Monday 17 Mar 2014
Stephen Fry explores linguistic achievements and how our skills for the spoken word have developed in a new five-part series for BBC Two.
In Planet Word, Stephen dissects language in all its guises with his inimitable mixture of learning, love of lexicon and humour.
He analyses how we use and abuse language and asks whether we are beginning to understand the complexities of its DNA.
From the time when man first mastered speech to the cyber world of modern times with its html codes and texting, Planet Word takes viewers on a journey across the globe to discover just how far humans have come when it comes to the written and spoken word.
A Sprout Pictures production
Author Sebastian Faulks gets to the heart of the British novel through its characters, in a new four-part series for BBC Two.
Faulks On Fiction explores the heroes, lovers, snobs and villains in classics such as Robinson Crusoe, Wuthering Heights, Great Expectations, Lord Of The Flies and The End Of The Affair.
Written and presented by Sebastian, the series tells the story of how the British novel made us who we are and features characters including Fagin from Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist, Mr Darcy from Jane Austen’s Pride And Prejudice, Chanu from Monica Ali’s Brick Lane and Jim Dixon from Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim.
Two centuries after he was born, Charles Dickens stands alone as perhaps the world's most popular novelist.
His characters are famous in their own right, his novels endlessly adapted for film and television – he even has his own theme park.
However, for life-long Dickens fan Armando Iannucci, something has been lost along the way. By turning Dickens into an institution we've forgotten why he matters as a writer.
In this programme, Armando sets out to rediscover Dickens the novelist – how he wrote, what he thought and why it works. Using Dickens's masterpiece David Copperfield as a focal point, Armando unpicks the language, analyses the characters and explores the revolutionary development of Dickens as a story-teller.
Using encounters with present-day individuals, Armando opens up many layers of the texts, unlocking Dickens's emotional power through contemporary situations and real-life experiences. He challenges the old view that Dickens could only write caricatures and shows instead how his exaggerated style actually allowed his novels to reach new heights of emotional truth.
Armando Iannucci On Dickens forms part of the BBC's Focus On Dickens at the end of the year.
To mark the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible, BBC Two and BBC Four present two major documentaries. In The King James Bible – The Book That Changed The World on BBC Two, Melvyn Bragg sets out to prove that the King James version has driven the development of the English-speaking world over the last 400 years – often in the most unanticipated ways.
Melvyn argues that while many think the modern world is founded on secular ideals, it is the King James Bible that influenced the English language and its literature more than any other book. It was also, he believes, the seedbed of Western democracy, the activator of radical shifts in society such as the abolition of the slave trade, the debating dynamite for brutal civil wars in Britain and America and a critical spark in the genesis of modern science.
In his quest to uncover the impact of the King James Bible, Melvyn travels to historic locations in the United States, where the King James Bible had a deep impact, including Gettysburg.
He also visits Washington's Lincoln Memorial, site of Martin Luther King's "I have a dream..." speech.
To mark the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible, BBC Two and BBC Four present two major documentaries. When God Spoke English – The Making Of The King James Bible on BBC Four tells the unexpected story of how the King James Bible came into being.
Author and presenter, Adam Nicolson, reveals why the making of this great and powerful book shares much with his experience of a very different national project – the Millennium Dome.
The programme also delves into recently discovered 17th-century manuscripts, from the actual translation process, to show in rich detail what makes this particular version of the Bible so good.
In a turbulent and often violent age, the King hoped this Bible would unite a country torn by religious factions. Today, it is dismissed by some as old fashioned and impenetrable. This programme shows why, in the 21st century, the King James Bible remains the greatest book of all time.
Richard E Grant re-opens one of his favourite children's books, The 1001 Arabian Nights, to explore its extraordinary impact on Western culture.
Journeying to Cairo, and the desert wildernesses beyond, he searches for the world that led to the creation of the Arabian Nights.
The stories first arrived in the West 300 years ago, translated from a 14th-century Syrian manuscript by the French orientalist Antoine Galland.
Overnight the tales became a huge hit in every European country. Readers were fascinated by the central character, Sharazade, who each night recounted stories of princes, genies, demons and robbers, to her husband the King in a desperate bid to avoid execution.
Richard visits Galland's original manuscripts in Paris and explores how the stories inspired hit shows on the 18th-century stage in London. Three of the stories, Sinbad, Ali Baba and Aladdin, have inspired countless plays, pantomimes and films as well as becoming part of the literary canon for children and adults alike.
However, during Richard's journey he also discovers that the tales are shrouded in controversy, including calls for a ban on The 1001 Arabian Nights in some parts of the world today.
A Quickfire Media production
BBC Front Desk Publicity
From philosophy, religion, art, science, politics and the rise of ideologies all the way through to fantastical fictions, books have enabled new ideas to reach eager audiences across the globe.
However, they are not simply conveyors of story, knowledge and belief. Some of the most important books in the world are also stunningly beautiful, iconic masterpieces in their own right. Just as you don't judge a book by its cover alone, you don't judge a book by its story alone – the outer and inner make up the whole.
From the first bibles to medieval masterpieces like Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, and from children's stories such as Alice In Wonderland to the beauty of the humble paperback, this series combines human stories, expert interviews, book illustrations and historic archive, to reveal the astonishing, the absorbing, the arresting, beauty of books.
A Tern production
Author and critic Henry Hitchings argues that the evolution of the novel in 18th-century Britain was an extraordinary cultural revolution, akin to those of 15th-century Florence or fin-de-siècle Paris.
In less than a hundred years, the novel emerged as a new art form and reached maturity. In this period, all the major genres, from chick lit (Fanny Burney's Evelina) to the political thriller (William Godwin's The Adventures Of Caleb Williams) to "modern" stream-of-consciousness (Laurence Sterne's The Life And Opinions Of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman) were perfected and the great masterworks of each remain unsurpassed.
Henry shows that the novel at this time was not, as often believed, light entertainment for ladies of leisure, but a revolutionary, often politically radical art form developed by larger-than-life personalities.
Daniel Defoe (Robinson Crusoe) invented the modern novel in the same entrepreneurial spirit with which he operated a brick factory or tried extracting perfume from civet cats; Jonathan Swift, a behind-the-scenes political manipulator, only wrote Gulliver's Travels after falling from favour and both Horace Walpole and William Beckford, pioneers of the horror novel, created real-life Gothic fantasies at Strawberry Hill and Fonthill Abbey.
Hitchings' polemic delves deep into 18th-century social as well as political history, using paintings by the great artists of the day to illustrate scenes from key novels.
From pioneering psychologists such as Carl Jung and anthropologists like Margaret Mead to the economist John Maynard Keynes, this is the story of the 20th Century in ideas, told by the thinkers themselves.
Plundering the BBC's rich archive, In Their Own Words – Great Thinkers follows on from the critically acclaimed series In Their Own Words – British Novelists to reveal some of the greatest intellectuals, political theorists and economists of the last century talking candidly about their life and work.
Pre-eminent classical historian Robin Lane Fox takes viewers on a journey in search of the origins of Greek legend in Greek Myths – Tales Of Travelling Heroes.
Robin believes these fantastical stories lie at the root of Western culture, and yet little is known about where the myths of the Greek gods came from and how they developed. After 35 years of travelling, excavation and interpretation, he is now confident he has uncovered the answers.
From the ancient lost city of Hattusas in modern Turkey to the smouldering summit of the Sicilian volcano Mount Etna, Greek Myths – Tales Of Travelling Heroes takes viewers on a dazzling voyage through the Mediterranean world of the 8th century BC, following in the slipstream of an intrepid and mysterious group of merchants and adventurers from the Greek island of Euboea.
Along the way, he brings to life exuberant tales of castration and baby eating, the birth of human sexual love and titanic battles with giants and monsters from which the gods of Greek myth were to emerge victorious.
First broadcast in late 2010.
BBC Front Desk Publicity
Hundreds of years ago the Vikings wrote down dozens of stories known as sagas.
These sagas are great works of art; sweeping narratives, based on real events. They have all the pace of novels, written hundreds of years before novels were even invented.
Doctor Janina Ramirez of Oxford University takes BBC Four viewers on a literary journey as she discovers that these sagas are not only great works of art, but priceless historical documents which bring the Viking world to life and enable historians today to build a better picture of how the Vikings lived.
Travelling across glaciers and lava fields to the far north west of Iceland, Janina takes a closer look at one of the most compelling of these extraordinary stories The Laxdaela saga – a bloody and tragic ménage à trois and one of the strangest love stories ever told.
She also explores the close link between the Icelandic people and their sagas and, with the help of historians, sorcerers and storytellers, learns how the stories have helped them survive centuries of hardship and suffering.
Through her journey Janina explains the profound need that human beings have always had for storytelling and also investigates the legacy of the sagas and discovers that they influenced some of Britain's greatest writers and inspired many of this country's most treasured tales.
A Century Films production
At the height of his success Terence Rattigan was one of the most successful playwrights of the mid-20th century.
Yet, for the last 50 years, his plays have been seen by many as safe, conventional and middle class, the epitome of a theatrical tradition which was famously challenged in the Fifties by a new wave of young writers led by John Osborne.
In this programme actor and Rattigan fan Benedict Cumberbatch argues that contrary to this assumption, Rattigan's plays are some of the most brilliantly written and emotionally powerful social satires of the 20th century.
On a journey that takes Cumberbatch from Rattigan's old school (where he himself studied as a boy) to Los Angeles via London's West End, he speaks to a range of experts and performers of Rattigan's work.
He delves into the life and career of this most distinguished but overlooked playwright, looking at how Rattigan's turbulent personal life fed into his plays, and how the changing attitudes of British theatrical life led to the dimming of his fame.
BBC Productions, Bristol
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