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28 October 2014

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The Mark Steel Lectures

Mark Steel

A sequel of sorts to The Mark Steel Revolution, the series found the stand-up comic presenting potted life stories of notable historical figures.

"In these times in which our world appears to be dominated by the mundane and passionless, whether in the guise of Westlife, the Big Brother house or our politicians," reasons Mark Steel, "it may be a comfort to know the people who mattered the most were all splendidly passionate and endearingly mental".

These "endearing mental" personalities are the focus of his semi-educational series of lectures, which started out on BBC Radio Four in 1999.

Originally subtitled, "A series of lectures about Englishmen who changed the course of history," the show kicked off with a profile of Oliver Cromwell, and established the format wherein our host would provide a wittily persuasive argument for the importance of his chosen subject, spinning off into various idiosyncratic sketches.

Albert Einstein and Sylvia Pankhurst

Across the episodes he was assisted by a regular troupe of players: Martin Hyder, Mel Hudson, Carla Mendonça and Debbie Isitt.

Over three years on radio, the brief changed slightly to become "a series of lectures about people with a passion", as the likes of Aristotle, Che Guevara, Hannibal and Napoleon Bonaparte came under the microscope.

Then, in 2003, the lectures transferred to BBC Four, in a co-production with The Open University. Here Steel gloried in representing the historical personalities in modern day contexts, including - as he himself says - "Lord Byron as Joe Strummer, Isaac Newton as Carol Vorderman and Darwin as the man who goes mad in Close Encounters of the Third Kind."

A generally successful translation, the TV version suffers slightly, lacking the radio show's spontaneous, off-the-cuff feel. Nevertheless, it's been bolstered by an array of famous guests, including Mark Lamarr, Bob Monkhouse, Linda Smith and Ainsley Harriot.


Linda Smith
Martha Freud
Mark Lamarr
Gerard Logan
Lord Byron
Martin Hyder
Issac Newton, Sigmund Freud, Aristotle, Charles Darwin
Ainsley Harriot
Robert Boyle
Bob Monkhouse
Mark Steel


Mark Steel
Michael Cumming
Jon Rolph
Emma De'Ath
executive producer
Graham Smith
executive producer

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