Great Leaders' Lives

Great Leaders' Lives

A BBC biography collection


Household names nominate leaders from the past for BBC Radio 4's Great Lives
Since its inception in 2001, Great Lives has been one of Radio 4's most popular programmes, presented by Joan Bakewell, Humphrey Carpenter, Francine Stock and Matthew Parris. The format is simple, but compelling: each week, a distinguished personality is invited to select an inspirational figure who has influenced them. Talking with the presenter and a guest expert, they assess the importance of their chosen candidate.

This special collection, celebrating the programme's 20th birthday, comprises the very best episodes featuring leaders' lives, from the worlds of politics, religion, royalty, business and the military. Some are heroes, some tyrants, and several spark controversy. Among them AA Gill puts forward the case for Neville Chamberlain, Maxine Peake chooses Ellen Wilkinson, the Duke of Wellington is picked by Frederick Forsyth, and Leon Trotsky is selected by Christopher Hitchens in a hugely entertaining show that culminated in fireworks. In these cases, and many others, the life of the invited guest is as riveting as that of their subject - who wouldn't want to listen to Ken Livingstone discussing Robert Kennedy, George Monbiot champion Thomas Paine, and Trevor McDonald on Learie Constantine?

From Nancy Dell'Olio on Lucrezia Borgia to Al Murray on Field Marshal Montgomery, these fascinating episodes showcase the lives of some of the most legendary figures from history, revealing their achievements and enduring influence and demonstrating why their greatness is undisputed.

Episode list and date of first broadcast on BBC Radio 4:
Robert Kennedy - 06/02/2009
Henry V - 08/12/2009
Richard Nixon - 17/08/2010
Bernard Montgomery - 01/10/2013
Richard III - 06/01/2015
Elizabeth I - 18/08/2015
Dag Hammarskjold - 23/08/2016
Neville Chamberlain - 20/09/2016
Gandhi - 26/12/2017
David Lloyd George - 30/05/2003
Queen Elizabeth 1 - 06/06/2003
Machiavelli - 02/04/2004
Thomas Paine - 23/04/2004
Lyndon B Johnson - 07/05/2004
Benjamin Disraeli - 28/05/2004
Michael Collins - 01/10/2004
Arthur Wellesly, the 1st Duke of Wellington - 03/06/2005
Genghis Khan - 01/04/2005
John Rockefeller - 06/05/2005
Ronald Reagan - 27/05/2005
Thomas Cromwell - 11/11/2005
Leon Trotsky - 08/08/2006
Eleanor Roosevelt - 22/08/2006
Millicent Garrett Fawcett - 22/12/2006
Julius Caesar - 25/05/2007
George Washington - 02/10/2007
Winston Churchill - 14/09/2010
Rommel - 26/08/2014
Ida B Wells - 19/08/2014
Learie Constantine - 07/04/2015
Abraham Lincoln - 26/01/2016
Lucrezia Borgia - 12/04/2016
Richard the Lionheart - 10/05/2016
Dadabhai Naoroji - 27/09/2016
Pope John XXIII - 24/01/2017
Sitting Bull - 09/05/2017
Emma of Normandy - 16/05/2017
Constance Markievicz - 19/09/2017
Ellen Wilkinson - 01/08/2017
Daniel O' Connell - 19/12/2017
Catherine the Great - 29/05/2018
Jayaben Desai - 10/04/2018

Copyright © 2021 BBC Studios Distribution Ltd. (P) 2021 BBC Studios Distribution Ltd
Presented by Joan Bakewell, Humphrey Carpenter, Matthew Parris and Francine Stock
Produced by Miles Warde, Peter Everett, Christine Hall, Perminder Khatkar, Mark Smalley, Charles Ledgard, Maggie Ayre, Beth O'Dea, Jolyon Jenkins, John Byrne, Polly Weston, Julia Johnson, Mary Ward-Lowery, Isobel Eaton, Toby Field

About the authors

Joan Bakewell

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Humphrey Carpenter

Humphrey Carpenter (1946-2005), the author and creator of Mr Majeika, was born and educated in Oxford. He went to a school called the Dragon School where exciting things often happened and there were some very odd teachers - you could even call it magical! He worked for the BBC then became a full-time writer in 1975, and he was the author of many award-winning biographies, including books about J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Benjamin Britten and Spike Milligan.
As well as the Mr Majeika titles, his children's books also included Shakespeare Without the Boring Bits and More Shakespeare Without the Boring Bits. He wrote plays for radio and theatre and founded the children's drama group The Mushy Pea Theatre Company. He played the tuba, double bass, bass saxophone and keyboard.
Humphrey once said, 'The nice thing about being a writer is that you can make magic happen without learning tricks. Words are the only tricks you need. I can write: "He floated up to the ceiling, and a baby rabbit came out of his pocket, grew wings and flew away." And you will believe that it really happened! That's magic, isn't it?'
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Francine Stock

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Matthew Parris

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