United Kingdom

A rich selection of documentaries aimed at relentlessly curious minds, presented by Ashley John-Baptiste and Andy Brooks.


The Green Book  

In the Jim Crow era of racial segregation, travelling in the United States was fraught with difficulties if you were black. At best it was inconvenient, as white-owned businesses refused to serve African American motorists, repair their cars or offer them hotel accommodation. At worst, travel could be life-threatening if you walked into the wrong bar in the wrong town. That's why in 1936 Victor H Green, a Harlem postal worker, published the first edition of The Green Book. The guide listed hotels, restaurants, bars and service stations which would serve African Americans and was an attempt, in Victor Green's words, "to give the Negro traveller information that will keep from him running into difficulties and embarrassments". 'Embarrassments' seems rather a tame word for the outright hostility and physical danger which many black travellers experienced in segregation-era America. The Green Book became a catalogue of refuge and tolerance in a hostile and intolerant world. Alvin Hall hits the highway, Green Book in hand, to document a little-known aspect of racial segregation: the challenges - for mid-20th century America's new black middle class - of travelling in their own country. Alvin's journey starts in Tallahassee, Florida, where he was born and raised, takes him through Alabama and Tennessee and concludes in Ferguson, Missouri. The guide ceased publication soon after the passing of the Civil Rights Act in 1964. But, as Alvin discovers in Ferguson, many African Americans still feel far from safe as they drive. Alvin asks whether the Green Book ceased publication too soon. Interviewees: Carolyn Bailey-Champion, Dr. Charles Champion, Leah Dickerman, Jerome Gray, Prof. Allyson Hobbs, Ryan Jones, Maira Liriano, Ron McCoy, Robert Moman, Dr. Gwen Patton, Calvin Ramsey, Tiffany Shawn, Rev. Henry Steele, Bryan Stevenson and Rev. Starsky Wilson Producer: Jeremy Grange Archive audio courtesy of PBS, CBS and CNN Photos: Jonathan Calm.

Bursting the Social Network Bubble  

Bobby Friction has started to realise that his day-to-day online activities are not only being monitored but in some senses manipulated. How often he interacts with specific friends, pages or sites sculpts and filters everything and everyone he comes into contact with online. Since the Brexit vote and the US election these bubbles have become a really big issue - with talk of fake news, post-truth politics and online communities increasingly divided. When, like Bobby, you decide you've had enough of living in a social media bubble, what can you do to change things? Is it possible for an ordinary person a user of social media to beat the system or is it only technology nerds who can do it? And really - is there any benefit to breaking out of the bubble? The Producer is Perminder Khatkar.

GCHQ: Minority Report  

The domestic challenge facing Britain's biggest secret intelligence service. What's stopping members of the ethnic minorities from playing a key part in Britain's spy network: discrimination, loyalty or simple old-fashioned prejudice? DJ Nihal Arthanayake, Five Live and Asian Network presenter, gets rare access to GCHQ, the government's secret communication headquarters in Cheltenham Spa. He talks to staff from the black, Asian and ethnic minorities and hears from members of those communities outside about their attitude to the intelligence-gathering organisation. A report leaked to the Sunday Times six years ago suggested that black and Asian intelligence officers were concerned about there being a racist culture. If GCHQ's workforce was truly representative of Britain's ethnic makeup, then 12 per cent would be black, Asian or from other ethnic minorities, but it's not even a quarter of that. Can the organisation change? Produced by Mark Savage.

A Vision on Peckham Rye  

"Sauntering along the boy looks up and sees a tree filled with angels, bright angelic wings bespangling every bough, like stars" When Levi Roots was 15, a teacher read out William Blake's The Tyger to the class. For Levi, it was a life-changing moment. The singer and entrepreneur had only just learned to read and describes the poem as exploding into his brain the way no words ever had before. Levi returns to South East London to find out more about his favourite poet and uncover the story of Blake's supposed first vision of angels bespangling the branches of a tree on Peckham Rye at the age of "8 or 10". Writers, poets and artists continue to draw inspiration from this idea and we hear from some of them about why Blake, and especially this story, continues to have such powerful resonance. David Almond, explains how Blake crept into his novel Skellig and why he thinks that childhood imagination is different from that of adults. Chris McCabe has been researching the poetic vibrations of the area across the centuries for a book about the lost poets of Nunhead Cemetery, Cenotaph South, and accompanies Levi on a quest to find Blake's tree. The filmmaker Sarah Turner recreated the angel incident for her film Public House, about the successful community takeover of a local pub. Levi, his guests, and students from Harris Girls Academy, a school that sits on the Rye take some time to look into the trees and see if they can find any traces of Blake's angels. What could those angels be and why does Blake, despite his difficulty, seem to ignite the passions of young people? The programme includes readings by Peter Marinker, Chris McCabe, Levi Roots, Georgia Peskett, Barnaby Steed, David Almond and the students of Harris Girls Academy East Dulwich. The choral piece, Criers of Peckham Rye, was for the film Public House by Duncan Macleod and performed by Dulwich Folk Choir and Duncan Macleod. The programme features other extracts from the film Public House made and sound designed by Sarah Turner. Producer: Natalie Steed A Whistledown production for BBC Radio 4.

Being Bored: The Importance of Doing Nothing  

Is boredom under threat? There are more TV channels than we can count, Smartphones keep us engaged around the clock, and the constant white noise of social media coerces us to always 'interact'. In fact, there is so much to stimulate our everyday lives in this digital age that we need never be bored ever again. So do we still need to be bored? And what would we miss if we did eliminate boredom completely from our lives? The happily bored Phill Jupitus takes a creative look at our attitude to this misunderstood emotion. He will examine what boredom is, and how it has influenced our leisure time, our workplaces, our creativity and our evolution. Phill will examine its impact on comedy, art, music, and television, taking us from punk to prison, from J. R. R. Tolkien to Sherlock Holmes, from Danish sex clubs to London's 'Boring Conference'. This will be a lively look at the simple, very real and essential emotion of boredom, and a stout defence of the right to sometimes just sit down and do nothing. Interviews include - the Reverend Richard Coles, the writer Natalie Haynes, the artist George Shaw, the comedy writer & producer Robert Popper, the psychologist Peter Toohey, the punk musician Gaye Black (formerly of The Adverts), the psychologist Sandi Mann, the BBC newsreader Simon McCoy, Dr Teresa Belton and the social media entrepreneur Jodie Cook.

No Platform  

The NUS policy of 'No Platform', which blocks members of six proscribed organisations speaking on university campuses, has been the subject of a huge amount of debate recently. Similarly, the related issue of establishing so-called 'safe spaces' within universities, which results in speakers being blocked because their opinions might offend or upset members of the student population, has been widely discussed, with many commentators suggesting the creation of a new generation gap opening up between middle-aged graduates concerned about free speech on campus and younger students who say this older group is out of touch with a politics more concerned with identity than class. As Professor Andrew Hussey explores in this programme, in fact both 'No Platform' and 'Safe Spaces' were created by that older generation, having been born out of the student politics movements of the 1970s and 1980s, and while they were primarily concerned with keeping the violent message of the far right away from campus, they also saw many other speakers either barred from talking or angrily shouted down. Hussey will hear how no platforming, made official NUS policy in 1974, took its inspiration from the disruptive methods of anti-fascist campaigners in the 1930s. Having examined this history, Hussey will set about (with help from contributors including David Aaronovitch, Kaite Welsh and Richard Brooks from the NUS) examining whether there has indeed been a shift in recent times, making the current incarnations of 'no platform' and 'safe spaces' a real danger, as many have suggested, to free speech on University campuses. Along the way he'll consider archive both recent and dating back to the 70s/80s, and examine what for him is one of the most troubling aspects of this whole debate - the use of 'safe spaces' as an excuse to barrack and intimidate speakers through the employment of the 'heckler's veto'.

The French Culture War  

A year after last November's terror attacks in Paris, journalist Nick Fraser explores the deeper culture war taking place between a new generation of French Muslims and the defenders of hard-line secular Republicanism in France. As a country and a civilization, France prides itself on its own model of Frenchness - non-ethnic, republican, integrationist, based on legality and citizenship and, in cultural terms, emphatically secular. It's based on a concept unique to France - laïcité. But aversion to laïcité is now widespread among banlieue and Muslim young, and it would seem that integration on the scale advocated by its supporters hasn't happened. By common consent, French secularism has hidden the country's real and growing race and culture divisions - some argue it's exacerbated them. The government takes matters seriously enough to be spending millions on a new programme of civic education designed explicitly to counter apathy and hostility to republican values, and promote secularism. This summer, PM Manuel Valls called for a pact. "Our country must prove boldly to the world that Islam is compatible with democracy," he told the press. Meanwhile the hard right talk of the Grand Remplacement - effectively a cultural takeover and an 'Islamisation' of France. Even in mainstream cultural and political debate many Muslims feel laïcité and secularism are being targeted specifically against them - from the ban on the veil in public space to the burkini row earlier this summer. Secularism is being used as a weapon of anti-Islamic sentiment, they argue, even as a cover for racism. Liberal defenders of laïcité point out that this is a political misuse of the idea but not its truth - arguing that separation of religion from the public space remains necessary and desirable in France. Talking to writers, satirists and cultural activists, Muslim and secular, Nick Fraser asks if the French Republican idea can survive. Producer: Simon Hollis A Brook Lapping production for the BBC.

Steve Earle's Songwriting Bootcamp  

Legendary country singer-songwriter Steve Earle unveils the secrets of composing a great song. Every year he runs a four-day intensive training session in the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York. Journalist and aspiring songwriter Hugh Levinson joined around 100 other would-be balladeers to see what they can learn both from Steve and his fellow teacher, Shawn Colvin. Listen in to stories of dreaming, methadone, guns, jail, death and betrayal. All the good stuff. Producer: Smita Patel.

Butterfly Mind  

Can a Shaman cure writer's block? David Greig goes on a very personal quest in an attempt to find out. David Greig is one of our most respected and successful playwrights. He's also the Artistic Director of the Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh. But he is suffering from writer's block; he is 'exhausted, like a mined out mine'. He's tried many a cure, without success, and now he wants to visit a Shaman to see if there is a solution to be found somewhere in the spirit world. As quests go, it's slightly odd, sometimes light-hearted but serious in parts... Producer: Karen Gregor.

Searching for Tobias  

In 2008 Chloe Hadjimatheou was covering Barack Obama's first election campaign when she came across a 15 year old black boy in a Mississippi trailer park. Back then the young Tobias was full of potential and had big dreams of becoming a policeman. 8 years later, Chloe goes in search of him to find what became of him. Did Tobias ever fulfil his wishes and has he prospered in Obama's America? Produced and presented by Chloe Hadjimatheou Editor: Penny Murphy.

Keepsake for My Lover  

'Like talking on the phone but a thousand times more thrilling,' voice recording booths invite you to 'hear yourself as others hear you' by entering a weird machine to cut a record. Once a technological novelty, these recordings leave a unique legacy and a wonderful world of audio peculiarities, which serve as a vital reminder for how we communicate today. Once a staple of seaside resorts and arcades, famously used in the films Brighton Rock and Badlands, they returned to prominence when Jack White restored a booth, on which Neil Young recorded his 2014 album. While the discs speak for themselves, the booths ask questions about us and how we choose to present ourselves to the world. Janine H. Jones crosses the Atlantic, to meet the people who have restored these booths, to find out what's the value of putting our money where our mouth is and speaking out loud. Recording personally and for posterity, why are people in their droves returning to make a permanent record, instead of the infinitely editable yet intangible digital recordings offered by the technology in our pocket? Presenter: Janine H. Jones Producer: Hannah Loy Contributors: Bill Bollman (Record booth restorer) Alisha Edmonson (Songbyrd Cafe) Will Prentice (British Library) Digby Fairweather (jazz musician) Ben Blackwell (Third Man Records) With special thanks to The British Library & The Imperial War Museum for access to their collection of discs. With special thanks to Jason Spellman, Ben Soundhog and Mike Hale for donating their discs to the project. With special thanks to Cai Strachan for digitising the donated discs and donating the first disc that sparked the whole idea.

Asquith's Fight for Equality  

Oona King uncovers the story of Dominican Asquith Xavier, whose 1966 fight for the right to work as a passenger guard at Euston Station put pressure on the government to strengthen the widely discredited 1965 Race Relations Act. Oona King's own family was at the centre of similar, better reported fights in the Deep South of the USA. She wants to know why it is that American Rosa Parks is widely known in this country, while Asquith Xavier is forgotten. What does that say about the place of black people in the UK? The first Race Relations Act had been passed in 1965, making it illegal to "refuse anyone access, on racial grounds, to public places such as hotels, pubs, restaurants, cinemas, public transport or any place run by a public authority". But the legislation did not apply to the workplace. Fifty years ago, two of this country's great railway stations, Euston and St Pancras, both operated a colour bar. It was a ban enforced by the local unions and station management, until Asquith Xavier risked his own job and the anger of his fellow workers when he went public and demanded the rules be changed. When he took up his new job, he had to ask British Rail for protection after anonymous workers sent letters threatening to cut his throat and "send him back to the jungle". Contributors include Asquith's daughter Maria, and former railway guard Lord Peter Snape. Producer: David Morley A Bite Media production for BBC Radio 4.

A Cello in the Desert  

Winner of this year's prestigious BBC/RGS dream journey award is Nina Plapp who sets off from the Isle of Wight with her cello 'Cuthbert' en route to India via Transylvania in a search for the roots of gypsy music. Nina is a cellist from a large musical family and the energy and rhythms of gypsy music have always mesmerized her. Cuthbert, now 167 years old, has played in many an orchestra and was most recently under the guardianship of Nina's great aunt Bebe. After a family send-off, Nina and Cuthbert head east on an adventure into the rich musical landscape of the gypsies. They first visit a family in Romania where she immerses herself in the wild rhythms and melodies of the Roma in rural Transylvania. Then they continue to India to seek out the original gypsies. On their way they join a chorus on the train through the desert, get locked inside a cupboard with singing girls in a Rajasthani village and play with the gypsy musicians at a wedding. If you'd like to apply for next years Journey of a Lifetime Award and make a feature fore Radio 4 about your adventure you have until 2nd November. Look for Journey of a Lifetime on the Royal Geographical Society website. Producer Neil McCarthy.

Thelma & Michael: Love in the Cutting Room  

Nicholas Wapshott tells the story of how film director Martin Scorsese unwittingly acted as cupid in one of cinema's greatest love stories. While working on Raging Bull in 1980, Scorsese introduced his American film editor Thelma Schoonmaker to his boyhood hero, the celebrated British director Michael Powell. Despite their 35 year age difference - Powell was 75 - the two fell in love and were married until Powell's death in 1994. In this programme, Martin Scorsese assesses Powell's work on classic movies life The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp and The Red Shoes, and recalls introducing him to his long time cutting room colleague Schoonmaker. Using clips from some of his best known films and tributes from academics and critics, Nicholas Wapshott puts Michael Powell's heritage in perspective and, in exclusive interviews with Scorsese and Schoonmaker, explores the brilliance of the two lovers and how their unlikely relationship developed in the cutting room. A Trevor Dann's Company production for BBC Radio 4.

Gunning For Education  

On 1st August 2016, Texas became the first big American state to allow students aged over 21 to carry concealed handguns on campus. Ian Peddie explores the impact of the new law. This change is seen by many as a litmus test and, despite a few smaller states already having similar laws, where Texas goes America often follows. As with all American gun debates the issue is divisive, with many seeing this moment as pivotal in framing the nation's political and cultural relationship with weapons. Most educators in Texas oppose the legislation, Texas Senate Bill 11 (SB11). They fear an impact on teaching, where contentious topics such as religion and philosophy may now be avoided. But after notorious shootings at Virginia Tech, Columbine and the University of Texas, some students welcome the ability to defend themselves. British born Assistant Professor Ian Peddie has lived and worked in the USA for over 25 years. SB11 will change the context under which he lives and works and it's in that knowledge that he explores the impact of the new campus carry laws. We follow Ian into class at Sul Ross State University for the first day of the new law's introduction. On campus Ian meets students, faculty, and the police to gauge the mood of these new times. Later, Ian hears from protestors for and against the new law at the huge University of Texas in Austin. In a noisy atmosphere, the arguments are good natured but passionate. Throughout the programme Ian examines the fears, claims and discussions being held across universities, the state, and the nation. It will be illegal for lecturers to ask students if they are carrying weapons but it remains to be seen how that 'knowing but not knowing' might affect the class. A Like It Is Media production for BBC Radio 4.

The Black Panthers  

On the 50th anniversary of its foundation, Dorian Warren explores the rise and fall of the Black Panther Party and its legacy for more recent black insurgency in America. Founded in Oakland California in 1966, the Black Panther Party represented a revolutionary disavowal of mainstream Civil Rights. Its Ten Point Programme advanced a series of radical demands ranging from the right to armed resistance against police violence to universal healthcare, housing and education for the poorest sections of the black community. While Martin Luther King argued for tactical non-violence and full integration, the Panthers carried guns and were resolutely internationalist, drawing instead on the philosophy of Malcolm X, Karl Marx and the African liberation movement. The media image of the Panthers, of the glowering, gun toting, leather jacket-clad revolutionary, still dominates - it was highly stylised, coded to alarm white America, and members did indeed receive munitions and weapons training. Armed confrontation with the police and SWAT teams ensued. But a good deal of their work was dedicated to grass-roots and community outreach work - food programs, schooling and crèche support, raising funds for legal aid, prison welfare reform. The reasons for the Panthers' siege mentality and harrowing decline in the early 1970s are still contested: factional splits and trauma within the Party and internecine violence, but also huge pressure from without, police raids, FBI infiltration and the Nixon government pledging a platform of national law and order. Hearing from former Panthers (including Party founder Bobby Seale) critics and scholars, broadcaster and writer Dorian Warren explores the different dimensions of the Black Panther Party. Fifty years after its foundation the Black Panther Party still casts a long shadow - in 2016 The Black Lives Matter coalition released a Six Point Platform for Black Power, Freedom and Justice, explicitly evoking the Panthers' original 1966 Ten Point Programme. Presenter: Dorian Warren Producer: Simon Hollis A Brook Lapping production for BBC Radio 4

Body Count Rising  

Killer brandishes knife....squeezes hands tightly around woman's throat....drags body through woods. This could describe any number of prime-time dramas on British TV. There are numerous dramas with similar recurring narratives - a little girl abducted and murdered, a teenage girl raped, a wife beaten. Cue sinister music, graphic images, and sometimes overly-sexy portrayals of female victims. But has television culture made the depiction of rape and the ritualistic murder of women into an undesirable industry? Audiences lap it up, but what does our fascination with glossy, high budget TV series, saturated with the corpses of unfortunate women, say about the society we live in, and the way we view women? Actor Doon Mackichan examines the trend, speaking to criminal sociologist Ruth Penfold-Mounce; Variety's TV critic Sonia Saraiya; Allan Cubbit, writer and director of critically-acclaimed series The Fall; playwright Nick Payn; Elaine Collins, Executive Producer of Shetland; and an actor who has twice played a rape victim. Presenter: Doon Mackichan Producer: Gemma Newby A Juniper production for BBC Radio 4

A Casual Clearance  

After her mother dies, Clare Jenkins explores the practical and emotional difficulties of clearing out her parents' home. Mabel Jenkins died in May 2015, after two months in a care home and 25 years in a sheltered housing flat. Clare and her siblings had to decide which of their parents' possessions they should keep, and what to let go. Guardian writer Deborah Orr and her brother had faced the same dilemma a couple of years earlier, when their mother died at the family home in Motherwell, near Glasgow. And Times columnist Robert Crampton has been going through the process this year, clearing out his parents' house in Hull. What is important to keep at such a time? Is it the letters, diaries and photos, or the expensive, but disliked, heirlooms? Which objects seem pathetic, when removed of meaning? What emotions surface during the clearing-out process? Treasured possessions often have stories to tell, secrets to give up. Clare and her sisters discovered this when rifling through their mother's black tin box. So did Deborah, when her brother opened the pillbox their mother always clutched tight to her. Children can often be surprised by evidence of their parents' younger selves, including their younger voices. In this programme - which includes archive recordings of Jenkins family get-togethers - Clare and her sisters, together with Deborah and Robert, reflect on these questions and issues. They consider the symbolism of inconsequential treasures such as old tea sets, job references and children's hair clippings - mundane objects that attain the status of holy relics because of the meaning a parent attached to them. A Pennine production for BBC Radio 4.

Arthur Russell: Vanished into Music  

The writer Olivia Laing presents an imaginative portrait of Arthur Russell. Arthur Russell was a cellist, a composer, a songwriter and a disco auteur. He was active in the New York downtown scene of the 1970s and was a frequent collaborator with the likes of Allen Ginsberg and Philip Glass. Although extremely prolific, his inability to finish projects is often cited as part of the reason that very little of his music was released during his lifetime. When Arthur Russell died in 1992 his Village Voice obituary read, "Arthur's songs were so personal that it seems as though he simply vanished into his music." Featuring: Mustafa Ahmed, Joyce Bowden, Steven Hall and Tom Lee Producer: Martin Williams

The Villain in 6 Chapters  

Exploring characters from literature, stage and screen, actor Toby Jones celebrates the mercurial world of the villain. There are the characters we love, and then there are the characters we love to hate. Some of the most memorable ones in drama and fiction are villains and our relationship with them can be deeper than the characters we're supposed to be rooting for. In this programme we tell the tale of this love - hate relationship with the baddie and discover that the villain is more than just a foil for the hero - they are a reflection of us all. Introducing the story in six chapters from his secret lair actor Toby Jones delves into a the vaults of villainy; from the hideous countenances to deranged governesses, from the dark side to the cads and femme fatales the programme brings into the spotlight a collection of evil doers and assesses whether they deserve sympathy, condemnation or anti-hero status. We live in the age of the anti-hero; characters which proliferate popular culture that are no longer simply goodies and baddies. They are cherished in critically acclaimed American dramas: Breaking Bad has Walter White and The Sopranos has the eponymous Tony. The anti-hero is a complex character. They can commit truly appalling, villainous acts - but we're encouraged to see the reasons behind those actions, to sympathise with them, to understand what makes them do what they do and to hope for redemption. As the Walter White's and Tony Soprano's emerge, this programme reconsiders classic villainy and analyses whether the increasingly popular anti-hero is threatening to unseat the villain and resign them to pantomime and comic book stories as serious drama abandons real baddies. As Toby Jones explores the wicked worlds of our favourite villains their nefarious natures are assessed by Shakespearean scholars Paul Edmondson and Carol Rutter, an academic specialising in Victorian fiction Professor John Sutherland, Comedy and film history Glenn Mitchell and actors Emily Raymond, Michael Roberts and Jonathan Rigby Produced by Stephen Garner With readings by Michael Roberts and Jessica Treen.

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