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Great Lives
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Tuesdays at 4.30pm
Repeated on Fridays at 11pm
Great Lives - Radio 4's biographical series
Matthew ParrisMatthew Parris presents Radio 4's biographical history series.

Visit the latest series of Great Lives

Charles Darwin
  26 September 2006 

The businessman and academic, Lord Adair Turner, joins Matthew Parris to discuss the life of the great scientist, Charles Darwin. With Professor James Moore.

Nina Simone  19 September 2006

The legendry chanteuse, pianist, composer and civil rights activist Nina Simone is the choice of another female musician who’s made a career of defying convention: Joanna MacGregor. Matthew Parris presents.  

Stanley Baldwin
  12 September 2006

"It would have been much better had he never lived", was Churchill's scathing judgement of his fellow Conservative Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin. But Lord Biffen - the former Tory Minister, John Biffen - tells Matthew Parris why he believes Baldwin 's reputation deserves a rethink. With the journalist and Labour historian, Anne Perkins.

Julia Ward Howe  5 September 2006 

The American academic, Elaine Showalter, joins presenter Matthew Parris to discuss the life of the 19th century American writer, Julia Ward Howe. Best known as the author of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, Ward Howe was a feminist, a pacifist and - according to Showalter - a great lost poet. With Professor Gary Williams.

WH Auden  29 August 2006 

Broadcaster Jeremy Vine loves the poetry of WH Auden but isn't much interested in his life. Presenter Matthew Parris doesn't think a lot of the poetry but is fascinated by Auden's life. Biographer Richard Davenport-Hines thinks you need to understand the life to appreciate the work. Jeremy Vine reads one of his own poems and wonders whether Auden would have liked it. Matthew thinks it's "estimable". Richard thinks it's "sincere". They both wonder whether Auden would have fancied Jeremy. And all three examine Auden's life.

Eleanor Roosevelt  22 August 2006

Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of US president Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was born into a wealthy American family but transcended her origins to become a formidable campaigner for human rights and economic justice - both in the United States and on the world stage. Civil liberties lawyer Helena Kennedy argues that she's one of the great women of the last century, and, with the help of Roosevelt biographer, Blanche Wiesen Cook, examines her extraordinary life. Presented by Matthew Parris.

Max Miller  15 August 2006

Max Miller was one of the highest-paid and most popular comedians of the 20th century. But his risqué humour got him banned from the BBC. TV critic Garry Bushell thinks he represented the true voice of working-class humour, and with the help of Roy Hudd, who worked with Miller, examines the career of the "cheeky chappie".  Matthew Parris presents.

Leon Trotsky  8 August 2006 

A fiery return for the biographical series in which Matthew Parris chooses the living, and the living choose the dead. Christopher Hitchens proposes Leon Trotsky, hero of the Russian Revolution later assassinated with an ice pick in the skull. He sees him as the perfect combination of the man of ideas and man of action, and says Trotsky's writings still make the hairs on his neck stand up. Matthew Parris is joined by Professor Robert Service in resisting him all the way.

Robin Day  6 June 2006

News presenter Krishnan Guru-Murthy nominates his illustrious predecessor Robin Day. During the height of his career, he was regarded as Britain 's finest political interviewer - the "great inquisitor"- on television and radio. Some salute him for breaking the mould of deferential interviewing but others think he bullied his subjects and stole the limelight himself with his mannered performances. Krishnan Guru-Murthy explains why for him Day remains a hero, we hear archive evidence, and Matthew Parris chairs the programme.

WG Grace  30 May 2006

Piers Morgan, former editor of the Daily Mirror and life-long cricket enthusiast, nominates WG Grace as the greatest English cricketer and, some would say, the greatest English sportsman of all time. He seeks to persuade presenter Matthew Parris, who is himself not a fan of cricket, of the achievements of the man who elevated cricket to its unique place in English life.
Grace's biographer Simon Rae acts as umpire.

Tamara Karsavina 23 May 2006 

Writer and broadcaster Anna Raeburn nominates the ballerina Tamara Karsavina. Born in Russia in 1885 she was caught up in the October revolution and fled to England, where she lived until her death in 1978. She was the leading female dancer in Diaghilev's Ballet Russes from its beginning in 1909 until 1922, and her partnership with Nijinsky created many of the greatest ballet roles that we know. In England she coached Margot Fonteyn and created roles for Frederick Ashton. Anna Raeburn explains why Karsavina still lives for her and Matthew Parris chairs the programme, with expert contribution from Judith Mackrell.

Ignaz Semmelweis 16 May 2006

Writer and broadcaster Frances Cairncross nominates a forgotten hero of medicine: Ignaz Semmelweis. Semmelweis was a doctor ahead of his time: in the mid-nineteenth century he discovered why women were dying in droves after childbirth: doctors were spreading disease on their hands around hospitals. The solution he came up with was regular hand-washing. But his message was ignored. Women carried on dying, Semmelweis went mad, and he died in obscurity. Matthew Parris chairs the programme, and Semmelweis biographer Sherwin Nuland offers expert advice.

Johnny Weissmuller 9 May 2006

Olympic gold medallist Duncan Goodhew tells Matthew Parris why athlete-turned-actor Johnny Weissmuller deserves the mantle of greatness. Weissmuller's only son Johnny Jr joins them to explore his heroic father's disturbing childhood, his astonishing swimming talent, and his Hollywood adventures with bad-tempered chimps and ticklish tigers. 

Tarzan, My Father, by Johnny Weissmuller Jr, ECW Press

Ella Fitzgerald 2 May 2006

The singer Ella Fitzgerald is the choice of the entrepreneur Ivan Massow on this week's edition of Great Lives. He joins presenter Matthew Parris and Dame Cleo Laine to explore the contradictions in the life of the woman they called "the First Lady of Song".

Sigmund Freud 25 April 2006

Craig Brown reveals great dreams on Great Lives as he proposes Sigmund Freud. Almost seventy years after his death, the father of psychoanalysis remains a powerful and compelling character, though critics have denounced his work as "the greatest intellectual confidence trick of the last century". Matthew Parris chairs the programme, and Adam Phillips offers expert advice.

Noel Coward 18 April 2006
Julian Clary proves the perfect guest for the series in which one of the living proposes one of the dead. His hero is Sir Noel Coward, nominated here for his elegance, for his plays, and for being gay in an age when it was still illegal. Sheridan Morley reveals many of the secrets of his life, including the extent of his role in allied intelligence during the Second World War, while presenter Matthew Parris wonders how long his literary achievements will last.

Andrew Carnegie 11 April 2006 
In 1901, when Andrew Carnegie sold his steel making empire to the banker J.P Morgan for 480 million dollars, the financier congratulated him on becoming “the richest man in the World”. But  it’s not just Carnegie’s wealth that inspired this week’s guest, Daily Telegraph’s Editor-at-Large, Jeff Randall, to nominate him for ‘Great Lives’. By the time he died, Carnegie had given most of his vast fortune away.  Presenter Matthew Parris invites Jeff Randall to explore the life of an extraordinary businessman and philanthropist, with the help of Eric Homberger, Professor of American Studies at UEA.   

Morecambe and Wise
 4 April 2006 
Matthew Parris  admits that he finds Morecambe and Wise "chummy and unchallenging" and their scripts to be "rather lame". But fear not; on hand to defend the talents of the comedy duo is Penelope Keith, who has not only selected them as her "great lives" for the consistently brilliant biography series, but was also their guest star in the 1977 Christmas edition of the show, which notched up over 28 million viewers.

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Matthew Parris
Matthew Parris is a writer for The Times and The Spectator and a frequent broadcaster on television and radio. From 1977 until the 1979 General Election, he was a member of staff in Mrs Thatcher's Office.

He was elected as an MP for West Derbyshire in 1979, a seat he held until 1986 when he gave it up to become Presenter of LWT's political interview programme, Weekend World.

He has led expeditions to Mount Kilimanjaro, Peru and Bolivia as well as to Zaire and the Sahara.

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