Great Entertainers' Lives

Great Entertainers' Lives

A BBC biography collection


Well-known personalities pick their favourite entertainers for BBC Radio 4's Great Lives

One of the BBC's most acclaimed programmes, Great Lives has been a regular Radio 4 fixture for 20 years, presented by Joan Bakewell, Humphrey Carpenter, Francine Stock and Matthew Parris. Every week, a famous name is invited into the studio to nominate a figure from the past who has inspired them, and discuss their subject with the presenter and a guest expert.

Included in this special collection, marking the programme's 20th anniversary, are the very best episodes featuring the lives of entertainers - artists, comedians, clowns, magicians, sporting heroes and stars of stage and screen. Among them, Julian Clary champions Noël Coward, Anthony Horowitz advocates Alfred Hitchcock, Penelope Keith puts forward Morecambe and Wise and David Bailey plumps for Pablo Picasso. Here, the lives of the celebrity guests are as intriguing as those of the people they pick: as is also the case with Alan Davies on Richard Beckinsale, Mica Paris on Josephine Baker, Ken Dodd on Stan Laurel, Mark Gatiss on Peter Cushing and many, many others.

From Simon Callow on Orson Welles, to Fiona Shaw on Eleonora Duse, these engaging episodes put some of the world's best-known entertainers under the spotlight, examining their achievements and probing their personalities to find out what made them so inspiring, influential and extraordinary.

List of episode and date of first broadcast on BBC Radio 4:
Umm Kulthum 22.11.02
Tommy Cooper 14.11.03
Charles M Schulz 15.4.05
Mae West 7.10.05
Morecambe & Wise 4.4.06
Noël Coward 18.4.06
Johnny Weissmuller 9.5.06
Tamara Karsavina 23.5.06
Max Miller 15.8.06
Joan Littlewood 5.1.07
Richard Beckinsale 9.1.07
Lilian Baylis 7.8.07
Thora Hird 11.12.07
Groucho Marx 15.1.08
Peter Cushing 1.4.08
Joyce Grenfell 20.5.08
Richard Pryor 12.8.08
Harry Houdini 22.9.09
Gerald Durrell 27.9.11
Stan Laurel 4.9.12
Pablo Picasso 19.01.10
John Ford 08.05.12
Karel Reisz 11.09.12
Dave Allen 14.01.14
Lucille Ball 30.09.14
Alfred Hitchcock 05.04.16
Joseph Grimwaldi 31.05.16
Gracie Fields 02.08.16
Orson Welles 08.05.18
Josephine Baker 15.05.18
Eleonora Duse 10.09.19

Copyright © 2021 BBC Studios Distribution Ltd. (P) 2021 BBC Studios Distribution Ltd
Presented by Humphrey Carpenter and Matthew Parris
Produced by John Byrne, Christine Hall, Beatrice Fenton, Perminder Khatkar, Miles Warde, Toby Field, Mary Ward-Lowery, Lucy Lunt, Jolyon Jenkins, Sarah Langan, Tim Dee, Maggie Ayre, Peter Everett, Mark Smalley, Camellia Sinclair, Beth O'Dea

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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