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The great thinkers of the last 63 years - all in one place

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Andrew Caspari Andrew Caspari 17:07, Friday, 24 June 2011


montage of Reith Lecturers


Rarely if ever can BBC Radio 4’s Reith Lectures have caused such a stir as they have this year. What is more, this year the conversation has started before a word of Aung San Suu Kyi's lectures has been broadcast. (On Radio 4 at 9.00am on Tuesday 28 June.) On the Radio 4 website there will be full coverage of this year’s series but in addition we have a significant new offer. To coincide with this year’s series we have added hundreds of the lectures from the last 60 years.

You can now listen to or download more than 240 previous Reith lectures from the site. The collection includes every lecture from 1976 to 2010 and, apart from 1949 and 1950, there is at least one lecture for every year from the first in 1948. That is not all. We are building the collection of transcripts of the lectures, with only some from the late 1970s and 1980s left to add.

The archive is a journey through the great names and thinkers of the last 60 years. It includes Bertrand Russell, Robert Oppenheimer, Richard Hoggart, AH Halsey and JK Galbraith. At Radio 4 it is always slightly daunting to commission people to follow in such footsteps but in recent years the likes of Onora O’Neill and Daniel Barenboim have maintained the Reiths as one of the UK’s most significant intellectual stages. Their work is online too.

There are sadly some lectures for which we have been unable to unearth the recordings. We know occasionally listeners have their own copies. So if you have a dusty tape somewhere do get in touch.

This archive release is an important stage of the plan to give listeners much more of Radio 4 by offering archive programmes online forever. We know how much it is appreciated. The In Our Time archive is one of the BBC’s most highly rated sites. Desert Island Discs has already seen over three million programmes downloaded in two months. In addition to these headline strands, every week programmes are added to programme sites or to our collections. One of my favourites is the full set of Bookclubs from the start of the series in 1998. You can also now hear every edition of Great Lives.

We don’t intend to stop at this, so look out for more collections in the coming months. You have also told us that you want to be able to take these programmes with you wherever you go so we will gradually be making more archive programmes available as downloads and podcast feeds as we have with the Reiths and Desert Island Discs. Do comment below to let us know what you would like to hear and we will bear your requests in mind as we plan the future.

Aung San Suu Kyi's first Reith Lecture will broadcast at 9.00am BST on BBC Radio 4 on Tuesday, 28 June and will be repeated at 10.15pm BST on Saturday, 2 July. The second lecture will first broadcast at 9.00am BST on Tuesday, 5 July and will repeated at 10.15pm BST on Saturday, 9 July. During both broadcasts you will be able to join other listeners in a live blog, here on the Radio 4 Blog.

Andrew Caspari is Head of Speech Radio and Classical Music, Interactive at the BBC


  • Comment number 1.

    What a wonderful idea to have all the lectures as downloads (well, most of them), and how pleasing that a woman is speaking this year!

  • Comment number 2.

    Bertrand Russell is a bit of a hero of mine and I was looking forward to hearing the great man deliver the first Reith Lecture in 1948.

    It was therefore alarming to hear him utter a spectacular non sequitur about three minutes into lecture one. He says:

    "...ants and bees...are apparently never tempted to anti-social actions and never deviate from devotion to the nest or hive. Up to a point we may admire this unswerving devotion to public duty, but it has its drawbacks. Ants and bees do not produce great works of art or make scientific discoveries or found religions teaching that all ants are sisters."

    The implication of this is surely that ants' failure to produce great works of art is due to their living in tightly cohesive societies. Does their very modest brain power not have anything to do with it? Slugs do not make any scientific discoveries either. Can we attribute this to their producing too much slime?

    A peculiar bit of reasoning to say the least. Or am I missing the point?


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