Arts and Ideas

Arts and Ideas

United Kingdom

The best of BBC Radio 3's flagship arts and ideas programme Free Thinking - featuring in-depth interviews and debates with artists, scientists and public figures.


The Essay - The British Writer and the Refugee  

New Generation Thinker Katherine Cooper looks at literary refugees in the Second World War and tells the untold story of the work done by British writers to save their European colleagues. She shows how HG Wells, Rebecca West and JB Priestley became intertwined with the lives of writers fleeing persecution on the continent. Katherine peeps into drawing rooms, visits the archives of PEN, scrutinises the correspondence and draws on the fiction of key literary figures to explore crucial allegiances formed in wartime London. Why did these British writers believe that by saving Europe’s literary voices they were saving Europe itself? Katherine Cooper is Senior Research Associate at the University of East Anglia, School of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing. Recorded as part of Radio 3's Free Thinking Festival in front of an audience at Sage Gateshead. New Generation Thinkers is a scheme run by BBC Radio 3 and the Arts and Humanities Research Council to select 10 academics each year and then work with them to turn their research into radio. Producer: Torquil MacLeod

Free Thinking - Quick Reactions  

Damon Hill, Tanni Grey-Thompson and former Colonel Lincoln Jopp consider whether the rush of adrenaline makes us think better? It brings us an increase in our strength, heightened senses, a lack of pain and a burst of energy. How is it connected to our expertise in handling crises and what is the aftermath? Joining Radio 3 presenter Rana Mitter and an audience at the Free Thinking Festival at Sage Gateshead are guests who have lived and observed decision-making under pressure, at top speed: Damon Hill is a former Formula One racing driver, broadcaster and author of Watching the Wheels: the Autobiography. Tanni Grey-Thompson picked up 16 Paralympic medals during her career (including 11 golds) and won the London Marathon six times. Colonel Lincoln Jopp MC served in the army for 27 years, commanding in conflict zones around the world including Northern Ireland, Iraq, Afghanistan and Sierra Leone. Producer: Torquil MacLeod

The Essay - In the Shadows of Biafra  

New Generation Thinker Louisa Egbunike from Manchester Metropolitan University considers images of war and ghosts of the past. News reports of the Biafran war (1967-1970), with their depictions of starving children, created images of Africa which have become imprinted. Biafra endured a campaign of heavy shelling, creating a constant stream of refugees out of fallen areas as territory was lost to Nigeria. Within Igbo culture specific rites and rituals need to be performed when a person dies. To die and be buried ‘abroad’, away from one’s ancestral home or to not be buried properly, impedes the transition to the realm of the ancestors. Louisa Egbunike explores the legacy of the Biafran war and considers the image of those spirits unable to journey to the next realm, and left to roam the earth. Recorded in front of an audience as part of Radio 3's Free Thinking Festival at Sage Gateshead. New Generation Thinkers is a scheme run by BBC Radio 3 and the Arts and Humanities Research Council to select 10 academics each year who can turn their research into radio. Producer: Zahid Warley

Free Thinking - How Short is a Short Story?  

George Saunders, Kirsty Logan, Jenn Asworth and Paul McVeigh discuss writing fiction short and long with presenter Matthew Sweet. Acclaimed American short story writer George Saunders talks about travelling in time to explore Abraham Lincoln’s life during the American Civil War when the President’s beloved young son died. These historical events have inspired Saunder’s first novel, Lincoln in the Bardo, whilst his short fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, Harper’s, McSweeeney’s and GQ. He compares notes on the art of the short story with Paul McVeigh, Jenn Ashworth and Kirsty Logan, who’ve been commissioned by New Writing North and the WordFactory to write Flash Fiction on this year's Free Thinking Festival theme of The Speed of Life. Kirsty Logan is the author of books including The Gracekeepers and The Rental Heart & Other Fairytales and a range of short stories. Jenn Ashworth’s books include Fell, The Friday Gospels, A Kind of Intimacy and Cold Light and a selection of short stories. Paul McVeigh has won prizes including the Polari prize for his debut novel The Good Son. Born in Belfast he is co-founder of the London Short Story Festival, writes a blog and has represented the UK at events in Mexico and Turkey. Recorded in front of an audience as part of Radio 3's Free Thinking Festival at Sage Gateshead. The stories commissioned for the Festival are available to listen to as an Arts and Ideas podcast available for 30 days. Producer: Zahid Warley

Free Thinking Festival: Harriet Harman - Politics Fast and Slow  

Harriet Harman, who has just written her autobiography A Woman’s Work, was first elected a Labour MP in 1982 and has served as the acting leader of her party twice in her career. She talks to Free Thinking presenter Philip Dodd about championing women’s rights and sustaining a political career in a fast-changing political landscape. In his final year of office, President Obama talked about how difficult it is today to keep the public focused on the long term when the short term response has taken over. “The 24-hour news cycle”, he said,” is just so lightning fast and the attention span I think is so short that sometimes it's difficult to keep everybody focused on the long term.” Are UK politicians now better at campaigning than producing policies that look to the future? Recorded as part of Radio 3's Free Thinking Festival in front of an audience at Sage Gateshead. Producer: Luke Mulhall

Free Thinking Essay: Monks, Models and Medieval Time  

The ruined priory of Tynemouth nestles on a Northumbrian cliff top, staring out at the fog and foam of the North Sea. In the 14th century it was a proving ground – and occasional prison camp – for monks from the wealthy mother monastery of St Albans. But the monks here didn’t just isolate themselves, pray and complain about the food (though they did do those things). They also studied astronomy. Writing treatises, computing tables and designing new instruments, they contemplated the nature of a divinely-wound clockwork universe. New Generation Thinker Seb Falk from the University of Cambridge brings to life a world where science and religion went hand-in-hand, where monks loved their gadgets, and where a wooden disc, a brass ring and some silk threads were all you needed to model the motions of the stars. Recorded as part of Radio 3's Free Thinking Festival in front of an audience at Sage Gateshead. New Generation Thinkers is a scheme run by BBC Radio 3 in partnership with the Arts and Humanities Research Council to find academics who can turn their research into radio. Producer: Jacqueline Smith

Free Thinking Festival: Faster, Faster, Faster?  

Can the steady tortoise still beat the rapid hare in today’s world? Our panel, chaired by Free Thinking presenter Anne McElvoy, compare experiences of life in the fast lane with taking the slow route – in business, writing, leisure time. Pinky Lilani is an author, motivational speaker, food expert and women’s advocate, and nominated in the Woman’s Hour Power List. She was appointed a CBE in 2015 for services to women in business. Denise Mina wrote her first crime novel, Garnethill, while studying for her PhD at Strathclyde University. Now the award-winning writer of twelve novels, plays and graphic fiction she has presented radio and television programmes including a film about her own family. Her most recent novel featuring detective Alex Morrow is Blood Salt Water and her new novel The Long Drop was inspired by real historical events in Glasgow in 1957. Jay Griffiths is the author of Pip Pip which explores attitudes to time across the world. Other books include Tristimania: a Diary of Manic Depression and Wild: an Elemental Journey. John Gallagher is a Radio 3 New Generation Thinker who teaches history at the University of Cambridge. Recorded as part of Radio 3's Free Thinking Festival in front of an audience at Sage Gateshead. Producer: Craig Smith

Free Thinking Essay: Alexander the Great's Lost City  

New Generation Thinker Edmund Richardson with the story of Alexander the Great’s lost city, buried beneath Bagram airbase, a CIA detention site and wrecked Soviet tanks. For centuries, it was a meeting point of East and West. Then it vanished. In 1832, it was discovered by the unlikeliest person imaginable: a ragged British con-man called Charles Masson, on the run from a death sentence. Today, Alexander’s lost civilization is lost again. And Masson? For his next trick, he accidentally started the most disastrous war of the nineteenth century. Edmund Richardson’s Essay tells the story of the liar and the lost city, of how the unlikeliest people can change history. Recorded in front of an audience as part of Radio 3's Free Thinking Festival at Sage Gateshead. New Generation Thinkers is a scheme run by BBC Radio 3 with the Arts and Humanities Research Council to find academics who can turn their research into radio. Producer: Jacqueline Smith

Free Thinking: Sleep - Freedom to Think  

“Take control of your sleep,” says Professor Russell Foster CBE, leading neuroscientist and this year’s opening lecturer on the festival theme of the Speed of Life. Sleeping consumes a third of our lifetimes, but Professor Foster believes our sleeping hours are still not properly appreciated. His research shows how our bodies, honed by three million years of evolution, follow a natural clock and not the man-made one in daily use. He believes that all life on the planet has developed a 24-hour timing system which humans now use to fine-tune our rhythms. And yet Britain’s sleep problems have never been more acute: three separate surveys over the past decade indicate insomnia has increased across the population – and it’s becoming a source of public debate and private misery. Hosted by Radio 3 presenter Matthew Sweet in front of an audience at Sage Gateshead. Russell Foster is Head of the Nuffield Laboratory of Ophthalmology and Senior Fellow at Brasenose College Oxford. Producer: Fiona McLean

The Speed of Life - Short Stories: Jenn Ashworth, Paul McVeigh & Kirsty Logan  

Stories on the theme of this year’s Free Thinking Festival, commissioned by New Writing North and Word Factory.

Free Thinking - Rodney Graham at BALTIC, The Amber Collective.  

New Generation Thinker Shahidha Bari talks to Rodney Graham about making music, and art from film, video and photographs. Graham Rigby and Sirkka Liisa Konttinen describe documenting the North East as the Side Gallery celebrates its 40th year of displaying and collecting work from the Amber Film and Photography Collective. Artist Lucy Wood talks about her project Distant Neighbours which highlights the plights of refugees and migrants. Plus, Leyla Al-Sayad on the once thriving Yemeni community of South Shields. Rodney Graham is on show at BALTIC from 17 March - 11 June 2017. Lucy Wood's short film series, Distant Neighbours, features as part of the Gimme Shelter season at the Tyneside cinema. Leyla Al-Sayad'a Yemini project: Producer: Craig Smith

Free Thinking: Images of America  

Edward Luce, Sarah Churchwell, Michael Goldfarb and Michael Prodger join Anne McElvoy. As Grant Wood's painting American Gothic is on show at the Royal Academy in London, while US pop art is displayed at the British Museum, Free Thinking explores the changing idea of The American Dream and America First and the way these ideas are represented in political rhetoric, art and fiction. Michael Prodger writes on art for the New Statesman Sarah Churchwell is Professor of American Literature and the Public Understanding of the Humanities at the University of London's School of Advanced Study. Edward Luce is Chief Washington Correspondent and Columnist for the Financial Times Michael Goldfarb writes for The Guardian, The New York Times and The Washington Post and and is a regular broadcaster. America After The Fall: Painting in the 1930s is on show at the Royal Academy until June 4th. The American Dream Pop To Present is on show at the British Museum until June 17th. Tyler Cowan's book is called The Complacent Class: The Self-Defeating Quest for the American Dream Rutger Bregman's book is called Utopia for Realists: And how we can get there Donald Trump has written Great Again: How to Fix Our Crippled America Edward Luce's book The Retreat of Western Liberalism will be published in early May. Producer: Eliane Glaser.

Free Thinking - Michael Lewis.  

The Big Short, Liar's Poker and Flash Boys expose the culture of Wall Street trading works. The Blind Side, Coach and Moneyball explore the world of sport. For his latest book ‘The Undoing Project’, Michael Lewis looks at the friendship of two Nobel Prize-winning psychologists, Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. Matthew Sweet talks to Michael Lewis about his investigative methods and how this latest book fits into his interest in the psychology of sportsmen, bankers and risk takers. The Undoing Project is out now. Producer: Fiona McLean

Free Thinking: Neglected Women: Lady Mary Wroth, Margaret Cavendish, Charlotte Robinson.  

The work of scientist Margaret Cavendish, poet Lady Mary Wroth, and interior designer Charlotte Robinson are explored in a programme looking at why women are left out of some historical accounts. Tracy Chevalier's novels include stories inspired by fossil hunter Mary Anning, by early settlers of the American west, by women in the lives of painters including Vermeer and William Blake. Tracy Chevalier joins Ailsa Grant Ferguson, Emma Wilkins and Miranda Garrett who'll be sharing their new research with Anne McElvoy on International Women's Day. Tracy Chevalier is the author of At the Edge of the Orchard about an American pioneer family, Remarkable Creatures inspired by the Victorian fossil hunter Mary Anning and The Lady and the Unicorn - a love story set against the weaving of a set of medieval tapestries which hang in the Museum of Cluny in Paris. Her new book published in May is New Boy, a re-working of Othello set in an American school in the 1970s with a cast of 11 year olds. Producer: Luke Mulhall.

Free Thinking: Landmark: Machiavelli's The Prince  

Authors Sarah Dunant and Erica Benner, MP Gisela Stuart and historian Catherine Fletcher join Philip Dodd to explore the continuing relevance of Machiavelli's The Prince which was first circulated in 1513. Sarah Dunant's series of Renaissance novels include Blood and Beauty: the Borgias and In The Name of The Family: A Novel of Machiavelli and The Borgias. Erica Benner has written Be Like the Fox: Machiavelli's Lifelong Quest For Freedom. Catherine Fletcher is the author of The Black Prince of Florence: The Spectacular Life and Treacherous World of Alessandro de' Medici Producer: Robyn Read

Free Thinking - Neil Jordan, Flat Time House, Teletubbies  

Worlds within worlds - Matthew Sweet talks to filmmaker and author Neil Jordan about his new novel Carnivalesque, which features a hall of mirrors and stolen children. He makes a tour of Flat Time House in south London and speaks to the Turner Prize-winning artist Laure Prouvost and curator Gareth Bell-Jones about the house's creator, the pioneering British conceptual artist John Latham (1921-2006). And to round things off, he ventures into the lush green world of the Teletubbies with broadcaster Samira Ahmed and child psychologist Sam Wass to explore the show's enduring fascination twenty years after it first appeared on television. Neil Jordan's latest novel is called Carnivalesque. A World View: John Latham is on at London's Serpentine Gallery from March 2nd to May 21st and includes a series of events at Producer: Zahid Warley

Free Thinking: India/Pakistan: Mohsin Hamid. Gurinder Chadha's Viceroy's House. Preti Taneja and Sam Goodman  

Mohsin Hamid, author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, has now written a love story unfolding against today's refugee crisis. He joins Anne McElvoy to explore migration past and present. They're joined in the studio by New Generation Thinkers Preti Taneja and Sam Goodman who share their research and compare notes about Partition in film and fiction. Gurinder Chadha talks about her new film Viceroy's House, which features Hugh Bonneville and Gillian Anderson, Manish Dayal, Huma Qureshi, and Michael Gambon in a depiction of events in 1947 when Lord Mountbatten was the last Viceroy of India. Mohsin Hamid's novel Exit West is out now. Viceroy's House is released in cinemas around the UK from Friday March 3rd. Producer: Torquil MacLeod

Free Thinking - Japan Now Festival at the British Library.  

New Generation Thinker Christopher Harding meets novelist Yoko Tawada, filmmaker Momoko Ando, Elmer Luke editor of a new series of chapbooks and Japanologist Alex Kerr. Alex Kerr is the author of Lost Japan and Dogs and Demons. Yoko Tawada's books include Memoirs of a Polar Bear which has just been translated into English. The Keshiki Series edited by Elmer Luke includes writing by Yoko Tawada, Aoko Matsuda, Keiichiro Hirano, Misumi Kubo, Masatsugo Ono and Natsuki Ekezawa. Momoko Ando graduated from the Slade School of Fine Art in London and studied film at New York University. Her films are Kakera: A Piece Of Our Life (2009) and 0.5mm (2014). They are all in England to take part in the Japan Now Festival at the British Library organised by Modern Culture. Producer: Fiona McLean

Free Thinking: 'Play' in urban design, Gillian Allnutt  

Philip Dodd considers the importance of 'play' in the way our city centres are designed, built, look and feel in the 21st century with architect Stephen Witherford, social anthropologist Clare Melhuish, urban planner Ben van Bruggen, and Jonathan Glancey author of 'What's So Great About the Eiffel Tower?'. Plus, Durham poet Gillian Allnutt discusses a life in words and receiving the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry. What's So Great About the Eiffel Tower? by Jonathan Glancey is published on the 28th of February. Gillian Allnutt's latest collection poetry, Indwelling, is published by Bloodaxe Books.

Soil Stories Old and New  

Matthew Sweet talks to poet and writer Elizabeth-Jane Burnett, environmental scientist, Jules Pretty and geologist, Andrew Scott, and historians Matthew Kelly and Philip Coupland about Soil and Culture and Survival Stories For some Soil is where they come from, for others it is an object of aesthetic beauty, for most of us it is the means by which we get what we need to live. Poet and writer Elizabeth-Jane Burnett's forthcoming A Dictionary of Soil explores the lives lived within and through the soil of three fields which constitute the origins of her family's ancestral village. Agroecology expert, Jules Pretty says Soil We Can Rebuild It and in an environmentally friendly way and it will continue to feed us. Geologist Andrew Scott examines soils from deep time to discover what they can tell us about how the planet and life on Earth evolved. Historian Matthew Kelly is interested in the cultural history of landscape and focuses on environmental policy in Britain after World War II and Philip Coupland is the biographer of Jorian Jenks, a man who might have been regarded as the father of the British Green Movement if he hadn't joined Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists. They join Matthew Sweet to think through our developing relationship with the life-giving dirt beneath our feet and discuss whether a happy ending just might be possible. Presenter: Matthew Sweet Guests: Jules Pretty, Professor of Environment and Society, University of Essex author 'The Earth Only Endures' (2007) and 'Agri-Culture' (2002) Andrew C. Scott, Emeritus Professor of Geology, Royal Holloway University of London author of ‘Fire on Earth: An Introduction’ (2014) Elizabeth-Jane Burnett, Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing, Newman University. Author of Swims (Pennned in the Margins, 2017) Philip Coupland 'Farming, Fascism and Ecology: A Life of Jorian Jenks' 2016 Matthew Kelly, Professor of Modern History, Northumbria University 'Quartz and Feldspar: Dartmoor A British Landscape in Modern Times' 2015 Producer: Jacqueline Smith

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