, On the Waterfront and A Streetcar Named Desire divides opinion in this lively …

Wendy Cope on John Clare

May 5th, 2015


"John Clare, I cried last night for you" wrote Wendy Cope in a poem dedicated to the earlier poet, who overcame monumental setbacks - including a poverty-stricken upbringing and a long struggle with mental illness - to …

Dame Helen Ghosh on James Lees-Milne

April 28th, 2015


Matthew Parris's guest is Dame Helen Ghosh, Director General of the National Trust, who chooses as her Great Life James Lees-Milne who worked for the Trust between 1936 and 1966. He was responsible for acquiring many of …

Kulvinder Ghir on Zoran Music

April 21st, 2015


Comedian and actor Kulvinder Ghir nominates the life of the artist Zoran Music. Matthew Parris finds out about Music who sketched corpses during and …

Rachel Johnson on Ottoline Morrell

April 14th, 2015


Rachel Johnson author and journalist champions the life of Ottoline Morrell. The Bloomsbury hostess, a mistress, a dominant figure in the arts …

Sir Trevor McDonald on Learie Constantine

April 7th, 2015


The veteran broadcaster Sir Trevor McDonald chooses the life of Learie Constantine, the Trinidadian cricketer, politician and broadcaster who …

Mervyn King on Risto Ryti

January 27th, 2015


Mervyn King, former Governor of the Bank of England tells Matthew Parris why the life of the Prime Minister of Finland Risto Ryti was so remarkable.

Nora Ephron

January 26th, 2015


Former newspaper editor and writer Eve Pollard tells Matthew Parris why Nora Ephron, the screenwriter of hit films such as 'When Harry Met Sally', …

Michael Dobbs on Guy Burgess

January 13th, 2015


Michael Dobbs champions the life of Guy Burgess - journalist, diplomat and spy. Between 1935 and 1951, Guy Burgess worked for a Conservative MP, the BBC, MI6 and the Foreign Office. Brilliant, flamboyant and apparently …

Roald Dahl

December 30th, 2014


Writer Roald Dahl is well known as the author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Fantastic Mr Fox and The BFG, but he was also fascinated by …

Michael Young

December 23rd, 2014


Brian Eno has worked with David Bowie, David Byrne and U2 but his choice of Great Life is not a rock star but the sociologist Lord Young of …

Laura Bates on Louisa M Alcott

December 16th, 2014


Laura Bates, journalist and curator of the Everyday Sexism Project, explains to Matthew Parris why the 19th century children's author Louisa M. Alcott has her vote for a Great Life. They are joined by Sarah Churchwell, …

Arthur Smith on Emil Zatopek

December 9th, 2014


Matthew Parris - himself current holder of the House of Commons marathon record time - meets comedian Arthur Smith, who also turns out to have been a …

Prof Edith Hall on Lucille Ball

October 2nd, 2014


Matthew Parris discovers that Edith Hall, Professor of Classics at King's College, London, has a surprising nomination for a Great Life - that of …

Andrew Adonis on Joseph Bazalgette

October 2nd, 2014


Matthew Parris hears from Labour peer Lord Adonis why Joseph Bazalgette, the Victorian engineer, has his nomination as a Great Life.

Bazalgette, the grandson of a French immigrant who made a fortune lending money to the …

Stella Rimington on Dorothy L Sayers

September 10th, 2014


Dame Stella Rimington, former director of MI5 and a celebrated crime writer herself, nominates for a Great Life that of Dorothy L Sayers. Sayers' …

Labi Siffre on Arthur Ransome

September 9th, 2014


Matthew Parris invites his guests to nominate the person who they feel is a great life. This week singer-songwriter Labi Siffre discusses the life and work of Arthur Ransome. Siffre says that the Swallows and Amazons …

Tom Shakespeare on Gramsci

September 2nd, 2014


Dr Tom Shakespeare, lecturer at the Medical School in the University of East Anglia and prominent campaigner for the rights of the disabled, explains …

Ray Mears on Rommel

August 26th, 2014


The life of Erwin Rommel, for a time Hitler's favourite general is nominated by Ray Mears. Matthew Parris hears why this German soldier was a "great …

Baroness Oona King on Ida B Wells

August 19th, 2014


Matthew Parris leads a discussion on Ida B. Wells the African American civil rights and women's rights activist who was a political trailblazer. …

Jazzie B on James Brown

August 12th, 2014


Matthew Parris invites his guests to nominate the person whom they feel is a great life. In this programme, music entrepreneur and DJ Jazzie B of …

Jonathan Meades on Edward Burra

August 5th, 2014


Writer Jonathan Meades nominates the English artist Edward Burra, who died in 1976, for "great life" status, arguing that he deserves to be better …

Ernest Hemingway

May 27th, 2014


Michael Palin first came across his Great Life when he was studying for school exams, and his love of Ernest Hemingway has never gone away. He, along …

John Craven on Brunel

May 13th, 2014


Countryfile presenter John Craven proposes Victorian Engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, as a great life. He's joined by engineering historian Julia …

Isy Suttie on Jake Thackray

May 6th, 2014


Jake Thackray hated being known as the north country Noel Coward, but at the height of his fame the description stuck. His songs are very British, but his influences were European - Georges Brassens and Jacques Brel.

Emma Kirkby on Henry Purcell

May 6th, 2014


Soprano Emma Kirkby discusses the life of English composer Henry Purcell with Matthew Parris. Despite dying at the age of 36, Purcell was arguably the first composer to become a national figure, as shown by his funeral …

Deborah Moggach on Arnold Bennett

April 29th, 2014


Writer Deborah Moggach nominates the author Arnold Bennett whose work she thinks has been wrongly overlooked. Deborah thinks that the work of the …

Marcus du Sautoy on Jorge Luis Borges

April 22nd, 2014


Mathematician Marcus du Sautoy chooses the blind Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges for Great Lives. He is fascinated by the connection between the creator of 'The Library of Babel' and science - did Borges really …

Sir Mark Walport on Sir Hans Sloane

April 15th, 2014


Sir Mark Walport, the government's Chief Scientific Advisor champions the life of Sir Hans Sloane, founder of the British Museum. Along with expert Marjorie Caygill they tell Matthew Parris why they think Sloane is the …

Ian Curtis

April 9th, 2014


Series of biographical discussions with Matthew Parris.

Poet Simon Armitage nominates Joy Division singer Ian Curtis, who took his own life in 1980 at the age of 23. Curtis's fellow band member Peter Hook remembers his …

Sarah Vine on Dante

April 8th, 2014


"Whenever I have too much to drink, I bang on about Dante ...." Sarah Vine makes a choice from the heart - the great Italian writer Dante Alighieri, father of the Italian language and author of the Divine Comedy. "I'm …

Evelyn Glennie on Jacqueline Du Pre

April 1st, 2014


Evelyn Glennie, solo percussionist talks about her admiration for the cellist Jacqueline Du Pre with presenter Matthew Parris.

Producer: Perminder …

DJ Sara Cox nominates singer Lisa 'Left Eye' Lopes

January 28th, 2014


Sara Cox nominates Lisa 'Left Eye' Lopes, a hip hop artist and rapper, the first on Great Lives. The presenter is Matthew Parris.

Producer: Perminder Khatkar.
Assistant Producer: Milly Chowles.

Mark Constantine on Kahlil Gibran

January 23rd, 2014


Snubbed and practically ignored by the literary establishment in the West, this week's Great Live is Kahlil Gibran author of 'The Prophet'. Regarded by millions as a world class poet his work, published in 1923, has …

Meg Rosoff on Isabella Bird

January 23rd, 2014


At home in Edinburgh Isabella Bird was the very picture of the ailing Victorian spinster but the moment her tiny feet hit the gangway of a steamer or squeezed into the stirrups of a horse she was transformed. Taking a …

Dave Allen chosen by Adil Ray

January 14th, 2014


Comedian Dave Allen is chosen by Adil Ray, creator and star of Citizen Khan. He explains to Matthew Parris how the legendary Irish comic helped shape his own career.

Producer: Perminder Khatkar.

David Baddiel on John Updike

January 8th, 2014


His novels perfectly captured the shifting moral codes of middle America in the 1970s and 80s but do John Updike's novels still have something important to tell us today? The writer and comedian David Baddiel makes the …

Sir David Chipperfield on Le Corbusier

December 31st, 2013


Pioneer of Modern architecture, Le Corbusier, chosen by award winning architect Sir David Chipperfield.

Le Corbusier aimed to build a better world …

Michael Horovitz on Allen Ginsberg

December 17th, 2013


Matthew Parris is joined by Michael Horovitz who nominates fellow poet and founder of the Beat generation Allen Ginsberg as his Great Life. Ginsberg's friend and biographer Barry Miles provides biographical detail of …

Ricky Ross on Hank Williams

December 10th, 2013


A new series of Great Lives with Matthew Parris begins with the life of the 'Hillbilly Shakespeare' Hank Williams as chosen by Deacon Blue singer Ricky Ross. Williams is regarded as being the prototype rock star and …

Nina Simone

November 27th, 2013


The chanteuse, pianist, composer and civil rights activist Nina Simone is the choice of another female musician who has made a career of defying convention; Joanna Macgregor. Presented by Matthew Parris.

Nancy Mitford

October 2nd, 2013


Grace Dent loves Nancy Mitford for her wit, and for the way in which she showed women that it was possible to live your life fully and …

Al Murray on Bernard Montgomery

October 1st, 2013


"In defeat, unbeatable; in victory, unbearable" - so said Winston Churchill on this week's Great Life, Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery. Many …

Sir Brendan Barber on John Steinbeck

September 24th, 2013


Matthew Parris is joined by trade unionist Sir Brendan Barber who nominates American author John Steinbeck as his Great Life. The author of The Grapes of Wrath aimed to fight the cause of the common man, was derided by …

Konnie Huq on Ada Lovelace

September 17th, 2013


From Banking, to air traffic control systems and to controlling the United States defence department there's a computer language called 'Ada' - it's …

Peter Bowles on George Devine

September 10th, 2013


Matthew Parris is joined by actor Peter Bowles who nominates George Devine, groundbreaking artistic director of the Royal Court Theatre. Devine battled against repressive censorship, enhanced the careers of actors like …

Paul Mason on Louise Michel

September 3rd, 2013


TV journalist and writer Paul Mason talks to Matthew Parris about the 19th Century French anarchist, Louise Michel, heroine of the Paris Commune. …

Julie Burchill on Ava Gardner

August 27th, 2013


The writer Julie Burchill talks to Matthew Parris about the Hollywood star Ava Gardner. They're joined by Ava's biographer Lee Server. Often …

Tanika Gupta on Rabindranath Tagore

August 20th, 2013


Playwright Tanika Gupta chooses as her Great Life, a man who is a hero to Bengali speakers across the World, Rabindranath Tagore.

Born in 1861, to a …

Gabriel Gbadamosi on Fela Kuti

August 13th, 2013


Poet, playwright, and critic Gabriel Gbadamosi chooses as his Great Life the political maverick and inventor of Afrobeat, musician Fela Kuti, and …

Ivor Novello

August 6th, 2013


Astrologer and performer Russell Grant chooses one of the greatest screen legends of cinema's early years - Ivor Novello. Born in 1893 in Cardiff, he …

Florence Nightingale

June 5th, 2013


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, Florence was however not just …

Primo Levi

May 21st, 2013


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 …

Salvador Dali

May 14th, 2013


John Cooper Clarke, poetry's Punk Laureate, nominates Salvador Dali for great life status - melting clocks, bright red sofas in the shape of Mae West's lips, lobster telephones, trademark sharply pointed waxed moustache …

Bill Shankly

May 7th, 2013


Mumsnet founder Justine Roberts champions the life of the legendary football manager Bill Shankly, who in the 1960s took Liverpool from the second …

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

April 30th, 2013


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

Conan …

David Livingstone

April 23rd, 2013


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 …

Kenny Everett

April 16th, 2013


Chris Tarrant chooses one of the great pioneers of modern radio - a man born Maurice Cole in Liverpool in 1944, who became famous on television as …


April 9th, 2013


The DJ and broadcaster Bobby Friction champions the Italian physicist and astronomer Galileo Galilei. He is the first Great Lives guest to have named a child after his nominated hero.

Galileo was born on 25th February …

George Bell

April 2nd, 2013


"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 …

William Robinson

January 29th, 2013


Gardener Carol Klein's great life is a Victorian hero of the wild garden, the writer and horticulturalist William Robinson. Matthew Parris presents, …

Aubrey Beardsley

January 15th, 2013


Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen on the Victorian artist Aubrey Beardsley, whose shocking originality he compares to that of Alexander McQueen. Laurence's …

John Stuart Mill

January 8th, 2013


Max Mosley nominates the philosopher and proponent of personal liberty, John Stuart Mill, as his great life. With presenter Matthew Parris and biographer Richard Reeves.

Max Mosley trained as a barrister and was an …

Grigori Rasputin

January 1st, 2013


What was so notable about Grigori Rasputin ? "The hypnotic power shining in his exceptional gaze," said one observer. The photos are indeed remarkable, and so are the myths. This programme begins with his death. The …

Ralph Vaughan Williams

December 25th, 2012


Matthew Parris talks to writer, broadcaster and 6Music presenter Stuart Maconie about the life of Ralph Vaughan Williams.

The expert witness is Em Marshall-Luck, chairman of the Ralph Vaughan Williams Society and …

Jean Cocteau

December 11th, 2012


Children’s author Francesca Simon chooses artist, writer and film-maker Jean Cocteau. With Matthew Parris. From December 2012.

Dick Francis

December 4th, 2012


The date is 1956, Aintree, and Dick Francis is riding the Queen Mother's horse to victory in the Grand National. Except Devon Loch collapses …

George Orwell

September 28th, 2012


Whilst at school, a young Alan Johnson was given some money by a teacher and told to go and buy four copies of any book for the school library. He …

Edith Wharton

September 25th, 2012


"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, …

Karel Reisz

September 11th, 2012


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 …

Stan Laurel

September 4th, 2012


The late Ken Dodd explains to Matthew Parris why Stan Laurel inspired him to get into comedy, with the help of expert Glenn Mitchell.

Born Stan Jefferson into a theatrical family, in Lancashire, he later moved to the …


August 29th, 2012


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 …

Leonard Maguire

August 21st, 2012


Matthew Parris finds out why the actor Bill Paterson would nominate for Great Life status a Scottish actor little known outside Scotland. He is …

Walter Scott

August 14th, 2012


Tory MP author and adventurer Rory Stewart champions the life of Sir Walter Scott. Presenter Matthew Parris is joined by Scott's biographer Stuart Kelly. Scott arguably invented the idea of Scottishness and marketed it …

Josephine Bonaparte

August 7th, 2012


"I get to Milan," wrote Napoleon. "I fling myself into your room. I have left everything in order to see you, to clasp you in my arms .... you were …

Henry Cooper

July 31st, 2012


The date is June 18 1963, the final seconds of the fourth round of a boxing match. In the ring, Henry Cooper, eight years older and 26 pounds lighter …

Sebastian Walker

May 22nd, 2012


Lynn Barber first met Sebastian Walker at Oxford. "He was the first person I'd ever met who was gay...quite funny looking with a big adam's apple and bespeckled face...he dressed in a very dandy way."

He formed …


May 15th, 2012


Diana Athill joins Matthew Parris to explore the life of the Spanish painter, Francisco de Goya, who has been called the last old masters and the …

John Ford

May 8th, 2012


John Ford had a monumental Hollywood career - over 140 films, Oscars he never turned up to receive, and a blunt way of approaching the business that …

Edward Said

April 26th, 2012


Edward Said was a man, who, in his own words, lived two quite separate lives. First there was the scholar and literary critic of Columbia University, …

George Lyward

April 24th, 2012


The musician and broadcaster Tom Robinson nominates educationalist George Lyward in this episode of Great Lives.

Aged 15 and struggling with his sexuality, Tom Robinson attempted to take his own life and had a nervous …

Gertrude Stein

April 17th, 2012


Gertude Stein, American poet, writer and art collector, lived most of her life in France. She was one of the first people to spot the genius of …

Oscar Wilde

April 10th, 2012


Oscar Wilde, author of The Importance of Being Earnest and The Ballad of Reading Gaol, is proposed by Will Self, a writer once described as a 'high …

Dylan Thomas

April 3rd, 2012


Dylan Thomas, arguably Wales's most famous poet, comes under scrutiny on Great Lives. A man famous both for his linguistic exuberance and his …

Razia Sultana

January 31st, 2012


Co-chairman of the Conservative party, Baroness Warsi recalls her Pakistani-born father during her Yorkshire childhood telling her about the heroic martial deeds conducted by a thirteenth century Indian princess, Razia …

Vera Brittain

January 24th, 2012


The pacifist Vera Brittain - whose Testament of Youth conveys the toll of the First World War on her generation - is discussed by her daughter …

Gracie Allen

January 17th, 2012


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

Joseph Rotblat

January 10th, 2012


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 …

Lonnie Donegan

January 3rd, 2012


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 …

Ludwig II of Bavaria

December 27th, 2011


Brian Sewell on his long-standing love of "Mad" King Ludwig II of Bavaria, who built the ultimate fantasy castle at Neuschwanstein. From his first …

Thomas Hobbes

December 20th, 2011


Thomas Hobbes: the writer and psychologist Steven Pinker joins Matthew Parris to discuss the life of the great English philosopher. Noel Malcolm from …

Ludwig Wittgenstein

December 13th, 2011


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 …

Philip K Dick

December 6th, 2011


Actor Michael Sheen (Frost/Nixon; The Queen; Midnight in Paris) explores the life of Philip K. Dick with Matthew Parris, and explains why he had such a big influence on his recent production of Hamlet.

Michael first …

William Shakespeare

October 7th, 2011


No less a figure than the national bard, William Shakespeare, is nominated for great life status by poetry curator and TV producer, Daisy Goodwin. …

Gerald Durrell

September 27th, 2011


Former England footballer Graeme le Saux champions the life of writer, broadcaster and conservationist Gerald Durrell. Graeme and presenter Matthew …

Hildegard Von Bingen

September 20th, 2011


When the singer Cerys Matthews first played the music of the 12th century nun, Hildegard von Bingen, on her BBC 6 music show, she said she felt she …

Edwin Lutyens

September 13th, 2011


If Edwin Lutyens, the architect behind New Delhi, the Cenotaph, and the British embassy in Washington, sounds an austere, imperial figure then think again. He was fun and almost child-like - he loved to dance and …

Hans Fallada

September 6th, 2011


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

Eduardo Paolozzi

August 23rd, 2011


This week's Great Life, Sir Eduardo Paolozzi, hated being tagged as the father of pop art, yet his representations of images from popular culture …

Kirsty MacColl

August 9th, 2011


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

Graham Greene

August 2nd, 2011


The Third Man, Brighton Rock, Travels With My Aunt - the books of Graham Greene all still have a definite ring. But the the man himself was an enigma. He worked both as a spy as well as a foreign correspondent, and …

Harold Pinter

May 24th, 2011


Matthew Parris is joined by Diane Abbott MP and biographer and critic Michael Billington to explore the life of playwright and Nobel Laureate Harold …

Jack Johnson

May 17th, 2011


It was the fight of the century, July 4th 1910, when Tim Jeffries, the so-called Great White Hope, was stopped by Jack Johnson in the 15th round. …

Petra Kelly

May 10th, 2011


Matthew Parris presents the biographical series in which his guests choose someone who has inspired their lives. Green MP Caroline Lucas nominates …

Lewis Carroll

May 3rd, 2011


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

Kathleen Ferrier

April 26th, 2011


Kathleen Ferrier was a British contralto singer who died in 1953 from breast cancer. Her professional career had lasted just 14 years but in that time she had had become an international star, singing at Covent Garden, …

Simone de Beauvoir

April 19th, 2011


Actress Diana Quick tells Matthew Parris why she believes that existentialist philosopher Simone de Beauvoir lived a great life, despite living in …

Leonard Bernstein

April 12th, 2011


The conductor Charles Hazlewood chooses the great American composer Leonard Bernstein, music director of the New York Philharmonic and creator of …

Thomas Edison

April 5th, 2011


Matthew Parris presents the biographical series in which his guests choose someone who has inspired their lives. Here, Sir Clive Sinclair nominates fellow inventor Thomas Edison. Edison invented sound recording, the …

Marcus Garvey

February 1st, 2011


Playwright Kwame Kwei-Armah is a passionate advocate of Marcus Garvey, the inspirational black leader of the early twentieth century. Long before …

Mary Stott

January 25th, 2011


The writer Katharine Whitehorn chooses Mary Stott, the great campaigning journalist and the first editor of the Guardian women's page. She's the …

Gertrude Bell

January 18th, 2011


Gertrude Bell was a British woman who arguably founded the modern state of Iraq. Explorer, mountaineer and archaeologist, this extraordinarily …

Aneurin Bevan

January 4th, 2011


In his time, Aneurin Bevan was, according to one biographer, "the most colourful and controversial, most loved and most loathed political personality …

Sammy Davis Jr

December 28th, 2010


Lionel Blair chooses his friend and dancing partner Sammy Davis Jr. Sammy described himself as a 'one-eyed black Jew' - and he was described by others as one of the greatest all-round entertainers of all time.
Lionel …

Samuel Beckett

December 21st, 2010


Business guru Sir Gerry Robinson was born in Ireland but moved to England in his teens, and he chooses Samuel Beckett, another Irishman who lived away for much of his life - in Paris. Gerry, a late convert to Beckett's …

DH Lawrence

December 14th, 2010


DH Lawrence was, in the words of Geoff Dyer, a man with thin wrists and thick trousers. He was also the author of Women in Love, Sons and Lovers and Lady Chatterley's Lover. But poet and performer John Hegley has chosen …

Malcolm McLaren

December 7th, 2010


Matthew Parris presents the life of the great rock and roll swindler, Malcolm McLaren, who died earlier this year.

'I've been called many things,' …

Walt Disney

September 28th, 2010


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 …

Michel de Montaigne

September 21st, 2010


Michel de Montaigne is one of the most influential writers of the French Renaissance. He is known for popularising the essay as a literary genre …

Winston Churchill

September 14th, 2010


Winston Churchill's is the Great Life chosen by Lord Digby Jones, former Director General of the CBI. Expert contribution comes from Professor David …

Golda Meir

September 7th, 2010


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 …

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