Great Lives

BBC Radio 4


Biographical series in which guests choose someone who has inspired their lives.

Looking for recently uploaded episodes
Matt Lucas on Freddie Mercury

30:54 | Jan 22nd

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 troubled childhood contribute to an adult's need to perform? Farrokh Bulsara was born in Zanzibar, se...Show More

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

27:13 | Jan 15th

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 challenging the rules. But not everything he designed was safe. On the roads, Lotus sports cars are...Show More

Oliver Sacks chosen by neurologist Suzanne O'Sullivan

27:45 | Jan 8th

Matthew Parris meets Suzanne O'Sullivan to discuss her medical and literary hero, Oliver Sacks. She first came across his work on a beach in Thailand, reading his famous collection of case studies, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. Joining th...Show More

Nikesh Shukla on the undefeated Muslim wrestler the Great Gama

27:14 | Jan 1st

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. When writer Nikesh Shukla first came across him in a book at the airport, he thought must be a fictional cha...Show More

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

27:45 | Dec 25th, 2018

Mark Steel makes the case for Charlie Chaplin being one of the most radical comedians of his time. He reckons it's sad that most see Chaplin as that bloke who wore a bowler hat, had a funny walk, waved a cane around and wasn’t even that funny. Mark a...Show More

Tim Smit on Humphrey Jennings, Film Maker

27:50 | Dec 19th, 2018

Tim Smit has admired Humphrey Jennings since seeing Danny Boyle’s Olympics Opening Ceremony in 2012. Jennings was a film maker, artist, and co-founder of the Mass Observation Movement. Many of the scenes in that memorable Olympic ceremony were inspi...Show More

Russell Kane on Evelyn Waugh

27:42 | Dec 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 of the funniest, novelist Ev...Show More

Pioneer girl Laura Ingalls Wilder nominated by broadcaster Samira Ahmed

30:04 | Dec 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, but the original American pione...Show More

Christina Lamb on Benazir Bhutto

27:41 | Sep 25th, 2018

Benazir Bhutto made history when, aged 35, she became the first democratically elected female Prime Minister of a Muslim majority country. Her family are one of world’s most famous political dynasties, but also one blighted by tragedy – murder, feud ...Show More

Helen Glover on Alison Hargreaves

27:49 | Sep 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 by her love of the mountains. S...Show More

Mark Carwardine on Douglas Adams

31:08 | Sep 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?" Douglas Noel Adams wasn't even fifty when he died in 2001, but his imagination had already roamed far. He c...Show More

Cherie Blair on Dame Rose Heilbron

27:29 | Sep 11th, 2018

For Cherie Blair, leading barrister and QC, picking her great life was simple - her role model is Rose Heilbron, England's first woman judge. When Cherie was growing up in Liverpool, Rose Heilbron was always the name that excited her grandmother the...Show More

Greg Jenner on Gene Kelly

30:28 | Sep 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 Pittsburgh in 1912, Gene Kelly was a broad-shouldered Irish American whose first love was ice hockey. B...Show More

Patricia Greene on Bess of Hardwick

27:35 | Aug 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 the nearby grand stately home Ha...Show More

Simon Evans on JS Mill

28:45 | Aug 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 explains why the famous Victoria...Show More

Erica Wagner on Roald Amundsen

27:11 | Aug 8th, 2018

"We are ready to take the Pole in any kind of weather on offer," wrote the Norwegian Roald Amundsen in December 1911. Born in 1872, Amundsen is part of a group of men - including the playwright Henrik Ibsen and the explorer Fridjtof Nansen - who gave...Show More

Hanif Kureishi on David Bowie

27:37 | Jul 31st, 2018

"Suddenly this light comes into your life" - says Hanif Kureishi, referring to his hero, his great life, David Bowie. Hanif, an author, screenwriter and film maker went on to become friends with Bowie in the 1990's after they worked together when Bo...Show More

Barbara Stocking on Catherine the Great

28:33 | May 29th, 2018

Catherine the Great assumed power in a St Petersburg coup, extended the empire into Crimea, Ukraine and Alaska. is Russia's longest lasting female ruler, and wasn't even Russian herself. All of this intrigues Dame Barbara Stocking, former head of Oxf...Show More

Suzy Klein on Hedy Lamarr

29:38 | 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 inventor as well. But what was going on behind that wonderful face? Suzy Klein, host of the BBC Proms, ...Show More

Mica Paris on Josephine Baker

28:41 | 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 dancer who became an overnight sensation in Paris in 1925 after performing wild, uninhibited routine...Show More

Simon Callow on Orson Welles

29:13 | 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 worked his way down' never managing to recreate the success he had aged 26 with Citizen Kane, which he...Show More

Ayesha Hazarika on Jayaben Desai

27:19 | 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 North London. The majority of the workers were migrant women and they became known as the 'strikers i...Show More

Tej Lalvani on Richard Feynman

29:07 | May 1st, 2018

Richard Feynman was a physicist who helped design the atomic bomb and won the Nobel Prize. He is the great life choice of businessman Tej Lalvani CEO of his family business Vitabiotics and the newest Dragon on the BBC show Dragon's Den. Feynman was a...Show More

Laura Serrant on Audre Lorde

27:47 | Apr 26th, 2018

Professor Laura Serrant of Sheffield Hallam University, named as one of the most inspirational figures in healthcare, chooses the life of the black, gay poet and activist Audre Lorde who still inspires the women's movement today. She tells Matthew Pa...Show More

Adrian Utley of Portishead on Miles Davis

29:26 | Apr 17th, 2018

Miles Davis - trumpeter, composer, bandleader - is championed by Adrian Utley of Portishead. "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 of our house." From the earl...Show More

Jim Moir on Captain Beefheart

29:47 | Apr 3rd, 2018

The comedian, actor and artist Jim Moir aka Vic Reeves is Matthew Parris' guest and chooses the life of Don van Vliet - the Dadesque musician and painter Captain Beefheart who has influenced many musicians since the 1960s. They are joined by Beefhear...Show More

Gisela Stuart on Joseph Chamberlain

27:13 | Jan 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. But can she really make the case for this former industrialist who made it to the cabinet but had a knack...Show More

Great Lives

27:44 | Jan 23rd, 2018

Liza Tarbuck on Nikola Tesla

Justin Marozzi on Herodotus

28:34 | Jan 16th, 2018

Herodotus - father of history or father of lies? Matthew Parris introduces a sparky discussion about a writer whose achievements include a nine book account of a war between east and west - the Persian invasions of Greece. Justin Marozzi proposes h...Show More

Hertha Ayrton

27:44 | Jan 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, as her great life. Ayrton, we h...Show More

Nazir Afzal on Gandhi

27:42 | Jan 2nd, 2018

This week Matthew Parris invites the former Chief Crown Prosecutor for North West England Nazir Afzal who was responsible for convicting the men who sexually abused young girls in Rochdale to nominate a great life. He has chosen Mahatma Gandhi, also ...Show More

Daniel O'Connell

28:31 | Dec 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 hero of Catholic emancipation, described the mainly Protestant Dublin corporation as a 'beggarly corp...Show More

Cornelia Parker on Marcel Duchamp

27:50 | Dec 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 he's influenced not only her work ...Show More

Will Gregory on Flann O'Brien

31:23 | Dec 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 whose books 'At Swim-Two-Birds' and 'The Third Policeman' are now hailed as literary masterpieces bu...Show More

Helena Morrissey on Rachael Heyhoe Flint.

27:31 | Sep 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 who has also made it to the top...Show More

Andrea Catherwood on Constance Markievicz

28:30 | Sep 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 family and gained her exotic s...Show More

Nicholas Stern on Muhammad Ali

33:07 | Sep 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 at the World Bank. He is also a massive boxing fan and chooses the life of Muhammad Ali to explore w...Show More

Helen Sharman on Elsie Widdowson

38:41 | Sep 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 diets of adults and children in Britain and abroad. Matthew Parris hears why Helen Sharman, the firs...Show More

Tracy Chevalier on Mary Anning

29:03 | Aug 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 full dinosaur skeletons on Dorset's Jurassic Coast and sold them to collectors in the early 1800s. They ...Show More

Don McCullin on Norman Lewis

27:38 | Aug 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 one piece of journalism was the great achievement of his life. It led directly to the creation of S...Show More

Sathnam Sanghera on Alexander Gardner

28:48 | Aug 15th, 2017

Author and Journalist Sathnam Sanghera nominates a Great Life; a man dismissed as a fantasist and a liar in his own lifetime. Alexander Gardner was a Scottish-American soldier, a traveller, an explorer and adventurer - a white man with a tartan turba...Show More

Maxine Peake on Ellen Wilkinson

27:42 | Aug 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 in the history of British radical left politics. She joined the Communist party, met Lenin and Trotsky...Show More

Stephen Fry on PG Wodehouse

29:50 | Aug 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 schoolboy and his most treasured possession is a signed photograph which reads: "To Stephen Fry, All the bes...Show More

Peter Williams of Jack Wills chooses Steve Jobs

28:06 | Jun 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 Williams, despite the fact that Steve Jobs was an abrasive and difficult person, it was his ability to predi...Show More

Iain Lee on Andy Kaufman

26:10 | 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. Performance artist, Elvis impe...Show More

Sue Cameron on Emma of Normandy

27:23 | 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 explores the time 1,000 years...Show More

Steven Knight on Sitting Bull

27:38 | 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 choice, his all- time hero Sitting Bull. As a young boy growing up in Birmingham in the 1970s, Steven wa...Show More

Peaches Golding on Shirley Chisholm

27:40 | 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 Shirley Chisholm who ran unsuccessfully for President in 1972 to discuss with Matthew Parris and the hist...Show More

Anton du Beke on Arnold Palmer

27:43 | Apr 25th, 2017

Biographical series presented by Matthew Parris.

Ermonela Jaho on Mother Teresa

27:39 | Apr 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 dedicated her life to running homes...Show More

Germaine Greer on Dame Elizabeth Frink

27:55 | Apr 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 known for striking sculptures ranging from horses and goats to wild eagles and disembodied heads. As ...Show More

Gary Kemp on EW Godwin

27:21 | Apr 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. Gary began collecting pieces of Godwin's work as soon as he started making money from hit singles in t...Show More

Chris Patten on Pope John XXIII

27:44 | Jan 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 star. He wasn't a striking figure of a man and struggled to keep his weight under control. There was n...Show More

Len Goodman on Lionel Bart

27:26 | Jan 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 partied with Royalty. But like...Show More

Akram Khan on Srinivasa Ramanujan

27:29 | Jan 10th, 2017

In 1914, a self-taught Mathematics student called Ramanujan left India for Trinity College Cambridge where, alongside the celebrated English mathematician GH Hardy, he completed some extraordinary work on Pi and prime numbers. What was even more extr...Show More

Suzannah Lipscomb on CS Lewis

27:29 | Jan 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 was a child, and his university c...Show More

Ruth Holdaway on Helen Rollason

27:41 | Jan 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 Grandstand. Helen Rollason trained as a teacher, but after stints in community and local radio moved to th...Show More

Orlando Murrin on Dinu Lipatti

27:59 | Dec 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 turbulence, leaving his native Romania for Switzerland at the outbreak of the second World War. He left b...Show More

Sir Ben Kingsley on Elie Wiesel

27:32 | Dec 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

27:48 | Dec 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 him. Lucy joins Matthew Parris a...Show More

Cyrus Todiwala on Dadabhai Naoroji

27:44 | Sep 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 self-governing. Ghandi, who was Dadabhai's me...Show More

AA Gill on Arthur Neville Chamberlain

27:53 | Sep 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 popular legend, as the man who faile...Show More

Eliza Carthy on Caroline Norton

27:47 | Sep 13th, 2016

Eliza Carthy chooses the life of nineteenth-century poet and campaigner Caroline Norton to discuss with Matthew Parris. Following separation from her controlling husband, Norton fought to gain access to her three children. She campaigned for thirty...Show More

Maureen Lipman on Dame Cicely Saunders

27:53 | Sep 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 relentless as she devoted her life to ensuring that terminally ill people could die with dignity and without p...Show More

Tony Hawks on Marshall Rosenberg

27:48 | Aug 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 with his trademark giraffe and jackal puppets, Rosenberg toured the world teaching a new way of spea...Show More

Georgina Godwin on Dag Hammarskjold

27:30 | Aug 26th, 2016

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

Sara Pascoe on Virginia Woolf

27:41 | Aug 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 explains why she thinks if she were alive today, Woolf would be a comedian, and how through her diaries ...Show More

Alex Salmond on Thomas Muir

27:32 | Aug 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 People. It is a good cause - it shall ultimately prevail - it shall finally triumph." (Thomas Muir) ...Show More

Hilary Devey on Gracie Fields

27:52 | Aug 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 flee to America. She was disown...Show More

Frank Turner on Joseph Grimaldi

27:08 | 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 his stage debut aged two dre...Show More

George Fox

27:54 | 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 travelling widely across the land that...Show More

Charles Moore on Gordon Hamilton-Fairley

27:38 | 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 politician who lived in his street. Former editor of the Daily Telegraph Charles Moore chooses a man...Show More

Richard the Lionheart

27:40 | 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 Mallett, a legend of children's ...Show More

Graeme Lamb on Christine Granville

27:57 | 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

27:47 | Apr 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 know her best in her later years when Zohra Sehgal starred in the TV series - 'The Jewel in The Crown' ...Show More

Ray Peacock chooses the life of Lenny Bruce

27:29 | Apr 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 intentionally. In his uncompromisingly frank humour he took on organized religion, government, jingoism, c...Show More

Nancy Dell'Olio chooses the life of Lucrezia Borgia

27:44 | Apr 21st, 2016

Nancy Dell'Olio nominates the controversial life of Lucrezia Borgia as she says she identifies with this great Renaissance woman as she too is "considered a controversial figure". Lucrezia Borgia was the Pope's daughter and over the centuries her nam...Show More

Anthony Horowitz chooses the life of Alfred Hitchcock

27:43 | Apr 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 was at times abusive towards so...Show More

Eliza Manningham-Buller on Abraham Lincoln

27:55 | Jan 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 life. But will her hero stand up to intensive scrutiny and merit the description of having led a great l...Show More

Nitin Sawhney on Jeff Buckley

27:53 | Jan 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 record. Matthew Parris is the pres...Show More

Susan Calman on Molly Weir

27:56 | Jan 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 who began her long career on radio before moving into television and becoming one of the first Scott...Show More

Martin Jennings on Charles Sargeant Jagger

27:53 | Jan 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 Jagger was arguably the first B...Show More

Scientist Precious Lunga chooses Wangari Maathai

27:55 | Jan 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 Wangari Muta Maathai. In the course of her life, Professor Maathai made a huge contribution to re-esta...Show More

Alvin Hall chooses James Baldwin

27:48 | Dec 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 for a Great Life is that of write...Show More

Roger Saul founder of Mulberry chooses garden designer Gertrude Jekyll

28:05 | Dec 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 garden designer Gertrude Jekyll whose beautiful gardens instilled in him a love of plants and landscapi...Show More

Dickie Bird on the life of Sir Leonard Hutton

27:47 | Dec 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 Yorkshireman is one of the greatest opening batsmen of all time, who made history by becoming the first pr...Show More

Toyah Willcox on Katharine Hepburn

27:52 | Sep 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 career in Hollywood spanned six decades, during which she starred alongside other Hollywood greats, incl...Show More

Nick Stadlen on Bram Fischer

27:52 | Sep 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 Mandela in the Rivonia Trial. It is ...Show More

Hannah Rothschild on Thelonious Monk

27:36 | Sep 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 Midnight', the co-creator of bebop and a...Show More

Monica Ali chooses Richard Francis Burton

27:45 | Sep 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 languages. The author Monica Ali champions this racy character and tells Matthew Parris why this 19th-...Show More

Ade Adepitan on George Washington Williams

27:29 | Aug 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 write the first history of African Americans. He met King Leopold of Belgium and exposed that country...Show More

Michael Howard on Elizabeth I

27:56 | Aug 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 Professor Paulina Kewes of Jesus College Oxford. Producer: Maggie Ayre.

Vicky Pryce on Melina Mercouri

27:56 | Aug 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 great life at a time when Gree...Show More

Ian McKellen on Edmund Hillary

27:41 | Aug 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 achievement. In later life he met H...Show More

PD James by Val McDermid

27:55 | Jun 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 entitled 'An Unsuitable Job For A Woma...Show More

David Blunkett on Louis Braille

27:59 | 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. Producer: Maggie Ayre.

US Ambassador Matthew Barzun on JG Winant

25:00 | 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 America and to have brought the ...Show More

Antonia Quirke on Marlon Brando

27:50 | 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 assessment of his life. With co...Show More

Wendy Cope on John Clare

27:44 | 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 write some of the most sensitiv...Show More

Dame Helen Ghosh on James Lees-Milne

27:45 | Apr 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 the Trust's most iconic proper...Show More

Kulvinder Ghir on Zoran Music

27:45 | Apr 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 after he survived the horrors of being held at Dachau- a concentration camp in 1944. They are also j...Show More

Rachel Johnson on Ottoline Morrell

27:45 | Apr 14th, 2015

Rachel Johnson author and journalist champions the life of Ottoline Morrell. The Bloomsbury hostess, a mistress, a dominant figure in the arts without being an artist herself was often mocked and ridiculed. Rachel tells Matthew Parris why her extraor...Show More

Sir Trevor McDonald on Learie Constantine

24:29 | Apr 7th, 2015

The veteran broadcaster Sir Trevor McDonald chooses the life of Learie Constantine, the Trinidadian cricketer, politician and broadcaster who championed the rights of West Indians in Britain during the war years and afterwards. Producer: Maggie Ayre...Show More

Mervyn King on Risto Ryti

28:04 | Jan 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. They are also joined by expert and biographer Martti Turtola. Producer: Perminder Khatkar.

Nora Ephron

27:59 | Jan 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', 'Heartburn', and 'Sleepless in Seattle', is a Great Life. They are joined by Dr Jennifer Smyth, an his...Show More

Michael Dobbs on Guy Burgess

27:42 | Jan 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 shambolic, he also shot like an...Show More

Philippa Langley on Richard III

27:49 | Jan 6th, 2015

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...Show More

Roald Dahl

27:48 | Dec 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 medical science. Professor Tom Solomon, who looked after him during his last illness, spent hours discussi...Show More

Michael Young

24:26 | Dec 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 Dartington. Michael Young wrote the Labour party's 1945 election manifesto, researched slum clearance in the E...Show More

Laura Bates on Louisa M Alcott

27:51 | Dec 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, Professor of American Literatur...Show More

Arthur Smith on Emil Zatopek

27:41 | Dec 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 runner when he was younger, and whose choice for a Great Life is an athlete whom he has admired sinc...Show More

Prof Edith Hall on Lucille Ball

27:36 | Oct 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 Lucille Ball, the vivacious redhead who in the 1950s and 1960s was one of the best-known and best-loved ...Show More

Andrew Adonis on Joseph Bazalgette

27:48 | Oct 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 Hanoverian royal family, is o...Show More

Stella Rimington on Dorothy L Sayers

27:50 | Sep 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' first Lord Peter Wimsey novel was published in the 1920s, the Golden Age of crime fiction, and he is sti...Show More

Labi Siffre on Arthur Ransome

27:45 | Sep 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 books taught him responsibility f...Show More

Tom Shakespeare on Gramsci

28:00 | Sep 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 to Matthew Parris why the life and work of the Italian left-wing revolutionary Antonio Gramsci means...Show More

Ray Mears on Rommel

27:35 | Aug 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 life". They are also joined by Dr Niall Barr, Reader in Military History, Defence Studies Department ...Show More

Baroness Oona King on Ida B Wells

27:55 | Aug 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. Throughout her life, Wells was militant in her demands for equality and justice for black Americans and s...Show More

Jazzie B on James Brown

27:50 | Aug 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 Soul II Soul chooses American singer and musician, James Brown, 'the Godfather of Funk'. Jazzie B, who...Show More

Jonathan Meades on Edward Burra

27:55 | Aug 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 known. Burra painted sailors, drinkers and prostitutes in Toulon; jazz musicians in Harlem; surreal wa...Show More

Ernest Hemingway

27:42 | 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 with expert Naomi Wood, tells Matthew Parris why this twentieth century legend is a Great Life. Pro...Show More

John Craven on Brunel

27:50 | May 13th, 2014

Countryfile presenter John Craven proposes Victorian Engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, as a great life. He's joined by engineering historian Julia Elton and presenter Matthew Parris And where better to discuss Brunel's achievements than by the harb...Show More

Isy Suttie on Jake Thackray

27:57 | 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. Nominating Jake Thackray is Isy ...Show More

Emma Kirkby on Henry Purcell

24:26 | 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 at Westminster Abbey. Living th...Show More

Deborah Moggach on Arnold Bennett

27:56 | Apr 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 Staffordshire writer Arnold Bennett has been forgotten, largely due to snobbery on the part of the Bloom...Show More

Marcus du Sautoy on Jorge Luis Borges

28:03 | Apr 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 understand notions of infinity and...Show More

Sir Mark Walport on Sir Hans Sloane

27:42 | Apr 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 mother and father of all collec...Show More

Ian Curtis

28:09 | Apr 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 friend.

Sarah Vine on Dante

27:32 | Apr 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 not an expert," she says, "mine ...Show More

Evelyn Glennie on Jacqueline Du Pre

27:52 | Apr 1st, 2014

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

DJ Sara Cox nominates singer Lisa 'Left Eye' Lopes

27:48 | Jan 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

27:52 | Jan 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 never been out of print and next t...Show More

Meg Rosoff on Isabella Bird

27:38 | Jan 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 doctor's advice to travel for th...Show More

Dave Allen chosen by Adil Ray

27:46 | Jan 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

27:40 | Jan 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 case for Updike in conversation...Show More

Sir David Chipperfield on Le Corbusier

28:03 | Dec 31st, 2013

Pioneer of Modern architecture, Le Corbusier, chosen by award winning architect Sir David Chipperfield. Le Corbusier aimed to build a better world through radical buildings and the controversial reshaping of whole cities. Flora Samuel, Professor of ...Show More

Michael Horovitz on Allen Ginsberg

28:00 | Dec 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 this colourful and controversial ...Show More

Ricky Ross on Hank Williams

27:47 | Dec 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 continues to be hugely influential...Show More

Nina Simone

28:30 | Nov 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

28:07 | Oct 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. Grace Dent is a TV critic, newspaper columnist, author, and broadcaster - and a feared presence on Twitter. Nancy Mitford's ...Show More

Al Murray on Bernard Montgomery

27:37 | Oct 1st, 2013

"In defeat, unbeatable; in victory, unbearable" - so said Winston Churchill on this week's Great Life, Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery. Many would argue that he was Britain's greatest field commander since Wellington - arrogant, hard to like but...Show More

Sir Brendan Barber on John Steinbeck

28:03 | Sep 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 the right as a Communist and by...Show More

Konnie Huq on Ada Lovelace

27:32 | Sep 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 named after Ada Lovelace - a 19th century mathematician and daughter of Lord Byron. Ada Lovelace is t...Show More

Peter Bowles on George Devine

27:44 | Sep 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 Lawrence Olivier and Peggy Ashc...Show More

Paul Mason on Louise Michel

27:51 | Sep 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. They're joined by historian Carolyn Eichner who says that Michel "expounded action and aggression with a...Show More

Julie Burchill on Ava Gardner

27:43 | Aug 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 described as "the most beautiful woman in the world", Ava Gardner made 65 movies, ranging from 'Mogambo' (for...Show More

Tanika Gupta on Rabindranath Tagore

27:58 | Aug 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 wealthy family in Calcutta, Tagore would be the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize for Litera...Show More

Gabriel Gbadamosi on Fela Kuti

27:48 | Aug 13th, 2013

Poet, playwright, and critic Gabriel Gbadamosi chooses as his Great Life the political maverick and inventor of Afrobeat, musician Fela Kuti, and tells Matthew Parris why his work deserves to be better known. Whether withstanding ferocious beatings...Show More

Ivor Novello

28:13 | Aug 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 was also a talented writer and composer, and would dominate both screen and stage with his epic roma...Show More

Florence Nightingale

27:52 | Jun 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 a nurse. She was a health admin...Show More

Primo Levi

27:49 | 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 would escape alive. Primo Levi'...Show More

Salvador Dali

27:52 | 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 and all. The Bard of Salford ...Show More

Bill Shankly

27:51 | 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 division to become one of the world's greatest sides. Famous for his quip that "football is not a matte...Show More

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

27:56 | Apr 30th, 2013

Broadcaster Gyles Brandreth nominates Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as his "Great Life". Matthew Parris chairs, assisted by biographer Andrew Lycett. Conan Doyle is best known as the creator of Sherlock Holmes. This always irritated him, and he tried to ki...Show More

David Livingstone

27:50 | Apr 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 wholly unknown to Europeans. In this programme, the explorer Colonel John Blashford-Snell explains why...Show More

Kenny Everett

27:43 | Apr 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 Gizzard Puke, Cupid Stunt and Sid Snot. Kenny Everett's life was almost as bizarre as the characters h...Show More


27:35 | Apr 9th, 2013

It was in 1992- on the 31st October , when Pope John Paul ll - 350 years after this week's 'Great Lives' gave an address on behalf of the Catholic church in which he admitted that errors had been made by theological advisors in the case of Galileo Ga...Show More

George Bell

27:37 | Apr 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 am. I said, George, there isn't a soul in this House who doesn't wish you wouldn't make the speech ....Show More

William Robinson

27:26 | Jan 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, with expert help from Robinson's biographer Richard Bisgrove and reader Stephen Hogan. William Robin...Show More

Aubrey Beardsley

27:45 | Jan 15th, 2013

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 fe...Show More

John Stuart Mill

27:50 | Jan 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 amateur racing driver before becom...Show More

Grigori Rasputin

26:53 | Jan 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 date is December 1916, and Rasputi...Show More

Ralph Vaughan Williams

24:58 | Dec 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 founder-director of the English Music...Show More

Jean Cocteau

27:51 | Dec 11th, 2012

Francesca Simon is a writer, journalist and - most famously - the creator of the "Horrid Henry" series of children's books. She describes herself as "a giddy fan" of the artist, film-maker and poet Jean Cocteau and celebrates his life and work with t...Show More

Dick Francis

27:11 | Dec 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 bizarrely to the ground within sight of the finishing post. The jockey later says that he never recovered fro...Show More

George Orwell

28:00 | Sep 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 headed down the Kings Road in Chelsea, stopping only for a sly cigarette along the way. Having already ...Show More

Edith Wharton

27:53 | Sep 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, she was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize, for The Age of Innocence in 1921. She is nominated...Show More

Karel Reisz

28:04 | Sep 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 Lahr. Frears is one of Britain's most successful directors, responsible for "My Beautiful Laundrette", "...Show More

Stan Laurel

27:30 | Sep 4th, 2012

In London in 1910, Stan Jefferson was understudy to Charlie Chaplin in comedy impresario Fred Karno's latest production Jimmy the Fearless. Chaplin decided it wasn't up-to-scratch and pulled out, on the eve of the opening. Stan stepped into the breac...Show More


27:58 | Aug 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 little. Dr Llewelyn Morgan of Brasenose College Oxford helps her explain the enduring appeal of this s...Show More

Leonard Maguire

26:28 | Aug 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 Leonard Maguire, who died in 1997 after a career which took in acting on stage, television, film and radio...Show More

Walter Scott

28:13 | Aug 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 to the world. But now he is vir...Show More

Josephine Bonaparte

27:42 | Aug 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 not there." The tale of Napoleon and Josephine is one of history's great love affairs, and while she d...Show More

Henry Cooper

28:10 | Jul 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 than his opponent, Cassius Clay. And then Cooper hits Clay, just as the bell rings. Des Lynam was H...Show More

Sebastian Walker

27:48 | 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 Walker Books in 1978 which, in Lynn's...Show More


27:30 | May 15th, 2012

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. Goya was a 'mighty celebrant of pleasure' whose depictions of hell are 'always ...Show More

John Ford

28:01 | 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 made him enemies as well as friends. He stood up once at a meeting and said simply, "My name's John F...Show More

Edward Said

28:05 | Apr 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, and then there was the fierce critic of American and Israeli policies in the Middle East. In the Uni...Show More

George Lyward

28:06 | Apr 24th, 2012

Aged sixteen and struggling with his sexuality, Tom Robinson attempted to take his own life. Following a series of assessments and tests, he was interviewed for Finchden Manor, a therapeutic community which Robinson describes as the "last chance salo...Show More

Gertrude Stein

27:51 | Apr 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 Picasso, Cezanne and Matisse, and she believed she was a genius too.Opinion on that score remains divided....Show More

Oscar Wilde

28:05 | Apr 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 powered satirical weapon'. In 1895, and at the height of his success, Wilde began libel proceedings a...Show More

Dylan Thomas

28:08 | Apr 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 chaotic, alcohol-fuelled private life, Dylan Thomas is proposed by another Welsh poet in a specially recorde...Show More

Razia Sultana

27:49 | Jan 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 Sultana. Descended from humble...Show More

Vera Brittain

27:56 | Jan 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 Baroness Shirley Williams and Dr Clare Gerada. Matthew Parris chairs a fascinating and insightful explora...Show More

Gracie Allen

27:15 | Jan 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 a hugely successful stage act who went on to conquer the new media of radio and television. But, unus...Show More

Joseph Rotblat

28:03 | Jan 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 it became clear that Germany ...Show More

Lonnie Donegan

27:59 | Jan 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 its Flavour? " However, early ...Show More

Ludwig II of Bavaria

27:56 | Dec 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 fateful glimpse of one of Ludwig's palaces, Brian's been fascinated with the eccentric King, and his my...Show More

Thomas Hobbes

27:53 | Dec 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 All Souls College, Oxford provides the expert analysis. Power and violence are themes of the discuss...Show More

Ludwig Wittgenstein

28:14 | Dec 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 singular life. And to make sure that ...Show More

Philip K Dick

28:01 | Dec 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 discovered Philip K. Dick through...Show More

William Shakespeare

28:08 | Oct 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. Dominic Dromgoole, Artistic Director of the Globe Theatre joins Matthew Parris to put flesh on the life...Show More

Gerald Durrell

28:04 | Sep 27th, 2011

Former England footballer Graeme le Saux champions the life of writer, broadcaster and conservationist Gerald Durrell. Graeme and presenter Matthew Parris are joined in the studio by Durrell's widow, Lee. Gerald Malcolm Durrell (1925 - 1995) was a p...Show More

Hildegard Von Bingen

27:43 | Sep 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 could hear the tumble weed rolling through the listeners' houses. Matthew unravels Cerys's admiration ...Show More

Edwin Lutyens

27:59 | Sep 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 doodle, and he told terrible jokes. B...Show More

Hans Fallada

28:06 | Sep 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 by Fallada's biographer Jenny Williams. Hans Fallada (real name Rudolf Ditzen) was an alcoholic, a t...Show More

Eduardo Paolozzi

27:51 | Aug 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 came almost two decades before Warhol and Lichtenstein. Prolific and generous, his public sculptures pop...Show More

Kirsty MacColl

28:02 | Aug 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 accident in Mexico in 2000. Kirsty MacColl was a supremely gifted singer-songwriter in the "English...Show More

Graham Greene

27:19 | Aug 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 wrote endlessly about shady charact...Show More

Harold Pinter

27:53 | 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 Pinter. His name - if you add an "esque" to it, as in Thatcheresque or Ortonesque - defines that wh...Show More

Jack Johnson

27:54 | 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. Suddenly white supremacy didn't seem so self-assured. In America there were riots, while a follow up fig...Show More

Petra Kelly

28:08 | 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 German Green politician Petra Kelly. Kelly was one of the first Green parliamentarians to be elected an...Show More

Lewis Carroll

28:07 | 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 mathematician and early photographer. But his reputation has been clouded by allegations, never substantiated, th...Show More

Kathleen Ferrier

27:45 | Apr 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, Glyndebourne and Carnegie Hall;...Show More

Simone de Beauvoir

25:35 | Apr 19th, 2011

Actress Diana Quick tells Matthew Parris why she believes that existentialist philosopher Simone de Beauvoir lived a great life, despite living in the shadow of Jean Paul Sartre. Simone de Beauvoir was a brilliant writer and philosopher in her own ...Show More

Leonard Bernstein

28:08 | Apr 12th, 2011

The conductor Charles Hazlewood chooses the great American composer Leonard Bernstein, music director of the New York Philharmonic and creator of West Side Story, Wonderful Town, and Candide. The charismatic Bernstein clearly influenced Charles Hazle...Show More

Thomas Edison

26:55 | Apr 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 electric light bulb and moving pic...Show More

Marcus Garvey

28:04 | Feb 1st, 2011

Playwright Kwame Kwei-Armah is a passionate advocate of Marcus Garvey, the inspirational black leader of the early twentieth century. Long before Martin Luther King or Malcolm X, Marcus Garvey was trying against all the odds to give black people a se...Show More

Mary Stott

28:11 | Jan 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 journalist who more than anyone started the revolution in women's journalism since the 1950s. She gave or...Show More

Gertrude Bell

28:02 | Jan 18th, 2011

Gertrude Bell was a British woman who arguably founded the modern state of Iraq. Explorer, mountaineer and archaeologist, this extraordinarily talented woman travelled widely across Arabia in the years preceding the first world war. When war came, he...Show More

Aneurin Bevan

28:13 | Jan 4th, 2011

In his time, Aneurin Bevan was, according to one biographer, "the most colourful and controversial, most loved and most loathed political personality in Britain". The founding father of the NHS is the choice of Lord Kinnock, the former leader of the...Show More

Sammy Davis Jr

27:58 | Dec 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 danced and sang with Sammy in a d...Show More

Samuel Beckett

28:01 | Dec 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 plays, loves him because he's a...Show More

DH Lawrence

27:54 | Dec 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 him above all for the quality ...Show More

Malcolm McLaren

28:01 | Dec 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," McLaren wrote as advance publicity for his one man show, "a charlatan, a con man, or the culprit resp...Show More

Walt Disney

28:06 | Sep 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 the thrill at the prospect of ...Show More

Michel de Montaigne

27:50 | Sep 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 and became famous for his ability to fuse intellectual speculation with casual anecdotes and autobiogra...Show More

Winston Churchill

27:46 | Sep 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 Reynolds. Both men have vivid memories of the day in 1965 when, as children, they heard that Churchil...Show More

Golda Meir

27:50 | Sep 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 her husband narrow her horizons". She is the choice of former Conservative government minister Edwina...Show More