The Forum-logo

The Forum


Bridget Kendall presents an ideas discussion show which tackles the big questions of our age with some of the world's most eminent minds.

Bridget Kendall presents an ideas discussion show which tackles the big questions of our age with some of the world's most eminent minds.
More Information


London, United Kingdom




Bridget Kendall presents an ideas discussion show which tackles the big questions of our age with some of the world's most eminent minds.




Empress Nur Jahan: Leader of the Mughals

Empress Nur Jahan was the most powerful woman in 17th century India, wielding an unparalleled control over the Mughal Empire. Born as Mehr-un-Nissa, she came from a wealthy Iranian family who came to India and made their way up the imperial court. After the death of her first husband, a Persian soldier, she became the twentieth and final wife of Mughal Emperor Jahangir and her rise to the top really began. Often sitting beside her husband in court, she controlled trade routes, designed...


Waiting for Godot: the Play that Changed the Rules of Theatre

Waiting for Godot is a play by the Irish writer Samuel Beckett that revolutionised 20th century theatre when it was first performed more than 60 years ago. Often referred to as a play in which nothing happens, it is about two characters who spend their time waiting for a mysterious person called Godot who never appears. Today it is one of the world's most important and best- known plays and has become a comment on our political and social climate, as its themes of hope and despair have led...


Christina of Sweden: Queen of Surprises

An accomplished young horsewoman who loved fencing and male attire, the 17th century Swedish Queen Christina was anything but a conventional princess. And she kept springing surprises on her court and country: after just a decade on the throne she abdicated, converted to Catholicism and moved to Rome. Once there, she put herself forward as a candidate for the post of Queen of Naples, opened a public theatre and scandalised the Holy See by a liaison with a cardinal. Bridget Kendall follows...


Vincent van Gogh: The Struggling Artist

The Dutch post-Impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh is one of the most influential painters in western art. His series of still life sunflowers are known around the world today, but during his lifetime in the 1800s he lived in poverty, selling incredibly little of his work, some say just one painting, and suffered several serious breakdowns. One of his most famous paintings - The Starry Night - is said to be the view from his room in a French psychiatric hospital where he’d admitted...


American writer Mark Twain

Mark Twain, born Samuel Langhorne Clemens, was known for his piercing wit, irreverent satire and social commentary. Leaving school early following the death of his father, he lived many lives in one: spending time as a journalist, steamboat pilot and world traveller, suffering significant personal and financial losses. These are just some of the experiences that would feed into his novels, articles, short stories, essays and the thousands of letters that are still being unearthed today....


Pioneers of Surgical Hygiene

The Hungarian obstetrician Ignaz Semmelweis, born 200 years ago this month, saved the lives of hundreds, possibly thousands, of new mothers with his forward-looking ideas about hospital hygiene. He insisted that junior doctors working for him wash their hands in chlorinated lime solution before examining expectant mothers. This simple procedure reduced mortality by something like 90 per cent at the Vienna maternity ward that he was in charge of. Many more deaths could have been prevented...


The Invention of Numbers

Try and imagine a world without numbers. Telling people how many siblings you have, counting your wages or organising to meet a friend at a certain time would all be much more difficult. If you’re reading this on a digital screen, even these words are produced through a series of zero and one symbols. We take them so much for granted yet some cultures don’t count and some languages don’t have the words or symbols for numbers. This programme looks at when and why humans first started start...


The Life and Works of William Blake

William Blake is now one of England’s best-loved poets and artists, associated with the well-known poem “The Tyger” and the hymn “Jerusalem”, regularly coined England’s unofficial national anthem. But in his time he was an eighteenth century radical visionary who challenged the social order as well as political and religious orthodoxy at every turn. He was even tried for sedition. Rajan Datar discusses his life, works and remarkable legacy with Blake experts Dr. Linda Freedman, Dr. Susan...


J. William Fulbright: Scholarships and Soft Power

In many countries, the word 'Fulbrighter' has become almost synonymous with US-sponsored scholarships. But what about the man whose idea it was to set up this international scholar exchange programme over 70 years ago: how did J. William Fulbright convince his fellow Senators to support this novel concept? After all, the aims of the programme were nothing if not ambitious: "the achievement in international affairs of a regime more civilized, rational and humane than the empty system of...


The Tales of Timbuktu

The fabled city of Timbuktu is a curiosity. To 16th century Muslim scholars, it was the cosmopolitan hub of Islamic learning in West Africa, to European explorers 300 years later, it was a place of mystery whose name remains synonymous with being at the end of the earth. Most recently in 2013, Timbuktu was at the centre of the world's attention again after Islamist militants threatened thousands of valuable historic manuscripts stored in the city's famous libraries. Believed to be the...


The Piano: Hitting the Right Keys

What’s the secret to the 300 year-old success of the piano, an instrument that was hardly a huge hit when it was invented around the turn of the 18th century? Perhaps it’s the ability of the instrument to convey a vast range of styles from singing melodies to percussive rhythms, and from classical music to jazz, rock and pop. With the help of musical examples, Bridget Kendall and guests will explore how the piano has inspired music from composers on every continent. Joining Bridget will be...


Simone de Beauvoir: Feminist Thinker for Modern Times

Simone de Beauvoir was a French philosopher and writer whose work exploring what it is to be a woman shaped feminist thinking today. A pioneering intellectual, she used her existential ideas around freedom and responsibility to shape her life, literature and politics. Rajan Datar discusses her life and work with writers Claudine Monteil and Lisa Appignanesi, and philosopher Tove Pettersen. Photo: Simone de Beauvoir (Getty Images)


Catherine the Great of Russia

Famous for her lovers and satirised for her colourful personal life, Catherine the Great was in many ways one of Russia’s most progressive and moderate rulers, modernising 18th century Russia, improving educational standards and creating a flourishing arts and literature scene. But she also turned Russia into the biggest Empire on earth since the Roman Empire, which included the annexation of Crimea. So how far has her imperial mind set influenced Russia’s modern rulers, like President...


Material World: Making the Modern Factory

Bridget Kendall and guests discuss the key components of the global story of the factory, tracing its development from eighteenth century Britain to twenty-first century China and beyond. Exploring how the factory came to shape not just the material world but entire social worlds too, they share their expert knowledge on topics such as the lives of factory workers, the capitalist and communist factory, and the changing face of manufacturing in an age of robots and smart technology. Bridget...


Machu Picchu: the Secrets of a Forgotten City

The ancient Inca town Machu Picchu is now the most visited tourist attraction in Peru - and yet it lay nearly forgotten for over three centuries until American and Peruvian explorers drew the world's attention to it in the 1910s. And despite a century of excavations at the site, there are still many unanswered questions about Machu Picchu: why was it built in the first place, who were the immigrants that made up a large proportion of the town's population, and why was it abandoned so...


Plastic: How it Changed the World

The birth of modern plastic began in 1907 with the invention of Bakelite, one of the first plastics to be made from entirely synthetic components. But plastic in a particular form was being used many thousands of years ago by the Olmec, the earliest known civilisation in Mexico, who played with balls made of a natural polymer - rubber. Over the years the plastics industry has grown from the work of a handful of inventors to a global player whose products reach into almost every corner of...


Sugar: A Sweet Menace

Rarely has one foodstuff had such global influence as Sugar – on our trade and economy, movement of people around the world, and health and treatment of fellow humans. Once a costly luxury called “white gold”, it was pivotal in one of mankind’s most shameful chapters – slavery. Joining Rajan Datar to find out more about Sugar and its connection with power is the Canadian historian Dr Elizabeth Abbott, the writer Marina Budhos whose Indian background inspired her research, and the Columbian...


What is Zoroastrianism?

It is a religion that has lasted three millennia, claims to be the world's first monotheistic creed and to have influenced major faiths such as Christianity, Judaism and Islam, inspired artists from Voltaire to Freddie Mercury but Zoroastrianism may be heading for extinction: in some communities only children of male Zoroastrians are admitted to the faith and there are probably fewer than 200 thousand left now. Rajan Datar talks about the history of Zoroastrianism with Dr. Sarah Stewart,...


Votes for Women: the Global Story

It was exactly a hundred years ago that women in the UK won the right to vote: though at first it was only for property owning women over thirty. But Britain wasn’t the trail blazer. Seven countries were ahead of it including two of its colonies. So what were the deciding factors? Was it the changing circumstances created by wars and the collapse of Empires? Or was it the suffragettes’ sometimes violent tactics? And why did Switzerland take as long as 1971 to enfranchise women? Joining...


From Straw Poll to Opinion Poll

Today, we can’t imagine an election without an opinion poll gauging public opinion on who’s leading, who’s won a debate or who’s more popular with a specific group of voters. Even our favourite chocolate bars and footballers are subject to a poll. But how did straw polls evolve into the scientific number crunching we know now? What is their purpose and impact? How differently are they used around the world? And just how reliable are they? Bridget Kendall is joined by economist and chairman...