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Episode 1

15 minutes
First broadcast:
Monday 20 May 2013

In this heart-lifting book, the Romantic biographer Richard Holmes floats across the world following the pioneer generation of balloon aeronauts, from the first heroic experiments of the 1780s to the tragic attempt to fly a balloon to the North Pole in the 1890s.

In a compelling adventure story, dramatic sequences include an unscheduled early flight over the North Sea, the crazy firework flights of beautiful Sophie Blanchard and the heart-stopping escape of two families from East Germany.

Early balloons also played a role in warfare - with the legendary tale of sixty balloons that escaped Paris during the Prussian siege of 1870, and a memorable flight by General Custer in the American Civil War.

These are stories where scientific genius combines with extraordinary courage and the power of an imagination that dares to claim the airy kingdom for itself.

Episode 1 (of 5):
Every balloon tells a story, and more often than not it is one of courage in the face of great perils.

Two determined balloonists take to the skies to raise money for charity. Over two hundred years separate them, but both find themselves sailing out over the sea with nothing but danger ahead.

Read by Rory Kinnear
Abridged and produced by Jill Waters
A Waters Company production for BBC Radio 4.


Richard Holmes
Jill Waters
Jill Waters
Rory Kinnear


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