Great Lives

Great Lives

United Kingdom

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


Eliza Manningham-Buller on Abraham Lincoln  

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 life? The expert is Dr Tony Hutchison, from the American Studies Department at the University of Nottingham. The producer is Perminder Khatkar.

Nitin Sawhney on Jeff Buckley  

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 presenter and the producer is Perminder Khatkar.

Susan Calman on Molly Weir  

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 Scottish female voices on national media in the 1950s. Producer: Maggie Ayre & Perminder Khatkar.

Martin Jennings on Charles Sargeant Jagger  

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 British sculptor to try to capture the horror of war. A full-sized gun - a 9.2 howitzer protrudes from the top; four masculine soldiers surround the base - one a corpse. Martin Jennings also a British sculptor, nominates Jagger as his Great Life. Along with the expert, art historian Ann Compton, they tell Matthew Parris how the First World War shaped and made Jagger. The producer is Perminder Khatkar.

Scientist Precious Lunga chooses Wangari Maathai  

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-establishing environmental integrity to Kenya by working with the women who lived there. She founded the Green Belt Movement and became a politician. In 2004 she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The expert witness is Maggie Baxter from the Green Belt Movement. Producer Christine Hall.

Alvin Hall chooses James Baldwin  

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 writer and Civil Rights activist, James Baldwin. Baldwin was born in 1924 in Harlem and his achievements in overcoming a difficult start in life were prodigious. For much of his life he lived outside the United States, returning in the late 1950s to support the nascent Civil Rights movement, though the Movement itself had some problems with his homosexuality. Throughout his life he continued to write about the experiences of being black in 20th century America and is now widely regarded as the pre-eminent African-American writer of the century. Dr Douglas Field of the University of Manchester, who has written several books on James Baldwin, discusses Baldwin's life and achievements with Alvin and with Matthew Parris. Producer Christine Hall.

Roger Saul founder of Mulberry chooses garden designer Gertrude Jekyll  

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 landscaping. Inspired by William Morris and the Arts and Crafts movement, together with architect Edward Lutyens, Gertrude Jekyll designed many great gardens including Hestercombe in Somerset and at her home in Surrey. Producer: Maggie Ayre.

Dickie Bird on the life of Sir Leonard Hutton  

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 professional England captain. Joining him, the Sunday Times cricket correspondent and author Simon Wilde. Matthew Parris is the presenter. The producer is Perminder Khatkar.

Toyah Willcox on Katharine Hepburn  

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, including James Stewart, Cary Grant, Humphrey Bogart and Spencer Tracy. The four time Oscar award winning actress Katharine Hepburn is this week's Great Life. She is championed by singer and actress Toyah Willcox. The expert is Dr Mark Glancy - Reader in Film History, at Queen Mary, University of London. The presenter is Matthew Parris. The producer is Perminder Khatkar.

Nick Stadlen on Bram Fischer  

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 no exaggeration to say Bram Fischer saved Mandela's life, and it is said Mandela would have made him his vice-president, had he lived to see Mandela's release. He's nominated by former English High Court Judge Sir Nick Stadlen along with Lord Joffe. Matthew Parris is the presenter. The producer is Perminder Khatkar.

Hannah Rothschild on Thelonious Monk  

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 close friend of Hannah's great-aunt, the Jazz Baroness Nica Rothschild. Matthew Parris chairs as Hannah and music writer Richard Williams chart Monk's progress through the jazz clubs and recording studios of mid-twentieth century New York. Producer: Julia Johnson.

Monica Ali chooses Richard Francis Burton  

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-century explorer is a Great Life. They are also joined by historian and broadcaster Matthew Ward. Producer: Perminder Khatkar.

Ade Adepitan on George Washington Williams  

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's treatment of Africans under Belgian colonial rule. Nominating the life of George Washington Williams is television presenter, and former Paralympic medallist, Ade Adepitan. The expert witness is Dr David Brown, Senior Lecturer in American Studies at the University of Manchester. The presenter is Matthew Parris. Producer: Perminder Khatkar.

Michael Howard on Elizabeth I  

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  

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 Greece is facing huge economic and political pressures. The film star who achieved global fame became a much loved politician in her homeland. As Minister for Culture, she promoted Greece's cultural heritage and fought for the return of the Elgin Marbles. Some consider one her greatest achievements to be the founding of the European Capital of Culture; culture being in her eyes something as important as politics or money, if not more so. Producer: Maggie Ayre.

Ian McKellen on Edmund Hillary  

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 Hillary in New Zealand and has strong memories of a modest man whose first job was beekeeping. "I did a good job on Everest," Hillary once said, "but have always known my limitations and I found being classified as a hero slightly embarrassing." Joining Sir Ian McKellen to discuss the life of this fascinating man - he took a tractor to the South Pole in 1958 and became High Commissioner to India in 1985 - is the author of Everest 1953, Mick Conefrey. He reveals the epic story of the first ascent, plus discusses Hillary's work with the Himalayan Trust. The presenter is Matthew Parris, the producer Miles Warde.

David Blunkett on Louis Braille  

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.

PD James by Val McDermid  

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 Woman', PD James evidently thought the same. Val McDermid -who knew and loved the writer who died last November - discusses her life with the help of James' friend, the literary critic Peter Kemp. Producer: Maggie Ayre.

US Ambassador Matthew Barzun on JG Winant  

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 US into the war effort. Producer: Maggie Ayre.

Antonia Quirke on Marlon Brando  

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 contributions from writer Robyn Karney and Joe Queenan in the United States. Matthew Parris presents. The producer is Miles Warde.

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