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    In Our Time: Bertrand Russell

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    Editor's note: In Thursday's programme Melvyn Bragg and his guests discussed Bertrand Russell. As always the programme is available to listen to online or to download and keep - AI.

    Bertrand Russell (In Our Time)


    I'm sorry I didn't say anything about crystallography last week.  And I don't have a great deal to say about the Bertrand Russell this week.  This was one of the very few programmes we recorded and, as always happens when we record, we go a few minutes over, which means that we have to get out of the studio a few minutes earlier than usual which leaves not much time for reflection or extra programme comment.  In both those cases, what struck me most was the personal side.  Apologies.  Lawrence Bragg's widow wrote to me and said that she thought that we were indeed related to each other - quite a few Braggs in the Wigton and West Cumbrian area - and there was a photograph of a young Lawrence which is the spitting image of my father's youngest brother.  But I didn't follow it up.  Didn't somehow have the energy or will.  And after the philosophy programme, what most surfaced was the fact that he was alive and philosophising when I was an undergraduate!  And long after that.  My first wife had lodgings with the philosopher Peter Strawson and used to go to a select group of persons, including Russell, every week to discuss matters of high, logical, analytic significance.  I thought that I was somehow eavesdropping on the modern equivalent of Socratic dialogues when Peter passed on a few words about such meetings.  And again, I remember on a couple of Aldermaston marches Bertrand Russell at the front of the parade - or do I misremember? - he was certainly a strong part of the movement, and once again it was as if someone from a previous intellectual planet had been beamed forward into our own day.  There was something of the grandness of antiquity about Russell in his bearing, in his title of course, but also in the grandeur of his authority and the fearlessness of his opinions.

    At the moment it's nothing but busy.  I'm working on a programme for BBC Two about William Tyndale who, in my view, rates as one of the greatest Englishmen ever.  And just to take one single day: yesterday.  We started by filming in the Church of St Bartholomew the Great off Smithfield.  The producer, Anna Cox, had fabricated a dialogue between Thomas More and Tyndale - then his sworn enemy.  The vehemence of the language between them and the strength of feeling and the passion of difference was extraordinary.  We finished in that most beautiful, secreted, early medieval church and immediately there was uproar in the porch.  A young man, who had been given a cake and a cup of tea to keep him warm, had - on the way out - noticed an artless tin cashbox which contained, it turned out, quite a bit of notes and a bit of cash which he'd whipped.  Spotted.  He was wrestled with.  He kept shouting "I'm homeless!  I'm homeless!  I'm homeless!"  His yells drew the attention of our soundman, Rhys, who raced out and put him in some sort of lock.  Police were called.  Five of them arrived within seven minutes.  The young man kept declaring loudly that he was homeless and that he wanted to give all the money back, if only they would let him go.  It was a strange scene.  There's an obvious tendency to be liberal and let him go, but there's also the fact that it's not much good having someone going round London burgling (it counted as burglary) cashboxes in churches, especially those which are giving hospitality and succour.

    After that I walked along the Embankment to Lambeth Palace for our next stop.  Went in to eat at one of the cafes beside the big wheel.  Had a couple of sandwiches and a cup of coffee.  I'd brought my own chocolate and apple and sat and watched the crowd in this glorified snack bar and the crowds on the South Bank of the Thames.  There was something extremely happy about them.  The South Bank of the Thames at that point is crowded with little stalls which make it look as if it might have been London Bridge four or five hundred years ago.  There is a carousel.  There are those living statues, often sprayed with a kind of gold, as they stand on plinths in the shivering cold.  The big wheel trundles round and after the lunch I went to Lambeth Palace and climbed up the stony stairs, twisting and more and more cramped, to the top of Lollards' Tower, where young men in the fifteenth century who dared to distribute Wycliffe's translation of the Bible in English were tortured at the express wish of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and made to confess their sins in doing this heretical thing, i.e. distributing the Bible in English and thereby somehow taking on Wycliffe's views against the corruption of the Church.

    From there to the Tower of London and Thomas More's cell - More figures largely in the Tyndale story - the cell from which he was taken to be executed and after execution his head boiled until it became black, stuck on a pole and then put on London Bridge.  As I came out of the White Tower - beautifully illuminated, such a graceful building put to such vile purposes so often - there were figures on the skating rink outside the walls of the Tower, almost floating around, they were going so fast.  And across the Thames from the stony Tower, a row of glass buildings surmounted by the colossally tall finger of the Shard, the top of which looks like a pointed crystal, pointing towards what both Thomas More and Tyndale would have thought was heaven.

    Best wishes

    Melvyn Bragg


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