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This Cultural Life Podcast Profile

This Cultural Life Podcast

English, Arts, 1 season, 100 episodes, 2 days, 23 hours, 36 minutes
Candid conversations with the world’s leading cultural figures about what has fired their imagination and sparked their creativity.
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Peter Blake

The grandfather of British Pop Art, Sir Peter Blake is one of most influential and popular artists of his generation. A Royal Academician with work in the national collection, including Tate and the National Portrait Gallery, he is renowned for paintings and collages that borrow imagery from advertising, cinema and music. Having created The Beatles’ Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band sleeve in 1967 he became the go-to album designer for other musical artists including The Who, Paul Weller, Madness and Oasis. He was knighted for services to art in 2002.Sir Peter tells John Wilson how, after a working class upbringing in Dartford, Kent, he won a place at the Royal College of Art alongside fellow students Bridget Riley and Frank Auerbach. He recalls being influenced by early American pop artists including Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, and how he began making art inspired by everyday popular imagery. He chooses Dylan Thomas's 1954 radio play Under Milk Wood as a work which captivated his imagination and later inspired a series of his artworks based on the characters, and also cites Max Miller, the music hall artist known as 'the Cheeky Chappie'; as a creative influence. Sir Peter remembers how he made the iconic Sgt Pepper sleeve using waxwork dummies and life size cut-out figures depicting well-known people chosen by Peter and The Beatles themselves. Producer: Edwina PitmanArchive used: Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas, performed by Richard Burton, BBC Third Programme, 25 Jan 1954 Max Miller, introduced by Wilfred Pickles at the Festival of Variety, BBC Light Programme, 6 May 1951 Max Miller archive from Celebration, The Cheeky Chappie, BBC Radio 4, 3 July 1974 Monitor: 89: Pop Goes The Easel, BBC1, 25 March 1962 Peter Blake: Work in Progress, BBC2, 21 February 1983 Newsnight, BBC2, 7 February 1983 Ian Dury, Peter the Painter
7/4/202442 minutes, 40 seconds
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Simon McBurney

Director and actor Simon McBurney, one of the founders of the ground breaking theatre company Complicité, reveals his creative inspirations and influences. For over four decades McBurney has created innovative and experimental works, from immersive staging to the reinvention of classic texts. His works include A Disappearing Number, The Encounter and Mnemonic, a landmark production which has been recently revived at The National Theatre. Simon McBurney tells John Wilson about his childhood in Cambridge where his father, an archaeologist, helped foster an early fascination with time and memory. For This Cultural Life he chooses the 1969 Ken Loach film Kes as a formative influence, offering an insight to a childhood very different to his own middle class upbringing. He recalls seeing the band The Clash whilst at Cambridge University, an experience that had a profound impact on his own creativity and political engagement through the arts. He also chooses the writer and critic John Berger as an inspirational figure, and recalls collaborating with Berger on the immersive Artangel project The Vertical Line in 1999. Simon McBurney also describes how the experience of meeting indigenous Amazonian people inspired his 2016 Complicité show The Encounter. Producer: Edwina PitmanArchive clips from: Kes, Ken Loach, 1969 The Clash Live at Rock Against Racism, Victoria Park, 1978 The Dead Class, Tadeusz Kantor, 1976 Friday Night...Saturday Morning: Cambridge Footlights, BBC1, Nov 1979 Ways of Seeing, Episode 1, BBC2, Jan 1972 The Vertical Line, Complicité, BBC Radio 4, 1999 The Encounter, Complicité, Barbican Theatre, May 2018 Face to Face, BBC2, Oct 1995 Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, Christopher McQuarrie, 2015
6/27/202443 minutes, 21 seconds
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Salman Rushdie

One of the world’s greatest novelists, Salman Rushdie has won many prestigious international literary awards and was knighted for services to literature in 2007. He won the Booker Prize in 1981 for Midnight’s Children, a novel that was also twice voted as the best of all-time Booker winners. In 1989 Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini declared that Rushdie’s fourth novel, The Satanic Verses, was blasphemous and pronounced a death sentence against its author. For over a decade he lived in hiding with close security, a period of his life that he wrote about in the 2012 memoir Joseph Anton. His most recent book Knife details the horrific stabbing he survived in 2022.Talking to John Wilson, Salman Rushdie recalls his childhood in Bombay, and the folk tales and religious fables he grew up with. He chooses Indian independence and partition in 1947 as one of the defining moments of his creative life, a period that formed the historical backdrop to Midnight’s Children. He discusses how, having first moved to England as a schoolboy and then to New York after the fatwa, the subject of migration has recurred throughout much of his work, including The Satanic Verses. Rushdie also explains how "surrealism, fabulism and mythical storytelling” are such an influence on his work, with particular reference to his 1999 novel The Ground Beneath Her Feet which was inspired by the ancient Greek tale of Orpheus and Eurydice. As Rushdie says, "truth in art can be arrived at through many doors”.Producer: Edwina PitmanArchive used:BBC News, 12 Aug 2022 Newsnight, BBC2, 12 Aug 2022 BBC Sound archive, India: Transfer of Power, 15 August 1947 Nehru: Man of Two Worlds, BBC1, 27 Feb 1962 Midnight's Children, Book at Bedtime, BBC Radio 4, 27 August 1997 Advert, Fresh Cream Cakes, 1979 BBC News, 14 Feb 1989 The World At One, BBC Radio 4, 14 Feb 1989 BBC News, 28 May 1989 Today, BBC Radio 4, 27 April 1990 Clip from Curb Your Enthusiasm, Season 9, episode 3
6/20/202443 minutes, 29 seconds
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Judy Chicago

John Wilson's guest is the pioneering American artist, author and educator Judy Chicago. Having run the first ever feminist art course in California, she established herself as a powerful advocate of women artists in the early 1970s. She is best known for a ground-breaking installation piece called The Dinner Party, a monumental work which was made with the help of a team of ceramists and needle-workers over five years and first displayed in 1979. Now enjoying her sixth decade as an artist, Judy Chicago is regarded as a trailblazing figure in the art world.Judy recalls studying at the Art Institute of Chicago's children's classes at the age of five, and afterwards wandering around the galleries upstairs where she was particularly drawn to the Impressionists. It was here that she first decided to become an artist. As a young woman she moved to the west coast to pursue her dream. Although she found the art scene there "inhospitable" to women, she was inspired by a group of male artists including Ed Rucha, Larry Bell and Bill Al Bengton, associated with the LA-based Ferus gallery. Judy also cites discovering Christine de Pisan, the Italian-born French medieval poet at the court of King Charles VI of France, as a turning point in her own research and art practice. Like Judy herself, de Pisan had faced obstacles because of her gender and sought to challenge contemporary attitudes towards women by creating an allegorical City of Ladies. She is one of the women represented in Judy Chicago's landmark work The Dinner Party.Producer: Edwina PitmanArchive used: Omnibus: Judy Chicago's Dinner Party, BBC1, 13 January 1981 Rebel Women: The Great Art Fight Back, BBC4, 10 July 2020
6/13/202443 minutes, 17 seconds
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Neil Jordan

Oscar-winning director, screenwriter and novelist Neil Jordan made his name with the 1984 movie The Company Of Wolves, adapted from an Angela Carter short story. His 1986 film Mona Lisa earned BAFTA and Golden Globe awards for its star Bob Hoskins. Jordan scored an even bigger critical and commercial hit worldwide with The Crying Game, which had six Academy Award nominations including best screenplay which was won by Neil Jordan himself. His 20 feature films made over 40 years also include an adaptation of Ann Rice’s novel Interview With the Vampire, Irish revolutionary drama Michael Collins and The End Of The Affair, adapted from the Graham Greene novel. Neil Jordan talks to John Wilson about his upbringing in a Dublin suburb, the son of a school teacher father who encouraged an early love of storytelling. After working as a labourer, and in a Dublin theatre for a while, he met filmmaker John Boorman (Point Blank, Deliverance, The Emerald Forest) who, in 1980, was shooting his Arthurian legend film Excalibur at film studios in Ireland. Boorman invited Neil Jordan to direct a documentary about the making of Excalibur, an experience which started his filmmaking career. Jordan also chooses the 1943 Jean Genet novel Notre Dame des Fleurs - Our Lady Of The Flowers - as a formative influence on his screenwriting. He recalls the struggles to make The Crying Game and how the film’s producer Harvey Weinstein objected to the inclusion of a trans character, a supporting role for which Jaye Davidson was nominated as best actor at the 1992 Academy Awards.Producer: Edwina PitmanArchive used: Clip from A Fistful of Dollars, Sergio Leone, 1964 Clip from Excalibur, John Boorman, 1981 Clip from The Crying Game, Neil Jordan, 1992 Neil Jordan accepts his Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, 1992 Clip from The Crying Game, Neil Jordan, 1992 Clip from Michael Collins, Neil Jordan, 1996
6/6/202444 minutes, 2 seconds
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Zadie Smith

Zadie Smith grew up in north west London and studied English at Cambridge University. After a publisher’s bidding war when she was just 21, her debut novel White Teeth became a huge critical and commercial hit on publication in 2000 and won several awards including the Orange Prize, now known as the Women’s Prize for Fiction, and the Whitbread first novel award. Since then, with books including On Beauty, NW and Swing Time, Zadie Smith has established herself as one of the world’s most successful and popular living novelists, renowned for her witty dialogue and explorations of cultural identity, class and sexuality. Her most recent book The Fraud is her first historical novel. Zadie Smith talks to John Wilson about her upbringing in Willesden, North West London, with her Jamaican born mother and white English father. She chooses C S Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe as an early formative influence and remembers how its themes of danger, power and betrayal were intoxicating to her as a young reader. Zadie talks about the creative influence of her husband, the poet Nick Laird, and of the cultural impact of a trip she made to west Africa in 2007 which inspired much of her 2016 novel Swing Time. She also reflects on her role as an essayist who in recent years, has increasingly written about global political and social issues.Producer: Edwina Pitman
5/30/202443 minutes, 44 seconds
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Lily Allen

Renowned for the autobiographical candour of her lyrics, Lily Allen has sung about the pitfalls of fame, drugs, broken relationships and motherhood. She was nominated for a Grammy Award for her debut album Alright Still and after the release of It’s Not Me, It’s You in 2010 won a Brit Award and three Ivor Novello Awards, including Songwriter of the Year. In 2021 she embarked on a stage acting career starring in 2.22 A Ghost Story, for which she was nominated for an Olivier Award. More recently, with her childhood friend Miquita Oliver, she launched her BBC podcast series Miss Me.Talking to John Wilson, Lily recalls a sometimes sad and troubled childhood. Her father, the actor and comedian Keith Allen, had left the family home when she was four, and her film producer mother Alison Owen was often away working. She chooses as her first formative experiences a school concert in which she performed the song Baby Mine from the Disney movie Dumbo and captivated the audience. She recalls how the first started writing and recording her own songs, and built up a fanbase with the on-line platform MySpace. She chooses, as key musical influences the 1979 song Up The Junction by Squeeze, and the 2004 album A Grand Don’t Come For Free by Mike Skinner, otherwise known as The Streets. Lily Allen also reflects on the pressures of juggling life in the spotlight with motherhood, and how theatre acting has offered her a new creative challenge.Producer: Edwina Pitman
5/23/202443 minutes, 24 seconds
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John Adams

The work of composer and conductor John Adams blends the rhythmic vitality of Minimalism with late-Romantic orchestral harmonies. He emerged alongside Philip Glass, Steve Reich and other musical minimalists in the early 1970s, and his reputation grew with symphonic work and operas that tackle recent history including Nixon In China, the Death Of Klinghoffer and Dr Atomic. He is the winner of five Grammy Awards and the Pulitzer Prize for Music, and is one of America’s greatest and most performed living composers. Born and raised in New England, Adams learned the clarinet from his father and played in marching bands and community orchestras during his formative years. He began composing at the age of ten and heard his first orchestral pieces performed while still a teenager. He tells John Wilson about the huge influence the composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein and his televised Young People's Concerts had on him. He also reveals how jazz band leader and composer Duke Ellington influenced how he writes for the orchestra, and how Charles Dickens inspired him to embrace accessibly in his compositions.Producer: Edwina PitmanExtract from Leonard Bernstein's Young People's Concert, What Does Music Mean? CBS, 18 January 1958, © The Leonard Bernstein Office
5/16/202443 minutes, 28 seconds
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Anne Enright

Irish novelist Anne Enright is the author of seven novels, including The Gathering, winner of the Booker Prize in 2007. Her 2012 novel The Forgotten Waltz won the Andre Carnegie Medal for Fiction and her novel The Green Road won The Irish Novel of the Year in 2015, the same year that she was appointed as the inaugural Laureate for Irish Fiction. Her latest novel The Wren, The Wren has been shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2024.Anne tells John Wilson how her childhood home in the suburbs of Dublin, and holidays spent at the Pollock Holes in Kilkee inform her writing. She recalls her book-devouring household and first reading Ulysses while on a cycling holiday at the age of 14. The play Top Girls by Caryl Churchill was also a creative influence, particularly in the way Churchill wrote dialogue for women who were at the time, so underrepresented on stage. Anne also cites the influence of the writer Angela Carter, both as a writer of contemporary fiction and as her tutor and mentor at the University of East Anglia. Producer: Edwina PitmanArchive and readings used:Extract from The Gathering, read by Anne Enright Extract from The Wren, The Wren, read by Charlotte Pyke Extract from Top Girls by Caryl Churchill, BBC, 1992
5/9/202443 minutes, 20 seconds
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Sebastião Salgado

Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado is best known for his captivating black and white photographs. He has documented scenes of hardship and desperation in times of war and famine; he has explored global labour and migration; and he has captured the wonders of the natural world. Salgado has worked in more than 120 countries over the last 50 years, and is now regarded as one of the all time greats of photography. His images are in the collections of museums and galleries around the world, he won the prestigious Premium Imperiale arts prize in 2021 and was the 2024 recipient of the Sony World Photography Award for outstanding achievement.Raised on this a cattle farm in eastern Minas Gerais state, an early formative experience was leaving home for the city of Vitória in 1960. It was here, watching ships dock from all around the world, that he first felt the desire to travel. It's also where he met his wife Lélia who is his curator and editor. He began a promising career as an economist but switched to photography in the early 1970s, after he and Lélia bought their first camera on holiday. Joining the Magnum agency, the international cooperative of photographers, in 1979 allowed him to refine his craft with the help and advice of photography greats such as Robert Capa and Henri Cartier-Bresson. Salgado tells John Wilson about some of his most famous photo series, including those on the theme of manual labour which he called Workers; and Exodus, the stories of global migration. Covering the Rwandan genocide in 1994 as well as years of photographing refugees from wars, natural disasters and poverty finally took its toll on Salgado's health. He stopped photographing and returned to Brazil, where he and Lélia began reforesting his father's farm, now transformed into a National Park of lush vegetation called Instituto Terra. The success of this venture led to Salgado returning to photography, this time seeking out beauty and landscapes in series called Genesis, his love letter to the planet. Producer: Edwina Pitman
5/2/202443 minutes, 34 seconds
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Antony Gormley

For over forty years, the sculptor Sir Antony Gormley has been using his own body as the basis for his artistic work, and is known for creating cast iron human figures that stand on high streets, rooftops and beaches, as well as in museums and galleries around the world. He won the Turner Prize in 1994 and the prestigious Premium Imperiale in 2013. Antony Gormley is best known for the Angel Of The North, a monumental winged figure on a hill in Gateshead which, overlooking the motorway and a mainline railway, is one of the most viewed pieces of modern art in the world.He talks to John Wilson about his Catholic childhood and the influence that his former art teacher, the sculptor John Bunting had on him while he was at boarding school. Being taken by his father to the British Museum and seeing the colossal human-headed winged bulls, which once guarded an entrance to the citadel of the Assyrian king Sargon II (721-705 BC) captured his creative imagination. Gormley also chooses the life-changing experience of learning Vipassana meditation in India under the teacher S N Goenka, as one that has deeply informed his work.Producer: Edwina PitmanArchive: The Shock of the New : The Future That Was, BBC 2, 1980 Nightwaves, BBC Radio 3, 1994 BBC News, 1998 Five Sculptors : Antony Gormley, BBC2, 1988
4/25/202443 minutes, 18 seconds
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Sam Taylor-Johnson

As part of the so-called Britart generation of the early 1990’s, artist Sam Taylor-Wood, as she was then known, made her name with photographic and video pieces. Diagnosed with colon cancer in 1997, and then breast cancer three years later, she addressed her treatment and recovery in artworks she made at the time. She moved into filmmaking with her first feature Nowhere Boy, about the life of the young John Lennon in 2009. Other cinematic projects have included adaptations of the E L James novel 50 Shades Of Gray, the James Frey memoir A Million Little Pieces and, most recently, the Amy Winehouse biopic Back To Black.Sam tells John Wilson about the experience of first seeing the Rothko Seagram paintings at the Tate gallery when she was nine years old, and the impact that they had on her in her creative imagination. Being introduced to Andy Warhol films such as Chelsea Girls and Empire made her realise that art and cinema are deeply intertwined and went on to influence her style as a director. John Cassavetes' A Woman Under the Influence was the first film that made Sam want to be a cinematic filmmaker and she also reveals how Oscar-winning director Anthony Minghella encouraged her to make her debut short film Love You More. Producer: Edwina Pitman
4/18/202443 minutes, 24 seconds
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Antonio Pappano

Sir Antonio Pappano is one of the world’s most acclaimed conductors. He started work at the age of ten as an accompanist for his father, who worked as a singing teacher. After leading orchestras in Brussels and Oslo, Pappano was appointed as musical director of the Royal Opera House in 2002. Stepping down after 22 years leading Covent Garden, he has joined the London Symphony Orchestra as chief conductor. Antonio Pappano was knighted in 2012 and conducted the orchestra at the coronation of King Charles III in 2023. An award winning recording artist, he has conducted on over 70 live and studio albums.Antonio Pappano tells John Wilson about his upbringing in a central London council flat, the son of Italian immigrants, and his love of music from an early age. He recalls the significance of receiving his grade 5 piano examination result by post, "a lightbulb moment” in which he realised what he wanted to do with his life. He also describes his parents' grief after the death of his baby sister, which led to the Pappano family moving to Connecticut, where Antonio continued his musical tuition under a local piano teacher called Norma Verrilli and composer Arnold Franchetti. His professional career was nurtured by conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim who employed Pappano as his assistant for six years, a period in which he learned the art of conducting. He also looks back at his 22 years leading the Royal Opera at Covent Garden and talks candidly of his concerns about the funding and championing of opera in the UK.Producer: Edwina PitmanMusic and archive:Puccini, Turandot, Act 1 Ah! per l’ultima volta! Liszt, Consolations S.172 for piano no.3 in D flat major; Lento placid Monteverdi, Dolci miei sospiri Gershwin, The Man I love Prokofiev, Symphony No.1 in D Major, Op.25 for two pianos Mozart, Piano Concerto No. 20 in D Minor, K. 466 I. Allegro Wagner, Das Rheingold, Act 1, Rheingold, Rheingold! Wagner, Tristan und Isolde, WWV 90, Act 3 Scene 2 O diese Sonne! Götterdämmerung, Act 3 Siegfrieds Trauermarsch Following Pappano, BBC Radio 4, September 2017 Puccini, La_Boheme, Act 1, Che gelida manina Strauss, Ariadne auf Naxos, Opera Handel, Zadok the Priest, HWV 258 Mozart, Le Nozze di Figaro, Act 3 Sull’aria che soave zeffiretto Vaughan Williams, Fantasia_on_a_Theme_by_Thomas_Tallis Ades, Three-piece Suite from Powder Her Face - Suite No.1
4/11/202443 minutes, 23 seconds
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Michael Palin

John Wilson talks to actor, comedian, broadcaster and writer Sir Michael Palin. A founding member of the hugely influential comedy troupe Monty Python’s Flying Circus, he wrote and performed in its five television series and three feature films including The Life Of Brian. Other big screen credits include A Fish Called Wanda, Brazil, The Missionary and The Death of Stalin. Michael is also a globetrotting documentary presenter and bestselling author.Michael recalls the early influence of listening to radio comedy as a child, especially the absurdist humour of The Goon Show devised by Spike Milligan. Meeting Terry Jones at Oxford University in 1962 proved to be a life-changing event as the two soon started working on sketches together and after graduating were hired for David Frost's satirical television show The Frost Report. It was on this programme that the duo first worked with future Python members John Cleese, Graham Chapman and Eric Idle. Starring in Alan Bleasdale's 1991 ground breaking television drama GBH allowed Michael a departure from comedy but also set the bar high for future acting roles which he increasingly forwent in favour of writing and presenting documentaries, including a particular favourite about the Danish Painter Vilhelm Hammershøi.Producer: Edwina PitmanArchive :A Fish Called Wanda, Charles Crichton, 1988 Take It From Here, BBC Light Programme, 1954 The Goon Show, The Man Who Never Was, BBC Light Programme, 1958 Comic Roots, BBC1, 1983 That Was The Week That Was, BBC, 1963 The Frost Report, BBC1, 1966 Do Not Adjust Your Set, ITV, 1967 Monty Python’s Flying Circus, BBC1, 1969-1970 The Meaning of Life, Terry Jones, 1983 Friday Night, Saturday Morning, BBC2, 1979 The Life of Brian, Terry Jones, 1979 GBH, Alan Bleasdale, Channel 4, 1991 The Death of Stalin, Armando Iannucci, 2017 Michael Palin and the Mystery of Hammershøi, BBC4, 2008
4/5/202444 minutes, 4 seconds
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Michael Palin

John Wilson talks to actor, comedian, broadcaster and writer Sir Michael Palin. A founding member of the hugely influential comedy troupe Monty Python’s Flying Circus, he wrote and performed in its five television series and three feature films including The Life Of Brian. Other big screen credits include A Fish Called Wanda, Brazil, The Missionary and The Death of Stalin. Michael is also a globetrotting documentary presenter and bestselling author.Michael recalls the early influence of listening to radio comedy as a child, especially the absurdist humour of The Goon Show devised by Spike Milligan. Meeting Terry Jones at Oxford University in 1962 proved to be a life-changing event as the two soon started working on sketches together and after graduating were hired for David Frost's satirical television show The Frost Report. It was on this programme that the duo first worked with future Python members John Cleese, Graham Chapman and Eric Idle. Starring in Alan Bleasdale's 1991 ground breaking television drama GBH allowed Michael a departure from comedy but also set the bar high for future acting roles which he increasingly forwent in favour of writing and presenting documentaries, including a particular favourite about the Danish Painter Vilhelm Hammershøi.Producer: Edwina Pitman
4/4/202444 minutes, 4 seconds
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Yorgos Lanthimos

Filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos first emerged as part the so-called ‘weird wave’ of Greek cinema, and is known for unsettling themes and absurdist humour of his films. He made his mark internationally in 2009 with Dogtooth, which won a Cannes film festival prize and was nominated for an Oscar. Shifting into English language cinema with The Lobster, starring Colin Farrell and Olivia Colman, he continued to win awards and acclaim with The Killing Of A Sacred Deer and his historical comedy drama The Favourite. His most recent film Poor Things, starring Emma Stone, has been nominated for eleven Academy awards, including best film and best director.Yorgos Lanthimos tells John Wilson about his upbringing in Athens, the son of a professional basketball player who was part of the Greek national team, and how, after graduating from film school, he began making commercials and pop videos. He reveals why the work of the American photographer Diane Arbus, renowned for the underlying psychological tension of her portraits, was a major inspiration on the mood of his films. He also cites the influences of the German choreographer Pina Bausch on visual elements in his films, including dance routines seen in The Favourite and Poor Things. The plays of the British writer Sarah Kane, including Blasted and Crave, were also influential on the tone of his darkly humorous films. Producer: Edwina PitmanDiane Arbus' quote is from the documentary film Going Where I've Never Been: The Photography of Diane Arbus (1972), voiced by Mariclare Costello.
2/10/202444 minutes, 25 seconds
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Juliette Binoche

French actor Juliette Binoche is known for her portrayal of emotionally complex characters. Over a forty year career, her films have included Three Colours Blue, Les Amants de Pont Neuf, Chocolat, and The English Patient, for which she won her Academy Award. Her most recent film is The Taste of Things, a French drama about a cook and the gourmet she works for, in which she stars opposite Benoît Magimel.Juliette Binoche talks to John Wilson about an early moment of revelation, watching Peter Brookes' production of Alfred Jarry's play Ubu Roi at in Paris in 1977, which first made her realise she wanted to act. She explains the influence of her acting coach Véra Gregh, who helped her to understand the difference between "acting" and "being". She also recalls her experiences working with some of the most acclaimed film directors; Jean-Luc Godard on Hail Mary; Leos Carax on Les Amants du Pont-Neuf; Krzysztof Kieślowski on Three Colours: Blue; and Anthony Minghella on The English Patient.Producer: Edwina Pitman
2/3/202444 minutes, 7 seconds
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Frank Auerbach

A rare interview with Frank Auerbach, one of the world’s greatest living painters. At 92 years old, he has been painting for over 70 years and still works every day. A child refugee from Nazi Germany whose parents were killed in Auschwitz, he made his name alongside his friends and fellow painters Francis Bacon, Lucien Freud and Leon Kossoff in the 1950s. He’s well known for the thick layers of the paint used to create his portraits and images of the streets around the studio in Camden Town where he has worked since 1954.Frank Auerbach talks to John Wilson about his fragmentary memories of his early childhood in pre-war Berlin and his education at the boarding school Bunce Court in Kent, where he arrived aged 7. He recalls the huge impression that a black and white reproduction in a children's encyclopaedia of Turner's The Fighting Temeraire made on him as a boy, making him want to "do better and be less superficial". Auerbach also discusses the influence on him of the artist David Bomberg who taught him at London's Borough Polytechnic, and his friend and fellow student Leon Kossoff. He also talks about his friendships with Francis Bacon and Lucien Freud and why he still paints and draws in his studio seven days a week.Producer: Edwina Pitman
1/27/202444 minutes, 16 seconds
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Boy George

Born George O'Dowd, Boy George shot to pop stardom in 1982 as frontman with the band Culture Club and later as a solo artist. With his soulful vocals and flamboyant, androgynous looks, he became a massive star around the world with hits such as Do You Really Want to Hurt Me? and Karma Chameleon. His personal struggles with drug addiction and a prison sentence in 2009 meant he was rarely far from tabloid headlines. In recent years he’s been a judge on The Voice, survived the jungle in I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here, and has just published a new memoir called Karma. He continues to record and perform as a prolific solo singer songwriter. George discusses the impact that David Bowie had on him as a teenager and recalls seeing him at the Lewisham Odeon during the Ziggy Stardust tour of 1973. He also talks about the important influence of club promoter Philip Sallon who introduced him to London's gay scene in the late 1970s. Meeting Quentin Crisp in New York with Andy Warhol was also a formative cultural moment. George talks to John Wilson candidly about coping with fame and rebuilding his life after addiction and prison. Producer: Edwina Pitman
1/20/202444 minutes, 15 seconds
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Patricia Cornwell

Patricia Cornwell’s books have sold over 120 million copies in thirty-six languages in over 120 countries. She’s authored dozens of New York Times bestsellers. For over thirty years her protagonist, the forensic scientist Kay Scarpetta has been investigating murders across America, tracking down criminals by analysing evidence left on the bodies of victims. Cornwell has won the Sherlock Award, the Gold Dagger Award, the RBA Thriller Award, and the Medal of Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters for her contributions to literary and artistic development. She's also authored two books on the identity of Jack the Ripper. Her latest Kay Scarpetta novel is Unnatural Death.Patricia talks to John Wilson about her challenging childhood and upbringing in North Carolina. She reveals the influence of two works of literature on her own writing; Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe, an ancestor of Cornwell's; and William Golding's Lord of the Flies. She also talks about her interest in the Parthenon Sculptures and her fascination with the identity of Jack the Ripper.Producer: Edwina Pitman
1/13/202444 minutes, 15 seconds
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Andrew Scott

Andrew Scott won a BAFTA as the evil Moriarty in Sherlock, but is equally loved for a divine television role as the hot priest in Fleabag. A prolific and versatile stage actor, he has starred in many plays by contemporary dramatists, including Port and Birdland by Simon Stevens. He played Hamlet to great critical acclaim and won an Olivier award for his starring role in Noel Coward’s Present Laughter. His latest film role is All Of Us Strangers, in which he plays a single gay man haunted by the death of his parents. Andrew Scott talks to John Wilson about his suburban Dublin childhood and the early creative influence of his mother, an art teacher. After landing a debut role in an independent Irish film called Korea, Andrew gave up a university place studying drama to pursue an acting career. He remembers small parts playing American soldiers in Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan and the television series Band Of Brothers. He discusses his love of Shakespeare and his approach to playing the role of Hamlet at the Almeida Theatre in London in 2017, and reveals how the music of Pet Shop Boys, and in particular their 1987 album Actually, are a reminder of a formative time of his life.Producer: Edwina Pitman
1/6/202444 minutes, 13 seconds
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Nigel Kennedy

John Wilson's guest is the violinist Nigel Kennedy. A prodigy whose childhood talents were nurtured by Yehudi Menuhin, one of the greatest violinist of the 20th century, Kennedy himself became an international star in 1989 with his recording of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. It sold over three million copies, topping the UK classical charts for a year and went on to be listed as the biggest selling classical album of all time in the Guinness Book Of Records. An unconventional classical musician from the outset, it wasn’t just his wardrobe, accent and attitude that set him apart. As well as recording all the major violin concertos, his repertoire includes jazz standards, folk tunes and Jimi Hendrix. He remains one of the world’s greatest virtuosos. For This Cultural Life, Nigel chooses his two violinist mentors; Yehudi Menuhin and the French musician Stéphane Grappelli with whom he shared a love of jazz and improvisation. Going to New York to study at the prestigious Juilliard School also proved a turning point for Kennedy, not so much for the teaching he received there, but for the legendary jazz musicians like Jimmy Rowles and Ellis Larkins that he sought out in clubs downtown and in Harlem. Nigel also discusses how being a fan of Aston Villa football club has made him think about crowd dynamics in his concerts and reveals the influence of his dog Huxley on his approach to his career. Producer: Edwina Pitman
12/30/202344 minutes, 31 seconds
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Have You Heard George's Podcast?: Drama in Ghana Pt. 1

Too many people don’t know that Ghana was the first African country to break free from colonial rule. Why does that matter? How could it not? Control of Africa’s resources keeps the rich world rich. What would happen if Ghana’s example set off an anti-colonial cascade across the continent? George revisits the country’s freedom struggle through the rise of Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s first president. Written by George the Poet. Produced by Benbrick and George the Poet. Original music by Benbrick, performed by the BBC Concert Orchestra. Sound Design by Benbrick.
11/25/202324 minutes, 11 seconds
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Judi Dench

Dame Judi Dench reflects on her career playing Shakespearean roles on stage and screen across seven decades. Judi Dench has spent her career bringing to life a hugely diverse array of characters. But she is, first and foremost, one of the greatest classical actors of our times. Her love of the work of William Shakespeare and the insight she has gained into his plays over the course of her career is explored in her new book The Man Who Pays The Rent, written with actor and director Brendan O'Hea. In a special edition of This Cultural Life to mark the 400th anniversary of the publication of the First Folio in a BBC season of programmes celebrating Shakespeare, Dame Judi talks to John Wilson at her home in Surrey. With intimate insights into her relationship with the work of William Shakespeare, she recalls her pivotal experiences and influences that helped steer her career as one of Britain’s greatest classical actors. After seeing her older brother act in a school production of Macbeth, she knew Shakespeare was for her. She remembers her very first professional stage role, playing Ophelia in an Old Vic production of Hamlet in 1957. Despite bad reviews and losing the role when the production went on tour, she was undeterred. Joining the RSC, she worked her way through many of Shakespeare's plays, including a landmark production of Macbeth in 1976, directed by Trevor Nunn. Dame Judi recalls her Olivier award-winning performance of Lady Macbeth opposite Ian McKellen, and her later role of Cleopatra opposite Anthony Hopkins in 1987 at the National Theatre. Remembering her last stage appearance in a Shakespeare play, she discusses her dual roles of Paulina and Time in A Winter’s Tale, and how her degenerative eyesight condition affected her performance. Producer: Edwina Pitman
11/4/202342 minutes, 58 seconds
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Werner Herzog

Werner Herzog is one of the most idiosyncratic, original and prolific filmmakers of modern times, having made nearly 80 films over six decades. His features include Fitzcarraldo, Aguirre Wrath of God and Rescue Dawn, and his documentaries include the multi award-winning Grizzly Man, Cave Of Forgotten Dreams and Into the Abyss. Werner Herzog productions are the stuff of cinema legend, with stories of audacious shoots in inaccessible locations. He’s also written several books, including a newly published memoir called Every Man For Himself And God Against All. Speaking to John Wilson from Los Angeles where he lives, Werner Herzog recalls his impoverished childhood in a remote Bavarian valley at the end of the Second World War. He says that, as a teenager, his discovery of a book about the Lascaux cave paintings was ‘like a bolt of lightning’ to his creative imagination, and led to him making a documentary film about prehistoric cave art many years later. He describes how his films often start with a vivid or unusual image, and how he seeks to capture a sense of awe at the power of the natural world. Werner Herzog discusses the extremely arduous and dangerous conditions in which he made some of his best known films, including Fitzcarraldo and four other films starring the temperamentally volatile lead actor Klaus Kinski. Known for his deadpan, Bavarian-accented narration of his own documentary films, Herzog also reflects on how his distinctive voice has led to him being cast in menacing roles in Hollywood films, including Jack Reacher alongside Tom Cruise, and even a cameo in The Simpsons. Producer: Edwina Pitman
10/28/202343 minutes, 53 seconds
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Bernie Taupin

Lyricist Bernie Taupin is one half of one of the most successful songwriting partnerships of all time. For more than 50 years, he has written the lyrics for Elton John’s songs including Tiny Dancer, Candle In The Wind, Rocket Man, Your Song and hundreds more. Having first met in 1967, after they both answered an advert in the NME placed by a record company seeking new musical talent, Elton John and Bernie Taupin have sold more than 300 million albums globally. Born in Lincolnshire, Bernie Taupin has lived in States since the mid 1970s and became an American citizen in 1990. With the publication of a memoir called Scattershot, he made a rare visit to the UK to look back at his life in lyrics. For This Cultural Life, Bernie Taupin discusses his childhood fascination with narrative poetry and storytelling. Hearing the songs of 1950s American country singer Marty Robbins, which told stories of cowboys and outlaws, was a life changing experience for Taupin. He recalls the impact of seeing the Sam Peckinpah western movie The Wild Bunch in 1969, a film renowned for its violent portrayal of 19th century cowboy life, and how it influenced the themes explored in the lyrics of the third Elton John album, Tumbleweed Connection, in 1970. Bernie Taupin also explores the impact of literature on his lyric writing and how flawed protagonists in novels by W. Somerset Maugham and Graham Greene in particular helped inspire the characters and stories in his own songs. He tells John Wilson about the duo's unusual songwriting process in which he sends Elton John completed lyrics, who then composes the songs around the words, a method that they have used throughout their long partnership. Producer: Edwina Pitman
10/21/202344 minutes, 45 seconds
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George the Poet

Born George Mpanga, George the Poet is a British spoken-word artist and podcast host. Having started out as a rapper, he made his name as a spoken-word performance poet after leaving Cambridge University. His debut collection Search Party was published in 2015. The same year he was nominated for the Brits Critics Choice Award and the BBC Sound Of 2015 poll. He was also offered an MBE but declined the honour. He launched a genre-defying podcast in 2019, which won a host of prizes including the Peabody Award, a prestigious American prize for broadcasting, becoming the first podcast from outside the States to win it. Have You Heard George’s podcast, as it’s called, interweaves stories of his own upbringing with detailed explorations of contemporary social and political issues. George talks to John Wilson about some of his most formative cultural influences including the grammar school that taught him the essay-writing skills he still puts to use when making his podcast. He reveals how Tupac Shakur’s 1998 song Changes ignited his interest in hip hop, and discusses the impact of rap and grime on his own verse. He also remembers how his local community radio station gave him his first break and encouraged the development as a performer. Producer: Edwina Pitman
10/14/202344 minutes, 39 seconds
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Matthew Bourne

One of the world’s most successful living choreographers, Sir Matthew Bourne shook up classical ballet in the mid 1990s with his ground-breaking company Adventures In Motion Pictures. His breakthrough production, a radical new version The Nutcracker, was followed by an all-male Swan Lake that, after initial controversy in the press, became a massive critical and commercial hit. Since then he’s continued to popularise classical dance with a succession of innovative productions, often drawing inspiration from movies or literature. He’s had hits with the Red Shoes, Edward Scissorhands, Dorian Gray and Lord Of the Flies, and has won Olivier and Tony Awards. Matthew Bourne was knighted in 2016 for services to dance. In This Cultural Life he talks about how his love of classic films musicals started with seeing The Sound of Music as a young boy, and falling in love with Julie Andrews. He recalls his teenage years as one of London’s top autograph hunters meeting the likes of Gene Kelly, Charlie Chaplin and his hero Fred Astaire. He also explains how he was a relative latecomer to ballet and only saw his first ballet - a Sadler's Wells production of Swan Lake - at the age of 18. Matthew Bourne also chooses Powell and Pressburger’s 1948 film The Red Shoes as one of his formative influences. Producer: Edwina Pitman
10/7/202344 minutes, 17 seconds
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Lucy Prebble

Renowned for tackling big themes on stage, Lucy Prebble made her name as a playwright in her mid-twenties when she wrote the hugely successful Enron. The play, which premiered in 2009 and explored the collapse of the American energy corporation eight years earlier, transferred to the West End and also played on Broadway. In 2019 she premiered A Very Expensive Poison which dramatized the assassination in London of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko. Lucy Prebble has also written for television, she devised and wrote the black comedy series I Hate Suzie with its star Billie Piper. She was also one of the writers of the Emmy, Golden Globes and BAFTA winning Succession, about the ageing media mogul deciding if and how to hand control of his corporate empire to his children. In conversation with John Wilson, Lucy recalls how an early job as an assistant to Nicholas Hytner in his first year as Director of the National Theatre helped her to begin her career as a writer. She reveals how Billy Bragg's song Waiting For The Great Leap Forwards is a continued inspiration in her work as a playwright and the influence that Bob Fosse’s 1979 film All That Jazz had on her TV series I Hate Suzie. She also discusses being part of the team that wrote the hit TV series Succession and what effect the experience has had on her and her work. Producer: Edwina Pitman
9/30/202344 minutes, 40 seconds
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Michael Rosen

Author, poet and performer Michael Rosen is one of Britain’s best loved and most prolific children’s writers, having published hundreds of books over nearly fifty years, including his much-loved We’re Going On Bear Hunt, the story of an exciting family outing, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury. As a broadcaster he is well known to Radio 4 listeners as the host of Word of Mouth. He was appointed as Children’s Laureate in 2007 and was awarded the PEN Pinter Prize in 2023, the citation noting his “ability to address the most serious matters of life in a spirit of joy, humour and hope”. In conversation with John Wilson, Michael recalls the early influence of his parents, who were both active members of the British Communist Party, and the many books that lined the walls of the Rosen family home. He chooses, as a key cultural inspiration, a reproduction of a 16th century painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder called Netherlandish Proverbs. Depicting ordinary people in various comic situations which represented well-known proverbs of the day, it captured the imagination of young Michael and his friends. He reveals how he started writing his own poetry in response to works by Gerald Manley Hopkins and DH Laurence whilst at school, and remembers how We’re Going On A Bear Hunt was inspired by various folk tales from around the world. Michael also discusses the impact on his work of the death of his son Eddie at the age of 18 in 1999, and in discovering more about the fate of Jewish family members during the Holocaust. Producer: Edwina Pitman
9/23/202344 minutes
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Angélique Kidjo

Angélique Kidjo, often described as "the queen of African music", has recorded fifteen albums, worked with a diverse array of musical collaborators from Burna Boy and Alcia Keys to Philip Glass and Peter Gabriel, and won five Grammy Awards. In 2023 she was the recipient of the Polar Prize, regarded as one of the world’s prestigious musical awards. Born under French colonial rule in 1960 in Dahomey, Angelique first started singing professionally as a teenager. Amid violent political upheavals in the 1980s, she fled her country, which had been renamed Benin, and became an exile in Paris. It was there that she was discovered by legendary Island Record boss Chris Blackwell, who signed her to his label and launched her three decade career. Angélique Kidjo tells John Wilson about the early influence of her mother who ran a musical theatre company in her hometown, and encouraged her to first take to the stage at the age of six. Becoming a professional singer in her teens, she recalls how she was inspired by African musicians including Fela Kuti, Miriam Makeba and Hugh Masekela. She chooses the American composer Philip Glass as another huge influence, having worked with him on Symphony 12, Glass’s reinterpretation of David Bowie’s Lodger album. Angélique also discusses her work with David Byrne and why she choose to record her own version of Remain In Light, the 1980 album by Byrne’s band Talking Heads. Producer: Edwina Pitman
9/16/202343 minutes, 55 seconds
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Edmund de Waal

One of the world’s most acclaimed ceramicists, Edmund de Waal is renowned for simple, hand-made porcelain pots and bowls which are usually displayed in meticulously arranged groups. His work has been shown in museums and galleries including the V&A, the British Museum, the Frick in New York, and at the Venice Biennale. In 2010 Edmund de Waal became widely known as a bestselling author, after the publication of his family memoir The Hare With Amber Eyes which retraced his Jewish European heritage. A dramatic and tragic story about art, exile and survival, it led him on a journey from Tokyo to Odessa via 19th century Paris and Nazi occupied Vienna. On This Cultural Life, Edmund de Waal tells John Wilson about being taken to a pottery class at the age of five by his father, an Anglican cleric who worked at Lincoln Cathedral. He immediately fell in love with the process of moulding wet clay into vessels and was determined to become a potter. After leaving school he spent five months in Japan studying the ancient traditions of pottery with various master ceramicists. He remembers how a visit to the Ryoan-ji Temple in Kyoto had a huge impact on his understanding of space, contemplation and spirituality. During his first visit to Japan he also met his great uncle Ignatius Ephrussi from whom Edmund first learned about his European Jewish heritage, his family’s exile from Vienna in the face of Nazi terror, and the collection of small Japanese figurines, known as netsuke, whose story was told in The Hare With Amber Eyes. Edmund chooses the ceramicist Lucie Rie, another Viennese exile in London, as a major influence on his practise. He describes his working routine in the ceramics studio, and how his pots are often made in response to poetry, citing the work of Romanian-born Paul Celan an American poet Emily Dickinson as particular influences. Producer: Edwina Pitman
9/9/202343 minutes, 33 seconds
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Leïla Slimani

French Moroccan author Leïla Slimani won critical acclaim and a reputation as an author of bold & brutal fiction with her first two novels. Adele is about a bourgeoise Parisian wife and mother who lives a sexually promiscuous secret life. In Lullaby, a nanny kills the children she’s employed to care for, a story currently being adapted as a drama series starring Nicole Kidman. Leïla has also written the first two in a planned trilogy of novels based on her own family history, and has published short stories and non-fiction. She has won France’s most prestigious literary award the Prix Goncourt, and in 2017 she was appointed as President Macron’s personal representative to Francophone countries. For This Cultural Life, Leïla Slimani tells John Wilson about her childhood in Rabat, the daughter of a prominent Moroccan economist and politician. She reveals how she was motivated to write novels after the death of her father who had been convicted of financial fraud and imprisoned, but who was posthumously cleared of any wrongdoing. She chooses her French-born maternal grandmother, who told stories to Leïla , as a formative influence on her creative imagination from a young age. Having covered the Arab Spring uprisings in Morocco and Tunisia as a journalist for Jeune Afrique magazine, Leïla discusses how news stories have inspired much of her work. Producer: Edwina Pitman
9/2/202343 minutes, 49 seconds
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Melvyn Bragg

Writer and broadcaster Melvyn Bragg is a prolific and bestselling author, having written 22 novels, many set in the Cumbrian communities in which he grew up. He has also written 18 works of historical non-fiction and biographies. As host and editor of ITV’s South Bank Show for nearly 35 years, presenter dozens of documentaries, and Radio 4 series including Start The Week and In Our Time he is synonymous with arts broadcasting in the UK. He was ennobled in 1998, taking his seat in the House of Lords as Baron Bragg of Wigton in Cumbria. In conversation with John Wilson, Melvyn Bragg recalls his working class childhood and how the local library offered him access to literature at a young age. A voracious reader and talented student, Melvyn was inspired by two teachers at his grammar school, and won a scholarship to Oxford University. It was there that he met his first wife Lisa Roche, who he chooses as a major influence having encouraged Melvyn to pursue his creativity. He discusses the grief and depression he suffered after Lisa’s suicide ten years into their marriage. Winning a place on a BBC production trainee scheme in 1961 was another major turning point in his cultural life, working alongside writers including Irish poet Louis MacNeice at the very start of his six decade career in arts broadcasting. Producer: Edwina Pitman
8/26/202343 minutes, 27 seconds
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Sally Potter

Sally Potter is a ground-breaking film-maker, best known for her bold 1992 adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s novel Orlando. Starring Tilda Swinton, it was nominated for two Academy Awards and won more than 25 international film prizes. With her 1983 debut feature The Gold Diggers, which starred Julie Christie, Sally Potter led an all-female cast and crew, establishing herself as a trailblazing figure within independent cinema. She is renowned for her radical and experimental approach to film-making. Her 2004 love story Yes was scripted entirely in iambic pentameter; Rage in 2009, set backstage at a fashion show and starring Jude Law, Steve Buscemi and Judi Dench, became the world’s first movie to premier directly on mobile phones. A multitasking filmmaker, Sally Potter’s screen credits also include actor, editor, choreographer and composer. She has written and directed nine feature films including The Party and The Roads Not Taken. Sally Potter tells John Wilson about her upbringing in a liberal, creative household in London. She recalls how she was given a 8mm cine camera by the artist Sandy Daley when she was 14, the start of her fascination with film-making. After learning more about the craft of cinematography, processing and editing film at the London Film Cooperative, she studied dance and choreography at The Place, an experience that later inspired her 1997 film the Tango Lesson. Having recently released an album of songs, she talks about the creative impulse that inspired them. She also discusses reading Virginia Woolf’s Orlando and the struggle to make her screen adaptation in the face of warnings from film producers that the book was ‘unfilmable’. Producer: Edwina Pitman
8/19/202344 minutes, 4 seconds
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Stephen Fry

Actor, writer, comedian and broadcaster Stephen Fry first made his name as a comic performer as a Cambridge University undergraduate with the Footlights company. He went on to forge a television partnership with his university friend Hugh Laurie on the sketch show A Bit Of Fry and Laurie and later the comic drama series Jeeves and Wooster, adapted from the PG Wodehouse stories. Among many stage and screen roles, Stephen Fry starred as Oscar Wilde in the 1997 film Wilde, for which he was nominated for a Golden Globe. He received a Tony Award nomination for playing Malvolio in Twelfth Night on Broadway, and was Lord Melchett over several generations of Blackadder. He’s written five novels and three volumes of autobiography, and has presented numerous documentaries. A familiar face on British television screens, he has hosted award ceremonies and panel shows including the long-running quiz series QI. For This Cultural Life, Stephen tells John Wilson about how he first read the Wodehouse story Very Good, Jeeves when he was 10 years old and was spellbound by the comic language. He says that seeing a film adaptation of the Oscar Wilde play The Importance Of Being Earnest led him to read all of Wilde's works, beginning a lifelong obsession with the playwright. He reveals how being an avid fan of Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes novels led to his expulsion from school. He also chooses E.M. Forster's 1910 novel Howard's End as a huge influence, with its central theme of 'only connect' helping him make sense of his own emotional turbulence and intellectual ambitions. He also talks about spending time in prison on remand for credit card fraud, and being diagnosed as bi-polar after prolonged struggles with his mental health. Producer: Edwina Pitman
8/12/202343 minutes, 56 seconds
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Ian McEwan

Ian McEwan made his name in the 1970s with short stories and slim novels that explored the darker aspects of human nature. He won the Booker Prize in 1998 with his novel Amsterdam, and its follow up Atonement, was adapted as a film and nominated for several Academy Awards. McEwan primarily writes psychological dramas about relationships, but often within a global context of issues including climate change, the Iraq War and A.I. His most recent novel Lessons is his most directly autobiographical, drawing on aspects of his childhood and travels as a young man. In conversation with John Wilson, the author recalls early memories of Libya, where his Army officer father was posted during the Suez Crisis of 1952. He says he first realised the power of poetry, especially that of Wordsworth and TS Eliot, through an English teacher at the state-funded boarding school he attended in Suffolk. He chooses, as one of his formative experiences, meeting the novelist Martin Amis and joumalist Christopher Hitchens, both of whom became lifelong friends. Other major turning points were witnessing the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, as he researched a book about the Cold War, and time spent in an operating theatre watching neurosurgeon Neil Kitchen in preparation for his 2005 novel Saturday whose protagonist is a leading brain surgeon. Producer: Edwina Pitman
6/17/202343 minutes, 30 seconds
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Jeremy Deller

Winner of the Turner Prize in 2004 and Britain’s official representative at the 2013 Venice Biennale, Jeremy Deller is an unconventional artist whose work is as likely to be seen in streets or fields as in museums and galleries. In his work The Battle of Orgreave he restaged a modern civil conflict; a clash between striking miners and police officers. He persuaded a traditional brass band to play Acid House tunes in his work Acid Brass. Perhaps most memorably, on the centenary of the first day of the Battle of they Somme he conjured ghostly platoons of young soldiers all around the UK in his work We’re Here because We’re Here. Jeremy talks to John Wilson about some of his most formative creative influences. Seeing The Who's rock musical film Tommy as a teenager was an unforgettable experience that revealed to him the power of imaginative vision. A chance encounter with one of his artist heroes Francis Bacon strengthened his interest in art history, and time spent with Andy Warhol in New York encouraged him to think of art as multi-dimensional and unlimited. He also recounts how P J Harvey's album Let England Shake and the play Jerusalem by Jez Butterworth crystallised ideas he was forming about notions of Englishness which he used in both his work at the British pavilion at the 2013 Venice Biennale, and his work to mark the anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. Producer: Edwina Pitman
6/10/202344 minutes, 3 seconds
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Errollyn Wallen

Errollyn Wallen is one of Britain's most acclaimed and widely performed contemporary composers. Born in Belize and brought up in north London, she was first ever woman to win a Ivor Novello Award for a body of work, and the first ever black woman to have a composition played at the BBC Proms. Errollyn has written 22 operas, as well as orchestral, chamber and choral works which are performed around the world. She was commissioned to write pieces to commemorate the Queen’s Golden and Diamond jubilees, and for the opening of the 2012 London Paralympic Games. She lives and works in a lighthouse in the far north of Scotland. Errollyn tells John Wilson how, after to moving to London from Belize with her parents at a young age, she was brought up by an aunt and uncle in Tottenham. An early love of ballet led her to discover the music of Chopin, and she started to learn the piano at home. She describes the huge influence of Bach on her compositions, but also how her work is influenced by a wide range of music, from avant garde composers to jazz and funk. Producer: Edwina Pitman
6/3/202343 minutes, 37 seconds
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Nicole Farhi

John Wilson talks to fashion designer and sculptor Nicole Farhi. Born in the south of France, she designed for various labels before teaming up with Stephen Marks in the early 1970s to establish French Connection as a worldwide clothing brand. She launched her own label Nicole Farhi in 1982 and was one of the biggest names in UK fashion for three decades. Nicole started studying sculpture whilst still in the fashion world, and staged her first solo exhibition in 2014. She has been married to the playwright David Hare since 1992. Nicole recalls the influence of her glamourous and well-dressed aunt Visa who sparked Nicole's early interest in fashion by taking her to the Parisian couture shows. Meeting her partner Stephen Marks proved to be a major turning point and they went on to found two successful fashion labels together. But alongside her life as a designer, Nicole also had a passion for sculpture which had been ignited seeing the work of Giacometti at the Fondation Maeght in the south of France. Her own work in clay was encouraged by the Pop Art pioneer, sculptor and printmaker Sir Eduardo Paolozzi, who became her friend and mentor. Producer: Edwina Pitman
5/27/202345 minutes, 2 seconds
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Nick Cave

Nick Cave, the Australian born singer-songwriter and author, reveals the formative influences and experiences that have inspired his own creativity. With his band The Bad Seeds, Cave is renowned for the darkness and drama of his narrative based work. His lyrics are often populated by flawed people doing bad things, but seeking redemption in love or God, or both. His musical output is diverse, ranging from rock’n’roll, to piano-based love songs. The tragic death of his 15 year old son Arthur in 2015 has informed recent work, with songs about devastating loss, grief and love explored throughout the albums Ghosteen and Carnage. Nick Cave has also written novels, poetry, a screenplay, and has recently published Faith, Hope and Carnage - a book exploring his ideas about creativity and belief. Nick Cave talks to John Wilson about the influences of his father, an English teacher, and his mother, a school librarian, in encouraging his love of literature from a young age. He recalls seeing The Johnny Cash Show on television at the age of 10 and being spellbound by the country music star, with whom he later worked. He also remembers the life-changing effect of hearing Leonard Cohen’s Songs Of Life and Death album for the first time, and the profound influence the Canadian poet and songwriter had own his own lyrics. He reveals that fellow Australian Barry Humphries was another artist who inspired his own work, having seen a Dame Edna Everage show in Melbourne in the early 1970s. Nick Cave also discusses the impact that the death of his son had on his life, work and marriage. Producer: Edwina Pitman
5/20/202344 minutes
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Gilbert & George

An inseparable duo for over 55 years, Gilbert Prousch and George Passmore are the artistic couple known as Gilbert & George. Always formally dressed in matching suits, Gilbert & George have described themselves as ‘living sculptures’, and are usually the subject of their own work, which has involved sexual imagery, scatological humour and profane language. They’re best known for brightly coloured imagery depicting contemporary urban life, framed within large scale panels that evoke the stained-glass windows of churches. They won the Turner Prize in 1986, represented Britain at the Venice Biennale in 2005, and were the subject of a major retrospective show at Tate Modern in 2007. They talk to John Wilson about meeting in 1967 while studying sculpture at Saint Martin's School of Art, their first notable work The Singing Sculpture; which launched their career internationally; and the importance of Spitalfields, east London where they have lived and worked together since the late 1960s. Producer: Edwina Pitman
5/13/202343 minutes, 49 seconds
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Baaba Maal

Now one of West Africa’s most internationally acclaimed musicians, Baaba Maal trained at a Paris conservatoire and went on to become a kind of musical ambassador, taking stories of his homeland all around the world. He has collaborated with Brian Eno and film composer Hans Zimmer, recorded an album with Mumford and Sons, and was a key member of the Africa Express touring project led by Damon Albarn. A festival favourite, Baaba Maal has energized crowds at Glastonbury and the BBC Proms alike. More recently, Marvel fans know him as the voice of Wakanda, having sung on the Black Panther movie soundtracks. Baaba Maal talks about his early life in Senegal where, as the son of a fisherman, he wasn’t expected to become a singer. He discusses the role of the griot in Senegalese storytelling and musical culture. He recalls early song-gathering trips around West Africa with his friend and collaborator Mansour Seck, his formal musical training in Paris, the powerful voice of Senegalese singer Sory Kandia Kouyaté, and meeting Nelson Mandela. Producer: Edwina Pitman
5/6/202344 minutes, 3 seconds
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Donna Leon

The internationally bestselling crime writer Donna Leon talks to John Wilson about her career. Although American born, Donna is most associated with Venice, the city in which her Italian police detective protagonist, the mild-mannered family man Guido Brunetti, lives and works. She has so far written 32 novels, has sold nearly eight million copies in English, and been translated into 35 languages. Donna Leon tells John Wilson about her love for Italy and particularly Venice, which until very recently was her home. She recalls her experiences teaching English in Saudi Arabia, and how she began her bestselling Brunetti series after a night at the opera. Producer: Edwina Pitman
4/29/202343 minutes, 30 seconds
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Sally Wainwright

Award-winning television dramatist and director Sally Wainwright talks to John Wilson about her formative cultural influences. After learning the art of screenwriting whilst working on Coronation Street, she made her name with her suburban comedy drama At Home With The Braithwaites. Her stories are usually set in the north of England including Last Tango in Halifax, and her 19th century historical series Gentleman Jack. Her most recent hit is Happy Valley, a crime drama that spanned a decade and three series, winning huge acclaim, viewing figures and multiple awards. Sally talks about her early obsession with television, and how the 1970s musical drama Rock Follies inspired her to become a television writer at a young age. She recalls her early career writing for BBC Radio 4's The Archers and the ITV soap Coronation Street and discusses the inspirations behind some of her biggest hits. Producer: Edwina Pitman
4/22/202343 minutes, 52 seconds
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Linton Kwesi Johnson

Reggae poet Linton Kwesi Johnson reveals the influences and experiences that inspired his own creativity. Born in Jamaica, he moved to south London in 1963 at the age of eleven. He made his name as a performance poet, reciting politically motivated verse to a dub-reggae backbeat, and becoming a powerful voice of resistance and protest in response to racism on the streets of Britain in the 1970s. He became the first black poet to be published in the Penguin Modern Classics series, was awarded the PEN Pinter Prize in 2020, and recently published a collection of prose under the title Time Come. On stage and on record, he is renowned for angry and uncompromising works such as Five Nights Of Bleeding, Sonny’s Lettah, and Iglan Is a Bitch. For This Cultural Life, Linton Kwesi Johnson recalls growing up in poverty in rural Jamaica, where his grandmother told him ghost stories and read The Bible. Appalled at the racism he experienced, he joined the Black Panthers whilst still at school and became a political activist. He began to write and perform poetry, set to music and delivered in Jamaican patois, after being inspired by reggae artists such as Prince Buster and U-Roy, and the American group The Last Poets. Johnson also talks about the tragic fire that killed 13 young partygoers in New Cross, south London in 1981, an event that he commemorated in one of his best known works, New Craas Massahkah. Producer: Edwina Pitman
4/15/202344 minutes, 18 seconds
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Martin Parr

John Wilson talks to photographer Martin Parr about the formative influences and experiences that inspired his own creativity. Globally renowned for his witty and satirical scenes of British life, Parr made his name in the 1970s with a series of monochrome photographs documenting the community of Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire. His fame grew with his 1985 project The Last Resort, which captured the spirit of the great British holiday in images of ice-cream, chips, and sunburnt bodies on the litter-strewn concrete promenade of New Brighton, Liverpool. Since then, his instantly recognisable work has examined subjects including global consumerism, mass tourism and class. He has published over a hundred books of his work, exhibited all round the world, and is regarded as one of Britain’s greatest photographers. Parr is celebrated as Master Of Photography at the 2023 Photo London fair, and has recently opened his own Foundation to exhibit the work of emerging photographers alongside his own. Martin Parr reveals how, growing up in suburban Surrey, he was introduced to photography by his Yorkshire grandfather during holiday visits. He remembers seeing exhibitions by Bill Brandt and Henri Cartier-Bresson in the late 1960s, but it was the work of British street photographer Tony Ray-Jones, whose images he first saw whilst studying photography at Manchester Polytechnic, that was most influential. Martin Parr further developed his distinctive documentary style, and his use of saturated colour processing techniques, after seeing work by American photographer William Egglestone. Martin Parr also chooses the 1991 film Night On Earth by Jim Jarmusch as a key influence on his quirky approach to storytelling, and reflects on how his style and subjects have developed over the years. Producer: Edwina Pitman
4/8/202343 minutes, 47 seconds
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Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood talks to John Wilson about the formative influences and experiences that shaped her writing. One of the world’s bestselling and critically acclaimed authors, Atwood has published over 60 books including novels, short stories, children’s fiction, non-fiction and poetry. She’s known for stories of human struggle against oppression and brutality, most famously her 1985 novel The Handmaid’s Tale, a dystopian vision of America in which women are enslaved. She has twice won the Booker Prize For Fiction, in 2000 for The Blind Assassin and again in 2019 for her sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, The Testaments. Growing up in remote Canadian woodland with her scientist parents, she traces her career as a story-teller back to sagas that she invented with her older brother as a child, and her first ‘novel’ written when she was seven. She recalls an opera about fabrics that she wrote and performed at high school for a home economics project, and how she staged puppet shows for children’s parties. Margaret Atwood also discusses the huge impact that reading George Orwell had on her, and how his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four especially influenced The Handmaid’s Tale. She reveals how that novel - written whilst she was living in Berlin in 1985 - was initially conceived after the 1980 election of President Ronald Reagan and the resurgence of evangelical right-wing politics in America. Producer: Edwina Pitman
4/1/202343 minutes, 42 seconds
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Alejandro Iñárritu

Mexican-born filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu talks to John Wilson about his cultural influences. Iñárritu's movies are often epic in scale and ambition. He made his name with the Mexican gangland drama Amores Perros, and won critical acclaim with his next two Hollywood movies; 21 Grams and Babel. His 2015 black comedy Birdman won him three of his five Academy Awards - for best film, best director and best screenplay. He picked up another Oscar the following year for the brutal 19th century frontiersman drama The Revenant and was awarded a Special Achievement Academy Award for his virtual reality installation Carne y Arena in 2017. His most recent movie is Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths an epic dream-like, semi-autobiographical black comedy-drama, which he co-wrote, co-composed, edited, produced, and directed. Iñárritu reveals how working on cargo ships as a teenager later influenced the global scope of his filmmaking, and recalls his early career in the 80s and early 90s as a popular radio DJ in Mexico City. He talks about the powerful effect that the Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet had on him. This collection of ten letters, published posthumously at the turn of the 20th century, advise developing a rich inner life in order to make great art, words that made a big impression on the aspiring filmmaker Iñárritu. He also discusses his love for the work of Italian film director Sergio Leone, and in particular his 1984 epic crime film Once Upon a Time in America. Producer: Edwina Pitman
2/11/202343 minutes, 56 seconds
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Rachel Whiteread

John Wilson speaks to internationally acclaimed artist Dame Rachel Whiteread about the influences on her practice as she recalls some of her most famous works. Part of the Brit Art boom of the early 1990s, Rachel was not only the first woman to win the Turner Prize but also, at 29, the youngest artist to do so. Rachel is best known for large scale sculptures cast in plaster or concrete. She made headlines with an inside-out impression of an entire terraced house in east London, and for her Holocaust Memorial in Vienna. Commissioned to make a work to stand on the empty fourth plinth in London’s Trafalgar Square, she cast the plinth itself in a huge block of translucent resin. A globally renowned artist who once represented Britain at the Venice Biennale, the work of Dame Rachel Whiteread can be found in collections, galleries and public spaces all around the world. Producer: Edwina Pitman
2/4/202343 minutes, 46 seconds
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Eliza Carthy

Musician Eliza Carthy was born into an English folk dynasty. The daughter of acclaimed folk singers Martin Carthy and Norma Waterson, she joined the family business at a young age as a singer and violinist, playing with her parents as Waterson Carthy and with her mother, her aunt Lal and her cousin Marry as The Waterdaughters. As a solo artist and bandleader, Eliza has explored the roots of folk and expanded the repertoire. Awarded an MBE in 2014, she was twice nominated for the Mercury Prize for album of the year, and in 2021 became the president of the English Folk Dance and Music Society. She tells John Wilson about the first time she attended the Vancouver Folk Music Festival in 1989, aged 13. Standing on the main stage at sunset overlooking the mountains and sea was a defining moment at the start of her career. She also discusses the influence that singer Billy Bragg and Scottish folk rock band Shooglenifty had on her music. Eliza also talks about the impact of the pandemic on the folk music community and the personal loss of her mother. Producer: Edwina Pitman
1/28/202343 minutes, 47 seconds
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Damien Chazelle

Oscar-winning film-maker Damien Chazelle talks to John Wilson about his career and cultural influences. As a child, Chazelle first started experimenting with making films using his dad’s old camcorder. After studying filmmaking at Harvard, he drew on his own experiences as a skilful jazz drummer to make his debut feature film Whiplash, about a music student and his abusive teacher. His movie La La Land, a musical in which star-crossed lovers sing and dance through the backstreets of LA, won six more Academy Awards. Damien explains how much that film owes to the Jacques Demy and Michel Legrand's 1964 romantic musical The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. He also reveals how the Los Angeles paintings of David Hockney, and in particular his 1967 work A Bigger Splash, inspired the feel and the palate of La La Land. Chazelle's latest movie Babylon explores the birth of the film industry itself and the painful transition from silent movies to the talkies, and is inspired, in part, by the classic musical Singin' in The Rain. He also explains how his love of west coat jazz musicians including Stan Getz and Chet Baker has influenced his creative output. Producer: Edwina Pitman
1/21/202343 minutes, 54 seconds
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Stephen Hough

The British born musician, composer and writer Stephen Hough grew up in Cheshire, won the piano section of the very first BBC Young Musician of the Year competition as a teenager, before moving to New York to study at the Juilliard School of Music. Over the last 30 years, Stephen Hough has made more than 60 albums and is globally renowned for his thrilling live performances of a wide classical piano repertoire. Knighted in 2022 for services to music, he is also a visiting professor at the Royal Academy of Music, holds the International Chair of Piano Studies at his alma mater, the Royal Northern College in Manchester, and is a member of the faculty at The Juilliard School. Stephen talks to John Wilson about some of the most important influences on his musical career, starting with a 1962 LP called Keyboard Giants of the Past. This compilation album, bought for him just after he started to learn the piano aged 6, included artists from the earliest days of recording such as Ignace Paderewski, Vladimir de Pachmann and Sergei Rachmaninoff, all of whom inspired him with their rich artistry and individual styles. He reveals how Elgar's The Dream of Gerontius helped him back into the world of classical music after suffering a breakdown while at Cheetham's School of Music, and began his conversion to Catholicism as a teenager. Stephen also describes how leaving Cheshire for studies at the Juilliard School of Music in New York was his coming-of-age in many ways and how winning the prestigious Naumburg International Piano Competition while a student there, launched his career aged 21. Producer: Edwina Pitman
1/14/202344 minutes, 8 seconds
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Whoopi Goldberg

Whoopi Goldberg is the one of very few people to have won all four of America’s big awards - Emmy, Grammy Oscar and Tony - for her work in film, theatre and television. Brought up by a single mother in a New York housing project, Whoopi Goldberg first made her name on stage with a solo comedy show before making her film debut in an adaptation of Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Color Purple. Discussing her biggest cultural turning points with John Wilson, she recalls her earliest experiences of acting at the Hudson Guild, a children’s community project. Having struggled at school, she was encouraged by her mother to make the most of free cultural opportunities in the city, including museums and public lectures, which fuelled her fascination with language. She also remembers seeing the Joseph Papp Theatre troupe, which performed free Shakespeare plays in New York parks. Whoopi recalls her friend and mentor Mike Nichols, the director of The Graduate who, after seeing her solo stage show in San Francisco, directed her on Broadway. After that show became a hit, Whoopi Goldberg was invited by Steven Spielberg to perform at his private theatre leading to her casting in the role of Celie in his 1985 adaptation of Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Color Purple, a film debut that earned Whoopi Goldberg an Academy Award nomination. Since then, she has made around a hundred films, including Ghost, for which she won an Academy Award, and Sister Act. She has hosted the Academy Awards several times, and has forged a career as an opinionated television personality. Whoopi also talks about her latest movie Till, the story of Mamie Till-Bradley, who pursued justice after the murder of her 14-year old son Emmett in 1955. Producer: Edwina Pitman
1/7/202344 minutes, 13 seconds
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Sam Mendes

Theatre and film director Sam Mendes first made his mark when he launched London’s Donmar Warehouse theatre in the early 90s. He has won Olivier and Tony Awards for numerous productions including Cabaret, The Ferryman and most recently, The Lehman Trilogy. He made his cinematic debut directing American Beauty in 1999, and won the first of two Oscars - the second was for the war film 1917. He also directed the two James Bond movies Skyfall and Spectre, and was knighted in 2020. Sam tells John Wilson about his earliest memories of feeling the thrill of live performance, at the London production of Godspell in 1971. Later, how the work of Shakespeare came alive for him while watching productions at the RSC, and in particular, a memorable performance of Antony and Cleopatra starring Michael Gambon and Helen Mirren. He reveals how his directorship of the Donmar Warehouse, which established his reputation as a ground-breaking theatre director, all began with a chance late night stroll around Covent Garden. Seeing Wim Wenders' 1984 film Paris, Texas was to be a formative influence on Sam when he eventually came to direct his debut feature American Beauty and later films including Jarhead and Revolutionary Road. Casting the actor Daniel Craig in his second film Road to Perdition, despite a poor audition was to have a significant impact on both their careers. Sam also talks about moving into writing and making more personal films including 1917 based on the war stories of his grandfather, and Empire of Light, partly inspired by his childhood experiences of witnessing his own mother's struggles with her mental health. Producer: Edwina Pitman
12/31/202244 minutes, 5 seconds
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Tim Minchin

Comedian, actor and composer Tim Minchin wrote the songs for the musical adaptation of the Roald Dahl story Matilda which, after more than a decade of sell-out West End shows, has now also been adapted for the big screen. His stage musical version of the film Groundhog Day earned him an Olivier award and seven Tony nominations on Broadway. He also co-wrote and starred in the television comedy drama series Upright, and has performed solo shows around the world. Tim Minchin tells John Wilson about his most important cultural influences and creative inspirations, starting with his upbringing in Perth, Australia. He recalls his earliest attempts at songwriting, influenced by TS Eliot and 90s grunge rock bands, which led to him writing a musical version of Love's Labour's Lost for a youth theatre company whilst he was still at school. Tim chooses the American singer-songwriter Ben Folds as one of his key influences, and particularly the 1997 Ben Folds Five album Whatever Ever And Ever, Amen. He also cites being commissioned to write the songs for The Royal Shakespeare Company's Matilda The Musical, and working with director Matthew Warchus, as a major turning creative turning point. Perhaps surprisingly, Tim chooses an ill-fated musical project, Larrikins, as another important moment in his career. He reflects on how the animated adventure, which was due to star Hugh Jackman and Margot Robbie, was cancelled by studio bosses and the effect that experience had on him. Producer: Edwina Pitman
11/5/202243 minutes, 52 seconds
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Florence Pugh

Florence Pugh was Oscar and BAFTA nominated for her role as Amy March in the adaptation of Little Women. She has won huge acclaim for films including Midsommer, Lady Macbeth, and the Marvel adventure Black Widow. She also played the lead in the television adaptation of John Le Carré’s The Little Drummer Girl. More recently she’s been on the big screen in Don’t Worry Darling, and 18th century Irish drama The Wonder. Florence tells John Wilson how her performing ambitions during a primary school nativity show in which she played Mary with a northern accent, borrowed from her Grimsby-born grandparents. She chooses, as one of her most significant creative inspirations, a woman called Linda Mace who made costumes for all the school productions, and whose store room full of period clothes fuelled Florence’s imaginations. She recalls her breakthrough role in The Falling, about a fainting phenomenon at an English girls’ school in the late 1960s, and how she was inspired by the film’s director Carol Morley. She also pays tribute to casting director Shaheen Baig who helped her secure roles in subsequent films including Lady Macbeth, and remembers working alongside Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson when she played Cordelia in a television version of King Lear. Florence Pugh chooses the song She’s Only Happy In the Sun by the American singer songwriter Ben Harper as source of inspiration, and reflects on her own musical ambitions which started as a teenage singer-songwriter posting videos on YouTube under the name Flossie Rose. She also discusses the pressures of fame, gossip columns and why she’s learned to stop searching for references to herself in social media. Producer: Edwina Pitman
10/29/202243 minutes, 59 seconds
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Shirin Neshat

Shirin Neshat is the world’s foremost Iranian-born artist. Best known for her black and white portraits of veiled women, often with hands and faces overlain with intricate Farsi calligraphy, she works primarily as a photographer and filmmaker. A winner of one of the biggest international arts prizes, the Praemium Imperiale, she has shown art in galleries all round the world - except in Iran, as she has lived in exile in America since 1996. As human rights protests continued in Iran, a huge artwork by Shirin, called Women Life Freedom, was shown on billboards at London’s Piccadilly Circus where a rally was staged in support of Iranian protesters. Shirin Neshat tells John Wilson about her upbringing in an artistic, liberal family who lived amidst the conservative and religious Iranian city of Qazvin. She recalls how she was studying art at the University of California, Berkeley, when the Islamic Revolution took place in 1979. With new restrictions imposed on women, including the mandatory veil, she decided to remain in America. Returning to Iran for the first time in 1990, she was shocked by the changes and began to make artworks in response, primarily exploring the theme of power and oppression in two series of works entitled Unveiling and Women Of Allah. Shirin also reveals the huge influence on her work of the Iranian poet and filmmaker Forugh Farrokhzad, who was killed in a car accident in 1967 aged just 32. Producer: Edwina Pitman Extracts from The Wind Will Carry Us by Forugh Farrokhzad, read by Shahrbanou Nilou
10/22/202244 minutes, 47 seconds
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Ken Loach

Over six decades, Ken Loach has forged a reputation as Britain’s foremost politically-engaged filmmaker, exploring issues of social justice, freedom and power. He has twice won the prestigious Palme d’Or award at the Cannes Film Festival, in 2006 for The Wind That Shakes The Barley, set amidst the Irish struggle for independence, and twenty years later for I, Daniel Blake, a contemporary British story about unemployment and poverty. Ken Loach recalls his Midlands childhood as the son of a factory worker, and annual summer holidays in Blackpool. It was there that he saw end-of-pier variety acts and comedians, including Jewell and Warris, Nat Jackley and Frank Randle, all of whom helped ignited an early passion for storytelling and performance. He recalls how, after studying law at Oxford, he joined the BBC’s Wednesday Play production team, with the aim of creating television drama out of contemporary social issues. His television films Up the Junction and Cathy Come Home, which tackled abortion, unemployment and homlessness, were each seen by over 10 million people, and played an influential part in the public debate about the issues. Loach reveals that Czech cinema of the 1960s, including the films of Miloš Forman, were a huge inspiration on his own filmmaking career, with the use of the naturalistic performances and camera-work that captured the environment from a distance most clearly seen in his classic 1969 film Kes. Ken Loach also chooses as a major influence, the real lives of people whose stories have inspired his films throughout his career, including veterans of the Spanish civil war and Nicaraguans who had seen schools and health centres destroyed by the Contra rebels. Producer: Edwina Pitman
10/15/202243 minutes, 42 seconds
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Es Devlin

Es Devlin is the world’s foremost set designer, having conceived stage sets for superstar musicians including Beyoncé, Stormzy, Kanye West, U2 and Adele. She has also created sets for opera houses around the world, and for productions at the National Theatre, the Royal Shakespeare Company and many more. Es also works as an artist in her own right, designing sculptural installation pieces that address issues of social justice and sustainability. For This Cultural Life, Es Devlin remembers a scale model of her home town, Rye in Sussex, that fired her imagination and encouraged her interest in storytelling. She chooses the sleeve of Kate Bush’s 1978 debut album The Kick Inside, which she tried to recreate as a collage in her teenage bedroom. She recalls a career breakthrough when, in 1998, she designed a National Theatre production of Harold Pinter’s play Betrayal, a set which was inspired by Rachel Whiteread’s artwork House, a concrete cast of the interior of a Victorian terraced house in London’s East End, which was demolished in 1994. Her final choice of cultural inspiration is her work with the hip hop artist and producer Kanye West, with whom she collaborated on several spectacular stadium shows. Producer: Edwina Pitman Audio of 'The Story of Rye' with kind permission from The Rye Heritage Centre
10/8/202244 minutes
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Glenda Jackson

Actor and former MP Glenda Jackson reveals the influences and experiences that inspired her work on stage and screen. One of the greatest actors of her generation, Glenda won Academy Awards for Women in Love and A Touch Of Class, and was Oscar nominated for Sunday Bloody Sunday. She has also won Tony, Emmy and Golden Globes awards for her theatre and television work. In 1992 she gave up acting to become a Labour MP, winning her seat five times. But in 2016 she returned to the stage, playing King Lear in London and New York, and to television for a BAFTA winning performance as an elderly women with dementia in Elizabeth Is Missing. Glenda Jackson recalls her working class upbringing in Birkenhead, and how she won a scholarship to the drama school RADA with help from the manager of the Boots chemists’ where she worked at the time. She chooses the director Peter Brook as a major influence on her work, having starred in his radical 1964 stage production of the play Marat/Sade, and the version he subsequently adapted for cinema. She remembers also working closely with the director Ken Russell on several films, including the Oscar-winning Women in Love, adapted from the DH Lawrence novel. Glenda’s comic appearances on the Morecambe and Wise Show in the early 1970s are recalled as career highlights. Glenda Jackson also chooses Margaret Thatcher as huge influence on her life and career, as it was the policies of the former Prime Minister which prompted her to give up acting for 23 years while she served as a Labour MP. Producer: Edwina Pitman
10/1/202243 minutes, 29 seconds
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James Corden

Actor, writer and comedian James Corden reveals the most important people, events and cultural works that inspired his own creativity. He’s now probably best known as an Emmy-winning television chat show host, although he recently announced that he would step down from The Late Late Show in 2023. James Corden is the co-creator of the much-loved BBC sitcom Gavin and Stacey, for which he won a BAFTA. His stage work includes Alan Bennett’s National Theatre play The History Boys, and the starring role in One Man Two Guvnors, which won him a Tony Award after it transferred to Broadway. His film roles include Oceans 8, Peter Rabbit, Into The Woods and The Prom. James Corden reveals how he wanted to entertain audiences from a very young age, and his theatrical ambitions were encouraged by his father who would take him to see musicals. He chooses the experience of seeing Gary Wilmot starring in the stage show Me and My Girl as one of his most important inspirations. He also reflects on the experience of working for writer-director Shane Meadows on the film 24/7, which starred Bob Hoskins, and the huge influence on his own work of filmmaker Mike Leigh. James also chooses the television comedy drama series The Royle Family as one of the inspirations for his series Gavin and Stacey, which he co-wrote with Ruth Jones. Reflecting on his recent decision to leave The Late Late Show, he reveals that he was persuaded to move on and pursue new creative challenges by a David Bowie quote. Producer: Edwina Pitman
9/24/202244 minutes, 51 seconds
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Michael Morpurgo

Author, poet and playwright Michael Morpurgo reveals the most important people, events and cultural works that inspired his own creativity. Michael is the former Children’s Laureate and author of some of the best loved stories for young people including Why The Whales Came, Private Peaceful and War Horse, which was adapted for the National Theatre stage and was filmed for cinema by Steven Spielberg. Sir Michael Morpurgo, who was knighted in 2018, tells John Wilson how his mother, an actress who read nightly bedtime stories to her children, was a formative influence on his later work as a children’s author. He remembers how 1950s teaching methods, in which poems were learnt by rote and literacy was tested rigorously, discouraged him from reading for pleasure. It was whilst at boarding school in Sussex that one teacher recognised his potential, encouraged him to read a collection of Wordsworth poems, and helped reinvigorate young Michael’s passion for words. He recalls how wartime family tragedy, and witnessing the devastation of London in the post-war years, were factors that influenced the themes of conflict and peace which recur in much of his work. He also cites the poet Ted Hughes as a major influence on his life and work, remembering how the Poet Laureate offered advice on his early work. Michael Morpurgo also talks of how his most famous work, War Horse, was initially inspired by an elderly World War One veteran who, one night in the local pub, recalled how a deep bond forged with a army horse helped him survive the horror of the trenches. Producer: Edwina Pitman
9/17/202245 minutes, 4 seconds
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Abdulrazak Gurnah

Nobel Prize-winning novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah talks to John Wilson about the people, events, and cultural works that have inspired his creativity. Born in Zanzibar, the author and academic came to England as a political refugee at the age of 18, and now holds the post of Emeritus Professor of English and Postcolonial Literatures at the University of Kent. Since his first book Memory of Departure in 1987, he has written ten novels including Paradise, which was nominated for the Booker Prize in 1994. When he won the 2021 Nobel Prize in Literature, the citation praised his "uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the effects of colonialism and the fate of the refugee in the gulf between cultures and continents”. Abdulrazak Gurnah discusses his childhood overlooking the main port in Zanzibar, and how his experience of multiple nationalities, cultures and languages inspired some of the themes of identity, belonging and departure that recur in his novels. He remembers the political turmoil and violence in the wake of the 1964 revolution in Zanzibar that saw the overthrown of the Sultan and imprisonment of the government. After travelling to the UK with his brother in 1968, he enrolled as a student in Canterbury, the town in which he still lives and works. Among his most important literary influences is The Mystic Masseur, a comic novel by the Trinidadian author VS Naipaul. Abdulrazak Gurnah also discusses the effect that winning the Nobel Prize has had on his life and work. Producer: Edwina Pitman
9/10/202243 minutes, 47 seconds
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Nicola Benedetti

Violinist Nicola Benedetti reveals her most important cultural influences and experiences that have inspired her to become one of the world’s greatest classical musicians. Having taken up the violin at the age of four, Nicola won the BBC Young Musician of the Year competition at 16. She’s renowned for the passion of her live concerts, her recordings of the great violin concertos, and for her work with contemporary composers, including a Grammy-winning collaboration with composer Wynton Marsalis. She’s also deeply involved in educational programmes that use classical music to transform the lives of young people. For This Cultural Life, Nicola Benedetti recalls her North Ayrshire upbringing and how her Italian parents encouraged her musicality from a young age. She remembers first listening to Brahms’s Violin Concerto on the car journey to school, a piece that inspired her to seriously pursue her ambitions, becoming the leader of the National Children’s Orchestra at the age of just eight. She discusses the influence of the great violinist Yehudi Menuhin, whose school she attended until she was 15, and at whose funeral she performed in 1999. Nicola also talks about her work with the Sistema Scotland project, and her own Benedetti Foundation, which promotes musical education. Determined to promote contemporary classical music as well as the traditional repertoire, she discusses her work with Wynton Marsalis and the young British composer Mark Simpson, both of whom have written violin concertos for her. Producer: Edwina Pitman
9/3/202243 minutes, 35 seconds
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Norman Foster

Norman Foster discusses the key cultural influences and experiences that led him to become one of the world’s most important living architects. Baron Foster of Thames Bank founded Foster and Partners in 1967, a practise which specialises in urban master-planning, civic, cultural, office and airport developments. His most famous designs include the Great Court of the British Museum, the Reichstag in Berlin, Millau Viaduct in France, the Apple headquarters in California, Wembley Stadium, Beijing Airport, and the London tower known as ‘the Gherkin’. At 87 years old, and still working as executive chairman of his company, Norman Foster looks back to his working class childhood in Manchester when he first became fascinated with the built environment in the post-war years. He recalls taking two books from the local library - on the architects Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusier - which helped focus his early fascination with architecture. After studying at Manchester University’s school of architecture, Norman Foster won a scholarship to study at Yale University in Connecticut. It was there he met Richard Rogers, with whom he became firm friends and started taking long road trip across America to seek out landmark buildings. On return to the UK, Foster and Rogers set up their first architectural practise Team Four, along with their wives Wendy Cheeseman and Su Brumwell. Foster tells This Cultural Life about his continuing fascination with the design process, after a five decade career that has seen him win the most prestigious architecture prizes, including the Pritzker, the Praemium Imperiale Award, and the RIBA Gold Medal. Producer: Edwina Pitman
8/27/202244 minutes, 10 seconds
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Kate Mosse

The author of the multi-million-selling Languedoc trilogy, set amidst religious wars in south-west France and beginning with the bestselling Labyrinth, Kate Mosse has written nine novels and short story collections, and four plays. She is also one of the co-founders of the Women’s Prize For Fiction. Kate Mosse tells John Wilson about first visiting the Festival Theatre in her hometown of Chichester at the age of six and seeing the 19th-century French farce The Italian Straw Hat, an experience that opened her mind to the power of drama. She remembers being among the million and a half visitors to the blockbuster Tutankhamen exhibition at the British Museum in 1972, and explains how her interest in historical narratives can be traced back to the treasures of the boy king. Kate Mosse also chooses two literary influences for This Cultural Life. Having read Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights as a teenager, she says the way that Bronte describes the Yorkshire moors as like a character in their own right influenced her own novels in which the Languedoc landscape plays a similar narrative role. Her last big cultural moment is the 1991 Booker Prize for Fiction when an all-male shortlist prompted Kate and other literary figures to create the Women’s Prize for Fiction as a way of shining the spotlight on novels written by women anywhere in the world. Producer: Edwina Pitman
8/20/202243 minutes, 50 seconds
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Born Clifford Joseph Price, Goldie was brought up in care homes and with foster families in the west Midlands. After establishing himself as a graffiti artist, he began to make dance music and, with his 1995 debut album Timeless, was a pioneer of the drum’n’bass sounds that dominated club culture throughout the decade. Alongside work as a DJ around the world, Goldie has also taken on various acting roles, including in the James Bond film the World Is Not Enough and, on television, playing a gangster in Eastenders. He was also runner-up in the 2008 reality show Maestro, in which contestants learned to conduct a symphony orchestra. The following year, he was the subject of a television documentary in which he composed a piece of contemporary classical music that was performed at the BBC Proms. Goldie’s choices for This Cultural Life include hearing David Bowie’s 1969 Space Oddity when he was in care, and relating to its theme of isolation and abandonment. He also talks about the huge influence of seeing the 1983 documentary Style Wars, about the emerging hip hop scene in New York in the early 1980s, and the role of graffiti artists in reclaiming the subway trains and the walls of railway yards as their unofficial galleries. Goldie also reveals that the American jazz guitarist and composer Pat Metheny is one of his biggest influences, despite working in a very different musical field. Producer: Edwina Pitman
8/13/202242 minutes, 28 seconds
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Eileen Atkins

With a career spanning eight decades, Dame Eileen Atkins is one of the most acclaimed British actors. She is a three-time Olivier Award-winner and has won Emmy and BAFTA Awards for her role in the television series Cranford. A familiar face on screen since making her television debut in 1959, she has starred in shows ranging from Doc Martin to The Crown, and her film roles have included The Dresser, Gosford Park, Cold Mountain and Paddington 2. She also co-created the long-running television series Upstairs Downstairs and The House of Elliot, and wrote the screenplay for the 1997 film of Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway. Dame Eileen talks to John Wilson about her upbringing on a Tottenham council estate and how, under the tutelage of a woman she knew as Madame Yandie, she became Baby Eileen, a child stage performer, singing and dancing in working men’s clubs. She chooses as one of her greatest influences one of her teachers at Latymer School, EJ Burton, who introduced her to literature and theatre. She recalls the impact of joining the company at the Shakespeare Theatre, now the Royal Shakespeare Company, in 1957, after a long struggle to secure stage roles. Dame Eileen also explains how her fascination with Virginia Woolf led to one of her most celebrated stage performances, that of the writer herself, in a one woman show adaptation of A Room Of One’s Own. Producer: Edwina Pitman
6/18/202242 minutes, 43 seconds
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Jed Mercurio

Writer Jed Mercurio, the creator of hit television series including Line Of Duty and Bodyguard, talks to John Wilson about the cultural influences and experiences that have inspired his own work. Born into a working class Stafforshire family, Mercurio went to medical school, then trained as an RAF pilot. After responding to an advert for consultants to work on new hospital drama Cardiac Arrest, Mercurio became the script writer for that ground-breaking series, which intended to be a more realistic depiction of the NHS than had been on screen before. He further drew on his medical background for the series Bodies, adapted from his novel of the same name. Jed chooses the 1980s US police TV series Hill Street Blues as a big influence on his own screenwriting, which is characterised by long-running rather than just episodic narratives, and surprising plot twists. He also reveals how the 2005 killing of Jean Charles de Menezes, who was shot by police after being mistakenly identified as a suspect following the London terror attacks, prompted him to develop the idea for a drama about undercover police investigations and corruption. Producer: Edwina Pitman
6/11/202242 minutes, 26 seconds
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Jacqueline Wilson at Hay

In a special edition of This Cultural Life from the Hay Festival, Dame Jacqueline Wilson is John Wilson's guest with an audience of readers young and old. One of the best-loved children's writers of all time, she has written more than a hundred books, including The Story of Tracy Beaker and Hetty Feather, both of which were adapted as hugely popular CBBC series. The childhoods depicted by her are usually far from rosy - she's tackled divorce, depression, death, bullying, abuse, abandonment and homelessness. Despite their themes, or maybe because of them, they are huge bestsellers. She reveals the film, play and places that have inspired her work. Presenter: John Wilson Producer: Sarah Johnson Photo credit: Tricia Yourkevich
6/4/202241 minutes, 57 seconds
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Armando Iannucci

Writer and director Armando Iannucci reveals the most important artistic influences and experiences that have shaped his own work. Armando was the creative force behind Radio 4’s news satire series On The Hour, which moved to television as The Day Today and launched the career of Alan Partridge. He wrote and directed the political comedy series The Thick Of It, and the long-running American TV series Veep. His big screen credits include In The Loop, The Death Of Stalin and The Personal History Of David Copperfield. Armando recalls his Italian-Scottish family upbringing in Glasgow, where his lifelong love of classical music was first forged in Hillhead Public Library. A fan of radio comedy from a young age, he talks about the impact of hearing the 1978 radio comedy The Hitchhikers Guide To the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, whose central character Arthur Dent is, like many of Iannucci’s own comic creations, a man way out of his depth as events spin out of control. The 2003 invasion of Iraq is chosen by Armando as an event that had a big influence on his decision to create political satires The Thick Of It and its big screen spin-off In The Loop, in which government ministers and their advisors struggle to navigate a political path littered with inconvenient facts and rules. Reflecting on his work as a director, Armando Iannucci cites the American filmmaker Sidney Lumet as another major inspiration, with movies including Network, Dog Day Afternoon, Twelve Angry Men and The Verdict. Producer: Edwina Pitman
5/28/202242 minutes, 58 seconds
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Anoushka Shankar

Sitar player and composer Anoushka Shankar tells John Wilson about the most significant cultural influences and experiences that have shaped her own artistic life. Taught in the Indian classical tradition by her father, the legendary musician Ravi Shankar, Anoushka is renowned as one of the world’s greatest living sitarists. She has been nominated for seven Grammy Awards and, as a composer, has worked in a diverse array of genres, including jazz and electronica, and films scores. Anoushka talks about the huge musical influence that her father had on her. As a child, she went to his concerts not knowing he was her father until her parents began living together when she was seven. He gave her her first sitar and took her on as his pupil amongst the many others that came to their house for his teaching. She describes how seeing Akram Khan’s dance production Kaash - a collaboration with composer Nitin Sawhney and artist Anish Kapoor - inspired new ways of composing. She recalls how the rape and murder of a 23 year old girl in Delhi in 2012 led to her revealing that, as a child, she had been abused by a family friend. Anoushka also explains how the TimesUp movement, campaigning for workplace equality, made her reassess the role of women within music, and inspired the 2020 album Love Letters, which was made with an all-women team of musical collaborators. Producer: Edwina Pitman
5/21/202242 minutes, 50 seconds
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Jarvis Cocker

Musician and lyricist Jarvis Cocker talks to John Wilson about the most important influences and experiences that shaped his own creativity. He explains how the DIY spirit of punk during his teenage years in Sheffield inspired him to form his band Pulp, and experiment with a distinctive new look forged in that city's jumble sales. Pulp, who went on to become one of the biggest bands to define the Britpop era of the 1990s, made their BBC Radio 1 debut in 1981 on the hugely influential John Peel show, another of Jarvis's choices for this programme. And yet the band didn’t find mainstream success until well over a decade later. Pulp was put on hold while Jarvis studied Film at St Martin’s Art College in London, an experience which widened his cultural horizons and where he met the girl who came from Greece and 'had a thirst for knowledge', later featured in Pulp's biggest hit Common People. He also fondly recalls his musical hero Scott Walker who, after massive pop success with The Walker Bothers in the 1960s, pursued an idiosyncratic and experimental music career, until his death in 2019. Producer: Edwina Pitman
5/14/202243 minutes, 5 seconds
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Penelope Lively

Penelope Lively, now 89 years old, is the author of more than 30 books for children, six short story collections and 17 novels. Shortlisted three times for the Booker prize, she won it in 1987 for her time-shifting novel Moon Tiger, in which a terminally ill woman looks back at wartime adventures, love affairs and fraught family life. Dame Penelope Lively has won the Carnegie Medal and the Whitbread Award for her children’s books. She is also the author of three volumes of memoirs. Dame Penelope recalls her early childhood in Cairo, and how real-life wartime Egypt inspired the fiction of Moon Tiger. Andrew Lang's Tales of Troy and Greece, a retelling of the Homeric myths, first sparked her creative imagination at the age of ten. Having moved to England in late 1945, she remembers the devastation left by the Blitz, and how seeing for herself the ruins in London, both ancient and modern, prompted a lifelong fascination with archaeology. An extremely wide reader, she discusses the influence of her lifetimes' reading habit on her fiction; in particular The Making Of The English Landscape by W.G. Hoskins, a book about the strata of history that have helped shape England, which inspired some of the recurring themes of memory and loss in her own work. Producer: Edwina Pitman
5/7/202242 minutes, 42 seconds
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Inua Ellams

Inua Ellams, the Nigerian-born, award-winning poet, playwright and performer, talks to John Wilson about the most important influences and experiences that have inspired his own creativity. Inua won huge acclaim for his play the Barbershop Chronicles, which was a sell-out twice at the National Theatre and went on to tour the UK. His adaptation of Chekhov’s Three Sisters reset during the Biafran war - also for the National - is now on the A Level syllabus, and he is the author of several books of poetry including The Half God Of Rainfall. Inua was born in Plateau State, Nigeria, moved to Britain as a child, and also spent time in Dublin during his teens. He recalls growing up in a dual faith household, with his Christian mother and Muslim father. Initially inspired by the tales of heroism he discovered in X-Men comics, he became a fan of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels. He reveals that the 2001 album Amethyst Rockstar, by the American hip hop poet Saul Williams, was a huge inspiration on him as a writer and performer. Inua also talks movingly about his recent British citizenship which, despite being at the heart of the British theatrical establishment, took many years of struggle to secure. Producer: Edwina Pitman
4/30/202242 minutes, 41 seconds
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Hannah Gadsby

Hannah Gadsby, the Emmy-winning stand-up comedian and writer, talks to John Wilson about the most significant influences and experiences that have shaped her comic career. Born and raised in Tasmania, she first came to prominence in Australia after winning a national competition in 2006. But it was her explosive show Nanette which made her an international comedy star when it was filmed by Netflix in 2018. It was candid and confessional, tackling subjects including homophobia, sexual violence and trauma. Hannah talks about how she felt like an ‘odd child’ growing up in Tasmania, and how she used comedy to negotiate social situations. She discusses her fascination with art history, a subject she studies at university, and which she explores to comic effect in many of her shows. Hannah chooses the French-American artist Louise Bourgeois, who died in 2010 aged 98, as a major influence on her performances which candidly draw on personal issues. She cites the French surrealist performance artist Claude Cahun as another inspirational figure. Hannah also talks about her recent autism diagnosis as a major turning point in her life and career, and why her autism became one of the key subjects of her 2019 show Douglas. Producer: Edwina Pitman
4/23/202243 minutes, 7 seconds
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Neil Tennant

Neil Tennant, singer and songwriter with the Pet Shop Boys, is one half of the most successful British pop duo of all time, having sold 100 million records worldwide. With his musical partner of over 40 years, Chris Lowe, Neil Tennant is known for wry, observational lyrics set to electronic dance beats and bittersweet melodies. They’ve made 14 studio albums, all of them with one word titles - from Please and Actually in the 80s, to Super and Hotspot in recent years. Neil Tennant tells John Wilson about his most important cultural influences. He joined the Young People’s Theatre in his native Newcastle in the 1960s, the start of a lifelong passion for drama and live performance. He recalls buying an acoustic guitar at the age of 11 and writing his first ever songs. David Bowie was a huge influence on Neil, having seen the legendary Ziggy Stardust show at Newcastle City Hall in 1972. He later collaborated with his hero when Pet Shop Boy remixed the Bowie track Hallo Spaceboy in 1996. Neil also recalls the social and cultural influence of Heaven nightclub in the early 1980s, the centre of London’s gay scene, where he first heard the work of producer Bobby Orlando and other pioneers of electronic dance music. Producer: Edwina Pitman
4/16/202243 minutes, 22 seconds
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Ali Smith

Award-winning novelist, playwright and short story writer Ali Smith is the author of 12 novels, three of which have been nominated for the Booker Prize for Fiction. Her best-selling How To Be Both won the Women’s Prize for Fiction and the Costa Novel of the Year in 2014. Brought up in the Scottish Highlands, she was the youngest of five children in a working class family, studied English at Aberdeen University and began writing fiction whilst studying for a doctorate at Cambridge. Ali Smith tells John Wilson about the influence of cinema on her fiction, particularly the work of French new wave director Jacques Rivette whose disregard for conventional linear narrative in films including Céline and Julie Go Boating made a big impression. She also recalls how, as an aspiring writer, the work of fellow Scottish novelists and poets, including Liz Lochhead, Alistair Gray, James Kelman and Muriel Spark, helped give her the confidence to write her own fiction. Ali Smith also discusses 1960s pop artist Pauline Boty, a contemporary of Peter Blake and David Hockney, who tragically died at the age of 28 in 1966. Boty’s life and work - overlooked for three decades after she died - became a central aspect of Ali Smith’s 2016 novel Autumn, the first of a quartet of seasonal-themed books written and published over four years. Producer: Edwina Pitman
4/9/202243 minutes, 24 seconds
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Aaron Sorkin

As one of the most successful screenwriters of modern times, Aaron Sorkin is renowned for his quickfire, rhythmic dialogue in films and television dramas including The West Wing, A Few Good Men, The Newsroom, Moneyball and The Social Network. More recently he’s directed his own screenplays with films including Molly’s Game, The Trial Of The Chicago 7 and Meet the Ricardos. Aaron Sorkin tells John Wilson how, at the age of five, his parents took him to see the Broadway musical Man of La Mancha, an experience that sparked his love of theatre. He remembers seeing Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf a few years later and being entranced by the musicality of the dialogue. Debates around the family dinner table, led by his corporate lawyer father, are another source of inspiration for a writer famed for creating adversarial scenarios in courtrooms and the corridors of power. Sorkin pays tribute to his mentor, the Oscar winning screenwriter William Goldman, and explains how Goldman’s screenplay for the classic 1969 movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid offers a masterclass in dramatic dialogue. Aaron Sorkin also reflects on his writing process, and how he often gripped by ‘writer’s block’, despite being one of the most prolific screenwriters of his generation. Producer: Edwina Pitman
4/2/202243 minutes, 9 seconds
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Tamara Rojo

Spanish ballet star Tamara Rojo has enjoyed a 20 year stage career, in which she starred in all the greatest classical ballet roles to both critical and popular acclaim. She became artistic director of the English National Ballet, and recently made her debut as a choreographer with a new version of the 19th century ballet Raymonda. Now, after a decade running the ENB, she is preparing to take on a new job as artistic director of the San Francisco ballet, the first woman to hold the role. She tells John Wilson about the chance introduction to a dance class at school, and her unexpected success winning the Paris International Dance competition in 1994 which led to a role at Scottish Ballet at the age of 17. She reveals how seeing Francis Bacon's studies of the Velazquez portrait of Pope Innocent X made her reassess approaches to classic works of art and inspired a desire to re imagine works from the classical ballet canon. She also explains why she loves the Lars von Trier film Dancer in the Dark and how Bjork's tour de force performance mirrors he own approach to inhabiting a role. Producer: Edwina Pitman
3/26/202242 minutes, 58 seconds
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Brian Cox

Olivier and Emmy-winning actor Brian Cox is best known these days as Logan Roy, the tyrannical media mogul and disappointed father in the hit series Succession. It’s a character familiar to him having played King Lear, along with virtually every other classical role during a sixty year stage career at the National Theatre, the RSC and repertory theatres throughout the UK. On screen he’s made a name for himself as the go-to character actor of his generation, with roles in the Bourne trilogy, Troy, Braveheart and many more. Villains are his speciality and include the original portrayal of Hannibal Lector on screen in the film Manhunter. In a wide-ranging conversation, he tells John Wilson about the most formative influences on his career which started when he worked as a stage hand at the Dundee Rep Theatre in his home city. He reminisces about working with directors including Lindsay Anderson and John Schlesinger, and how seeing Albert Finney on screen in the 1960s made him realise there were new opportunities for working class actors. He also reflects on the international fame he has found playing Logan Roy. Producer: Edwina Pitman
3/24/202242 minutes, 49 seconds
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Maggi Hambling

Artist Maggi Hambling is a painter known for evocative portraits, and powerfully energetic seascapes of the Suffolk coastline where she grew up. She’s also a sculptor, whose public artworks, including tributes to Oscar Wilde, Benjamin Britten and more recently Mary Wollstonecraft, have been the focus of both acclaim and controversy. She tells John Wilson about her unconventional family life in Suffolk, discovering her artistic talent as child and studying with the East Anglian school of painting under Sir Cedric Morris and Arthur Lett-Haines. She explains how Rembrandt's portraits were a major influence on her own work, and reveals how a trip to New York in 1969 proved to be a formative experience, not least because she found herself at the legendary Woodstock Festival that year. She also speaks candidly about how painting family members and close friends after they have died, including both her parents and her partner in their coffins, helped keep their memory alive for her. Producer: Edwina Pitman
3/12/202242 minutes, 43 seconds
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Joyce DiDonato

Acclaimed American mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato talks to John Wilson about the works and events that have made her the performer she is. A Grammy and Olivier award-winning opera star, Joyce is renowned for her range, control and dramatic performances on stages around the world. She reveals her most formative influences including her teenage love of Billy Joel; the struggle to perfect her singing technique; her breakthrough role as Rosina in Rossini's The Barber of Seville; and the film and opera of Dead Man Walking, which ultimately led her to take part in life-changing work in Sing Sing maximum security prison. Producer: Edwina Pitman
3/5/202242 minutes, 57 seconds
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Akram Khan

Dancer and choreographer Akram Khan is one of the world’s most acclaimed and influential figures working in contemporary dance today. Born in London to Bangladeshi parents, Akram is renowned for his radical productions in which classical Asian music and movement is fused with modern styles. He’s won many awards, was made an MBE in 2005, and choreographed and performed in the 2012 London Olympics opening ceremony. He tells John Wilson about his teenage role in Peter Brook's epic production of The Mahabharata, which toured the world; the importance of collaborating with with leading creative figures from outside the world of dance including Anish Kapoor and Juliette Binoche; and reveals how an extraordinary chance encounter changed his artistic outlook. Producer: Edwina Pitman
2/26/202243 minutes, 38 seconds
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Max Richter

German-born British composer Max Richter tells John Wilson about his earliest musical influences, including the revelatory experience of first hearing Bach’s Double Violin concerto. He reveals how, growing up in Bedford in the early 1970s, a contemporary music-loving milkman would deliver albums by the likes of Philip Glass, John Cage and Steve Reich, musicians who helped inspire Max to pursue his interest in composition. He recalls the raw energy and political engagement of punk bands like Stiff Little Fingers and The Clash whose gigs he saw as a teenager; and how hearing German synthesiser-pioneers Kraftwerk on a BBC nature documentary sparked his interest in electronica. Max also pays tribute to the Italian composer Luciano Berio who tutored Max in Italy and honed his compostional skills. Max Richter is one of the world’s most successful contemporary composers, selling more than a million albums and clocking up over a billion streams. His melodic, evocative compositions have been heard in television soundtracks and films scores, including Arrival, Shutter Island, Mary Queen of Scots, Bridgerton and many more. His albums include Memoryhouse, The Blue Notebooks, the eight hour long composition Sleep, and Recomposed which reworked Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. He has also composed for theatre and ballet. Producer: Edwina Pitman
2/19/202242 minutes, 52 seconds
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Nicole Kidman

Since her breakthrough in the 1989 thriller Dead Calm, Nicole Kidman has played a hugely diverse array of roles - in arthouse films like Lars Von Trier’s Dogville and blockbusters including Paddington. She talks to John Wilson about the influence of some of the filmmakers with whom she worked, included Jane Campion who directed her in Portrait Of A Lady, and Stanley Kubrick who became a close friend after she starred, with her ex-husband Tom Cruise, in Eyes Wide Shut. Nicole Kidman recalls the making of Baz Luhrmann's musical Moulin Rouge and The Hours, the film for which she won the best actress Academy Award for her role as Virginia Woolf. She also discusses the excitement and fear she experienced on the London stage in the plays The Blue Room and Photograph 51. Producer: Edwina Pitman
1/1/202243 minutes
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As leader of rock band The Police, and as a multiple-Grammy winning solo artist, Sting has sold more than 100 million albums worldwide over his four decade career. In conversation with John Wilson, Sting explores some of the people and places that helped shape his creativity. He recalls his working class upbringing in the Tyneside shipbuilding communities, and how hearing The Beatles inspired his musical ambitions as a child. Sting explains why, at the height of their international success, he split The Police in the mid-eighties. He also reveals how Miles Davis and other jazz musicians, and classical composers including Bach and Prokofiev, inspired his new musical direction as a solo artist. Producer: Edwina Pitman
12/25/202142 minutes, 30 seconds
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Víkingur Ólafsson

Víkingur Ólafsson tells John Wilson about the experiences and influences that have had a major impact on his life as one of the world’s foremost classical pianists. Víkingur traces his characteristically gentle style of playing right back to his earliest childhood lessons on his parents’ grand piano, and remembers angry struggles to learn a Mozart sonata. He explains why the Icelandic banking crash of 2008 had a huge impact on his work, and how the opening of the Harpa Concert Hall in 2011 helped launch his international career. Víkingur also reveals how a recent meeting with 95 year old Hungarian composer Gyorgy Kurtág made him reassess his cultural life. Producer: Edwina Pitman
12/18/202142 minutes, 54 seconds
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Douglas Stuart

Author Douglas Stuart talks to John Wilson about some of the aspects of his life that inspired him to write his multi award-winning debut novel Shuggie Bain. The book tells the story of a young boy growing up in poverty in Glasgow in the 1980s, and is based on Stuart's own childhood and relationship with his mother who struggled with alcohol addiction. He also discusses his career as a fashion designer and his latest work Young Mungo. Producer: Edwina Pitman
12/11/202142 minutes, 48 seconds
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Kwame Kwei-Armah

Kwame Kwei-Armah shares some of the influences that have had a significant impact on his career in the theatre. He became a household name playing paramedic Finlay Newton in BBC One's Casualty, while at the same time pursuing a career in writing. His award-winning plays including Elmina's Kitchen and Statement of Regret have been staged at the National Theatre. He tells John Wilson about his early years at stage school, how seeing a production of Joe Turner's Come and Gone by August Wilson changed the way he saw what theatre could do, and how Steve McQueen's 12 Years a Slave put him on a different path. Producer: Edwina Pitman
12/4/202142 minutes, 35 seconds
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Evelyn Glennie

Musician Evelyn Glennie talks to John Wilson about her career and some of the key cultural turning points of her life. From growing up in rural Aberdeenshire and becoming profoundly deaf at a young age, she traces her route to fulfilling her ambition of being the first full-time solo percussionist. She recalls her early musical influences; her teacher, the renowned percussionist James Blades at the Royal Academy of Music, and her electrifying 1992 BBC Proms performance of James MacMillan's percussion concerto Veni, Veni, Emmanuel. Producer: Edwina Pitman
11/27/202142 minutes, 57 seconds
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Caitlin Moran

Author and columnist Caitlin Moran talks to John Wilson about some of the works and events that have had the biggest influence on her writing career. The eldest of eight children, she was home-schooled and raised on a council estate in Wolverhampton. At just 16 years old she published her first novel, became a music journalist, and started writing regular columns in the national press. She explains why Sue Townsend's brilliantly funny The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13¾ fuelled her desire to become a novelist, how the British music press allowed her to hone her craft as a journalist, and how a letter from Lenny Henry changed her life. Producer: Edwina Pitman
11/20/202142 minutes, 49 seconds
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Carlos Acosta

Cuban ballet star Carlos Acosta talks to John Wilson about some of the key moments of his cultural life. He discusses the influence of his father, his early love of breakdancing in the streets of Havana and the devastating effects of on life in Cuba after the collapse of Communism around the world. He also recalls his breakthrough moment winning the prestigious Prix de Lausanne ballet competition at the age of 16 and becoming the first black principal dancer of the Royal Ballet. Producer: Edwina Pitman
11/13/202142 minutes, 36 seconds
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Mike Leigh

Film-maker Mike Leigh talks to John Wilson about his cultural influences and some of the moments that have had an impact on his creative life. He reveals how a life-drawing class at art college proved to be a formative influence on his later film-making career. He also discusses the influence of 1960s world cinema, particularly the French new wave, and explores in detail his unique process of film-making in which actors develop their roles through improvisation. Producer: Edwina Pitman
11/7/202142 minutes, 49 seconds
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Tracey Emin

Artist Tracey Emin talks openly and honestly to John Wilson about her controversial career and her life, including her experiences of cancer and abortion. She reveals some of the deeply personal aspects of her life that have shaped her work and chooses the moments that have had a profound effect on her art including the extraordinary effect that a painting by Mark Rothko had on her as a young woman, and her friendship with David Bowie. Producer: Edwina Pitman
10/30/202142 minutes, 37 seconds
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Paul McCartney

Paul McCartney talks to John Wilson about his key influences and inspirations. In a candid conversation, in which he discusses his relationship with John Lennon, the break-up of The Beatles and his six decade career, he reveals some of his most formative artistic experiences and his creative process. Producer: Edwina Pitman
10/23/202142 minutes, 43 seconds
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Bernardine Evaristo

Author Bernardine Evaristo talks to John Wilson about the formative experiences and cultural influences that have had a profound effect on her work. She looks back on her early childhood in South London, the racism she encountered and how she found her artistic voice attending a youth theatre group. She reveals the influence of her Catholic upbringing on her writing, and the personal relationships that had the biggest impact on her creativity. Producer: Edwina Pitman
10/16/202142 minutes, 34 seconds
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Kenneth Branagh

Actor and filmmaker Sir Kenneth Branagh talks to John Wilson for the first of a new series of interviews in which the world’s leading cultural figures discuss their key influences and inspirations. In a wide-ranging conversation, Branagh reveals some of his most formative artistic experiences and his creative process. He remembers his working class upbringing in late 60s Northern Ireland at the start of The Troubles, as explored in his most personal film to date, Belfast. Branagh also traces the beginnings of his love for Shakespeare back to the discovery of LP recordings of Laurence Olivier and John Gielgud, and reveals his admiration for Thomas Hardy and the Alan Bleasdale's 1980s television series The Boys from the Blackstuff. Producer: Edwina Pitman
10/9/202142 minutes, 41 seconds
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Welcome to This Cultural Life

Candid conversations with the world’s leading cultural figures about what has fired their imagination and sparked their creativity.
10/5/20212 minutes, 49 seconds