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In 1960s California, Mexican-American Civil Rights Leader, Cesar Chavez led the United Farmworkers union in a series of strikes, boycotts and semi-religious processions, which inspired farmworkers, students and celebrities to join him in what he called 'La Causa' 'The Cause' was his struggle to force the landowners and growers - and the system in w…
 
The actor Caroline Catz chooses Delia Derbyshire, the musician and composer who is best known for her work at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop where she realised the theme tune to Doctor Who. With Dr David Butler from the University of Manchester who looks after Delia's archive.Delia was born in Coventry in 1937 and describes her earliest recollections…
 
Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat rose to fame in the 1980's Lower East Side New York arts scene. Andy Warhol was his friend and collaborator, Madonna a one time girlfriend and David Bowie a huge admirer. But beyond this club scene personality raged a prolific artist, writer and musician. During his short career Basquiat created no less than 1000 drawing…
 
Jessica Mitford was the fifth born of the notorious Mitford Sisters. Born into the aristocracy, as a child she had her own language, collected a running-away fund and fought to set herself apart from her fascist siblings. As an adult she was in turn a communist rebel, an investigative journalist, a civil rights activist and pop singer - opening a g…
 
Comedian and actor Diane Morgan chooses the life of Air Chief Marshal Hugh Dowding. Air Chief Marshal Hugh Dowding is best known for his role in the Battle of Britain. He is widely regarded as the architect of Britain's unlikely victory, using an intelligence strategy known as the Dowding System. The Battle of Britain was at the very end of his mil…
 
Frank Plumpton Ramsey contributed original ideas to the fields of logic, mathematics, economics and philosophy. He was a friend and respected interlocutor of Keynes, Wittgenstein, Russell and Moore, who considered him to be one of the sharpest minds around. His contributions are all the more remarkable given that he only lived to be 26.Matthew Parr…
 
Back in the late summer of 2001, a new biography series aired on Radio 4. Matthew Parris was not the first presenter, but he has chaired more editions than anyone else. His very first episode was about Morecambe and Wise, since when he's listened to claims for Leon Trotsky, Donna Summer, Doris Day and Benito Mussolini. So what makes a great life, a…
 
In her book The Taming of the Queen, Philippa Gregory asks a simple question of her subject, Katherine Parr. Who would marry a serial killer? Katherine Parr has been largely overlooked because she survived the monstrous Henry VIII, but she was a remarkable woman. She married four times, wrote books and successfully navigated the choppy waters of He…
 
It was an extraordinary journey, and a life that reads like a fairy tale. Xuanzang was born at the start of the seventh century in China. He studied as a monk and travelled for 16 years - first westwards, and then in a crescent back and down over the Himalayas to India . He returned a famous man, laden with Buddhists texts and artefacts. Historian …
 
James Graham, the award-winning playwright whose work includes the TV dramas "Brexit: The Uncivil War" and "Quiz", tells Matthew Parris why he is inspired by the life and work of John Maynard Keynes. Keynes was not just the revolutionary economist who helped shape the course of post-war history. The programme explores his colourful love life and li…
 
“I was astonished by the experience of standing there, where the two oceans met. I knew at that very moment this would be my concept: the meeting of worlds". Okwui Enwezor.For centuries, the art establishment had been defined and dictated by predominantly white, wealthy, western critics and curators. Then in the early 90’s a young man who was born …
 
Comedian and presenter Tom Allen first discovered Kenneth Williams as a young boy, watching the Carry On films and listening to Round the Horne with his mum. He joins Matthew Parris and Kenneth's biographer, Christopher Stevens, to explore the life of the famous twentieth century entertainer. Together, they discuss stealing the show, sexuality and …
 
Ernie Bevin led an extraordinary life. Born in Somerset in 1881, his father is unknown and his mother died when he was eight. He left his job as a farm labourer age 11 and moved to Bristol, where he helped to found the Transport and General Worker's Union. He was Churchill's Labour minister in the wartime cabinet, and heavily involved in postwar re…
 
Jessie Ware is a singer, songwriter and podcaster. Her latest, critically acclaimed, album, What's Your Pleasure?, draws inspiration from soul, funk, boogie, and disco - and, notably, the work of the Queen of Disco, Donna Summer. Jessie joins Matthew Parris and Pete Bellotte, co-producer and co-writer of many of Donna Summer's biggest hits - I Feel…
 
Bearded, profoundly deaf and somewhat eccentric, Tsiolkovsky's theoretical work means he is, for many, the "father of space travel". He died in 1935, and so never saw his research come to fruition. To discuss Tsiolkovsky's life and achievements, Matthew Parris is joined by Peter Frankopan, Professor of Global History at Oxford and author of the int…
 
“We’re talking here about a woman who was Mexican, dark skinned, disabled and queer, who produced art and didn’t allow her disabilities to define her. She defined who she was on her own terms," says Circe Henestrosa, co curator of Frida Kahlo: Making Herself Up.Circe joins Jessie Burton, author of The Miniaturist in discussion about the Mexican art…
 
Dolly Alderton's love of Doris Day began when she watched Calamity Jane as a young child. And for Dolly, the incandescent film star was as much of a poster girl as The Spice Girls. But Dolly's view of the legendary actress and singer has changed as she's matured. Dolly joins Matthew Parris and Dr Tamar Jeffers McDonald, Reader in Film and Head of t…
 
Sara Wheeler first read Sybille Bedford in her early twenties, and discovered a dazzling writer. The book she read was called A Visit to Don Otavio. It's set in Mexico, a country Bedford wanted to visit because of its 'long nasty history in the past and as little present history as possible.' Born Sybille von Schoenebeck in 1911 in Germany, she liv…
 
Anand Menon, director of the UK in a Changing Europe, chooses the life of infamous Leeds United Captain, Billy Bremner.Billy Bremner played for Leeds as a midfielder from 1959 until 1976. He scored 115 goals for the team and captained them for 11 years during the most successful period in their history. 5’5”, with a mop of red hair, he was known as…
 
When Sally Phillips first saw Myrna Loy, she burst into tears. It was in a film called The Best Years of Our Lives, about three veterans returning to their wives after World War Two. Myrna Loy was most famous for the Thin Man series, and she also played voluptuous baddies in flicks like The Mask of Fun Manchu. But it's not just her screen career th…
 
Maya Angelou was born Marguerite Johnson in 1928. She was a mother, writer, dancer, director, performer, friend of presidents, and author of seven volumes of memoir. The very first - I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings - returned to the top of the best-seller lists when she died in 2014. So why were people fascinated by her life? Nominating her is Bris…
 
Ursula le Guin was born in California in 1929. Her books - including A Wizard of Earthsea and The Left Hand of Darkness - have been described as masterpieces but she battled prejudice all her life from the literary elite. Choosing her because she loves both Ursula's books and who she was is the British musician Kate Stables. She's speaking to Matth…
 
"One of the best things a children's writer can do is to implant sign posts in childhood to things that are good, and to the small pleasures that will get you through life" Frank Cottrell-Boyce Tove Jansson was born in Helsinki in 1914. An artist, illustrator and writer she became best known as the creator of The Moomins, the little white trolls wh…
 
As a twenty-one year old man travelling the world, a young Rick Stein discovered The Doors and became fascinated by the band's lead singer, Jim Morrison. Over the subsequent fifty years, the life and legend of one of rock and roll's brightest stars had a lasting impact on the restauranteur. Joining Matthew Parris and Rick Stein to uncover the myste…
 
When Andi Oliver first read Toni Morrison's 'The Bluest Eye' she felt as though someone climbed inside her head. Morrison's books saved her life - both emotionally and cerebrally. The author, editor and college professor Toni Morrison chronicled the lives of African-Americans in novels such as 'Beloved', 'Sula' and 'Song of Solomon'. She once said …
 
"I am a German American, a pure one, dating back to when German Americans were still marrying each other." Kurt Vonnegut was born in Indianapolis in 1922, but the most important event in his life happened in Dresden in 1945. He was a POW and underground in a meat locker during the firebombing. When he emerged he found the city totally destroyed. It…
 
From Kansas City to New York, young Charlie Parker conquered the world of jazz.. He was famous during his life, and even more famous after he died aged 34. He's nominated here by former health minister, home secretary and chancellor of the exchequer, Kenneth Clarke. Together with Richard Williams and Val Wilmer, Ken recounts what made Bird great, a…
 
Bill Bailey has not just travelled in naturalist Alfred Russell Wallace's footsteps, he's crazy about him too. "I love him, I really do." Wallace is best known for what used to be known as the Wallace-Darwin theory of evolution. When he died in 1913, the New York Times called him the last of the 'giants belonging to that wonderful group of intellec…
 
Janice Turner recently wrote a sweet, sensitive article about packing up the contents of her parent’s house. “The experience was almost unbearable,” she began. Among the items passed down from the attic, “my entire childhood,” were a heavy sledge, Twinkle and Jackie annuals, “and a heavy trunk of 60 Enid Blytons.”60 Enid Blytons - imagine that! Jan…
 
What makes a brilliant politician? What should motivate them? Does having a faith help? Broadcaster and writer Jeremy Paxman chooses the seventh earl of Shaftesbury, Anthony Ashley-Cooper. a Victorian politician whose numerous and wide-ranging social reforms transformed working and living conditions for impoverished children, miners and chimney-swe…
 
In the early summer of 1945, Lee Miller sent a telegram back to London about what she had seen in the Nazi death camps. “I implore you to believe this is true,” she wrote. Her employers were Vogue magazine. How did a famous beauty like Miller end up covering the war?Her extraordinary life and the images she left, most famously posing in Hitler's ba…
 
"It's absolutely joyous, one of the highlights of my career!" Peter Oborne on being joined by Martin Jarvis, the man who brings Just William to life.Journalist Oborne is nominating both William Brown and his creator, Richmal Crompton. She wrote 39 multi-million selling books, and her delight in William is clear to hear in the archive. Other contrib…
 
The author Chibundu Onuzo nominates the first elected female in Africa, Constance Agatha Cummings-John.Chibundu discovered the remarkable story of Constance while studying for her PhD. Born into the Sierra Leonean Krios elite in 1918, Constance was brought up in colonial Freetown, with a lifestyle which most resembled English gentility. But everyth…
 
The comedian Sindhu Vee has loved Prince ever since she was a young girl in India - when her sister gave her illicit cassettes recorded from U.S. radio. Hearing his music changed her life forever, and seeing him perform influenced her career as a comedian. Sindhu is joined by BAFTA-winning investigative journalist Mobeen Azhar (who's seen Prince li…
 
Fiona Shaw, BAFTA award-winning star of Killing Eve, joins Matthew Parris to explore the life of one of history's most remarkable actresses whose name has slipped from public memory. She inspired Stanislavski's 'method', changed Chekhov's mind about acting, and took Chaplin's breath away - the nineteenth-century performer, Eleonora Duse. Kirsten Sh…
 
Psychotherapist Philippa Perry nominates the Italian educator and doctor Maria Montessori, who revolutionised children's education. Montessori schools exist today in over 170 countries. They are defined by a child-centred approach to learning, nurturing independence and individuality in children as young as three years old. In Philippa Perry’s work…
 
Ramsay Macdonald, Labour's first Prime Minister, chosen by Shaun Ley.In 1931 Ramsay MacDonald went to see the king in order to resign. George V persuaded him to stay, and a story of party betrayal began. Broadcaster Shaun Ley and journalist Anne Perkins pick though events that have a contemporary ring as the political class of the thirties struggle…
 
From acting in Men Behaving Badly and Jonathan Creek to restoring dozens of period properties and touring India for TV, the actress Caroline Quentin loves variety. When she discovered the life of the playwright and architect Sir John Vanbrugh, she found a kindred spirit. Jonathan Glancey, architectural critic and broadcaster, joins Caroline and pre…
 
Laura Marling, folk singer-songwriter, nominates the first female psychoanalyst, Lou Andreas-Salomé.Laura has been unravelling the mysteries of Russian-born Lou Andreas-Salomé ever since she came across her name in the biography of the poet, Rainer Maria Rilke. She'd never heard of Salomé's name but discovered she was Rilke's literary mentor for ye…
 
Kamila Shamsie, author of the award-winning novel 'Home Fire' champions the life of the Pakistani human rights lawyer Asma Jahangir. Kamila says she was only ten years old, growing up in Karachi, when Asma became her hero even before she really knew her name. She remembers her mother and her aunts all talking about this amazing woman lawyer and soc…
 
The prolific and most significant of American song-hunters - Alan Lomax - has been chosen by English folk singer Shirley Collins. She's joined by singer-songwriter and activist Billy Bragg. Lomax did whatever was necessary to preserve traditional music and take it to a wider audience. He was the first to record towering figures like Lead Belly, Mud…
 
'Brian Epstein Died For You'. This is a phrase the Turner-prize winning artist Jeremy Deller has been vaguely obsessed with for years. He believes the music entrepreneur and The Beatles' manager Brian Epstein has never been properly credited for his role within popular culture, and argues that if Brian hadn't have lived, The Beatles might not have …
 
In 2013, Caroline Criado-Perez successfully campaigned for a woman to be featured on a banknote. The Bank of England chose Jane Austen. Caroline joins Matthew Parris and Dr Paula Byrne, author of three books about the novelist, to challenge some of the myths which surround the life of one of history's most famous writers. Matthew discovers how Jane…
 
Pianist Kirill Gerstein chooses the conductor and composer Ferruccio Busoni. Matthew Parris presents.When Busoni died in Berlin in 1924, his pupil Kurt Weill said, "We did not lose a human being but a value." Unravelling exactly what this means is the pianist Kirill Gerstein, a great admirer of Busoni and also a performer of his work. Busoni was a …
 
Matthew Parris meets the poet Ian McMillan to find out about the life of his literary hero Malcolm Lowry. Ian first discovered this twentieth century writer's work as a young sixth former searching for literary inspiration. He stumbled by chance upon the writer's most famous novel, Under the Volcano, and Lowry's lyrical lines have remained with Ian…
 
Journalist Helen Lewis rehabilitates the reputation of the “Black Queen” of France, Catherine de Medici. Helen is joined by Dr Estelle Paranque, history lecturer at the New College of Humanities and author of a new book on the relationship between Catherine and Elizabeth I.Catherine’s life is a remarkable story of female resilience in the face of a…
 
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