December 2019

Power Lines: Culture Had a blast recording at open mic poetry nights and around and about to make this programme with Yomi Sode about cultures of poetry, finding and keeping your voice. Features: Malika Booker, Nick Makoha, Kareem Parkins-Brown, Sola Browne and Bridget Minamore.

Click to listen

July 2019

This was a hard one to make. This month's episode, the final episode, considered why people behave so unreasonably: anti-vaxxers, conspiracy theorists, climate change deniers. Why do some people refuse to accept the evidence and act accordingly?

In Beyond Reason we looked at the anti-vaxxers of the nineteenth century, the highland and islanders with "second sight" and the scientists who studied them, the rise of creationism in Reagan's US and conspiracy theory from the French revolution.

Click here to listen

June 2019

Gnashing anxiously in the corner of our eye, the climate crisis deserves the When Greeks Flew Kites treatment. Consider the Walrus: What Can History Tell Us About the Climate Crisis...

Click here to listen

May 2019

Fake History and how it is used to sell ideologies and forge power...

Listen to When Greeks Flew Kites: Fake History 

April 2019

Into the World - all about travel.

Listen to When Greeks Flew Kites: Into the World 

March 2019

Shame! Shame! Shame!
Whether it's an orchestra of pots and pans at your door, a blizzard of hashtags or being bounced along on a very spiky log shame and shaming has a very long history and in this month's When Greeks Flew Kites: The Shame Game we looked at how shame is most definitely back. 

Listen here to When Greeks Flew Kites: The Shame Game

February 2019

As deadlock gripped the UK while various factions squared up and the country hurtled towards Brexit When Greeks Flew Kites looked to examples from the past of the ideas circulating about how to break the impasse. Stromg leaders and benign dictators? We heard about Cincinatus and the Caudillos of nineteenth century South America. The People's Vote or Sortition? What about the gracious giving way by Hild of Whitby?

Listen to When Greeks Flew Kites: Deadlock

January 2019

When Greeks Flew Kites: Sleep, A Third of Human History 
In this month's programme we talked about sleep and the lack of it: why the US Civil War was the most sleepless period of American history,  insomniac Victorians, "marvellous" sleepers who just won't wake, medieval monk's nocturnal emissions and the bedroom habits of the early modern period.

Listen to When Greeks Flew Kites: Sleep, A Third of Human History

December 2018

This month's When Greeks Flew Kites was Poison, the Invisible Assassin.
After a year that saw the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Salisbury, When Greeks Flew Kites focuses on how this deadly weapon leaves a trail of confusion, fear and doubt through the centuries. 

From the courts of Renaissance Europe, where rumours of poison spread like wildfire, to the new science but thorny old problem of proof in 19th and 20th-century murder trials, poison has always opened up and exposed the tensions of the society in which it is wielded. Its dark fascination has also spawned legends and myths that endure through history, such as Mithridates, the poison-proof enemy of Rome and geopolitical trouble-maker.

Click to listen. When Greeks Flew Kites: Poison, the invisible assassin

November 2018

I recently took over from Katherine Godfrey as producer on Radio 4's monthly late night history programme When Greeks Flew Kites. We use history to look at pressing modern concerns. This one was all about promises made and broken by leaders and couldn't have been more Brexity-timely.

When Greeks Flew Kites: Promises, Promises. Listen here

August 2018

One of the greatest pleasures of the year was making Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor. It was read by the brilliant Eleanor Bron who, I think, was perfect in this. What a book. What a reading. The adpatation was done by Robin Brooks and this extract contains one of my very favourite lines:

“She was a tall woman with big bones and a noble face, dark eyebrows and a neatly folded jowl. She would have made a distinguished-looking man and, sometimes, wearing evening dress, looked like some famous general in drag.” 

August 2018

Travelling in a Strange Land, by David Park, is such a moving book I was thrilled when Radio 4 decided to let me record it as a Book at Bedtime.  I love the way Richard Orr read it but I'd highly recommend reading the whole book. It made me sob. In a good way.

May and June 2018 

I produced a lovely pair of short stories for BBC NI, as part of Radio 4's Short Works Season. The first, three spins, a wednesday was by Danny Denton and was read by the marvellous Hilary Rose from The Young Offenders. The second was by Donal Ryan, a very funny and touching story, My Boy Jack read by the very lovely Matthew Baynton. As soon as I read the story I heard his voice in my head and was very happy he agreed to it.

January 2017

Wintertide is repeated at 23.30 on Radio 4 on Twelfth Night, January 6th.

Here's a clip ...

December 2017

Wintertide, for BBC Radio 4 (broadcast New Year's Eve and Twelfth Night)


I made this through 3 weeks of flu and it kept me sane. Such beautiful writing by Cynan Jones, the winner of the BBC National Short Story Prize, 2017.

It's a poetic meditation on the season and it was a rare a lovely thing that I had space and time enough to give it plenty of room to breathe. For me, the story draws on a kind of hyper sensory awareness and the way that sound shifts and alters our consciousness and builds memories and ideas.

I wanted the sounds to be sometimes real, sometimes hyper-real; sometimes a direct mimesis and sometimes made of something else, which is what the words of the story encourages. A shiver of shingle becomes a fire, becomes rain braddling a roof; the metallic gloop of a water-filled bowl echoing an ice-instrument, resonating with the idea of herring in a metal bucket.

I recorded sounds and used effects and wonderful music by Sharron Kraus, Kimmo Pohjohnen and Terje Isungset. It's read beautifully by Robert Pugh and none of this would have been possible without the help of Mike Frost at BBC Wales.


It's available on i-radioplayer for a little while and there's a clip that should stick around a little longer.

October 2017

A Choral History of Britain: Singing for Everyone, for BBC Radio 4, presented by Roderick Williams

Since singing is so good a thing
I wish all men would learn to sing

Roderick Williams explores whether Britain has lost its singing culture and, if so, how it can be recovered.

Listen to Singing for Everyone 

Have we lost our memories for the words and tunes that enabled us to sing together?

Roderick Williams is worried that the future of Britain's great choral tradition might be under threat. Father Kevin Scully and his organist Dr Christopher Maxim mourn the loss of full-throated congregational hymn. Roderick hears from Marek Korczynski how the rich singing culture of Britain was silenced by the clamour of industrialisation and how hundreds of thousands of people believe they cannot sing.

He meets Frankie Armstrong, a singing pioneer who has made it her life's work to reunite the British people with their voices; the artistic director of BVG the Indian choir of England with a love of harmony and the English choral sound and rehearses with the London Bulgarian Choir.

He meets singers from the Stroke Odysseys project and hears from Stephen Clift on why singing might promote good health. He consults the composer, William Byrd's "reasons to sing" set out in the preface to the first English songbook, published in 1588 and finds resonances with the singing for health movement today.

September 2017 

A Choral History of Britain: Singing for Solidarity, for BBC Radio 4, presented by Roderick Williams

Listen to Singing for Solidarity

Roderick Williams explores how singing together is at the heart of being human and the social bonds we make. From protest songs and football chants, to work choirs and national anthems choral singing has been used to galvanise people around ideas, emotions and causes. Roderick Williams is usually a solo singer of international renown but here seeks out the experience of singing as part of a huge chorus performing Mahler's Second Symphony in order to "feel the air vibrate" and hears from Roger Scruton about the ideological power of a choir singing in four-part harmony. He hears from singers in workplace and protest choirs as well as members of the West Bromwich Albion Away Singing Section about how singing together can emphasise common purpose and raise the emotional temperature.

September 2017

Tick Box Art, for  BBC Radio 4, presented by Rosemary Laryea

Thumbs up? Listen to Tick Box Art here

Is it possible, or desirable, to measure the quality of an artwork?
In a world of shrinking resources, the question of how we decide which art should receive finance is ever more pressing. Rosemary Laryea asks if, when putting money into good quality art is the goal, it's possible to set criteria to judge what makes "good art".
Rosemary talks to members of the public looking at - and arguing about - artwork, and discusses questions of artistic taste and judgment. She also hears from the jazz musician and rap artist Soweto Kinch, playwright Simon Stephens and filmmaker Destiny Ekaragha. Tiffany Jenkins makes the case for critics and Barry Smith, a philosopher of the senses, and the art critic Lynda Neade explore the idea of taste, subjective pleasure and expertise.
Arts Council England has trialed a method of measuring quality in the art it funds, called Quality Metrics. Audiences, artists and arts organisations are invited to assess artworks - exhibitions, dance pieces, digital art, poetry, theatre, music events and more - across a range of criteria, and become part of a conversation about what constitutes quality. Rosemary wonders whether this might be a way of finally answering the question of how we know something is good, while Dr Sarah Garfinkel shows that it might be our hearts, or rather our heartbeats, that hold the clue to understanding and mapping our aesthetic response.

November 2016

A Vision on Peckham Rye, for BBC Radio 4, presented by Levi Roots.

Listen to a clip from A Vision on Peckham Rye

 "Sauntering along the boy looks up and sees a tree filled with angels, bright angelic wings bespangling every bough, like stars"

When Levi Roots was 15, a teacher read out William Blake's The Tyger to the class. For Levi, it was a life-changing moment. The singer and entrepreneur had only just learned to read and describes the poem as exploding into his brain the way no words ever had before.
Levi returns to South East London to find out more about his favourite poet and uncover the story of Blake's supposed first vision of angels bespangling the branches of a tree on Peckham Rye at the age of "8 or 10".
Writers, poets and artists continue to draw inspiration from this idea and we hear from some of them about why Blake, and especially this story, continues to have such powerful resonance.
David Almond, explains how Blake crept into his novel Skellig and why he thinks that childhood imagination is different from that of adults. 
Listen to David Almond read The Angel 

Chris McCabe has been researching the poetic vibrations of the area across the centuries for a book about the lost poets of Nunhead Cemetery, Cenotaph South, and accompanies Levi on a quest to find Blake's tree. The filmmaker Sarah Turner recreated the angel incident for her film Public House, about the successful community takeover of a local pub. Levi, his guests, and students from Harris Girls Academy, a school that sits on the Rye take some time to look into the trees and see if they can find any traces of Blake's angels. What could those angels be and why does Blake, despite his difficulty, seem to ignite the passions of young people?
The programme includes readings by Peter Marinker, Chris McCabe, Levi Roots, Georgia Peskett, Barnaby Steed, David Almond and the students of Harris Girls Academy East Dulwich.
The choral piece, Criers of Peckham Rye, was for the film Public House by Duncan Macleod and performed by Dulwich Folk Choir and Duncan Macleod. The programme features other extracts from the film Public House made and sound designed by Sarah Turner.

August 2016

L'Origine de L'Origine du Monde for BBC Radio 4, presented by Viv Groskop.

Listen to a clip from L'Origine de L'Origine du Monde

L'Origine du Monde is perhaps the most notorious and explicit painting housed in a public museum.

Gustave Courbet's painting of a woman's genitals, torso, thighs and single breast, but no head, was painted 150 years ago. Its first owner was Khalil Bey a wealthy art collector and diplomat for the Ottoman Empire. Visitors and dinner party guests would be led to his dressing room and towards a green curtain:
"When one draws aside the veil, one remains stupefied to perceive a woman, life-size, seen from the front, moved and convulsed, remarkably executed ... providing the last word in realism".
Some visitors use their phones to get a little more snug
After Khalil Bey's art collection was sold the painting disappeared for more than a hundred years. It was said to be in the collection of a Hungarian aristocrat, looted by the Germans in the Second World War and possibly somewhere in the United States. In fact, since the 1950s, it had hung in the country house of the French psychoanalyst, Jacques Lacan, hidden behind a surrealist landscape.
When the painting was acquired by the Musée d'Orsay in Paris in 1995 as payment in lieu of taxes on the Lacan estate, visitors were a little squeamish about looking at it.
In this programme Viv Groskop, a huge admirer of the work, visits the museum to talk to visitors about their responses to the painting now.
She talks to art historians, Segolene Lemen and Lynda Nead, the performance artist Deborah Robertis whose "conversation" with the painting in 2014 caused a scandal, and Patrick Collister who has worked in advertising for more than 25 years, to find out about the painting's history, how it works on the viewer and why it remains one of the most powerfully affecting works of art.

November 2015

Simon Farnaby and I returned to the North East of England to investigate the myths and legends of Lewis Carroll for a Radio 4 arts documentary Alice in Teesside.

Listen to Alice in Teesside

Not Oxford, nor Llandudno, but Croft-on-Tees.
This is the 150th year since the publication of one of the most famous and internationally popular children's books of all time, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.
Since the book first appeared, biographers and amateur enthusiasts have pored over the stories hunting for clues and trying to find the key to unlock the secret puzzles of Wonderland and Lewis Carroll's life. The world of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass have come to be almost entirely associated with Oxford - but in this programme, Simon Farnaby, the star of Horrible Histories, uncovers Lewis Carroll's roots in the North East of England.
"Will you? Won't you? Will you? Won't you? Won't you join the dance?" Simon greets the Walrus of Mowbray Park in Sunderland before going to meet Bryan Talbot.
Like Lewis Carroll, Simon Farnaby, grew up in Croft-on-Tees in North Yorkshire and went to school in nearby Richmond. Returning to the North East, he visits the Rectory Gardens where, as a boy, he scavenged in the bushes for Lewis Carroll memorabilia and meets the people determined to claim Carroll for the North-East.
The brave Sir John Conyers and dog and dragon at Sockburn

Chris Lloyd introduces him to the Cheshire Cat and tells the story of the Jabberwocky's inspiration, The Sockburn Worm. Simon finds the grave of brave Sir John Conyers, the dragon's slayer on a lonely peninsula in the Tees. Bryan Talbot, graphic artist and author of Alice in Sunderland, makes the case for the Sunderland connection and Michael Wilcox, a relative of Lewis Carroll's Whitburn cousins, sets Simon his own puzzle to solve. Could Lewis Carroll have seen his first plays at the Georgian Theatre in Richmond?
At the Georgian Theatre in Richmond, N Yorks where Simon "gave panto" and his "Andrew Aguecheek" and where the young Charles Dodgson may have seen his first theatrical performances.

March 2015

In Search of Moderate Muslims, for BBC Radio 4

Sarfraz Manzoor asks if moderate Muslims exist and, if not, where did they go?

Sarfraz describes himself as a moderate Muslim. He says he can't get too offended by a cartoon and belongs firmly among the liberal and progressive. But he wonders if he is now something of an oddity.

Is the idea of tolerance and integration a hopeful myth and the reality something more troubling?We're often told the vast majority of Muslims in Britain are moderate - but what exactly does that mean?

Listen to In Search of Moderate Muslims

January - August 2015

A series of short programmes made for the History of Ideas series:

Future Proofing: No End of Pleasure, Whistledown Productions for BBC Radio 4

Listen to No End of Pleasure

For a new slot on Radio 4, Future Proofing, I made a programme with Colin McNulty about the future of pleasure.  We wanted to create a new format where the future can be imagined in all kinds of ways. Imagining the future seems to have gone out of fashion and our aim was to resurrect the idea of the possible and to invite the audience to join in. Not on twitter. In their imaginations.

We commissioned the writer AL Kennedy to write a short piece of fiction based on the research we gave her.  We looked at the transhumanist David Pearce's idea of re-setting your hedonic set-point so that you experience more pleasure and met Anders Sandberg a philosopher at the Future of Humanity Institute in Oxford who has what he describes as a "ridiculously high" hedonic set point which makes him the almost perfect example of what the hedonically adjusted human of the future might be like.

We took the writer Eliane Glaser to meet Professor Anil Seth at Sussex University and to experience his substitutional reality machine: using it, she went for a stroll on the South Downs and he described the possibilities for the future.

Eliane Glaser

And then there's sex of course: sex with robots, the tongue twisting teledildonics and the candid conversation of the self-confessed pleasure seeker Tim Fountain and Erica Garza, who is a recovering sex-addict.

September 2014

I made a Something Understood for Whistledown Productions for BBC Radio 4 about waiting, keeping and marking time. It's called Beating Time and was presented by Samira Ahmed who remembered her fear of her piano teacher's metronome as well as playing a Chopin waltz on her parents' piano as she waited for a boyfriend. I used the lovely voices of Hazel Holder and Emily Joyce for the readings.

Something Understood: Beating Time

June and July 2014

I was commissioned to make a series of short inserts for In Tune. They tell untold stories of music and musicians in The First World War, as part of BBC Radio 3' Music in the Great War season. Click on the caption to hear the audio or download them as podcasts.

The Story of King Albert's Book
This is an extraordinary thing: like a kind of coffee table WW1 Band Aid, it's chock full of contributions from people like Edith Wharton, Rudyard Kipling and Edward Elgar. There's a great page where Ethel Smythe offers her "March of the Women" and, underneath, Emmeline Pankhurst writes a short stirring paragraph in praise of the Belgians. There's some wonderful pictures and it's all available online here.