The Essay

The Essay

United Kingdom

Leading writers on arts, history, philosophy, science, religion and beyond, themed across a week - insight, opinion and intellectual surprise

Episodes

Colquhoun and MacBryde: More Lasting than Life  

Novelist Louise Welsh on the life, love, the rise and the fall of Scottish artists Robert Colquhoun and Robert MacBryde. The two Roberts, as they came to be known, met in 1933, as students at Glasgow School of Art. They were together until their early deaths; Colquhoun at the age of forty-seven, MacBryde four years later at the age of fifty-three. Their relationship endured their meteoric rise as fashionable artists and their eventual fall from grace as post-was tastes in art began to change. Part of Gay Britannia, a season of programming marking the 50th anniversary of The Sexual Offences Act 1967, which partially decriminalised homosexual acts that took place in private between two men over the age of 21. Writer: Louise Welsh Reader: Louise Welsh Producer: Simon Richardson.

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The Loves of Elizabeth Bishop  

Novelist Neel Mukherjee on the abiding reticence that characterises the work and the life of American poet Elizabeth Bishop, particularly in relation to her sexuality. Mukherjee explores the two great loves of Bishop's life: the Brazilian architect Lota de Macedo Soares and American student Alice Methfessel, who was 32 years her junior. Part of Gay Britannia, a season of programming marking the 50th anniversary of The Sexual Offences Act 1967, which partially decriminalised homosexual acts that took place in private between two men over the age of 21. Writer: Neel Mukherjee Reader: Neel Mukherjee Producer: Simon Richardson.

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WH Auden and Chester Kallman  

Academic and poet Gregory Woods, author of Homintern: How Gay Culture Liberated the Modern World, explores the tumultuous but enduring relationship of poet WH Auden and librettist Chester Kallman, lifelong companions and collaborators. Part of Gay Britannia, a season of programming marking the 50th anniversary of The Sexual Offences Act 1967, which partially decriminalised homosexual acts that took place in private between two men over the age of 21. Writer: Gregory Woods Reader: Gregory Woods Producer: Simon Richardson.

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There Was No Them There (An Autobiography of Stella F Duffy)  

A heartfelt meditation on the (in)visibilty of gay women. Writer and theatremaker Stella Duffy describes growing up lesbian in New Zealand in the 60s and 70s and considers what the 40 year expatriate 'marriage' of novelist, poet and playwright Gertrude Stein and Alice B Toklas, author of The Alice B Toklas Cookbook, means to her. Part of Gay Britannia, a season of programming marking the 50th anniversary of The Sexual Offences Act 1967, which partially decriminalised homosexual acts that took place in private between two men over the age of 21. Writer: Stella Duffy Reader: Stella Duffy Producer: Simon Richardson.

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The Boys  

In 1969 while the actor was performing his one man show in Belfast, a young Simon Callow was Micheál MacLiammóir's dresser. Callow pays tribute to the 50 year relationship of Micheál MacLiammóir and his partner Hilton Edwards, who were the founders of Dublin's influential Gate Theatre. Simon Callow is an actor, musician, writer, and theatre director. Part of Gay Britannia, a season of programming marking the 50th anniversary of The Sexual Offences Act 1967, which decriminalised homosexual acts that took place in private between two men over the age of 21. Writer: Simon Callow Reader: Simon Callow Producer: Simon Richardson.

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Dining with the Nightmare  

Mary Wollstonecraft, William Godwin, William Wordsworth and Thomas Paine were amongst the guests invited to the dinner table of publisher Joseph Johnson. Daisy Hay explores the pivotal role played in the early history of English Romanticism by a maker of books who was also a maker of dreams, who invited his workers to eat alongside leading thinkers of the day, and whose publication The Analytical Review set out significant new ideas. New Generation Thinker Daisy Hay is a Senior Lecturer in Senior Lecturer in English Literature and Archival Studies at the University of Exeter and has written about the tangled lives of the Young Romantics as well as Mr and Mrs Disraeli. New Generation Thinkers is a scheme run by the BBC and the Arts and Humanities Research Council to find academics who can turn their research into radio. The Essay was recorded in front of an audience at the Festival of Ideas run by the University of York. Producer: Jacqueline Smith.

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A Tale of Restoration Murder, Barbarous and Inhumane  

What does the press reporting of a story of high society scandal and assassination from the reign of Charles II tell us about fake news, political bias and the draw of a saucy headline. New Generation Thinker Thomas Charlton researches religious and political disputes of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and is currently based at Dr Williams's Library in London. His essay, recorded in front of an audience at the Festival of Ideas at the University of York, looks at a tale from 1682 and the way that the assassination of a very rich man in the heart of London highlighted tensions between the Court Party of Charles II and the Anti-Court Party of the Duke of Monmouth, his ambitious and illegitimate son. Charles might have been a Merry Monarch but he was also a very insecure one. The Crown throughout his reign was suspected of Catholic tendencies and the threat of revolution hung in the air. The Murder of Tom of the Ten Thousand nearly brought matters to a head ... and a colourful and thoroughly partisan media was there to publish every lurid detail. New Generation Thinkers is a scheme run by the BBC with the Arts and Humanities Research Council to find academics who can turn their research into radio. Producer: Jacqueline Smith.

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Resisting Tyranny  

Jonathan Healey, of the University of Oxford, argues that the way people resisted unpopular governments changed dramatically from the 16th to the 21st centuries. As states grew in power, flight was no longer an option, so discontented people were forced to imagine revolution. Today, escape is once again possible, to safe online spaces which act like medieval forests, places which the government can't control. The nature of resistance is reverting to its Tudor state: socially conservative, constant, and small in scale. Recorded with an audience at the York Festival of Ideas. New Generation Thinkers is a scheme run by the BBC with the Arts and Humanities Research Council to find academics who can turn their research into radio. Producer: Jacqueline Smith.

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A Focus on Fasting  

From the Persian poet Rumi through the Old Testament Israelites to the political protests of the suffragettes, New Generation Thinker Christopher Kissane, of the London School of Economics, explores the history of fasting. Eating and avoiding hunger are our most basic goals, yet for thousands of years people have deliberately denied themselves food as an act of faith or conscience. What is the history of fasting, and why do billions still fast today? Recorded with an audience at the York Festival of Ideas. New Generation Thinkers is a scheme run by the BBC with the Arts and Humanities Research Council to find academics who can turn their research into radio. Producer: Jacqueline Smith. Image: Christopher Kissane. Credit: Ian Martindale.

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A Romanticist Reflects on Breastfeeding  

From Romantic notions of the natural nursing mother to Victorian fears of vampirism to modernist associations between breastfeeding and the working class, Corin Throsby, from the University of Cambridge, tracks the political and social implications of how we have chosen to feed our babies over the past 200 years. Recorded with an audience at the York Festival of Ideas. New Generation Thinkers is a scheme run by the BBC with the Arts and Humanities Research Council to find academics who can turn their research into radio. Producer: Jacqueline Smith.

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Isaac Rosenberg's Dead Man's Dump  

Five writers explore the year 1917 through the works of five Great War artists. Tonight, Santanu Das explores the poetic world of Bristol-born Isaac Rosenberg. Less familiar today than his contemporaries Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, Rosenberg described - as they did - the horror of war close-up: "The wheels lurched over sprawled dead / But pained them not, though their bones crunched, / Their shut mouths made no moan..." wrote Rosenberg in his great poem of 100 years ago, Dead Man's Dump. "Earth has waited for them, / All the time of their growth / Fretting for their decay: / Now she has them at last!" In tonight's Essay, Santanu Das re-reads Rosenberg's 1917 poem, written a few months before his own death having just completed a night patrol - on April 1st 1918. Producer: Simon Elmes.

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Mata Hari's Final Performance  

Before the First World War, Mata Hari's elaborate and provocative performances made her body a sensation. The artist, dancer and style icon graced La Scala, the Folies Bergère and the exclusive private salons of Europe. She was "the toast of Paris," in a skin coloured body stocking with bejewelled breast cups, enchanting, enthralling and scandalous. In this series looking at the impact of the First World War on artists, the writer Elif ┼×afak examines this notorious femme fatale's act. She explores the allure of the Oriental and attitudes to unfettered and independent women. Drawing parallels with Zulaikha, she unveils the legend of Mata Hari who, convicted for passing secrets to the enemy, faced her final performance before a firing squad on 15th October 1917. Producer: Sarah Bowen.

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Siegfried Sassoon's Letter to The Times  

Five writers explore the year 1917 through the work of five Great War artists. Tonight, Joanna Bourke on Siegfried Sassoon and his celebrated protest against the conflict. "I am making this statement as an act of wilful defiance of military authority, because I believe that the War is being deliberately prolonged by those who have the power to end it." So wrote the soldier-poet Siegfried Sassoon in July 1917, in a letter to the Times newspaper. "I am a soldier," he went on, "convinced that I am acting on behalf of soldiers. I believe this War, upon which I entered as a war of defence and liberation, has now become a war of aggression and conquest." The result was uproar - and Sassoon's subsequent confinement to Craiglockhart Hospital in Edinburgh, suffering (the authorities concluded) from shell-shock. In tonight's Essay, Joanna Bourke re-reads Sassoon's letter of protest and examines what led up to his outspoken anti-war declaration, and what happened next. Producer: Simon Elmes.

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Gertrude Bell  

Tarek Osman explores the words of Gertrude Bell, in this series looking at the impact of the First World War on great artists and thinkers. Gertrude Bell, explorer, archeologist, diplomat, linguist, writer and spy was no ordinary woman. The first woman ever to be awarded a first-class degree in modern history from Oxford, she went on to become a groundbreaking mountaineer and have a Swiss peak named after her. But these were mere asides. By 1914 she had immersed herself in the history and culture of the Levant, mastering Arabic, and forging real relationships across large swathes of the region. As the First World War raged across Europe and the Middle East, the British Empire realised it needed her knowledge and experience. And in 1917, as Oriental Secretary in the British Commission in Baghdad, she was crucial to them, visiting dignities, poring over intelligence and military plans. The only woman in that world of men, she devised British strategy, selecting its Arab partners and drawing lines in the sand which would become the borders of new states. As a young academic, Tarek tussled with the idea of Bell. She was symbolic of the way colonial powers had shaped his world and a voice that seemed so condescending. In this essay he explores his own conflicted relationship with her and how, as his understanding of the region grew, he developed a respect for a driven and courageous woman whose ideas and reflections remain so relevant today. Producer Sarah Bowen.

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Marcel Duchamp  

Five writers explore the year 1917 through the works of five diverse creative minds of the Great War, and the experiences that shaped them. In tonight's Essay, the writer and academic Heather Jones looks at French artist Marcel Duchamp's controversial 'readymade' that he entitled 'Fountain', but which was, in effect, simply a piece of common-or-garden, off-the-shelf sanitary-ware, a men's urinal. In what way, contemporary voices asked, was this art? Yet in 2004, critics named 'Fountain' as the most important art work of the twentieth century. But why? And what was the connection to the torment and terror of the First World War which still raged as Duchamp was creating it in 1917? Heather Jones explores the meaning and the wartime associations of Duchamp's now celebrated statement of artistic intent. Producer: Simon Elmes.

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How to Write a Book - Dr Martin Johnes  

Dr Martin Johnes is a historian of music, pop culture, personal politics and personal taste and has turned his pen to texts covering everything from this history of Wales to Christmas, football and baldness. In his talk, the author of Wales Since 1939 sheds a light on the art of making statistics and figures worth reading and the rights and wrongs of historical perspective. In this series of The Essay, recorded in front of an audience at the 2017 Hay Festival, five writers offer a personal guide to 'how to write a book'. Where do their ideas come from? Do they stick to a regular writing plan? Are there times when they just want to give up? Join them as they dispel some of the myths and share some of the secrets of getting to the final page. The writers in the series include the new director of the Royal Institution and expert on ageing Sarah Harper, the international lawyer Philippe Sands, novelist Scarlett Thomas and translator Daniel Hahn. Part of Radio 3's week-long residency at the Hay Festival, with programmes CD Review, Lunchtime Concert, In Tune, Free Thinking, The Verb and World on 3 all broadcasting from the festival.

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How to Write a Book - Scarlett Thomas  

Novelist Scarlett Thomas, argues that suffering is key to the process of writing a book - especially if you are dealing in the world of fiction. The author, who also teaches Creative Writing at the University of Kent, notes that the process isn't it as simple as writing a few words, deleting a few words and sending it off to be published. Scarlett wishes it was - but sadly the art of suffering isn't on the agenda at your average creative writing course. In this series of The Essay, recorded in front of an audience at the 2017 Hay Festival, five writers offer a personal guide to 'how to write a book'. Where do their ideas come from? Do they stick to a regular writing plan? Are there times when they just want to give up? Join them as they dispel some of the myths and share some of the secrets of getting to the final page. The writers in the series include the new director of the Royal Institution and expert on ageing Sarah Harper, the international lawyer Philippe Sands, translator Daniel Hahn and historian Martin Johnes. Part of Radio 3's week-long residency at the Hay Festival, with programmes CD Review, Lunchtime Concert, In Tune, Free Thinking, The Verb and World on 3 all broadcasting from the festival.

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How to Write a Book - Philippe Sands  

From the darkest chapters of European history to microcosmic relationships and personal discovery, professor of law at University College London Philippe Sands tells the story of writing a book which became not only a search for the human rights but a very personal human story too. In this series of The Essay, recorded in front of an audience at the 2017 Hay Festival, five writers offer a personal guide to 'how to write a book'. Where do their ideas come from? Do they stick to a regular writing plan? Are there times when they just want to give up? Join them as they dispel some of the myths and share some of the secrets of getting to the final page. The writers in the series include the new director of the Royal Institution and expert on ageing Sarah Harper, novelist Scarlett Thomas, translator Daniel Hahn and historian Martin Johnes. Part of Radio 3's week-long residency at the Hay Festival, with programmes CD Review, Lunchtime Concert, In Tune, Free Thinking, The Verb and World on 3 all broadcasting from the festival.

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Hay Essays: How to Write a Book - Sarah Harper  

Gerontologist and aging expert Prof Sarah Harper talks about accessibility of academia.

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How to Write a Book: Daniel Hahn  

Editor and translator Daniel Hahn takes us on an entertaining journey round the art of translation. We discover that it's a rarefied experience to write a book that already exists, but also that writing other people's books makes you better at writing your own. Daniel is the author of The Tower Menagerie and translator of José Eduardo Agualusa's The Book of Chameleons. In this series of The Essay, recorded in front of an audience at the 2017 Hay Festival, five writers offer a personal guide to 'how to write a book'. Where do their ideas come from? Do they stick to a regular writing plan? Are there times when they just want to give up? Join them as they dispel some of the myths and share some of the secrets of getting to the final page. The writers in the series include the new director of the Royal Institution and expert on ageing Sarah Harper, the international lawyer Philippe Sands, novelist Scarlett Thomas and historian Martin Johnes. Part of Radio 3's week-long residency at Hay Festival, with Lunchtime Concert, In Tune, Free Thinking, The Verb and The Listening Service all broadcasting from the festival.

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