Explore the BBC
Radio 4
Radio 4 Tickets
Radio 4 Help

About the BBC

Contact Us


BBC Radio 4 - 92 to 94 FM and 198 Long WaveListen to Digital Radio, Digital TV and OnlineListen on Digital Radio, Digital TV and Online

Go to the Listen Again page
The new series began 2 April 2004 for a 10 week run.

Radio 4's biographical series. Each week a living celebrity is invited to nominate one of their heroes, the only condition being that the hero must be dead. With the help of an expert on that person - sometimes a biographer, sometimes someone who knew them - presenter Humphrey Carpenter discusses the Great Life and assesses their importance. Often, the programme tells us as much about the celebrity as their hero.

Scroll down for programme information.
Programme 10 - Joseph Banks 04/6/2004
President of the Royal Society Lord May champions the life of a naturalist and botanist who sailed with Captain Cook on the Endeavour and "discovered" Australia, as well as collecting enough specimens to stock the Natural History Museum. Historian Patricia Fara explains what Joseph Banks did for science, whilst presenter Humphrey Carpenter referees.

Programme 9 - Benjamin Disraeli 28/5/2004
Tory MP and former Chancellor Kenneth Clarke explains to Humphrey Carpenter why he believes that Disraeli, the Victorian statesman and novelist, lived a great life. Also exploring Disraeli's colourful and flamboyant character and career is historian Jane Ridley.

Programme 8 - Anton Chekhov 21/5/2004
Sir Richard Eyre is one of Britain's greatest theatre directors and, invited by Humphrey Carpenter to nominate a 'great life', he has chosen one of the world's greatest writers. Born in provincial Russia, and dead at the age of 44 exactly a hundred years ago, Dr Chekhov was an unlikely candidate for greatness, but with a few great plays and hundreds of stories he became 'the nearest rival to Shakespeare'. Chekhov's latest biographer, Rosamund Bartlett, helps to explain how he achieved this.

Programme 7 - Edith Wharton 14/5/2004
Kimberly Fortier is a lively American writer who now works in London where she is the publisher of The Spectator. For her 'great life' she has chosen another lively American writer who moved to Europe. Edith Wharton, the author of 40 books including 'The House of Mirth' and 'The Age of Innocence', was also an intrepid traveller, a refugee-worker during the First World War and a connoisseur of architecture and design. Wharton expert Janet Beer supplies the details.

Programme 6 - Lyndon B Johnson 07/5/2004
Charles Wheeler, the veteran BBC television reporter, thinks that history has been unfair to the Texan 'fixer' who was thrust into power with the assassination of John F Kennedy and left office to the sound of demonstrators yelling 'How many kids did you kill today?'. Lyndon Johnson, he tells presenter Humphrey Carpenter, is the greatest of all the American presidents since Roosevelt. With the help of LBJ's biographer Robert Dallek, he explains why.

Programme 5 - Horatio Nelson 30/4/2004
Explorer Benedict Allen has always admired Horatio Nelson, England's greatest naval hero. When Benedict was near to death in the Amazon, he thought of Nelson - who also nearly died in Central America - and his powerful sense of duty. But Nelson's reputation is not as secure as it once was, and in France and Italy he is considered a war criminal because of a controversial episode in Naples. With the help of biographer Terry Coleman, the programme assesses Nelson's strengths and weaknesses.

Programme 4 - Tom Paine 23/4/2004
In a programme from the Oxford literary festival, radical author and activist George Monbiot champions the cause of Tom Paine, the eighteenth century writer who was at the centre of both the American and French revolutions. Why was a man who strongly influenced the American declaration of independence eventually disowned by his adopted country? Chad Goodwin, chairman of the Thomas Paine society, lends his support.

Programme 3 - Tchaikovsky 16/4/2004
In a programme from the Oxford literary festival, Tchaikovsky is the subject of this week's Great Lives, chosen by Ruth Lea, economist and head of the Centre for Policy Studies. Music critic and writer Stephen Johnson adds his expertise.

Programme 2 - Ernest Bevin 9/4/2004
Former Chancellor of the Exchequer Denis Healey examines the life of his hero, Labour's post-war Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin. How did an agricultural labourer who left school at 11 scale such political heights? The discussion is chaired by Humphrey Carpenter and Bevin biographer Professor Brian Brivati adds extra expertise

Programme 1 - Niccolo Machiavelli 2/4/2004
In the first programme of the series, Lord Alistair McAlpine, the former treasurer of the Conservative party under Margaret Thatcher, nominates Niccolo Machiavelli. Machiavelli's name has become a byword for low cunning and unprincipled scheming - but is that reputation deserved, and was Mrs Thatcher a true Machiavellian?


Find out more about our Presenter and Producers...
Picture of presenter Humphrey Carpenter.
Find out more about presenter Humphrey Carpenter.

Listen Live
Audio Help
Great Lives Home Page
Francine Stock
Presenter Francine Stock

See Also

Elsewhere on

BBC History

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites

Don't Miss

In Our Time

Melvyn Bragg

Thursday, 9.00 - 9.45am, rpt 9.30pm
Melvyn Bragg explores the history of ideas.
Listen again online or download the latest programme as an mp3 file.

News & Current Affairs | Arts & Drama | Comedy & Quizzes | Science | Religion & Ethics | History | Factual

Back to top

About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy