Episodes

  • The BBC Radiophonic workshop was founded in 1958 by Desmond Briscoe and Daphne Oram. This group of experimental composers, sound engineers and musical innovators provided music for programmes including The Body in Question, Horizon, Quatermass, Newsround, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Chronicle and Delia Derbyshire's iconic Doctor Who Theme before being shut down by Director General John Birt in 1998. Tying into the 2020 celebration of classic Prom concerts, this episode of Free Thinking is being rebroadcast

    It was recorded in 2014, as the Workshop prepared to release an album, and tour the UK, Matthew Sweet brought together Radiophonic Workshop members Dick Mills, Paddy Kingsland, Roger Limb, Peter Howell, and Mark Ayres to reflect on the days and nights they spent in the workshop, coaxing ageing machines into otherworldly life, and pioneering electronic music. Also in the programme, producer and former drummer with The Prodigy Kieron Pepper, Oscar winning Gravity composer Steven Price, Vile Electrodes, and Matt Hodson, on the influence the Radiophonic Workshop had on them.

    Producer: Laura Thomas

  • Classicists Edith Hall and Barry Cunliffe explore the importance of the sea in the classical world in a discussion hosted by Rana Mitter. Pat Barker and Giles Fraser look at Tolstoy's War and Peace and Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov and the depiction of faith in those novels with presenter Ian McMillan.

    The Ancient Greeks often preferred to take sea journeys rather than risk encounters with brigands and travelling through mountain passes inland and colonised all round the Black Sea and Mediterranean. In the writings of Xenophon and Homer, Greek heroes show skills at navigating and fighting on sea and the sea shore is a place people go to think.

    Sir Barry Cunliffe is Emeritus Professor of European Archaeology at the University of Oxford and the author of books including Facing the Ocean - the Atlantic and its peoples; Europe Between the Oceans; By Steppe, Desert and Ocean - the Birth of Eurasia.
    Edith Hall is Professor in the Department of Classics and Centre for Hellenic Studies at King's College, London. Her books include Introducing The Ancient Greeks: From Bronze Age Seafarers to Navigators of the Western Mind; Aristotle's Way - How Ancient Wisdom Can Change Your Mind; A People's History of Classics.
    You can find her discussing her campaign for schools across the UK to teach classics in a Free Thinking discussion called Rethinking the Curriculum https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p08hq0ht

    Pat Barker is the author of novels including her Regeneration Trilogy, Life Class, The Silence of the Girls and Noonday.
    Giles Fraser is an English Anglican priest, journalist and broadcaster.

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  • Novelist Ben Okri, playwright Oladipo Agboluaje and academic Louisa Egbunike join Matthew Sweet to look at the influential writing of Nigerian playwright and author Wole Soyinka - and specifically at his play 1975 Death and the King's Horseman. In 1986 he became the first African author to be given the Nobel Prize in Literature. He has worked teaching at many universities in the USA, and began playwriting after studying at University College Ibadan, and then at Leeds University and working as a play reader for the Royal Court Theatre.

    You can find a playlist of discussions devoted to Landmarks of Culture on the Free Thinking programme website https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01jwn44
    A BBC TV documentary about the African novel presented by David Olusoga is screening in August.

    Extract from Death and the King's Horseman by Wole Soyinka features Danny Sapani as Elesin. Produced by Pauline Harris for the BBC. First broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on 13th July 2014

    Producer: Torquil MacLeod

  • The French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy has written a philosophical take on the current pandemic and what it tells us about society. He talks with Stella Sandford, Director of the Society for European Philosophy in the UK and author of How to Read Beauvoir, whose own research looks at sex, race and feminism, and with Homi Bhabha, the Anne F. Rothenberg Professor of the Humanities at Harvard University. The Virus in the Age of Madness by Bernard-Henri Lévy is out now. You can find a philosophy playlist on the Free Thinking programme website featuring discussions including panpsychism, Boethius, Isaiah Berlin, the quartet of C20th British women philosophers https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p07x0twx You can also find Prof Homi K Bhabha giving a lecture on memory and migration recorded in partnership with the Royal Society of Literature https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m0005gt9 Producer: Ruth Watts

  • Anne Applebaum's new book The Twilight of Democracy has the subtitle The failure of democracy and the parting of friends. She talks to Anne McElvoy about what happened when she tried to connect up with past friends whose politics are now different to her own. The American writer Charlotte Perkins Gilman is most famous now for her short story The Yellow Wallpaper. Will Abberley tells us about her view of fashion and why women should not seek to stand out because a focus on their appearance was counterproductive to them gaining more public power. Gilman conjured a female utopia in her 1915 book Herland. And 2020 New Generation Thinker Sophie Oliver from the University of Liverpool writes us a postcard about the actress Ingrid Bergman and the way she and her would-be biographer Bessie Breuer tried to carve out a different public image for a female star in a novel Breuer published in 1957 called The Actress.

    Will Abberley's book is called Mimicry and Display in Victorian Literary Culture
    You might be interested in the Essay Series Women Writers to Put Back on the Bookshelf which looked at Yolande Mukagasana, Storm Jameson, Margaret Oliphant, Lady Mary Wroth and Charlotte Smith
    https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000fwff
    and this Essay about another feminist utopia in the writing of Sarah Scott https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0b7hrw4

    You can find previous Free Thinking conversations with Anne Applebaum to download as Arts & Ideas podcasts on Marxism https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0b0x6m0
    and Russian Nationalism https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b094f9p0

    Producer: Ruth Watts

  • Subversion in art and writing and a project to re-imagine Dada. Curator Jade French, artist Jade Montserrat, writer Lottie Whalen and 2020 New Generation Thinker Noreen Masud are in conversation with Shahidha Bari.

    You can find more about today's guests and their research at https://jademontserrat.com/
    https://www.jadefrench.co.uk/research
    http://www.takedadaseriously.com/
    http://lucywritersplatform.com/author/lottie-whalen/
    https://www.dur.ac.uk/english.studies/staff/?id=17758

    New Generation Thinkers is a scheme run by BBC Radio 3 and the Arts and Humanities Research Council to select ten academics each year to use their research to make radio.

    In the Free Thinking archives you can find a playlist featuring artist interviews and discussions https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p026wnjl
    Radio 3 broadcast a ten part series looking at the life of Arthur Cravan called The Escape Artist https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000djhy

    Producer: Robyn Read

  • Former musician and record producer Daniel Levitin is now a leading neuroscientist and best selling author. In this year marking the anniversary of the birth of Beethoven, Rana Mitter introduces a Proms Lecture called "Unlocking the Mysteries of Music in Your Brain", which uses Beethoven's compositions to set the Proms audience it was recorded with, in 2015, a series of challenges which reveal the relationship between memory and music.

    You can also find Daniel Levitin talking to Rana Mitter about his latest research into ageing, and debating race and scientific evidence with Adam Rutherford in a Free Thinking episode called Genes, Racism, Ageing and Evidence https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000fpj2

  • Gilbert White was born on July 19th 1720 at his grandfather's vicarage in Hampshire. His Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne (1789) influenced a young Charles Darwin and he's been called England's first ecologist. Dafydd Mills Daniel from the University of Oxford tracks his influence on contemporary debates about the impact of man on the planet and the beginnings of precise and scientific observations about birds and animals. Dr Pippa Marland from the University of Leeds runs the Landlines project https://landlinesproject.wordpress.com/ and researches the way farming has been depicted in British literature. She has co-edited a collection of Essays for Routledge called Walking, Landscape and Environment. And Lucy Jones is the author of Losing Eden: Why Our Minds Need the Wild. She talks about research into health and nature and women writers including Christiane Ritter. Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough hosts.

    This conversation is part of a series showcasing new academic research which are made available as New Thinking podcasts on the BBC Arts & Ideas stream. They are put together with assistance from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, part of UK research and innovation. https://ahrc.ukri.org/favouritenaturebooks/

    New Generation Thinkers is a scheme run by the BBC and the AHRC to work with early career academics and find opportunities in broadcasting to share their research.
    Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough and Dafydd Mills Daniel have both come through the scheme.

    The Green Thinking playlist on the Free Thinking programme website https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p07zg0r2
    includes a re-reading of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m0005gwk
    and interviews with Elizabeth Jane Burnett about her poems about soil, an Essay about Charlotte Smith and an interview with Chris Packham

    Producer: Robyn Read

  • Matthew Sweet delves into the deep history of magic, its evolution into religion and science and its continuing relevance in the 21st century. Joining his coven are novelist and historian Kate Laity, Professor of European Archaeology at Oxford University Chris Gosden, Jessica Gossling who's one of the leaders of the Decadence Research Unit at Goldsmiths, University of London and John Tresch, Professor of the History of Science and Folk Practice at the Warburg Institute.

    The History of Magic - From Alchemy to Witchcraft, from the Ice Age to the Present by Chris Gosden is out now.

    Chastity Flame by K.A. Laity is available now.

    Producer: Torquil MacLeod

  • Artist and photographer Sunil Gupta, authors CN Lester (Trans Like Me) and Tom Shakespeare (The Sexual Politics of Disability), and Barbican curator Alona Pardo join Matthew Sweet in a discussion inspired by the Barbican exhibition called Masculinities: Liberation Through Photography which has this week re-opened to visitors. They debate whether the old construct of masculinity in our culture is broken? As new ideas and thinking enter the debate, what is essential and what we can do away with as we look to build a new masculinity?

    The exhibition now runs until August 23rd.

    Producer: Caitlin Benedict
    Web image credits: Sunil Gupta, Untitled 22 from the series Christopher Street, 1976. Courtesy the artist and Hales Gallery. © Sunil Gupta. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2019

    You can find other Free Thinking discussions looking at identity and masculinity
    The Changing Image of Masculinity discussed by JJ Bola, Derek Owusu & Ben Lerner https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000b0mx
    Beards, Listening, Masculinity https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0833ypd
    Jordan B Peterson https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0b3fk63
    Can there be multiple versions of me https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09wvlxs TV presenter and campaigner June Sarpong, performer Emma Frankland, GP and author Gavin Francis and philosopher Julian Baggini discuss the changing self with Anne McElvoy

  • Dina Rezk from the University of Reading looks at politics and the role of humour as she profiles Bassem Youssef “the Jon Stewart of Egyptian satire”. As protests reverberate around the world she looks back at the Arab Spring and asks what we can learn from the popular culture that took off during that uprising and asks whether those freedoms remain. You can hear her in a Free Thinking discussion about filming the Arab Spring https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m0005sjw and in a discussion about Mocking Power past and present https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000dzww

    You can find of Dina's research https://egyptrevolution2011.ac.uk/

    New Generation Thinkers is a scheme run by BBC Radio 3 and the Arts and Humanities Research Council to select ten academics to turn their research into radio.

    Producer: Robyn Read

  • New Generation Thinker Brendan McGeever traces the links between anti-semitism now and pogroms in the former Soviet Union and the language used to describe this form of racism.
    Brendan McGeever lectures at the Pears Institute for the Study of Antisemitism at Birkbeck University of London. You can hear him discussing an exhibition at the Jewish Museum exploring racial stereotypes in a Free Thinking episode called Sebald, anti-semitism, Carolyn Forché https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m00050d2

    New Generation Thinkers is a scheme run by BBC Radio 3 and the Arts and Humanities Research Council to select ten early career academics each year to turn their research into radio.

    Producer: Robyn Read

  • The Roman statesman Boethius wrote The Consolation of Philosophy around the year 524 when he was incarcerated. It advises that fame and wealth are transitory and explores the nature of happiness and belief. Former Bishop of Edinburgh Richard Holloway has been wrestling with the way we understand belief. He joins Professor Seth Lerer and New Generation Thinker Kylie Murray in a discussion chaired by Matthew Sweet.

    Richard Holloway's new book is called Stories We Tell Ourselves: Making Meaning in a Meaningless Universe.
    Dr Kylie Murray, Fellow in English and Scottish Literature at Cambridge who has identified a Boethius manuscript as Scotland's oldest non-biblical book. Her own book The Making of the Scottish Dream-Vision is out shortly.
    Seth Lerer is Distinguished Professor and as Dean of Arts and Humanities at UC, Sand Diego and his books include Shakespeare's Lyric Stage, Inventing English A Portable History of the Language, Childrens' Literature A Reader's History from Aesop to Harry Potter and Boethius and Dialogue.

    You can find more conversations about religious belief from guests including Mona Siddiqui, Karen Armstrong, Richard Dawkins, Rabbi Sachs in this playlist https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p03mwxlp
    And a Free Thinking playlist on Philosophy includes discussions about St Augustine, Nietzsche, Camus, Isiah Berlin, Bryan Magee, Mary Midgely and Iris Murdoch
    https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m0000r9b

    Producer: Robyn Read

  • Whose life stories are missing from the British history we write and teach? How do we widen the way we look at episodes which are on the syllabus?

    Rana Mitter's panel comprises Kimberly McIntosh Senior Policy Editor from the Runnymede Trust, Lavinya Stennett founder of the Black Curriculum & New Generation Thinker Christienna Fryar, who runs the Black British History MA at Goldsmiths, University of London. Plus Hester Grant has just published a history of the Sharp family. Granville Sharp was instrumental in securing a definitive legal ruling on the question of whether a slave could be compelled to leave Britain. How does a group biography retell this story?

    The Good Sharps by Hester Grant is out now.
    The Runnymede Trust and TIDE report can be found here https://www.runnymedetrust.org/projects-and-publications/education/runnymede-tide-project-teaching-migration-report.htm
    https://www.theblackcurriculum.com/our-work

    Producer: Torquil MacLeod

  • Prison breaks loom large in both literature and pop culture. But how should we evaluate them ethically? New Generation Thinker Jeffrey Howard asks what a world without prison would look like. His essay explores whether those unjustly incarcerated have the moral right to break out, whether the rest of us have an obligation to help -- and what the answers teach us about the ethics of punishment today. Jeffrey Howard is an Associate Professor in the Political Science Dept at University College, London whose work on dangerous speech has been funded by the British Academy and the Leverhulme Trust. You can find him discussing hate speech in a Free Thinking Episode https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m0006tnf

    New Generation Thinkers is a scheme run by BBC Radio 3 and the Arts and Humanities Research Council to select ten academics who can turn their research into radio.

    Producer: Luke Mulhall

  • Earlier periods of history have seen more people with scarring to their faces from duelling injuries and infectious diseases but what stopped this leading to a greater tolerance of facial difference ? Historian Emily Cock considers the case of the Puritan William Prynne and looks at a range of strategies people used to improve their looks from eye patches to buying replacement teeth from the mouths of the poor, whose low-sugar diets kept their dentures better preserved than their aristocratic neighbours. In portraits and medical histories she finds examples of the elision between beauty and morality. With techniques such as ‘Metoposcopy’, which focused on interpreting the wrinkles on your forehead and the fact that enacting the law led to deliberate cut marks being made - this Essay reflects on the difficult terrain of judging by appearance.

    Emily Cock is a Leverhulm Early Career Fellow at the University of Cardiff working on a project looking at Disfigurement in Britain and its Colonies 1600 – 1850.
    You can hear her discussing her research with Fay Alberti, who works on facial transplants, in a New Thinking podcast episode of the Arts & Ideas podcast called About Face https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p080p2bc

    New Generation Thinkers is a scheme run by BBC Radio 3 and the Arts and Humanities Research Council to select ten academics each year to turn their research into radio.

    Producer: Alex Mansfield

  • Anne McElvoy looks at leadership lessons from past US presidents, the parallels between the betting industry and fears over gambling in 1945 and now and she asks who are the key economic thinkers. Her guests are Callum Williams, senior economics writer at The Economist, 2020 New Generation Thinker Darragh McGee from the University of Bath and ahead of July 4th and Independence Day in the USA she revisits her interview with Doris Kearns Goodwin about her book called Leadership in Turbulent Times.

    Callum Williams' book The Classical School: The Turbulent Birth of Economics in Twenty Extraordinary Lives is out now.


    Producer: Torquil MacLeod

  • The screenwriter and novelist talks to Matthew Sweet about teaching creative writing to children in lockdown, attending mass on zoom, the changing meaning of community and the importance of family and he looks back to the image of Britain he created with Danny Boyle for the opening of the London 2012 Olympics.

    Frank Cottrell-Boyce is the author of books including Millions, Framed, Runaway Robot and a sequel to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,
    He has worked on screenplays including The Two Popes, collaborations with Michael Winterbottom on films including 24 Hour Party People and scripts for Coronation Street and Doctor Who.

    You can find Matthew Sweet talking to the author Sarah Perry https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p08dmn6l
    and the actor Robin Askwith https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p08fgxjp
    about their careers and this current moment in the Free Thinking archives.

    And Frank Cottrell-Boyce giving the 2016 Proms Lecture on the importance of the arts https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p041vxwh


    Producer: Karl Bos

  • New Generation Thinker Majed Akhter explores how large dam projects continue to form reservoirs of hope for a sustainable future. Despite their known drawbacks, our love affair with dams has not abated – across the world more than 3,500 dams are in various stages of construction. In Pakistan this has become entwined with nationalism, both inside the community and in the diaspora - but what are the dangers of this “dam fever” ? This Essay traces the history of river development in the region, from the early twentieth century “canal colonies” in Punjab, to Cold War mega-projects, to the contemporary drive to build large new dams. Previously an engineer and a resource economist, Majed Akhter now lectures in geography at King’s College London. you can hear him discussing the politics of rivers in a Free Thinking episode called Rivers and geopolitics https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m00051hb

    New Generation Thinkers is a scheme run by BBC Radio 3 and the Arts and Humanities Research Council to select ten early career academics each year to turn their research into radio.

    Producer: Alex Mansfield

  • Jade Halbert lectures in fashion but has never done any sewing. She swaps pen and paper for needle and thread to create a dress from a Jean Muir pattern. In a diary charting her progress, she reflects on the skills of textile workers she has interviewed as part of a project charting the fashion trade in Glasgow and upon the banning of pins on a factory floor, the experiences of specialist sleeve setters and cutters, and whether it is ok to lick your chalk.
    Jade Halbert is a Lecturer, Fashion Business and Cultural Studies at the University of Huddersfield. You can find her investigation into fashion and the high street as a Radio 3 Sunday Feature https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000gvpn

    New Generation Thinkers is a scheme run by the BBC and the Arts and Humanities Research Council to select ten early career academics to turn their research into radio.

    Producer: Torquil MacLeod