Great Lives-logo

Great Lives


Biography series exploring the greatest people who ever lived. Matthew Parris interviews an eminent guest and an expert to reveal the truth behind their history heroes.

Biography series exploring the greatest people who ever lived. Matthew Parris interviews an eminent guest and an expert to reveal the truth behind their history heroes.
More Information


London, United Kingdom




Biography series exploring the greatest people who ever lived. Matthew Parris interviews an eminent guest and an expert to reveal the truth behind their history heroes.




Mica Paris on Josephine Baker

For soul singer Mica Paris, when she first dreamt of becoming a singer it was Josephine Baker who inspired her most. Baker was a young black American dancer who became an overnight sensation in Paris in 1925 after performing wild, uninhibited routines in the skimpiest of costumes. So can Mica Paris make the case for Baker who wore a string of bananas and little else while performing the 'banana dance? Helping to tell the story of Josephine Baker is author Andrea Stuart. The presenter is...


Simon Callow on Orson Welles

The actor Simon Callow nominates one of the giants of the golden age of Hollywood, Orson Welles. He once said of himself he 'started at the top and worked his way down' never managing to recreate the success he had aged 26 with Citizen Kane, which he wrote, directed and starred in. Welles' friend and collaborator Henry Jaglom talks about knowing him for the last years of his life when Hollywood had turned its back on him and he was strapped for cash and looking for work. Producer: Maggie...


Ayesha Hazarika on Jayaben Desai

Stand up comedian and political commentator Ayesha Hazarika's hero is Jayaben Desai who led a two year strike at Grunwick Film processing factory in North London. The majority of the workers were migrant women and they became known as the 'strikers in sarees'. Matthew Parris remembers the strike in 1976 as he was working in Margaret Thatcher's office at the time, but only recalls the violence at the picket line and the fact that the strike failed. Can Ayesha Hazarika convince Matthew...


Tej Lalvani on Richard Feynman

Richard Feynman was a physicist who helped design the atomic bomb and won the Nobel Prize. He is the great life choice of businessman Tej Lalvani CEO of his family business Vitabiotics and the newest Dragon on the BBC show Dragon's Den. Feynman was also regarded as something of an eccentric and a free spirit who had a passion for playing the bongos. Helping to make the case for this great life Tej is joined by the expert witness David Berman, Professor of Theoretical Physics at Queen Mary...


Laura Serrant on Audre Lorde

Professor Laura Serrant of Sheffield Hallam University, named as one of the most inspirational figures in healthcare, chooses the life of the black, gay poet and activist Audre Lorde who still inspires the women's movement today. She tells Matthew Parris why Audre has meant so much to her both personally and professionally in her work in nursing. Professor Akwugo Emejulu of Warwick University is the studio expert. Producer: Maggie Ayre.


Adrian Utley of Portishead on Miles Davis

Miles Davis - trumpeter, composer, bandleader - is championed by Adrian Utley of Portishead. "He's always been really important in my life, right from early on when my dad used to play him. It was part of the atmosphere of our house." From the early years with Charlie Parker and on via Kind of Blue to playing in front of 600,000 hippies on the Isle of Wight, Miles Davis was a musician who never stood still. "Always listen for what you can leave out," he used to say, and Portishead's...


Jim Moir on Captain Beefheart

The comedian, actor and artist Jim Moir aka Vic Reeves is Matthew Parris' guest and chooses the life of Don van Vliet - the Dadesque musician and painter Captain Beefheart who has influenced many musicians since the 1960s. They are joined by Beefheart's biographer Mike Barnes to discuss the bizarre and complex persona developed by the Californian eccentric who died from MS in 2010. Producer: Maggie Ayre.


Gisela Stuart on Joseph Chamberlain

Gisela Stuart, the former Member of Parliament for Birmingham Edgbaston makes the case for Joseph Chamberlain to be nominated as her great life. But can she really make the case for this former industrialist who made it to the cabinet but had a knack for splitting political parties and switching allegiances? Jo Chamberlain was first a Liberal then a Liberal Unionist and finally formed an alliance with the Conservative party but fell out with them too. Gisela argues he was a man who wasn't...


Great Lives

Liza Tarbuck on Nikola Tesla


Justin Marozzi on Herodotus

Herodotus - father of history or father of lies? Matthew Parris introduces a sparky discussion about a writer whose achievements include a nine book account of a war between east and west - the Persian invasions of Greece. Justin Marozzi proposes him not just as an historian, but as geographer, explorer, correspondent, the world's first travel writer, and an irrepressible story teller to boot. Backing him up is Professor Edith Hall, who sees Herodotus as the author of a magnificent work of...


Hertha Ayrton

Helen Arney, self confessed science nerd, stand-up entertainer, and once nicknamed a "geek songstress", tells Matthew Parris why she's chosen Hertha Ayrton, the pioneering Victorian physicist, inventor and suffragette, as her great life. Ayrton, we hear, was the first woman to be admitted into membership of what is today known as the IET, the Institution of Engineering and Technology. Their archivist Anne Locker knows Ayrton's life and works and fields the questions from Matthew and Helen....


Nazir Afzal on Gandhi

This week Matthew Parris invites the former Chief Crown Prosecutor for North West England Nazir Afzal who was responsible for convicting the men who sexually abused young girls in Rochdale to nominate a great life. He has chosen Mahatma Gandhi, also a lawyer, whom he says inspired him to speak out on behalf of those who were marginalised and ignored by the rest of society. Producer: Maggie Ayre.


Daniel O'Connell

On a field outside Dublin, Daniel O'Connell met and shot a former royal marine in a duel. John d'Esterre had been outraged when O'Connell, the later hero of Catholic emancipation, described the mainly Protestant Dublin corporation as a 'beggarly corporation'. O'Connell later claimed that he had practised with two pistols every week, knowing that one day he would be challenged to a duel. Nominating O'Connell is the vice chancellor of Oxford and terrorism expert Louise Richardson. It's not...


Cornelia Parker on Marcel Duchamp

Marcel Duchamp, the father of conceptual art, and responsible for that famously provocative urinal signed 'R Mutt, 1917', is the great life choice of fellow artist Cornelia Parker. She explains to Matthew Parris why he's influenced not only her work but that of so many other artists since his death in 1968. As an art student in the 1970s she recalls the attraction of Duchamp's 'readymades', such as a bicycle wheel or suspended wine bottle rack - manufactured items that the artist selected...


Will Gregory on Flann O'Brien

Goldfrapp's Will Gregory is centre-stage at the Colston Hall in Bristol to tell Matthew Parris why he feels a kinship with Irish writer Flann O'Brien whose books 'At Swim-Two-Birds' and 'The Third Policeman' are now hailed as literary masterpieces but which only came to prominence after the author's death. Carol Taaffe, who has written about Flann, helps make sense of the man who wrote under three pseudonyms - Brian O'Nolan, Flann O'Brien, and Myles na gCopaleen. They look more closely at...


Helena Morrissey on Rachael Heyhoe Flint.

City Boss Dame Helena Morrissey champions the life of Rachael Heyhoe Flint, the pioneer of women's cricket who was regarded as a ground breaker who ruffled feathers and shook up a male dominated sport. Helena Morrissey who has also made it to the top of her career in a male dominated word of the City, is founder of the 30% Club, a campaign group whose aim is to get a minimum of 30% women on FTSE-100 boards. Now working as Head of Personal Investing with Legal and General Investment...


Andrea Catherwood on Constance Markievicz

Constance Markievicz led an amazing life - a leading figure during the Easter Rising of 1916, she was the first woman elected to Westminster though she never took her seat. Markievicz was born into a wealthy anglo-Irish family and gained her exotic surname from marriage to a Polish count. She was adventurous, flamboyant, committed to woman's rights, court-martialled and nearly shot. Nominating her is Andrea Catherwood, ex-ITN correspondent who made her first documentary for Radio 4....


Nicholas Stern on Muhammad Ali

Nicholas Stern is IG Patel Professor of Economics and Government at the London School of Economics, among other positions, and former Chief Economist at the World Bank. He is also a massive boxing fan and chooses the life of Muhammad Ali to explore with Matthew Parris and sports journalist and boxing commentator Ronald McIntosh. Not only does Stern admire Ali's prowess in the ring, but more so his fearless stance against the Vietnam War which cost him dearly both personally and...


Helen Sharman on Elsie Widdowson

How many people realise the impact Elsie Widdowson had on the way we view nutrition? She was a food scientist who devoted her life to improving the diets of adults and children in Britain and abroad. Matthew Parris hears why Helen Sharman, the first Briton to go into space, thinks Widdowson deserves her nomination. They are joined by Elsie's friend and biographer Margaret Ashwell, President for the Association for Nutrition. You can download the podcast to hear an extended version of the...


Tracy Chevalier on Mary Anning

Matthew Parris and his guest - novelist Tracy Chevalier - discuss the life of Mary Anning, the working class woman from Lyme Regis who discovered full dinosaur skeletons on Dorset's Jurassic Coast and sold them to collectors in the early 1800s. They are joined by Hugh Torrens, Emeritus Professor of History of Science and Technology at the University of Keele. Mary's remarkable finds came before Charles Darwin's theory of evolution and she believed them at first to be giant crocodiles, but...


Try Premium for 30 days

Live games for all NFL, MLB, NBA, & NHL teams
Commercial-Free Music
No Display Ads