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Society & Culture

Start the Week

Updated 5 days ago

Society & Culture
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Weekly discussion programme, setting the cultural agenda every Monday

Read more

Weekly discussion programme, setting the cultural agenda every Monday

iTunes Ratings

78 Ratings
Average Ratings
61
11
4
1
1

iTunes Ratings

78 Ratings
Average Ratings
61
11
4
1
1
Cover image of Start the Week

Start the Week

Latest release on Jan 13, 2020

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Weekly discussion programme, setting the cultural agenda every Monday

Rank #1: Jonathan Franzen

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On Start the Week Tom Sutcliffe talks to the American writer Jonathan Franzen about his latest novel, Purity. One of Franzen's characters compares the internet with the East German Republic and he satirises the utopian ideas of the apparatchik web-users. The head of the Oxford Internet Institute Helen Margetts counters with her research on the success and failure of political action via social media. The artist Tacita Dean laments the ubiquity of digital at the expense of film, and the financial journalist Gillian Tett roots out tunnel vision - both personal and business - in her new book on silos.
Producer: Katy Hickman.

Oct 05 2015

41mins

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Rank #2: India's Rise?

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On Start the Week Andrew Marr discusses India. The Indian MP Shashi Tharoor looks back at the history of the Raj in Inglorious Empire, a searing indictment of the British and the impact on his country. The journalist Adam Roberts travels from Kerala to the Himalayas to find out whether a resurgent, vibrant India is about to realise its potential, and whether the belief in future prosperity will cover over the cracks which have divided the nation in the past. The Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, is at the centre of India's reinvention, and has galvanised Hindu nationalists, but the academic Kate Sullivan de Estrada argues that he's a controversial figure both at home and abroad. And the writer Preti Taneja retells Shakespeare's great tragedy, King Lear, set in Delhi and Kashmir, in her exploration of contemporary Indian society.
Producer: Katy Hickman

Image: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi participates in a mass yoga session to mark the International Day of Yoga on 21st June, 2016 in Chandigarh, India. Credit: Getty Images.

May 22 2017

41mins

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Rank #3: Shakespeare's Late Plays - recorded at the Globe's Playhouse

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Andrew Marr presents a special edition of Start the Week, celebrating the later life and works of William Shakespeare. Recorded at the Globe's candle-lit Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, the actor Simon Russell Beale and Artistic Director Dominic Dromgoole discuss the late romances. The writer Jeanette Winterson explores her personal connection to The Winter's Tale, and the academic Katherine Duncan-Jones questions whether Shakespeare ever gave up on life in London to retire to Stratford-upon-Avon, and the relevance of his will that left his wife their 'second-best bed'.
Producer: Katy Hickman.

Dec 28 2015

49mins

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Rank #4: Decision-making with Daniel Kahneman and Michael Ignatieff

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Tom Sutcliffe discusses how we make decisions with the Nobel prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman. Moral choices in politics can be a complicated business, according to the academic and former politician Michael Ignatieff, who explores whether the age of international intervention is over. Doctors work under the oath 'do no harm', but the neurosurgeon Henry Marsh says the decision whether to operate on a brain is rarely that simple. High emotion can cloud your judgement and the writer Lisa Appignanesi looks back at sensational crimes of passion to ask how far the perpetrators were responsible for their actions.

Producer: Katy Hickman.

Mar 17 2014

41mins

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Rank #5: Reforming Saudi Arabia

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On Start the Week Andrew Marr looks at the fortunes of Saudi Arabia. The academic Madawi Al-Rasheed challenges pre-conceived ideas about divine politics and uncovers the religious leaders, intellectuals and activists who are looking at modernising the country. William Patey is the former UK ambassador in the region and argues that although the House of Saud is resilient, strains are starting to appear. The American economist Deirdre McCloskey sees fault lines elsewhere in the country's failure to promote and encourage innovation; she believes that although Saudi Arabia has capital accumulation and oil, without creativity and ideas it will not flourish. The historian Ian Morris takes the long view as he studies 20,000 years of international relations and argues that each age and region gets the great powers it needs, and what that means for Saudi Arabia.
Producer: Katy Hickman.

Dec 07 2015

43mins

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Rank #6: Social Class and Cultural Capital

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On Start the Week Andrew Marr talks to the playwright Ben Power whose latest work interweaves three of DH Lawrence's dramas to evoke a lost world of manual labour and working class pride. The sociologist Mike Savage proposes a new way to think about class in Britain which not only looks at economic and social issues, but cultural preferences. Meanwhile the American writer Siri Hustvedt questions the cultural misogyny at play in the world of art, and Peter Davies celebrates the artists inspired by the northern industrial landscape.
Producer: Katy Hickman.

Oct 26 2015

41mins

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Rank #7: Power and Corruption with Stephen Frears and Mary Beard

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On Start the Week the classicist Mary Beard tells Tom Sutcliffe that Ancient Rome matters: its debates about citizenship, security and the rights of the individual still influence our own debates on civil liberty. The Magna Carta is the starting point for the playwright Timberlake Wertenbaker's latest play which draws parallels between the King's abuse of power in 1215 and the global business elite today. The film director Stephen Frears tells the story of the meteoric rise and fall of one of the most celebrated and controversial sportsmen in recent history, Lance Armstrong, and of the journalist who was vilified when he tried to expose him. Lurid headlines take centre stage in the play Clarion, directed by Mehmet Ergen, which takes a satirical look at nationalism and the state of the British media.
Producer: Katy Hickman.

Oct 19 2015

41mins

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Rank #8: Yuval Noah Harari

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Yuval Noah Harari offers his 21 lessons for the 21st century. In a wide ranging discussion with Andrew Marr, Harari looks back to his best-selling history of the world, Sapiens, and forward to a possible post-human future.

Technological disruption, ecological cataclysms, fake news and threats of terrorism make the 21st century a frightening prospect. Harari argues against sheltering in nostalgic political fantasies. He calls for a clear-sighted view of the unprecedented challenges that lie ahead.

Producer: Katy Hickman

Oct 01 2018

42mins

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Rank #9: Play and Creativity

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On Start the Week, Tom Sutcliffe considers the relationship between play and creativity. Steven Johnson examines how the human appetite for amusement has driven innovation throughout history. Writer and theatre maker Stella Duffy has revived Joan Littlewood's 1960s concept of The Fun Palace- a 'laboratory of fun' for all. The economist Tim Harford advocates embracing disorder in every area of our lives, from messy desks to messy dating. Journalist and former cricketer Ed Smith believes that creativity in sport is a combination of skill and luck.

Producer: Kirsty McQuire.

Feb 13 2017

44mins

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Rank #10: British culture and European influence

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Britain has imported its culture from Europe for generations. Andrew Marr presents a special edition from Hatchlands Park in Surrey, home to the Cobbe Collection of musical instruments including pianos owned by Chopin, Mahler and Marie Antoinette.

Frederic Chopin had a pan-European career. He swapped his native Poland for Paris, fled to Mallorca in search of sunshine and inspiration, and toured Britain twice, complaining bitterly about the 'crafty' locals and 'dreadful' British weather. But he had a huge impact on the musical scenes he left behind. Paul Kildea charts Chopin's journey across Europe. Sitting at the keys of Chopin's own piano, Kildea explains how this visionary composer shaped Romanticism.

European composers and performers in Britain faced a tougher reception in the wake of two world wars. In her new book, Singing in the Age of Anxiety, Laura Tunbridge depicts the contradictions of a generation that viewed Wagner as a cultural high-point - but decried all things German as enemy propaganda. At the same time radio and gramophones dramatically altered the way people heard and responded to music.

The digital world offers vast new audiences, but also brings new challenges to those in the arts. Munira Mirza is Director of HENI Talks, an online platform that aims to share cultural information and understanding with much wider audiences. By combining leading experts and world-famous works such as the Mona Lisa, she wants to take art outside the gallery. As former Deputy Mayor for Culture in London, Mirza envisages a future in which we have a truly international cultural scene.

Producer: Hannah Sander.

Jul 02 2018

42mins

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Rank #11: Existentialism and Ways of Seeing

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On Start the Week Kirsty Wark asks how we make choices about freedom and authenticity - questions that preoccupied Paris intellectuals in the 1930s. Sarah Bakewell looks back at one of the twentieth century's major philosophical movements - existentialism - and the revolutionary thinkers who came to shape it. Sartre and de Beauvoir may have spent their days drinking apricot cocktails in café's but Bakewell believes their ideas are more relevant than ever. The historian Sunil Khilnani reveals the Indian thinkers who didn't just talk about philosophy but lived it, and the photographer Stuart Franklin, famous for the pictures of the man in Tiananmen Square who stopped the tanks, discusses the impulse to record and preserve these moments of action. The art historian Frances Borzello looks at the female artists who chose the freedom to present themselves to the world in self-portraits.
Producer: Katy Hickman.

Mar 28 2016

41mins

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Rank #12: Life Is a Dream

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Tom Sutcliffe discusses free will and fate; dreams and reality. Jesmyn Ward's prize-winning novel Sing, Unburied, Sing, set in the American South, is haunted by the ghosts of the past. Ward writes of incarceration and freedom, and the strength - and weakness - of family bonds.

For his latest ballet, choreographer Kim Brandstrup has taken inspiration from Calderon's 17th century Spanish play Life is a Dream, in which a dire prophecy leads a King to imprison his son. Brandstrup uses contemporary dance to explore where dreams end and reality begins, but also to express wonder at life itself.

How to live well is at the centre of Edith Hall's self-help book based on the teachings of Aristotle. She examines the ancient Greek philosopher's ideas on how self-knowledge, responsibility and love could help us forge a more meaningful life.

And the philosopher John Gray continues his exploration of what it is to be human in his new work, Seven Types of Atheism.

Producer: Katy Hickman.

Apr 23 2018

42mins

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Rank #13: AL Kennedy and David Sedaris on matters of the heart

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Tom Sutcliffe talks to AL Kennedy about her latest collection of short stories of love and hurt. The poet Lavinia Greenlaw retells the tragic love story of Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde. The philosopher Simon Blackburn unpicks the idea of self-love from the myth of Narcissus to today's tv hair adverts: 'because you're worth it', while the humorist David Sedaris uses his own life and loves as the focus of his writing.
Producer: Katy Hickman.

Mar 31 2014

42mins

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Rank #14: The Death of Democracy

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Will we recognise the signs that democracy has ended? Cambridge professor David Runciman worries that we spend far too much time comparing today's politics with the 1930s, and that this blinds us to the frailties of democracy today. He tells Amol Rajan why he thinks our current political system will come to an end - and why we may not even notice this happening.

Professor Nic Cheeseman is all too aware that democracy can become an empty shell. His new book How To Rig An Election, co-written with Brian Klaas, looks at the myriad ways autocrats use elections for their own ends, from buying votes and bribing electors to issuing fake pens in the ballot box. And it is not only the developing world in which corruption takes place. He addresses the role of outside states in the 2016 US presidential election, and asks how western democracy can be kept healthy.

Anne Applebaum has studied the ways in which democracy can arise like a phoenix from the ashes of authoritarianism. As the author of Red Famine: Stalin's War On Ukraine, and a professor at the LSE, she has analysed the reasons why democracy flourished in Poland and Ukraine after 1989, and suggests reasons why the 2012 Arab Spring has not yet had the same results. But as a journalist for the Washington Post she is all too aware of attacks on democracy today, both in the former Soviet bloc and in America. She argues that the onus is on us to save our own systems.

Producer: Hannah Sander.

May 07 2018

41mins

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Rank #15: 1968: Radicals and Riots

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Fifty years after radicals took to the streets of Paris and stormed campuses across the Western World, Andrew Marr unpicks the legacy of 1968.

Historian Richard Vinen finds waves of protest across the western world in his book The Long '68: Radical Protest and Its Enemies. Some movements were genuinely revolutionary, such as the ten million French workers whose strike nearly toppled the government. But on American university campuses and in British art schools, protests took the forms of civil rights marches and feminist collectives, whose narratives changed the way we think today.

In Paris, left-wing students armed with works of philosophy took on the police and the state. But Paris was still coming to terms with its Nazi occupation, explains Agnès Poirier. Her new book follows the artists and writers of the 40s and 50s, from Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre to Miles Davis and James Baldwin, as a new generation helped France regain its reputation for art, passion and political action.

Not only left-wing radicals were inspired by the events of that year. In 1968 philosopher Roger Scruton was holed up in a Paris bedroom studying while rioters smashed windows outside. Scruton was horrified by the chaos and destruction, and turned his back on the left-wing politics of his childhood. He became part of a generation of new conservatives who sought to preserve the past rather than fight for an unknown future.

Today France is facing new waves of strikes, with railway workers bringing the transport system to a halt and Emmanuel Macron pushing through sweeping reforms to social security. Sophie Pedder, Paris bureau chief for The Economist and author or a new biography of Macron, asks what France in 2018 owes to the events of 1968.

Producer: Hannah Sander.

Apr 16 2018

42mins

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Rank #16: Jordan Peterson: Rules for Life

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Jordan Peterson, clinical psychologist and YouTube sensation, professes to bring order to chaos in his 12 Rules for Life. He tells Tom Sutcliffe about the importance of individual responsibility, using lessons from humanity's oldest myths and stories. But his home truths are not without controversy: acclaimed by many, his critics accuse him of reinforcing traditional gender and family roles and attacking liberal values.

Hashi Mohamed is the living embodiment of many of Peterson's life rules: he came to Britain when he was 9 years old with little English and through a combination of skill, luck and hard work is now a barrister. But he is critical of the lack of social mobility and his own rags to riches story is one he thinks is increasingly difficult to realise.

The Irish author Louise O'Neill has made her name challenging the roles given to women. In her books for young adults she has tackled small town hypocrisy and sexism, rape culture and victim-blaming. She too has looked to the stories of the past and her latest book is a radical retelling of Hans Christian Anderson's The Little Mermaid.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Lawrence Wright turns his focus on his home state Texas, to see what it can teach us about America. A 'superstate' with a GDP larger than most industrialised countries, and with a population on track to double by 2050, Texas both confirms and challenges its stereotype. Wright is confronted by cowboy individualism, gun-loving patriotism and nostalgia for an ersatz past, but also finds pockets of liberal progressiveness and entrepreneurial drive.

Producer: Katy Hickman
Picture: Jonathan Castellino for Penguin.

May 14 2018

41mins

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Rank #17: 'Home' and cultural identity with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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On Start the Week Stephanie Flanders talks to the award-winning novelist, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, about the notion of 'home' in today's globalised world. It's a theme taken up on stage in 'Paper Dolls' directed by Indhu Rubasingham, which follows a Filipino drag act working in Tel Aviv. David Goodhart explores the British Dream and the successes and failures of post war immigration. And from the movement of people, to the trade in powders, salts, paints and cures, the poet Michael Symmons Roberts's latest collection is called Drysalter.
Producer: Katy Hickman.

Apr 08 2013

41mins

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Rank #18: A Theory of Everything?

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On Start the Week Tom Sutcliffe asks if one day we might know everything. The mathematician Marcus du Sautoy and the physicist Roger Penrose explore the far reaches of knowledge, questioning whether certain fields of research will always lie beyond human comprehension. They ask how much fashion and faith shape scientific theories. The experimental physicist Suzie Sheehy attempts to build machines to test the latest theories, while Joanna Kavenna plays with a philosophical Theory of Everything in her latest novel A Field Guide to Reality.
Producer: Katy Hickman.

Jun 20 2016

41mins

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Rank #19: Claudia Rankine at the Free Thinking Festival

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Anne McElvoy presents a special edition of Start the Week at the Free Thinking Festival at Sage, Gateshead, exploring injustice, myth and the role of the poet 'to name the unnameable, to point at frauds, to take sides'. The American poet Claudia Rankine exposes the ever-present racial tensions in contemporary society, while the Syrian poet Amir Darwish, having arrived in the UK hanging underneath a lorry on a cross-channel ferry, writes of love, loss, exile and demonisation. The historian Catherine Fletcher looks at the stories told about Alessandro de'Medici, the 16th century duke of Florence who was believed to be mixed-race, and what those stories tell us about attitudes to race, while the philosopher Jules Holroyd tackles the thorny issue of implicit and unconscious bias.
Producer: Katy Hickman.

Nov 09 2015

50mins

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Rank #20: The Tudors

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Tom Sutcliffe discusses the connection between the Tudors and modern times with author Lady Antonia Fraser, composer Claire van Kampen, director Peter Kosminsky and historian Dan Jones.

Producer: Simon Tillotson.

Jan 12 2015

42mins

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No work, rest and play

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The economist Daniel Susskind tells Tom Sutcliffe that the threat of technological unemployment is real and imminent. In A World Without Work he considers the economic, political and social impact. He questions what happens to those for whom work affords meaning, purpose and direction.

Journalist Anoosh Chakelian went behind the scenes at new magazines set up to rival the Big Issue, as she explored Britain's homelessness crisis. Like the Big Issue, these new journals enable rough sleepers to earn money rather than beg, and creates respectable employment opportunities. But Chakelian worries about a country with so many homeless people that it can create an industry around them.

The psychologist Suzi Gage looks at the science behind recreational drugs – debunking common myths and misconceptions. She also looks at how and why they work on the mind and body, and the associations between drug use and mental health.

A quarter of adults in England are taking potentially addictive prescription medicines, with half of them in long-term dependency, according to Public Health England. The epidemiologist Sir John Strang says there is greater dependency in areas of greatest deprivation. He also calls for greater action in stemming the rise in opioid-related deaths.

Producer: Katy Hickman

Jan 13 2020

41mins

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A house and a home

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Andrew Marr discusses the state of housing in Britain and what makes a house a home.

Common wisdom states that owning a house makes you a Tory, but is this true? Political scientist Ben Ansell says that Thatcher was right to assume that Right to Buy would create more Conservative voters. But today we see the opposite: the people whose houses have risen most in value are also the most likely to support Labour. Ansell looks back at the 1909 British Liberal Party budget, when politicians tried to take on the landlords who get rich at our expense.

The architect David Mikhail helped design a groundbreaking council house estate which won last year’s Stirling Prize, awarded to the best new building in the country. As the shortfall in social housing reaches crisis levels, his Goldsmith Street in Norwich was celebrated for creating sustainable and ambitious homes for people in need.

The writer Jude Yawson looks back at the emergence of Grime, a music culture which emerged from the tower blocks of East London. The artists – mostly young black men – used the city’s juxtaposition of their decaying tower blocks and the new gleaming skyscrapers, as the backdrop to their new urban music.

Fictional homes are at the centre of Christina Hardyment’s study, Novel Houses. Dickens and Austen both criticised grand country piles, seeing them as proxies for "the dead hand of the aristocracy". Hardyment explores the personal and social importance of unforgettable dwellings – from Bleak House to Howards End – and shows how the homes take on a life of their own, becoming as characterful as the people who live in them.

Producers: Katy Hickman and Hannah Sander

Jan 06 2020

41mins

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Westminster Abbey

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Westminster Abbey has been a place of worship for more than a thousand years, and holds a unique place in British – and world – history. In a special edition of Start the Week, recorded in the Abbey, the historian David Cannadine tells Andrew Marr how the building has been at the centre of religious and political revolutions and has maintained a special relationship with the monarchy and the royal court since the Tudor times.

It was Henry VIII who converted the abbey into a cathedral, turning this Catholic monastery into a bastion of Anglicanism, before it became directly under the monarch’s control. The historian Lucy Worsley looks back to the 16th century to recreate how Christmas was celebrated during the age of Henry VIII. The Tudor Christmas pre-dates our traditional trees and stockings. But with its heady mix of revelry and religion she discovers the Tudor influences on the customs we still enjoy today.

The former Bishop of Oxford Richard Harries explores the impact and pull of religion on some of the greatest writers of the 20th century. In ‘Haunted by Christ’ he studies how writers, like TS Elliot, CS Lewis and Emily Dickinson struggled with their faith. He looks deeply into the spiritual dimension of their work.

Music:
Coventry Carol - Traditional melody (performed by Truro Cathedral Choir)
Pastyme with Good Companye - King Henry VIII (I Fagiolini)
Producer: Katy Hickman

Dec 23 2019

41mins

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Numbers, nightmares and nanotech

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The mathematician Hannah Fry reveals the hidden numbers, rules and patterns that secretly control our daily lives, in this year’s Royal Institution Christmas lectures. She tells Kirsty Wark how maths and algorithms have the power to reveal the truth - and to obscure it.

The economist Tim Harford is in search of the truth as he unravels the events that led to real life disasters. In the podcast series Cautionary Tales, Harford asks what we can learn from catastrophes. He wonders why we are so often susceptible to cons.

Science has revolutionised the way we live, and in the field of technology the ingenious invention of blockchain has been heralded as truly radical. As an incorruptible digital ledger of transactions, blockchain has uses far beyond crypto-currencies. The Financial Times journalist Izabella Kaminska looks back over the last decade to consider whether blockchain has lived up to its hype.

The latest science promising to transform medicine and biology is nanotechnology. Sonia Contera is a pioneer in the field and believes studying the infinitesimal realm of proteins and DNA will have a profound impact on our health and longevity.

Producer: Katy Hickman

Dec 16 2019

42mins

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Living near water

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Flooding remains a risk in many parts of the country this winter. Andrew Marr explores the impact of water on communities. The engineer David Lerner argues for the extension of the policy of daylighting – opening up rivers covered over by the Victorians. He says Britain’s towns and cities have a lot to learn from Zurich, which was an early pioneer in recovering streams from underground. The social and environmental benefits in Zurich are evident.

Torrential rain in November forced many people across the country to leave their homes. The writer Edward Platt looks back at the effect of the record-breaking floods of 2013-14 and the toll it took on those caught up in the deluge. He talks to those responsible for trying to keep the water at bay, and asks what can be done to protect the vulnerable.

The artist Tania Kovats’s work is preoccupied with our experience and understanding of water and the landscape. From collecting water from a hundred UK rivers to sculptural forms cast in wetsuits, and to the study of the drawing of water, Kovats places water at the centre of her creativity.

The journalist Leaf Arbuthnot looks at the growing evidence for the benefits of wild swimming, even in the cold winter months. For all the danger of living close to water, she asks whether time spent near coastal and river environments is the secret to a happier, healthier life.

Producer: Katy Hickman

Dec 09 2019

43mins

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India past and present

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Corporate rapacity and government collusion are at the centre of William Dalrymple’s history of the East India Company. He tells Amol Rajan how the company moved relentlessly from trade to conquest of India in the 18th century. But Dalrymple warns against the distortion of history both by those in Britain nostalgic for an imperial past, and Hindu nationalists in India.

2019 marked the centenary of the Amritsar massacre in which more than a thousand Indians were killed by British soldiers. Although the events leading up to the atrocity are now well documented, Anita Anand has uncovered the extraordinary story of revenge which led to the shooting in London of the man responsible for the massacre.

In August this year the Indian government revoked Kashmir’s special status, sparking protests in the Muslim-majority valley. But why has this region - once a princely state, until the end of British rule - become such a flashpoint for violence? Professor Sumantra Bose explores the consequence of the Indian government’s latest actions.

Producer: Katy Hickman

Dec 02 2019

42mins

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Love and unreason

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Classicist Bettany Hughes has traced the history of the goddess known as Venus or Aphrodite. Originally depicted with a phallus on her head, Venus was later drawn and sculpted as a beautiful naked woman. Hughes tells Andrew Marr why this powerful deity of love was thought to corrupt and to inspire.

Tenor Mark Padmore depicts the irrationality of desire in Benjamin Britten's Death in Venice. He plays the lead role in the Royal Opera House's new production, based on Thomas Mann's novella, in which a burnt-out writer succumbs to obsessive love. Britten wrote the main part for his partner, Peter Pears, with whom he lived through decades of homophobia.

Unconscious desires and strange fantasies play out in the work of Dora Maar, one of the great Surrealist artists. Emma Lewis has curated an exhibition of Maar's photography and paintings, revealing an artist whose striking imagery rivalled that of her more famous lover, Picasso.

Historian of philosophy Clare Carlisle discusses the Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza, one of the first thinkers to interrogate our emotional life. George Eliot translated his 17th-century masterpiece, the Ethics, into English. Eliot also 'translated' his ideas into literary form. Her novel Middlemarch draws on Spinoza's ideas about human flourishing and love, shown through different happy and unhappy marriages.

Producer: Hannah Sander

Nov 25 2019

43mins

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Life, death and taxes

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Nothing is certain in this world except death and taxes. If this is true, then the comedian-cum-finance writer Dominic Frisby says it’s time we better understand the latter! He tells Tom Sutcliffe how taxes have shaped our past, are upsetting our present and could be the answer to changing our future.

The economist Vicky Pryce also wants to change the future, by reforming capitalism so that it stops failing women. She interrogates the pay gap and glass ceiling. But she also argues that the free market is predicated on perpetuating inequality - and that it is women who bear the brunt.

The free market economy was advanced during the Enlightenment. The academic Alexander Zevin explores how a century later economic liberalism became fused with political liberalism in Britain. And how the liberal message evolved through the pages of the Economist Magazine, founded in 1843.

As BBC Radio 4’s Book at Bedtime prepares to read Voltaire’s satire Candide, Professor Judith Hawley looks back to the ideas that were fermenting at the time of the Enlightenment, and how optimism can quickly lead to disillusionment.
Producer: Katy Hickman

Nov 18 2019

41mins

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Animals and us

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How cultured are animals? It’s a question the marine biologist Karsten Brensing explores as he studies dolphins calling one another by name, ducklings scoring well in abstract reasoning, and the loyalty, forgiveness and empathy that are becoming apparent in the animal kingdom. He tells Andrew Marr that the latest scientific findings reveal animals with behaviour and cognitive sophistication very similar to our own.

The intricate lives of animals and birds plus their spectacular habitats are on television screens this autumn with the BBC’s series Seven Worlds, One Planet. In a forthcoming episode the producer Emma Napper shows how species isolated on Australia have evolved like nowhere else on Earth: from the most dangerous bird in the word, the cassowary, to desert reptiles that drink through their skin.

Although concern for animals has been expressed since ancient times, it was only in the early 19th century that the first laws protecting animals were passed. The historian Diana Donald looks back at the chequered past of animal welfare, and the pioneering woman who helped bring about change. While cattle and domestic animals were protected under laws in 1822 and 1835, it took decades until wild animals were included.

Rhinos were once found throughout Eurasia and Africa, but now three of the five rhino species face extinction unless drastic action is taken to counter poaching and habitat loss. This has led scientists, including Professor Fritz Vollrath of Oxford University, to come up with the ingenious invention of fake rhino horn. Using horse hair and regenerated silk the fabricated horn is almost indistinguishable with the real thing, and could be used to undermine the market in rhino horn.

Producer: Katy Hickman

Nov 11 2019

41mins

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Nobel Prize winner Esther Duflo

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Esther Duflo was awarded the Nobel Prize for Economics this autumn for her work in the developing world. In her latest book, Good Economics for Hard Times, the French economist turns her attention to the thorniest issues of our time, from global immigration to climate change. She tells Tom Sutcliffe how the lessons from the world's poorest countries can be applied to Western economies, and why we should be wary of complacency.

One of the worst economic crises imaginable struck Weimar Germany in the 1920s. Hyperinflation led to prices in 1923 that were astonishingly a billion times higher than they had been in 1914. But historian Richard J Evans explains that the chaos and suffering caused by sky-high prices did not affect all Germans equally. The middle classes saw their mortgages and rent fall to practically nothing, while many businesses expanded rapidly. Evans explores the fracturing of society that followed this hardest of times.

The Booker prize-winning author Julian Barnes looks back at France’s Belle Epoque, an era known for luscious Renoir and Monet paintings, for flamboyant nights at the Moulin Rouge, and for widespread glamour and wealth. In The Man in the Red Coat, Barnes looks beneath the surface of this glittering era, and instead finds rampant prejudice, nativism, hysteria and violence. He depicts an era of enormous social change, with striking parallels to our own time.

Producer: Hannah Sander.

Nov 04 2019

42mins

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The artist - warts and all

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“The painter must give a completely free rein to any feeling or sensations he may have.” So said the celebrated artist Lucian Freud. His biographer William Feaver tells Andrew Marr how Freud’s work revealed not only something about the subject of the painting, but also what the artist was feeling. The two are combined in a new exhibition of Freud’s self-portraits in which the painter turns his unflinching eye on himself.

In 2006 the artist Humphrey Ocean started making a series of portraits of visitors to his studio. Using simple forms and bold colours the painter illuminated something unique about each person. Ocean is the RA Schools’ Professor of Perspective and his work details his observations of everyday life.

The underbelly of everyday life in the 18th century is very much in evidence in William Hogarth’s work. As an exhibition at Sir John Soane’s Museum brings together all Hogarth’s painted series for the first time, the art critic Kate Grandjouan explains what he reveals about people from all strata of society, in a London devoid of morality.

Producer: Katy Hickman

Oct 28 2019

42mins

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Breaking bread together

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Hospitality and hostility come from a common root, according to the writer Priya Basil. In her latest book, Be My Guest, she explores the diverse meaning of the Indo-European word ‘ghos-ti’ which combines host, guest and stranger. She tells Kirsty Wark how breaking bread together is a way of breaking down barriers.

Shamil Thakrar is the co-founder of the award-winning restaurant chain, Dishoom. He traces the roots of the restaurant’s success, looking back to the sights, sounds and tastes of the much-loved cosmopolitan Bombay of his childhood.

While Thakrar’s father and uncle established the food company, Tilda Rice, when they arrived in London in the 1970s, Thomas Harding’s relatives came to Britain in the early 1800s and went on to create the largest catering company in the world: J. Lyons. In Legacy, Harding, looks at how Lyons tea rooms became a fixture on every high street in the country, transforming the way we eat and drink, and democratising eating out.

Lyons pioneered different processed foods, from coffee to ice cream. Food writer Joanna Blythman sees processed food as the biggest peril to our health today. She worries that in the rush to adopt a plant-based diet, we will swap nutritious red meat for meat substitutes full of gum and other additives. Blythman also challenges the idea that only by giving up meat can we save our planet from climate change,

Producer: Katy Hickman

Oct 21 2019

42mins

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Global culture

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The writer Fatima Bhutto celebrates the new global popular culture emerging from the East. She tells Andrew Marr that the West’s soft power dominance is on the wane as K-Pop, Dizi and Bollywood take the world by storm.

The Korean artist Nam June Paik was among the first to foresee the importance of mass media and new technologies, coining the phrase ‘electronic superhighway’. Sook-Kyung Lee is co-curating a global tour of his work, starting at Tate Modern.

A new play, Museum in Baghdad, brings together the stories of its British founder Gertrude Bell in 1926 with Ghalia Hussein’s attempts to reopen it in 2006 after looting during the war. The RSC director Erica Whyman says the play questions the role of culture in helping to create a nation.

And the writer John Burnside turns to the poets of the 20th century to give voice to an alternative cultural history of the time. He draws on the work of poets, both renowned and unjustly obscure, to give shape and meaning to the world.

Producer: Katy Hickman

Picture credit: Tate

Oct 14 2019

42mins

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Lenny Henry

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Lenny Henry was 16 when he first appeared on television making people laugh in the 1970s. He tells Kirsty Wark about coming of age in the spotlight at a time of casual chauvinism and blatant racism, all while under his Jamaican mother’s strict instruction to integrate.

The novelist Tessa McWatt knows only too well the complexity of fitting in. Born in Guyana, raised in Canada and working in Britain, McWatt explores themes of the outsider in society and conflicting ideas of belonging.

The writer and former sportsman Matthew Syed encourages breaking free of the echo chambers that surround us, to develop an ‘outsider mindset’. Cognitive diversity, he argues in his latest book, is the answer to many of the world’s most challenging problems.

And the social psychologist Keon West explains the research being done to reduce bias between different groups of people. He argues that mandatory unconscious bias training is not only pointless - but possibly detrimental.

Producer: Katy Hickman

Picture credit: © ITV / Rex / Shutterstock

Oct 07 2019

41mins

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Where is power now?

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Against a backdrop of fierce political battles in Parliament and in court, Andrew Marr explores political power and examines those who wield it - from absolutism to anarchism.

The political commentator Steve Richards has been in the House of Commons for many nights of political strife. Watching the behaviour of parliament and government today, he considers how different British Prime Ministers have used their many powers. In his new book 'The Prime Ministers' he reflects on the individual characters of leaders. From Harold Wilson to Boris Johnson, he recalls moments when Prime Ministers buckled or thrived under the pressure of their role.

At the other end of the power spectrum, the academic Ruth Kinna explores ‘the government of no one’: anarchism. She argues that this much maligned ideology is far more adaptable and effective than we might expect. And she rejects the stereotyped view of it as chaotic and disordered.

The theatre director Eleanor Rhode is bringing Shakespeare’s King John to the stage at the Royal Shakespeare Company. This rarely performed tale depicts a tumultuous nation reeling, as a weakened King fights to retain his crown from the invading French and his rebellious noblemen.

And in a week that saw a landmark Supreme Court ruling on the government's use of prorogation, Catherine Haddon from the Institute for Government explains where constitutional power now lies: whether with parliament, government, the judiciary, the Prime Minister, or the Queen. She predicts major changes ahead...

Producer: Hannah Sander

Picture credit: Royal Shakespeare Company

Sep 30 2019

41mins

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Antony Gormley: challenging conventions

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Antony Gormley talks to Tom Sutcliffe about his forthcoming major show at the Royal Academy. The sculptor returns to his enduring interest in the inner dark space of the body and the body’s relation to its surroundings. As well as the famous casts of this own figure, seawater and clay fill one gallery, evoking the depths from which life emerged.

The award-winning playwright Laura Wade discusses her revolutionary adaptation of Jane Austen. Her new play, The Watsons, is based on Austen’s unfinished novel, and shows what happens when characters threaten to break free from the original work and take control of the drama.

The conductor Charles Hazlewood celebrates the rebellious side of classical music – minimalism. Minimalists in the 20th century, like Steve Reich and Terry Riley, flouted conventions and sought to redraw musical boundaries. But the music was also a direct response to the political and social fervour of the 1960s and 70s.

One of the most creative and hedonistic periods of British culture was the nineties: the era of Cool Britannia, born in Thatcher’s Britain and flaunted by Tony Blair. The writer Daniel Rachel looks back at how art, comedy, fashion, film, football and music came together in a flowering of national self-confidence, and what broke it apart.

Producers: Katy Hickman and Hannah Sander

Sep 23 2019

42mins

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Escaping the past

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Andrew Marr discusses how far nations have managed to confront the past. In Learning from the Germans, the philosopher Susan Neiman contrasts the way in which Germany continues to come to terms with its Nazi past, with the failure of the US to deal with slavery and the legacy of racial violence.

The historian Stuart James Ward is interested in how far the ghosts of Empire have haunted the debate around Brexit. From the simplistic caricature of hankering after the past to a global vision of the future, both sides have summoned their own image of Empire. As an Australian academic who has spent his career in Denmark, Ward believes he is in a unique position to observe the unfolding political drama.

The former MP David Howell argues it’s time to look ahead and not back in his new book, subtitled ‘Escaping the Prism of Past Politics’. Howell has been at the centre of government for four decades and was a member of Margaret Thatcher’s first cabinet. He believes Britain should be forging new relations and finding a new position in the world.

The political scientist Jane Green looks beyond the present impasse in the Commons over the direction of Brexit to focus on public volatility in voting. Not since 1931 has there been such a fracturing of voter loyalty, but Green asks how much we can learn from the past.

Producer: Katy Hickman

Sep 16 2019

42mins

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Epic quests and Greek myths

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The playwright David Hare is adapting Ibsen’s Peer Gynt, an epic story of vanity and egotism. He tells Tom Sutcliffe his radical new working keeps the mountain of trolls but becomes a contemporary reflection of toxic masculinity in the age of the selfie.

The writer Lucy Hughes-Hallett reincarnates ancient myths and folklore in her collection of short stories, Fabulous. Old tales from Orpheus to Mary Magdalen and Psyche, find new homes in the lives of a people-trafficking gangmaster and a well-behaved librarian.

The great story-teller Stephen Fry breathes fresh life into the Greek myths as he prepares to embark on his first UK tour for forty years. From the creation of the Cosmos and the feuding of the Gods, to the extraordinary battles and epic journeys of the heroes, these tales still echo for audiences today.

Alison Balsom is a world-renowned trumpeter who moves seamlessly through different periods of music in her curation of this year’s Cheltenham Music Festival. She explains her deep passion for the world of baroque music and the excitement of playing a new piece for the very first time, as she prepares for the premiere of Thea Musgrave’s Trumpet Concerto.

Producer: Katy Hickman

Jul 01 2019

41mins

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The power of poetry

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Rowan Williams celebrates The Book of Taliesin – legendary Welsh poems of enchantment and warfare. The former Archbishop of Canterbury tells Andrew Marr how the collection of poems speak of a lost world of folklore and mythology, and the figure of Taliesin is an elusive and exuberant creative poetic fiction.

Martin Sixsmith tells the extraordinary story of the Russian poet Sergei Yesenin at the turn of the 20th century. Yesenin lived through the most turbulent times in Russian history, and during an age when poets were stars, and millions could recite his works by heart.

The poet Jay Bernard has found inspiration in exploring the black British archive, and the enquiry into the New Cross Fire in 1981 which killed thirteen young people. The poems shine a light on an unacknowledged chapter in British history, and find resonance with the horror of the Grenfell tower fire two years ago.

The poet, writer and teacher, Kate Clanchy has seen first-hand poetry’s unique ability to unleash young voices. At the multicultural school in Oxford where she teaches, students speak 30 languages and poetry has become a vital part of bringing pupils together, giving them pride in their work and allowing them to express the reality of their lives.

Producer: Katy Hickman

Image of Jay Bernard, taken by Joshua Virasami

Jun 24 2019

42mins

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Money - in your pocket and in the bank

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Andrew Marr discusses money, from central banks to personal finances. The historian John Guy looks back to the emergence of London as the financial centre of the world. His latest biography focuses on the life and world of Sir Thomas Gresham, Elizabeth I’s banker – a flawed and ambitious man who dabbled in blackmail, fraud and adultery and left his widow saddled with debt.

Few of today’s central bankers could match Gresham’s tumultuous private life, but they do wield enormous power in the markets. Paul Tucker spent more than 30 years as a central banker and regulator at the Bank of England and sounds a warning against increasing the authority of technocrats.

Miatta Fahnbulleh is the Chief Executive of the radical economics think-tank, NEF, which aims to build a new economy from the bottom up and put more power in the hands of the people. She looks at the role central banks have to play in a Green New Deal and the impact of debt on the country and its citizens.

While government debt makes the headlines, personal debt is now at a record high, and could derail future confidence in the market. The behavioural economist Alice Tapper offers a guide to personal finances and argues for more openness when it comes to talking about what we earn and what we spend.

Producer: Katy Hickman

Jun 17 2019

42mins

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iTunes Ratings

78 Ratings
Average Ratings
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4
1
1