United Kingdom

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


Blinded by War  

Adam Scourfield interviews three British veterans - of the Second World War, the Northern Irish Troubles and the Falklands - all of whom were blinded in the course of these conflicts. Ray Sherriff was in the Parachute Regiment during World War Two, and fought in Italy and Sicily, even after being shot in the chest in North Africa. He was blinded while fighting at Arnhem, and taken prisoner. Ray Hazan was serving in Northern Ireland in 1973, when he severely injured by a parcel bomb, which took his sight, and his right hand, and killed his colleague. When Adam spoke to him in 2000, he had not talked about this for 27 years. Terry Bullingham served as a Fleet Air Arm engineer in the Falklands on HMS Antrim. He vividly recalls the Argentinian air assault which blinded him. As he sardonically remarks, the last thing he saw was a Mirage - the plane that attacked his ship. So each man's experience of military life before they were blinded is very different from the others. Even the ways they lost their sight are surprisingly divergent. But they each share the terrible moment of realising that their lives had changed forever. And from there, Adam traces their different routes to coming to terms with what had happened to them. Written and Presented by Adam Scourfield Producers: Adam Scourfield and Phil Tinline.


Drama in 12 short parts. Inspired by the digital transformation in disaster response.

Less is Less: Why Scandinavian Design Leaves Me Cold  

Have we reached peak Scandi furniture? Laurence Llewelyn Bowen thinks so. In a witty and acerbic polemic, Laurence laments the blonde and bland Scandinavian design that has dislodged pattern, antiquity and a tradition of elaborate decoration from British homes. What do our choices in furniture and interior design say about our social aspirations? How does class influence taste? And what causes our relationship with how our homes look to shift so dramatically? In stripping our homes of decoration, Laurence worries that we are not only selling ourselves short but contributing to the death of British style. Laurence visits the Stockholm Furniture and Lighting Fair and issues a challenge to some of the stars of Nordic furniture to give an account of their worldview and design philosophy. Sara Kristofferson, author of Design by Ikea, explains how the company, now celebrating its 30th year in the UK, encouraged the British to chuck out their chintz in favour of a cleaner, modernist aesthetic inspired by mid-century Scandinavia. But could brown furniture finally be on the comeback? At Lots Road, auctioneer Nick Carter has noticed a slowing down in sales of Scandi style in favour of an increased interest in 18th and 19th century antiques. What does this say about Britain in 2017? And upstairs in Laurence's 16th century Cotswolds home, we make a shocking discovery regarding his daughter Hermione's taste in interior decoration. A Just Radio production for BBC Radio 4.

Miss Simpson's Children  

The story of how one woman offered refuge to leading intellectuals fleeing from the Nazis, helping transform the cultural and intellectual landscape of Britain and the United States. Shortly after Hitler came to power, an organisation was set up in Britain to help academics who were being thrown out of their jobs in Nazi Germany. It was called the Academic Assistance Council. The council's assistant secretary, Esther Simpson, became its dynamic force. She called all the refugees she assisted her 'children'. Sixteen of them ended up as Nobel Prize winners. Many would later admit that they owed their lives to her. David Edmonds tells the unknown story of Esther Simpson and the brilliant minds she saved. Producer Mark Savage. (Photo credit: The Lotte Meitner-Graf Archive).

The Invention of the USA: Borderlands  

Just two centuries ago, no one had a clue where the borders of the USA actually were. Hemmed in by the Atlantic, the Appalachian mountains and Canada to the north, early Americans could only dream of the massive territory Donald Trump and his government control today. So why is the border with Mexico where it runs today? For that matter what fixed Canadian border? The answer to both questions is war. Misha Glenny and producer Miles Warde travel across Texas and into Mexico to find out what defined the USA in the south. This is fringeland where multiple cultures collide. Local response to the President's wall proposal is not what you'd expect. With contributions from Andres Resendez, Kate Betts of the Bullock State Museum in Austin and Clive Webb on the history of the line in the south; plus Margaret MacMillan, Kathleen Burk and Alan Taylor on the numerous wars that shaped the frontier in the north.

The Organ Beauty Pageant  

Is it fair to find your own kidney donor on the internet? UK patients who need new organs are using social media to advertise their plight and appeal directly for a Good Samaritan who's willing to share their spare kidney with a stranger. As Lesley Curwen discovers, the development of such appeals on social media has caused consternation among some in the transplant community. They fear a competition to attract donors amounts to an unsavoury beauty contest, in which only the most plugged-in and tech-savvy can participate. But for Nicola Pietrzyk from Leicester, turning to social media and Facebook was a no-brainer. Her 11 year old son, Matthew had been spending 12 hours a day on dialysis, waiting for years for a possible donor from the NHS list. She's convinced that if she hadn't launched A Million Likes for a Kidney for Matthew, a kind-hearted stranger would never have offered her son a new kidney, potentially saving his life. The campaign prompted several prospective donors who weren't a match for Matthew to go on to donate to others and Alison Thornhill tells Lesley Curwen why she went on to do just that. But the likelihood that individuals, motivated by a particular story on social media, will in fact be a match for their intended recipient is slim, and Lesley hears from transplant teams frustrated that NHS resources are sucked up by high profile campaigns that attract many volunteers, all of whom need to be tested, most of whom won't turn out to be a possible match for the recipient. Dr Adnan Sharif, consultant nephrologist at Birmingham's Queen Elizabeth Hospital, was closely involved with several high profile media campaigns and he admits that he and his team were at times completely overwhelmed by the demands that multiple volunteers, each offering to donate a kidney to a named individual, placed on the unit. While he acknowledges that such social media campaigns are legal and after the guidelines were changed, were accepted by the transplant community, he admits to mixed feelings about the outcome. He and his team are delighted for the individual who has a new kidney, but uncomfortable about diverting resources from patients who are waiting for an organ through the traditional routes, from deceased donors or through the NHS Living Donor Scheme where altruistic donors place their trust in the transplant authorities to pick the best match for the kidney they've donated. So the transplant community in the UK has come to terms with social media campaigns for organs from strangers, even though there's a clear preference for the NHS altruistic donor scheme. But Lesley discovers another internet innovation: websites that allow kidney patients to advertise for a prospective donor, have been frozen out as clinical teams have voted with their feet and refused to deal with them. An American website,, launched in the UK in 2012 and sent policy makers and clinicians in the organ transplant field into multiple huddles. The final ruling was that websites like this could operate as long as no fees were paid ( didn't charge UK kidney patients a fee but they do charge $595 to USA patients for a lifetime membership). Over 100 UK patients and over 300 UK donors were registered at the site. But as Lesley finds out, in five years, not one transplant has happened through this website. Patients told her their transplant teams simply refused to deal with it, and the former chair of the ethics committee of the British Transplantation Society, Professor Vassilios Papalois, argues that clinicians have autonomy and if they're not comfortable with the idea of a matching organ website, they're under no obligation to proceed. He finds the idea of a matching website ethically objectionable, he tells Lesley, and he wouldn't personally sanction it either.

The Lost Cockney Voice  

What does the way we speak say about us? Why do we still judge each other that way? And why do so many of us still feel the need to "improve" our accent to fit in? Cole Moreton did that as a teenager, trying to escape the East End, but now he goes back to understand where he came from - and to search for the unique but vanishing voice of his late grandmother's generation. They grew up during and after wartime listening to posh announcers on the wireless and sounded half Cockney, half like the Queen. Can there be any women like that left in the same place today, transformed as it is by immigration and gentrification? The East Enders have left for Essex and Kent and experts say true Cockney will die out within a couple of decades. Meanwhile a new accent is emerging on the old streets - Multicultural London English. Cole meets modern grandmothers of all backgrounds in the East End today, as he searches in vain for the voice of his Nan. The real Queen sounds more like a Cockney than she used to - but she's not available for interview. Dame Vera Lynn sings him a bedtime lullaby. June Brown, who plays Dot Cotton, says they don't talk proper Cockney on EastEnders any more - it's all "lazy talk" now. But finally, Cole finds Beryl, a formidable force in Forest Gate at the age of 91, who sounds exactly like his Nan. Presenter: Cole Moreton Producer: Jonathan Mayo A TBI Media production for BBC Radio 4.

Trump at Studio 54  

Frances Stonor-Saunders explores how the young Donald Trump stormed into Manhattan from the outer boroughs in the late 1970s and headed straight for New York's most outrageous nightclub. He didn't dance, didn't drink, and didn't take drugs. So what was he doing in the cocaine-fuelled hothouse of the Disco revolution? And what was the link to Roy Cohn, infamous attack dog of the McCarthy era, go-to Attorney for the Mob and the man Trump was happy to call his mentor? Producer: Fiona Leach Research: Serena Tarling.

The Honky Tonk Nun  

Kate Molleson travels to Jerusalem to meet a legend of Ethiopian music, the piano-playing nun, Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou. Born in 1923 to a noble Ethiopian family, Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou was celebrated as a young musician in Addis Ababa - even performing for the Emperor Haile Selassie. But when she was mysteriously refused permission to take up a scholarship at the Royal Academy of Music in London, her life changed forever, and she abandoned music. For 10 years she lived on the holy mountain of Guishen, barefoot, in solitary prayer and meditation, until the monastery had to close and Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam headed home to Addis Ababa. There, she slowly returned to the piano keyboard, composing languorous waltzes, infected with the spirit of ancient Ethiopian music and with a free-wheeling sense of time. In 1996, as her music became the 21st release in the now famous Ethiopiques series of records, she came to international attention. By this time she had fled the communist regime in Ethiopia and moved to Jerusalem to work for the Ethiopian Orthodox Patriarchy, where she now lives in a small cell, surrounded by her religious paintings, photographs of her family and of Emperor Haile Selassie propped up on top of her piano. In recent years she has been moved to publish her work, editing a lifetime of manuscripts with the help of the Israeli musician and composer Maya Dunietz, and has set up a foundation in her name to help children to acquire instruments and music education. A long time fan of Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam's music, journalist Kate Molleson talks with the musician turned nun who, now in her 90s, has led a remarkable life and is still driven to compose her unique music. Produced by Peter Meanwell A Reduced Listening production for BBC Radio 4.

The Half: A Countdown to Performance  

The Half - called over the tannoy backstage at the theatre - is the beginning of the countdown to facing an audience. Regardless of the highs and lows of daily life, performers have to harness themselves, step into the spotlight and use pressure to their advantage. The 30-minute call is when it all becomes a bit more serious - there's no escaping what lies ahead. We hear the half-hour count down over the loudspeaker system as arts broadcaster and journalist Fiona Lindsay takes us behind the scenes in a West End theatre and a hospital operating theatre and explores how that crucial half hour before the curtain goes up plays out for performers of all kinds. We go backstage at Matilda the Musical to follow actor Craige Els as he transforms into the terrifying Miss Trunchbull. At the Sheffield Children's Hospital, Paediatric surgeon Ross Fisher lets us in on the half hour before he performs an operation on a child. Comedian Mae Martin sizes up the audience as she waits stage-side to perform stand up in London's East End. World champion snooker player Steve Davis remembers the rituals that played out in his changing room in the half hour before he performed at Sheffield's Crucible Theatre. Rabbi Miriam Berger describes how she prepares to lead a funeral service. Performance psychologist Amanda Owens takes us through the techniques she teaches to top sports people. Are there parallels that can be drawn between these very different kinds of performers? Fiona uncovers the psychological and physical routines our performers have in common, as well as the highly idiosyncratic rituals that individuals come to rely on. Produced by Peggy Sutton and Chris Elcombe A Somethin' Else production for BBC Radio 4.

A Woman Half in Shadow  

Zora Neale Hurston. You might not recognise her name. She was an African American novelist and folklorist, a queen of the Harlem Renaissance and a contemporary of Langston Hughes and Richard Wright. But when she died in 1960 she was living on welfare and was buried in an unmarked grave. Her name was even misspelt on her death certificate. Scotland's National poet Jackie Kay tells the story of how Zora became part of America's literary canon. Alice Walker wrote in her collection of essays 'In Search of Our Mother's Gardens': "We are a people. A people do not throw their geniuses away. And if they are thrown away, it is our duty as artists and as witnesses for the future to collect them again for the sake of our children, and, if necessary, bone by bone." And that's what Alice did: travelling to Florida in search of Zora's grave where she laid down a gravestone declaring Zora "A Genius of the South". That was in 1973. Now Zora is claimed by many of America's leading novelists including Maya Angelou, Zadie Smith and Toni Morrison, as their literary foremother. Eighty years since the publication of her greatest work 'Their Eyes Were Watching God', Jackie Kay tells Zora's story. Interviews include author Alice Walker, the poet Sonia Sanchez, The Guardian's Editor at Large Gary Younge and Zora's biographer Valerie Boyd. Readings by Solange Knowles. Photo: Carl Van Vechten Producer: Caitlin Smith.

Do Pass Go  

Board games are back. Samira Ahmed sets out to uncover the modern allure of an analogue table top game in an increasingly digital world. When a computer finally beat the world's best player of Go, we had a problem. If even the most complex game can be reduced to a mathematical procedure, are games as the embodiment of human desires and abilities doomed? Not a chance. Board games are booming, and self-confessed board-game geek Samira Ahmed is determined to find out why. Along the way, she meets the designers, players and everyday obsessives who throng in their thousands to shows like Essen's famous Spiel festival. She discovers how games mirror the preoccupations of our age and how they allow us to vent our instinctive desire for combat. But could the real answer to our gaming addiction lie elsewhere? As it turns out, old-fashioned gaming seems to create a safe space like no other, where we can explore sides of our identities forbidden in real life. Samira talks to the man who rediscovered the rules of one of mankind's oldest games. A Leaping Wing production for BBC Radio 4.

Long Road to Change  

In an age when technology has made organising protest movements easier than ever before, journalist Zoe Williams asks why we aren't seeing long-term results. She looks back on the global history of activism to discover the pre-conditions needed for concrete change. Recent years have seen an explosion of protest movements to secure equality, protect immigrants, and demand justice. But often these movements are doomed to short-term impact. Does today's activism overlook the benefits of doing things the hard way? By digging into the archives, Zoe looks back to the most impactful protest movements of the 20th century that permanently changed history. By analysing what key elements are needed for success, she will construct new rules of modern-day activism for future generations. Zoe speaks to former civil rights organiser Marshall Ganz, and considers whether social media can work with traditional methods of protesting by speaking with a co-founder of UK Uncut and digital activists who studied the unprecedented success of Euromaidan in Ukraine. Some activists believe the issue lies in how we measure the success of movements. Co-founder of the global Occupy protests, Micah White, explains how the failure of his movement showed him how activism needs to be redefined. Finally, Zoe investigates how to overcome the obstacles that stand in the way of any protest - from radicals that disrupt non-violent marches to handling media coverage - and how government bodies may manipulate protests to their own advantage. Produced by Anishka Sharma A Whistledown production for BBC Radio 4.

A Degree of Fraud  

Ellie Cawthorne investigates the multimillion pound online trade in fake essays and dissertations, hearing from cheating students and the people who write them. Hundreds of websites - often called essay mills - are selling coursework to students across the UK. "Contract cheating" is where a student commissions a third party to produce academic work on their behalf. It's difficult for universities to detect this form of plagiarism, as students are submitting original work that slips through plagiarism checks, and it's posing an enormous threat to academic integrity. It's estimated 20,000 students a year are buying their coursework and the problem is growing. Custom-written course work of every level, from GCSEs to PHDs, is available online to purchase. In recent years, contract cheating has also spread into professional degrees such as nursing. Ellie meets Daniel Dennehy from Nottingham-based UK Essays. The company claims to have sold 16,000 pieces of work in 2016 - completely legally. In its Fair Use Policy, UK Essays forbids students from submitting essays purchased from their site, claiming they are sold only as study aids, to serve as guides. But how plausible is this and are staff doing enough to ensure students don't submit these essays as their own? Lord Storey, a Liberal Democrat peer, is campaigning in parliament to outlaw the practice of buying, selling and advertising bespoke essays and writing services. But will this be enough to avert a potential crisis in British higher education? Producer: Paul Smith A Just Radio production for BBC Radio 4.

Salam to Queen and Country  

Zubeida Malik speaks to serving British Muslims about what it is like to be in the Army today. In the last two campaigns, Muslims in the British army have faced criticism from some members of their own communities, who were opposed to what they saw as taking up arms against fellow Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan. When Lance Corporal Jabron Hashmi became the first, and now only, British Muslim soldier to be killed in Afghanistan in 2006, there was an outpouring of sympathy from his local community, but there was criticism from some quarters too. His death highlighted the role of Britain's Muslim soldiers and soon afterwards a plot to kidnap and behead a Muslim soldier was discovered in Birmingham. Zubeida Malik meets serving British Muslims to hear their stories about joining up and their tours of duty. She asks what it was like to be in the army after 9/11 and during the so called War on Terror. And with under 600 Muslim personnel serving in the British Army, Zubeida asks the Chief of the General Staff, General Sir Nick Carter, what is being done to overcome the problems with recruiting young British Muslims into the army today. Producer: Melissa FitzGerald A Blakeway production for BBC Radio 4.

Rock Transition  

For centuries musicians have defied gender boundaries to create some of the most evocative and provocative art and music. Journalist and culture critic Laura Snapes joins the dots of a fascinating musical history that encompasses musical icons such as Ma Rainey, Little Richard, Lou Reed, the Pet Shop Boys, Grace Jones and Madonna, and looks at how today's musicians use music and performance to express who their own gender and sexuality. In recent years the issue of gender and identity has been a hot topic in the musical landscape and beyond. From niche publications to tabloids and political debate, issues surrounding gender identity and how it influences both personal and social life have been widely publicised. Amid the deeply complex personal world of gender identity and the often ruthlessly myopic world of the music industry, a new generation of artists are using music for fearless expressions of their gender and sexuality that break beyond the archetypes set by their forebears. Rock Transition speaks with artists such as garage maverick Ezra Furman, Canadian pop stars Tegan and Sara, musician and author CN Lester, and musician and activist Ryan Cassata to understand why music offers an exciting platform to express and explore gender identity and sexuality - and asks how these artists can resist being marginalised and commodified by an industry keen to capitalise on a hot topic.

Tim Samuels' Sleepover: Inside the Israeli Hospital  

Tim Samuels spends twenty-four hours immersed in an extraordinary medical scene - Israeli doctors tending to Syrians who have been smuggled over the border for life-saving treatment into a country Syria is technically still at war with. In the Ziv hospital in the northern Israeli town of Safed, Tim follows two doctors on their rounds as they treat Syrians - both civilians and fighters - who have been seriously wounded in their country's civil war. Unable to get proper medical attention at home, they are amongst several thousand Syrians who have headed to the border and into Israel for treatment. Tim meets a Syrian man shot during conflict; once his leg has been repaired he intends to head back to rejoin the fight. On the children's ward, a mother who has brought her son for treatment describes how her trip to Israel must remain a secret - or she fears she could be killed when they return. On the Syrian border, Tim sees two badly wounded fighters smuggled into Israel by the IDF as they are rushed to Ziv for emergency attention. In the hospital - staffed by Jewish, Muslim and Druze medics - the doctors talk about the psychological toll of treating the war wounded. A hospital social worker describes waking up repeatedly through the night at home to check that his young son wasn't injured. The doctors at Ziv say they hope their work is at least a sliver of humanity in a dark region. Tim explores what motivations might underpin Israel's assistance to those coming from enemy territory - and how such an unusual situation, even by Middle Eastern standards, has come about. A Tonic Media production for BBC Radio 4.

The Great Egg Freeze  

Fi Glover takes a personal look at a growing trend - egg freezing offered as a corporate work benefit. She speaks to women who have done it, as well as doctors and employers. Freezing eggs seems the ultimate in planning a family and a career - and Fi Glover considered it when she was living in the US almost a decade ago. Back then it was still a niche technology. Now a growing number of companies, including Apple and Facebook, are offering it as a benefit and some UK tech companies are also discussing the option. Fi speaks to women who have frozen their eggs - both privately and through a company scheme. She follows the experience of Brigitte Adams, a marketing executive who froze her eggs at 39 and is about to have one of them fertilized and implanted at 44. Brigitte explains how the marketing of egg freezing took the fear out of it, but she has words of warning for women considering this route. We also hear from a former employee who froze her eggs via the company's benefit scheme. Professor Geeta Nargund is an expert in reproductive medicine and the Director of Europe's largest private fertility clinic. She explains why she views egg freezing as the second wave of emancipation for women - after the contraceptive pill. However critics suggest that employer-funded egg freezing sends a clear message that the corporate preference is for women to delay childbearing. And Obstetrician Susan Bewley believes encouraging women to freeze their eggs is making a risky and unreliable option seem desirable and routine. A Testbed production for BBC Radio 4.

The Mind in the Media  

If you ask the author, Nathan Filer, when he first came into contact with mental illness, he'll tell you it was in 1999 when he first became a psychiatric nurse. But, like many of us, he'd actually met it much earlier : through film, drama and the news. Like many of us, his understanding had been shaped by how the media chose to portray it. But he quickly realised how very different real life was to fiction and the reports. Now he asks what does that difference do to us - both as a society and to us as individuals, when many of us have experienced mental health disorders in our every day lives, either personally or to close family and friends. How does story-telling in the 21st century influence public understanding and our sympathy or condemnation for those experiencing mental health disorders? Times are changing. As Alastair Campbell says, in the 80s, if you'd suggested to the newsroom a piece on depression, it just wasn't on the agenda. But although mental health is becoming more common as a storyline or story, many myths still prevail about violence, treatment, diagnosis, recovery. Looking back through archive, Nathan Filer tells the story of the way we've framed mental health and illness across all media over the last few decades, and he talks to those with knowledge to explore its effect. Featuring Alastair Campbell; Professor Graham Thornicroft of Kings College London; Jenni Regan, senior editorial advisor at Mind; Dr Sarah Carr; Erica Crompton; and author Ramsey Campbell, among others. The producer is Polly Weston. For information and support on the subjects discussed in this programme visit

The Sound of Bombs  

Fatima Al Qadiri explores how the sounds of war run through modern music. In 1990, the Iraqi army invaded Kuwait. They left only after 7 months of occupation and the first Gulf War. Fatima Al Qadiri was 9 years old at the time. Now an acclaimed musician, she explores what happens when warfare and music collide. War is a permanent feature on our TV's, radios and computer screens - when it's not in the news, it's in Hollywood movies and video games. And the sounds that come with it have bled into modern music in an unmistakeable way. Some composers and producers must bring war to life in the scores for games and films, while others work to use the sounds of war to try and put the horror of war on record. In the age of the portable mp3 player, music has become indispensable for soldiers and civilians caught up in warzones - an escape route that is used by soldiers regardless of background and mission, from US Soldiers to fighters for the so-called Islamic State. Sound also has a more sinister role. The sound of drones is a key part of the terror they create, and music has been used to torture prisoners of war and suspected terrorists. As she explores the world of music and war, Fatima also investigates why the sounds of warfare have become an essential part of her music, and how music can be used to better understand the violence that inspired it. Producer: Robert Nicholson. A Whistledown production for BBC Radio 4.

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