Bill Bailey is a comedian, musician and actor. Raised in the West Country, Bill’s career in entertainment started in a group called The Famous Five, which only had four members. He spent the early 80s touring with a Welsh experimental theatre troupe, also appearing on stage with the Workers' Revolutionary Party. Bill has branched out as an actor in 12 Angry Men and played Oscar in The Odd Couple. He has also hosted Wild Thing, I Love You, a Channel 4 wildlife show calling for Bill and his team to come up with innovative solutions to animals' problems.
Presenter - John Lloyd
John Lloyd has been one of the most important influences in comedy and entertainment since he started as radio producer at the BBC 30 ago, creating The News Quiz, The News Huddlines and co-writing the fifth and sixth episodes of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy with his friend and flatmate Douglas Adams. In TV he produced Not the Nine O'Clock News and Spitting Image and all four Blackadder series.
He took his talents into directing commercials in 1989, but returned to TV with QI, hosted by Stephen Fry.
Philip Ball is primarily a science writer who works at the chaotic interface of the science, creativity and the arts. He holds a degree in chemistry from Oxford and a doctorate in physics from Bristol University and, as coordinator of Homunculus Theatre Company, he has trained in physical theatre, mask, clown and other dramatic techniques. He was an editor of Nature for many years.
The massive variety of topics upon which he has written include snowflakes, water, colour in art, the renaissance world, nanotechnology and the possibility of making a real, magic, flying carpet. He is about to publish a book on Chartres Cathedral. His abiding interest in pattern, and in the relevance of scientific ideas to social problems, is clear from books such as The Self-Made Tapestry: Pattern Formation in Nature, and Critical Mass: How One Thing Leads to Another. He said in 2004 that it is "topics that span scientific disciplines and that have some kind of social relevance that really draw me."
Brian Blessed, famous actor and adventurer, has appeared in more than 122 films, and on TV, stage and screen for over 40 years. He was born in Mexborough and after working as an undertaker’s assistant making coffins, he trained at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School.
He was - at the age of 65 - the oldest man to reach the altitude of 28,000ft on Mount Everest without oxygen and was very close to the top on his last climb when he had to turn back to help save a man’s life. Kenneth Branagh has described him as one of the silliest, quietest men he knows.
Fran Beauman is a historian, TV presenter, producer and author whose book on pineapples has made her the world authority on them. She has worked for CBBC’s – “Bring it on!”, where she has learned to scuba dive, and how to be an air hostess.
Fran fell in love with pineapples at the age of 18 while on a family holiday in Scotland, where she discovered a forty foot stone pineapple built in the 1770s. She has a tattoo of a pineapple on her lower back, lives in Spitalfields in London and Los Angeles (which makes managing her wardrobe rather difficult) and hates losing at anything. She is currently writing a social history book covering the history of the lonely hearts advertisement.
Frank Close (OBE) is currently a Professor of Physics at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of Exeter College, Oxford. He hails from Peterborough, where he was taught Latin by John Dexter, brother of Colin Dexter, the creator of Inspector Morse. Some forty years later, Close has discovered that his teaching room at Exeter College overlooks the spot where Morse met his end (“the implications of this,” says Close, “are under investigation”).
His current research deals with the quark structure of matter. He is intrigued by the possibility that there may be particles—‘glueballs’—consisting purely of glue, and has proposed that hybrids of these particles, where the glue is activated in the presence of quarks, could teach scientists about “the gluey forces that entrap the quarks”. Close continues to eagerly await confirmation that these ‘glueballs’ exist, and in the meantime, he says, he will “continue to enjoy playing squash, writing, walking and singing.”
Alan Davies is a British actor and comedian, perhaps now best known for his role as Jonathan Creek on the eponymous TV series and more recently for his longstanding role on QI. Born in Essex, he was frequently in trouble at Bancroft's school in Woodford Green and after leaving school was funded by the Enterprise Allowance Scheme which helped him to become a comedian.
He is an avid Arsenal fan and wrote a football column for the Times for two years, is a pescetarian, and regularly scuba dives, although apparently not for his dinner. He was recently married, and our very own curator, Bill Bailey, was his best man.
Kevin Day is a stand up comedian, has performed in venues all around the world and is well-known for his outspoken left-wing politics.
His mix of cynical menace and Guardian-reading liberal values have seen him become one of the nation’s most versatile comics. He once performed for Jesse Jackson and Cardinal Hume and was particularly pleased when Tony Blair asked him to cut out the politics.
Kevin admits to flirting with extreme right-wing politics when he was a teenager in the 70s in South London. It took the death of his black friend Richard Campbell in custody in 1980 to 'make the scales fall quickly from my eyes'. Day moved to the left, stayed there and, at the Edinburgh Festival in 1993, won many admirers for presenting a very public self-analysis of his past in I Was A Teenage Racist.
Ben Elton studied drama at the University of Manchester and went on to co-create and write the Young Ones, and worked with Richard Curtis and John Lloyd on the second, third and fourth series of Blackadder. He went on to create TheThin Blue Line in the mid ‘90s. He has been an extremely successful stand-up comedian and is the nephew of Historian Sir G.R. Elton, who wrote a landmark book on the Tudors. He has written a number of smash hit musicals, including We Will Rock You (the one about Queen), four West End plays, and has now written twelve extremely popular novels. Always a performer to divide opinions, he has been hailed as a “comedy legend”.
Victoria Finlay has been a journalist who has worked all over the world, a radio presenter, and is now an author who has traveled extensively to research her books on Colour and Jewels. She says that she became obsessed with colour as a girl when her father took her to see a stained glass window in Chartres cathedral and explained how we were no longer able to make a particular blue in the glass, and many years later she gave up her day job as Arts editor at the South China Morning Post to write her book Colour; Travels Through The Paint Box.
In the course of her research, she has she travelled to the underground opal churches of outback Australia and then back to interview an ex pearl fisherman in Scotland, and has crawled through Cleopatra’s long-deserted emerald mines and tried her hand at gem cutting in the Sri Lankan city where Marco Polo bartered for sapphires.
Professor Richard A Fortey is a British paleontologist and writer, formerly a Merit Researcher at the Natural History Museum in London. Fortey's interest in nature started at a young age, from digging for fossils in Wales as a teenager to joining an expedition with Cambridge University which journeyed to islands in the Arctic Ocean.
Professor Fortey’s research interests include, above all, trilobites. He has stated that he found his first one when he was 14, and the interest later turned into a career. He has named numerous trilobite species and still continues this research at the Museum and at Oxford University. He has also written dinosaur poems for children.
Alastair Fothergill is a renowned TV producer and writer who has spent over two decades making amazing wildlife and natural world documentaries for the BBC. He was educated at St Andrews University and Durham University where he studied Zoology, and joined the BBC Natural History Unit in 1983, working on The Really Wild Show, Wildlife on One, David Attenborough's The Trials of Life and ‘Reefwatch’, where he was one of the team that developed live broadcasting from beneath the sea. He was appointed head of the Unit in 1992, but in June 1998 he stood down in order to concentrate on his role as series producer of The Blue Planet.
He has traveled extensively as a consequence of his roles as producer, and has been to the deep ocean in a Russian MIR submersible, an experience few people have ever been afforded. In 2001 Alastair spent time on the Ivory Coast attempting to understand chimpanzees, following their diet and habits.
Dr John Gribbin is a prolific, award winning British science writer, astrophysicist and visiting Fellow in Astronomy at the University of Sussex, a subject he claims to “play” at. In 1974, he predicted the destruction of Los Angeles in 1982 from a massive earthquake from the “Jupiter Effect” (Jupiter aligning with the other planets). He later revoked this theory and said that he had been "too clever by half." In 1988, in an article in Nature, John was the first person to suggest that the greenhouse effect might be reduced by tipping iron filings into the oceans as "fertiliser."
He has written over 100 books and happens to quite like cricket and Buddy Holly. In 2004, he made a guest appearance on the first album by Brighton based Hip Hop group, Digitek. To get the acoustics right, he had to stand in a wardrobe.
Ronald Hutton is a Professor of History at the University of Bristol. He is a leading authority on the history of the British Isles in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, as well as on ancient and medieval paganism and magic and the global context of witchcraft beliefs and modern paganism.
He is a prolific author, whose latest work deals with the origins of modern Druidry and how the modern movement emerged in history. In 'Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft', he examines the development of Wicca and the context in which it formed, arguing for its importance as a genuine new religious movement while debunking claims of connections to longstanding hidden pagan traditions as being questionable at best. He says “I continue to be inspired by most of what I read and hear, which is why I find life so exciting and exhausting”.
Sean Lock 'fell into comedy as a happy accident' in the early 90s after 'bumming around' travelling and working including a spell as a goat-herd in France for six months (a job that was less than idyllic).
His first television appearance was in 1993, when he appeared as a supporting artist in the TV show Newman and Baddiel in Pieces. He toured with the duo as their support act, and, as a result, became the very first comedian to perform at Wembley Arena. He is a prolific writer and contributor to many TV and radio shows. He holds a Chelsea football season ticket and offers this piece of wisdom: 'A bit of advice: never read a pop-up book about giraffes.'
Sir Jonathan Miller
Sir Jonathan Miller is an art historian, comic actor and writer, doctor, film director, gallery curator, science historian, lecturer, neurologist, opera director, painter, sculptor, television presenter, television producer, theatre director, and theatre historian. He studied natural sciences and medicine at Cambridge and London, graduating in 1959, after which he worked as a doctor for two years before joining the famous group of writer-satirists in ‘Beyond The Fringe’. From 1973 he also became one of the world's leading opera directors. In the early 1980s he presented his BBC TV science documentary series The Body in Question, and in 2004 he wrote and presented a TV series called A Rough History Of Atheism. He has recently curated an exhibition on camouflage for the Imperial War Museum. Even more recently, he has successfully exhibited his own paintings and sculptures.
Rarely a man to say no, Sir Jonathan says that his reputation as a polymath rests on "being pathetically susceptible to someone knocking on my door with a frisbee in their hand saying 'Do you want to come out and play?'”.
Martha Reeves is an Anglican solitary (a modern term for hermit or anchorite/anchoress) and mystic under vows to the Archbishop of Canterbury and a Stanford educated professor of theology who spends her summers fishing in Alaska and her winters teaching in Oxford and elsewhere around the world.
Her book The Fire Of Your Life, is about the year she spent living in a tent on the Big Sur Coast in California. She says that the two remarks people often make, on learning about her life choice are: “You don’t look like a hermit.” and “What do you do in solitude?” In 1999 she came 37th in the Juneau, Golden North Salmon Derby. She has published numerous books on religion and spirituality (under the name Maggie Ross) and is not a member of any Motown soul groups.
Gary Sheffield is a Professor of War Studies at the University of Birmingham. One of his first jobs was selling video games in a department store, something that he enjoyed immensely but which has put him off them for life.
He has written many books about the First World War including specific titles on Douglas Haig and The Somme, he said about the former: “The research for Douglas Haig's War Diaries and Letters has taken me to some splendid places, including the Round Tower at Windsor Castle (to read Haig's letters to King George V), where the tea and cakes were of a very high quality.” Despite being a defender of the heroic/villainous F.M Haig’s abilities as a general in the first world war admits that Haig “might not be an ideal dinner guest".
Arthur Smith, born in Bermondsey, South London, is a writer and a self- described 'semi-professional' comedian with a notable career indeed. During the late 1980s, Smith tested items such as toilet tissue, hangover cures, and Pot Noodles on the BBC Radio 2 show Nightcap.
Smith attended the University of East Anglia, where he stood for the President of the Students’ Union on the slogan “don’t vote for me”. (He finished second of nine candidates.) He now resides in Balham, London, where he is, he says, “the Night Mayor of Balham—I don’t do days,” and once stood naked on the High Street singing the Moldovan National Anthem whilst naked after losing a bet with colleague Tony Hawks. In 2005 he turned down a lifetime achievement award from the Perrier Award organizers, saying, “basically, they wanted to tell me I was old and cool; well, I know that already, and anyway, my ego is bloated enough.”