Great Lives

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Great Lives
Genre discussion
Running time 28 mins
Country  United Kingdom
Language(s) English
Home station BBC Radio 4
Host(s) Joan Bakewell
Humphrey Carpenter
Francine Stock
Matthew Parris
Producer(s) Chris Ledgard
Air dates since 24 August 2001
No. of series 31
No. of episodes 282
Website Website
Podcast Podcast RSS feed

Great Lives is a BBC Radio 4 biography series, produced in Bristol. It has been presented by Joan Bakewell, Humphrey Carpenter, Francine Stock and currently (since April 2006) Matthew Parris. A distinguished guest is asked to nominate the person they feel is truly deserving of the title "Great Life". The presenter and a recognised expert (a biographer, family member or fellow practitioner) are on hand to discuss the life. The programmes are 28 minutes long, originally broadcast on Fridays at 23:00, more recently at 16:30 on Tuesday with a repeat at 23:00 on Friday.



Series 0, August – November 2001[edit]

Guest Nominee Presenter
Tim Waterstone, bookshop owner Clement Attlee former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Joan Bakewell
Rosie Boycott, journalist Sir Ernest Shackleton, polar explorer
Terence Conran, food and design entrepreneur André and Édouard Michelin, French inventors of the detachable pneumatic tyre and the travel guide
Ralph Steadman, cartoonist and caricaturist Friedrich Nietzsche, German philosopher
Barbara Castle, Labour politician Sylvia Pankhurst, suffragette
Frank Delaney, writer and broadcaster Henri Matisse, French artist
Jonathan Miller, theatre and opera director Marshall McLuhan, communication theorist and philosopher
Fay Weldon, writer H. G. Wells, visionary author
Rabbi Lionel Blue, journalist and broadcaster Swami Vivekananda, 19th-century Hindu missionary
Jackie Stewart, racing driver King Hussein of Jordan
Joan Littlewood, theatre director Brendan Behan, Irish writer
Lord Tebbit, Conservative politician King Alfred the Great, 9th-century King of Wessex

Series 1, May – August 2002[edit]

Guest Nominee Presenter
Ned Sherrin, broadcaster, author and stage director Sir Donald Wolfit, actor-manager Humphrey Carpenter
Elizabeth Filkin, former Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards George Eliot, novelist
Steven Isserlis, cellist Franz Schubert, Austrian composer
Lord Carrington, conservative politician Field Marshal Viscount Slim, military leader
Frederic Raphael, author and screenwriter Alexander the Great
Janet Street-Porter, journalist and media executive Marquis de Sade, French philosopher, revolutionary politician and libertine
Chris Barber, jazz trombonist and bandleader Louis Armstrong, American jazz trumpeter and singer
Sue Limb, writer and broadcaster Lord Byron, poet
Frank Keating, sports writer Tom Spring, 19th-century bare-knuckle boxer
Kirsty Young, broadcaster Katharine Graham, American newspaper publisher

Series 2, October – December 2002[edit]

Guest Nominee Presenter
Bernard Manning, comedian, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Albanian Roman Catholic nun Humphrey Carpenter
Sir Paul Nurse, geneticist and cell biologist, Erasmus Darwin, 18th century physician
Darcus Howe, writer and broadcaster, C. L. R. James, sportsman and revolutionary
Bea Campbell, journalist and author, Rachel Carson, marine biologist and conservationist
Muriel Gray, journalist and broadcaster, M. R. James, writer of ghost stories
Ahdaf Soueif, novelist and cultural commentator, Umm Kulthum, Egyptian singer, songwriter and actress
Professor Sir Harry Kroto, chemist, Spinoza, Portuguese philosopher
Steve Bell, political cartoonist, James Gillray, 18th-century caricaturist
Tam Dalyell, Labour politician, Richard Crossman, Labour politician
Greg Dyke, media executive, Captain James Cook, explorer

Series 3, April – June 2003[edit]

Guest Nominee Presenter
Beryl Bainbridge, novelist Robert Falcon Scott, polar explorer Humphrey Carpenter
Leonard Slatkin, conductor and composer Sergei Rachmaninoff, Russian-American composer
John Sergeant, journalist and broadcaster Arthur Ransome, author and journalist
Benjamin Zephaniah, writer and poet Bob Marley, Jamaican reggae musician
Steve Jones, geneticist James Hogg, poet and novelist
Richard Ingrams, journalist and satirist G. K. Chesterton, writer
Stacey Kent, jazz singer, Powell and Pressburger, film-makers
Richard Holmes, military historian the Man in the Iron Mask, mysterious French prisoner in the Bastille
Tanni Grey-Thompson, Welsh athlete and broadcaster, David Lloyd George, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
Esther Rantzen, journalist and broadcaster, Queen Elizabeth I, Queen of England and Ireland

Series 4, October – December 2003[edit]

Guest Nominee Presenter
Peter Bazalgette, television executive Noël Coward, playwright, composer, director, actor and singer Humphrey Carpenter
Kit Wright, writer Samuel Johnson, author and lexicographer
Kate Adie, war reporter Flora Sandes, pioneer female soldier
Jenny Eclair, comedian Sarah Bernhardt, French actress
Brian Keenan, writer Bernardo O'Higgins, Chilean independence leader
Brenda Dean, trade unionist and politician Octavia Hill, co-founder of the National Trust
Clement Freud, broadcaster, writer, politician and chef Tommy Cooper, comedian and magician
Armando Iannucci, comedian and writer Charles Dickens, novelist
Linda Smith, comedian Ian Dury, singer
Ann Leslie, journalist Mary Kingsley, writer and explorer

Series 5, April – June 2004[edit]

Guest Nominee Presenter
Lord Alistair McAlpine, Conservative politician Machiavelli Humphrey Carpenter
Denis Healey, Labour politician Ernest Bevin, Labour politician
Ruth Lea, economist Pyotr Tchaikovsky, composer
George Monbiot, environmental activist and writer Thomas Paine, American author and revolutionary
Benedict Allen, explorer Horatio Nelson, naval hero
Charles Wheeler, journalist and broadcaster Lyndon B. Johnson, 36th President of the United States
Kimberley Fortier Edith Wharton, writer
Richard Eyre, theatre director Anton Chekhov, Russian dramatist
Kenneth Clarke, Conservative politician Benjamin Disraeli, 19th century Conservative Prime Minister
Lord May, scientist Joseph Banks, naturalist and botanist

Series 6, October – December 2004[edit]

Guest Nominee Presenter
Dillie Keane, actress, singer and comedian Gilbert and Sullivan, librettist and composer of comic operettas 1 Humphrey Carpenter
Baroness Jay, former Leader of the House of Lords Vice-Admiral Robert FitzRoy RN, captain of HMS Beagle
Christina Gorna, barrister Vivien Leigh, actress
Jilly Goolden, wine expert Leonard Woolf, writer and political thinker
Gerry Anderson, broadcaster Burt Lancaster, American actor
Tim Marlow, art historian and broadcaster Marvin Gaye, soul singer
Shami Chakrabarti, civil-rights campaigner George Orwell, author and journalist
Marjorie Wallace, writer and charity worker Sir Edward Elgar, composer
David Puttnam, film-maker Michael Collins, Irish nationalist leader (repeat of Programme 1?)
Lucinda Lambton, writer and broadcaster Captain Henry Morgan, privateer
  • 1The programme originally scheduled by wtih the guest film-maker David Puttnam who nominated the Michael Collins, Irish nationalist leader) was withdrawn due to "production quality".[1]

Hogmanay Special, 31 December 2004[edit]

Guest Nominee Presenter
Eddi Reader, Scottish singer-songwriter Robert Burns, Scottish poet Humphrey Carpenter1
  • Carpenter died on 4 January 2005, this was he's last Great Lives programme 1

Series 7, April – June 2005[edit]

Guest Nominee Presenter
Joe Queenan, humorist, critic and author Genghis Khan, founder of the Mongol Empire Francine Stock
Mary Kenny, author George Sand, writer
Valerie Grove, journalist Charles M. Schulz, the Peanuts cartoonist
Douglas Dunn, poet Robert Louis Stevenson, writer
Michael Morpurgo, Children's Laureate Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Austrian composer
Martin Smith, Chairman of English National Opera John D. Rockefeller, Ameircan industrialist, investor and philanthropist
Yvonne Brown, lawyer Marcus Garvey, Pan-Africanist leader
Amanda Vickery, historian Elizabeth Gaskell, novelist
Lord Powell Ronald Reagan, 40th President of the United States
Frederick Forsyth, novelist the 1st Duke of Wellington, soldier and statesman

Series 8, October 2005 – February 2006[edit]

Guest Nominee Presenter
Kathy Lette, writer Mae West, Hollywood actress Francine Stock
Carole Stone, author and broadcaster R. D. Laing, psychiatrist
Howard Goodall, composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, composer
Antony Beevor, historian, and Gillian Slovo, novelist Vasily Grossman, Soviet writer
Robert Thomson, journalist Zhao Ziyang, Chinese premier
Derek Wilson, historian and author Thomas Cromwell, 16th century politician
Fiona Reynolds, Director-General of the National Trust Beatrix Potter, writer
Annie Nightingale, radio broadcaster Marty Feldman, comedian and actor
Adam Hart-Davis, historian and broadcaster Nevil Shute, novelist and aeronautical engineer
Helen Lederer, writer and actress Dorothy Parker, writer and poet

Series 9, April – June 2006[edit]

Guest Nominee Presenter
Penelope Keith, actress Morecambe and Wise, comedy double act Matthew Parris
Jeff Randall, journalist Andrew Carnegie, Scottish-American industrialist and philanthropist
Julian Clary, comedian Noël Coward, playwright, composer, director, actor and singer; Coward was previously nominated by Peter Bazalgette in Series 4 Progamme 1
Craig Brown, critic and satirist Sigmund Freud, Austrian neurologist and psychotherapist
Ivan Massow, entrepreneur Ella Fitzgerald, jazz singer
Duncan Goodhew, athlete Johnny Weissmuller, American athlete-turned Tarzan actor
Frances Cairncross, economist, journalist and academic Ignaz Semmelweis, Hungarian physician and pioneer of antiseptic procedures
Anna Raeburn, broadcaster and agony aunt Tamara Karsavina, Russian ballerina
Piers Morgan, journallist and broadcaster W. G. Grace, English cricketer
Krishnan Guru-Murthy, journalist and broadcaster Robin Day, broadcaster and political interviewer

Series 10, August – September 2006[edit]

Guest Nominee Presenter
Christopher Hitchens, author and journalist Leon Trotsky, Russian revolutionary Matthew Parris
Garry Bushell, newspaper columnist Max Miller, comedian
Helena Kennedy, civil liberties lawyer Eleanor Roosevelt, First Lady of the United States
Jeremy Vine, journalist and broadcaster W. H. Auden, poet
Elaine Showalter, feminist literary critic Julia Ward Howe, 19th-century American abolitionist, social activist and poet
Lord John Biffen, Conservative politician Stanley Baldwin, Conservative Prime Minister
Joanna MacGregor, pianist Nina Simone, singer and civil rights activist
Adair Turner, businessman and academic Charles Darwin, naturallist

Series 11, December 2006 – January 2007[edit]

Guest Nominee Presenter
Joe Boyd, record producer John H. Hammond, record producer Matthew Parris
Lesley Abdela, feminist campaigner Millicent Garrett Fawcett, suffragette
Kathy Sykes, scientist and broadcaster Albert Einstein, German-American physicist
Victor Spinetti, actor Joan Littlewood, theatre director
Alan Davies, actor and comedian Richard Beckinsale, actor
Camilla Wright, journalist Martha Gellhorn, American war reporter
Anne Fine, author William Beveridge, economist and social reformer
Ann Widdecombe, former Conservative MP Pope John Paul II

Series 12, April – May 2007[edit]

Guest Nominee Presenter
Phill Jupitus, comedian Joe Strummer, frontman of The Clash Matthew Parris
Nick Danziger, photographer Tintin, fictional Belgian reporter
William Boyd, author Anton Chekhov, Russian playwright
Pallab Ghosh, BBC science correspondent Marie Curie, Polish chemist & physicist
Pauline Black, singer & actor Billie Holiday, American jazz singer
Fiona Bruce, television presenter & newsreader Mata Hari, Dutch accused spy
Yvonne Brewster, theatre director, actress and writer Claude McKay, poet
Barry Cunliffe, archaeologist Julius Caesar, Roman Emperor
Phil Hammond, comedian & broadcaster George Bernard Shaw, Irish writer & activist

Series 13, August – October 2007[edit]

Guest Nominee Presenter
Jude Kelly, theatre director and producer Lilian Baylis, theatrical producer and manager Matthew Parris
David Trimble, politician Elvis Presley, American singer
Maggi Hambling, painter and sculptor Rembrandt, Dutch artist
The Earl of Snowdon, photographer, and Alex Moulton, engineer Alec Issigonis, car designer
Michael Craig-Martin, conceptual artist John Cage, avant-garde composer
David Rowntree, drummer with Blur and political activist Lord Denning, judge
John Motson, football commentator Brian Clough, football manager
Prue Leith, restaurateur Elizabeth David, food writer
General Sir Michael Rose, British Army officer George Washington, first President of the United States

Series 14, December 2007 – January 2008[edit]

Guest Nominee Presenter
Jan Ravens, impressionist Thora Hird, actress Matthew Parris
Quentin Blake, illustrator George Cruikshank, caricaturist
Redmond O'Hanlon, travel writer Alfred Russel Wallace, naturalist
Sir Richard Sykes, biochemist Howard Florey, pharmacologist and pathologist
Roger Graef, documentary maker Groucho Marx, American comedian and film star
Jacqueline Wilson, author of children's literature Katherine Mansfield, writer
Joe Simpson, mountaineer Hermann Buhl, mountaineer

Series 15, April – May 2008[edit]

Guest Nominee Presenter
Mark Gatiss, actor and writer Peter Cushing, actor Matthew Parris
Rhona Cameron, comedian Charles Bukowski, novelist and poet
Steve Cram, former athlete Paavo Nurmi, Finnish runner
Stirling Moss, racing car driver Juan Manuel Fangio, Argentine racing car driver
Anna Ford, TV newsreader Paul Robeson, black singer, actor and civil rights activist
Simon Armitage, poet Ian Curtis, lead singer with Joy Division
Nicholas Parsons, actor and radio & TV presenter Edward Lear, painter and poet
Arabella Weir, comedian, actress and writer Joyce Grenfell, actress, comedian and singer-songwriter
Colin Dexter, crime writer A. E. Housman, scholar and poet

Series 16, August – September 2008[edit]

Guest Nominee Presenter
Jon Snow, journalist and broadcaster Lord Longford, politician and social reformer Matthew Parris
David Lammy, politician Richard Pryor, comedian
David Attenborough, naturalist and broadcaster Robert Hooke, 17th century scientist
Bob Harris, radio presenter Alan Freed, disc jockey
George Osborne, then shadow chancellor Henry VII, king
Lesley Riddoch, broadcaster David Ervine, Northern Ireland politician
Mike Jackson, army general Bill Slim, second world war Field Marshal
Deborah Meaden, businesswoman Lady Hester Stanhope, traveller, diplomat and spy
Ian Hislop, editor of Private Eye William Hogarth, painter and satirist

Series 17, December 2008 – February 2009[edit]

Guest Nominee Presenter
Harvey Goldsmith, performing arts promoter Luciano Pavarotti, Italian operatic tenor Matthew Parris
Michael Grade, broadcasting executive Billy Marsh, theatrical agent
Raymond Briggs, illustrator and writer Beachcomber, columnist
David Soul, actor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German theologian and Resistance figure
Tracy-Ann Oberman, actress Bette Davis, American film actress
Pam Ayres, poet Tony Hancock, comedian and actor
Redmond O'Hanlon, travel writer Alfred Russel Wallace, naturalist
Rachel De Thame, horticulturalist Margot Fonteyn, ballerina
Ken Livingstone, former Mayor of London Robert Kennedy, American politician and brother of president John F. Kennedy

Series 18, April – May 2009[edit]

Guest Nominee Presenter
Stuart Hall, broadcaster Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor of France Matthew Parris
Polly Toynbee, journalist Roy Jenkins, Labour politician
David Mellor, politician Thomas Beecham, conductor
Ruby Wax, American comedian Carl Jung, Swiss founder of analytical psychology
Colin Murray, broadcaster Frank Sinatra, American singer
Andy Sheppard, saxophonist John Coltrane, saxophonist
Michael O'Donnell, doctor and broadcaster Fred Astaire, dancer and actor
Misha Glenny, journalist Giovanni Falcone, Italian judge and anti-Mafia campaigner

Series 19, August – September 2009[edit]

Guest Nominee Presenter
Andrew Motion, Poet Laureate Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Poet Laureate Matthew Parris
David Miliband, Member of Parliament and Minister Joe Slovo, South African ANC leader
George Galloway, Member of Parliament John Cornford, poet and activist
Dervla Murphy, travel writer Freya Stark, travel writer
Rolf Harris, Australian musician and artist Kyffin Williams, Welsh artist
Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London Samuel Johnson, writer of the great dictionary
Kate Humble, TV presenter Miriam Makeba, South African singer and anti-apartheid activist
Paul Daniels, magician Harry Houdini, American escapologist
John Major, former British Prime Minister Rudyard Kipling, author and poet

Series 20, December 2009 – February 2010[edit]

Guest Nominee Presenter
Sir Ranulph Fiennes, explorer Henry V, King of England Matthew Parris
Rich Hall, stand-up comedian Tennessee Williams, American playwright
Neil Innes, musician and performer Vivian Stanshall, musician and comic writer
Munira Mirza, London Mayoral advisor on arts and culture Hannah Arendt, German-American political philosopher
Christopher Biggins, acto Nero, Roman Emperor
Jenny Agutter, actress Lise Meitner, Austrian physicist
David Bailey, photographer Pablo Picasso, Spanish artist
John Williams, composer Agustin Barrios Mangore, Paraguayan guitarist
Richard Dawkins, ethologist and evolutionary biologist Bill Hamilton, evolutionary theorist

Series 21, April – May 2010[edit]

Guest Nominee Presenter
John Godber, playwright Bertolt Brecht, writer and theatre director Matthew Parris
Clive Stafford Smith, human rights lawyer Robin Hood, folklore hero
Peter White, broadcaster Douglas Jardine, England cricket captain
John Lloyd, comedy writer and television producer Richard Buckminster Fuller, architect and futurist
Stuart Rose, chairman of Marks and Spencer Matthew Flinders, cartographer
Baroness Sarah Hogg, economist and journalist Charlotte Guest, polymath and businesswoman
Brian Cox, physicist Carl Sagan, astronomer and astrophysicist
Viv Anderson, England footballer Arthur Wharton, athlete and football player

Series 22, August – September 2010[edit]

Guest Nominee Presenter
John Harris, journalist and author John Lennon, musician Matthew Parris
Bettany Hughes, historian Sappho, Ancient Greek poet
Dominic Sandbrook, historian Richard Nixon, 37th President of the United States
Camila Batmanghelidjh, founder of Kids Company Mary Carpenter, educational and social reformer
Eleanor Bron, actress Simone Weil, French philosopher and mystic
Edwina Currie, former MP Golda Meir, former Prime Minister of Israel
Digby Jones, former director of the CBI Winston Churchill, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom

Series 23, November 2010 – January 2011[edit]

Guest Nominee Presenter
Mark Borkowski, PR man Malcolm McLaren, the rock & roll swindler Matthew Parris
John Hegley, poet DH Lawrence, writer
Gerry Robinson, business guru Samuel Beckett, Irish playwright
Lionel Blair, dancer & TV celebrity Sammy Davis Jr, dancer, singer & entertainer
Neil Kinnock, former MP Aneurin Bevan, founder of the NHS
Barry Cryer, comedian J. B. Priestley, novelist & playwright
Jim Al-Khalili, Iraqi-born physicist Gertrude Bell, writer, traveller, politician & administrator
Katherine Whitehorn, journalist Mary Stott, campaigning journalist
Kwame Kwei-Armah, playwright & actor Marcus Garvey, African-American politicial leader 1
  • Garvey was previously nominated by Yvonne Brown in Series 7 Programme 7 1

Series 24, April – May 2011[edit]

Guest Nominee Presenter
Clive Sinclair, British inventor Thomas Edison, American inventor Matthew Parris
Charles Hazlewood, conductor Leonard Bernstein, conductor and composer
Diana Quick, actress Simone de Beauvoir, French philosopher
Sue MacGregor, broadcaster Kathleen Ferrier, contralto singer
Lynne Truss, writer and journalist Lewis Carroll, mathematician and author of Alice in Wonderland
Caroline Lucas, British Green MP Petra Kelly, German Green politician
Matthew Syed, sports journalist Jack Johnson, "the Galveston Giant", boxer
Diane Abbott, Member of Parliament Harold Pinter, playwright

Series 25, August – September 2011[edit]

Guest Nominee Presenter
Tim Butcher, journalist Graham Greene, author, playwright and critic Matthew Parris
Janice Long, broadcaster Kirsty MacColl, singer-songwriter
Gwyneth Lewis, poet Emily Dickinson, American poet
Antonio Carluccio, Italian restaurateur Eduardo Paolozzi, artist
Daisy Goodwin, broadcaster and poetry curator William Shakespeare, poet and playwright
Simon Day, comedian Hans Fallada, German writer
Simon Jenkins, journalist Edwin Lutyens, architect
Cerys Matthews, musician Hildegard of Bingen, German mystic
Graeme le Saux, former England footballer Gerald Durrell, author and conservationist

Series 26, December 2011 – January 2012[edit]

Guest Nominee Presenter
Michael Sheen, actor Philip K. Dick, science fiction writer Matthew Parris
Raymond Tallis, philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, German philosopher
Steven Pinker, psychologist and cognitive scientist Thomas Hobbes, philosopher
Brian Sewell, art critic Ludwig II of Bavaria
Jim Carter, actor Lonnie Donegan, skiffle musician
Martin Rees, astrophysicist Joseph Rotblat, physicist and campaigner against nuclear weapons
Emma Kennedy, actress Gracie Allen, comedian
Clare Gerada, doctors' leader Vera Brittain, writer, feminist and pacifist .
Baroness Warsi, Conservative politician Razia Sultana, 13th-century Indian princess

Series 27, April – May 2012[edit]

Guest Nominee Presenter
Owen Sheers, Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, Welsh poet Matthew Parris
Will Self, journalist and novelist Oscar Wilde, Irish writer and poet
Erin Pizzey, writer and campaigner Gertrude Stein, writer and art collector
Tom Robinson, singer and leader of the Tom Robinson Band George Lyward, educationalist, teacher and psychotherapist who worked at Finchden Manor
Alexei Sayle, comedian Edward Said, Palestinian-American literary theorist and campaigner for Palestinian rights
Eric Pickles, politician John Ford, American film director
Diana Athill, British novelist, memoirist and diarist Francisco Goya, Spanish painter
Lynn Barber, British journalist Sebastian Walker, founder of Walker Books, a publishing house for children

Series 28, July – September 2012[edit]

Guest Nominee Presenter
Des Lynam, sports commentator Henry Cooper, English heavyweight boxer Matthew Parris
Janine di Giovanni, author and foreign correspondent Josephine Bonaparte, wife of Napoleon Bonaparte
Rory Stewart, Tory Member of Parliament, author and adventurer Sir Walter Scott, Scottish author
Bill Paterson, actor Leonard Maguire, Scottish actor
Natalie Haynes, comedian Juvenal, Roman poet
Ken Dodd, comedian Stan Laurel, film actor and one half of the duo Laurel and Hardy
Stephen Frears, film director Karel Reisz, film director
Alan Johnson, politician and former home secretary George Orwell, writer
Naomi Wolf, commentator and author of The Beauty Myth Edith Wharton, novelist, wit and feminist

Series 29, December 2012 – January 2013[edit]

Guest Nominee Presenter
Martin Broughton, chairman of British Airways and the British Horse Racing Board Dick Francis, crime novelist and former jockey Matthew Parris
Francesca Simon, children's writer and author of the Horrid Henry books Jean Cocteau, French writer and film director
Lemn Sissay, author and broadcaster Prince Alemayehu, favourite prince of Queen Victoria
Stuart Maconie, radio presenter and music critic Ralph Vaughan Williams, composer and folk music collector
Richard Herring, comedian Grigori Rasputin, Russian Orthodox mystic
Max Mosley, former president of the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) John Stuart Mill, philosopher
Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen, interior designer Aubrey Beardsley, artist of the Aesthetic movement
Grace Dent, journalist Nancy Mitford, novelist and biographer
Carol Klein, gardening expert William Robinson, Irish-born journalist and gardener

Series 30, April – May 2013[edit]

Guest Nominee Presenter
Peter Hitchens, author and columnist George Bell, Anglican theologian Matthew Parris
Bobby Friction, DJ and presenter Galileo Galilei, Italian pioneer astronomer
Chris Tarrant, DJ and former television presenter Kenny Everett, comedian and former disc jockey
John Blashford-Snell, explorer David Livingstone, explorer
Gyles Brandreth, writer and broadcaster Arthur Conan Doyle, author
Justine Roberts, founder of Mumsnet, a website for parents Bill Shankly, football manager
John Cooper Clarke, poet Salvador Dalí, Spanish surrealist painter
Edmund de Waal, ceramicist and writer Primo Levi, Italian chemist and Holocaust writer
Dr Lucy Worsley, Chief Curator at Historic Royal Palaces Florence Nightingale, nurse, health administrator and statistician

Series 31, August - October 2013[edit]

Guest Nominee Presenter
Russell Grant, astrologer and broadcaster Ivor Novello, composer and actor Matthew Parris
Gabriel Gbadamosi, playwright Fela Kuti, Nigerian musician
Tanika Gupta Rabindranath Tagore, Indian poet
Julie Burchill, writer Ava Gardner, American film star
Paul Mason, journalist and broadcaster Louise Michel, 19th century French anarchist
Peter Bowles, actor George Devine, theatre director
Konnie Huq, television presenter and writer Ada Lovelace, computing pioneer
Brendan Barber, trade unionist John Steinbeck, American novelist
Al Murray, comedian Bernard Montgomery, WW2 British General

Series 32, December 2013 - January 2014[edit]

Guest Nominee Presenter
Ricky Ross, singer with Deacon Blue Hank Williams, singer-songwriter Matthew Parris
Michael Horovitz, poet Allen Ginsberg, Beat poet
Meg Rosoff, novelist Isabella Bird, Victorian traveller
David Chipperfield, architect Le Corbusier, Swiss-French architect
David Baddiel, comedian John Updike, novelist
Adil Ray, actor and TV personality Dave Allen, comedian
Mark Constantine, businessman and founder of Lush cosmetics Kahlil Gibran, poet
Sara Cox, radio presenter Lisa 'Left Eye' Lopes, hip-hop artist

Series 33, April - May 2014[edit]

Guest Nominee Presenter
Evelyn Glennie, percussionist Jacqueline du Pré, cellist Matthew Parris
Sarah Vine, newspaper columnist Dante Alighieri, 12th-13th century Italian poet
Mark Walport, Chief Scientific Adviser Hans Sloane, art collector and benefactor of the British Museum
Marcus du Sautoy, mathematician Jorge Luis Borges, Argentinian writer
Deborah Moggach, novelist Arnold Bennett, 19th-century novelist
Isy Suttie, comedian, musician and actor Jake Thackray, singer-songwriter
John Craven, journalist and TV presenter Isambard Kingdom Brunel, 19th-century British engineer
Emma Kirkby, soprano singer Henry Purcell, 17th-century composer
Michael Palin, Python, writer and broadcaster Ernest Hemingway, American writer

Series 34, August - October 2014[edit]

Guest Nominee Presenter
Jonathan Meades, writer and broadcaster Edward Burra, artist Matthew Parris
Jazzie B, DJ and music entrepreneur James Brown, American singer
Oona King, politician Ida B. Wells, American journalist and civil rights leader
Ray Mears, woodsman and TV presenter Rommel, German field marshal of World War II
Tom Shakespeare, sociologist Gramsci, Italian Marxist politician
Labi Siffre, poet and singer-songwriter Arthur Ransome, author and journalist
Stella Rimington, writer and former Director General of MI5 Dorothy L. Sayers, crime writer
Andrew Adonis, politician and academic Joseph Bazalgette, Victorian engineer responsible for London's main sewers
Edith Hall, classicist Lucille Ball, American actress and comedian

Series 35, December 2014 - January 2015[edit]

Guest Nominee Presenter
Arthur Smith, comedian Emil Zátopek, Czechoslovak distance runner Matthew Parris
Laura Bates, feminist writer Louisa May Alcott, 19th century American author of Little Women
Brian Eno, musician Michael Young, sociologist and politician
Philippa Langley, historian Richard III, 15th -century King of England
Tom Solomon, neurologist Roald Dahl, children's writer
Michael Dobbs, politician and novelist Guy Burgess, spy
Eve Pollard, journalist and editor Nora Ephron, American screenwriter
Mervyn King, former Governor of the Bank of England Risto Ryti, Governor of Bank of Finland and Prime Minister and President of Finland during World War II

Series 36, April - June 2015[edit]

Guest Nominee Presenter
Trevor McDonald, news presenter Learie Constantine, Trinidadian cricketer and politician Matthew Parris
Rachel Johnson, author and journalist Lady Ottoline Morrell, literary hostess and associate of the Bloomsbury Group
Kulvinder Ghir, comedian and actor Zoran Mušič, Slovene artist and survivor of Dachau
Helen Ghosh, Director General of the National Trust James Lees-Milne, writer and expert on country houses
Wendy Cope, poet John Clare, 19th-century poet
Antonia Quirke, film critic Marlon Brando, American actor
Matthew Barzun, American ambassador John Gil Winant, American ambassador to UK 1941-46
David Blunkett, blind politician Louis Braille, 18th-century French inventor of Braille
Val McDermid, crime writer P. D. James, crime writer

Series 37, April - June 2015[edit]

Guest Nominee Presenter
Ian McKellen, actor Edmund Hillary, mountaineer and explorer Matthew Parris
Vicky Pryce, Greek-born former British Government economist Melina Mercouri, Greek actress, singer and politician
Michael Howard, Conservative politician Queen Elizabeth I, English monarch
Ade Adepitan, television personality and Paralympian George Washington Williams, American Civil War veteran and historian
Monica Ali, novelist Richard Francis Burton, explorer and adventurer
Frances Crook, prison reformist Barbara Castle, Labour Party politician
Hannah Rothschild, philanthropist and documentary filmmaker Thelonious Monk, jazz musician
Nick Stadlen, former High Court judge Bram Fischer, South African lawyer and anti-apartheid activist
Toyah Willcox, singer and actress Katharine Hepburn, Hollywood actress

Series 38, August 2015 - January 2016[edit]

Guest Nominee Presenter
Dickie Bird, cricket umpire Sir Leonard Hutton, England Test cricker Matthew Parris
Roger Saul, founder of the Mulberry fashion label Gertrude Jekyll, garden designer
Alvin Hall, financial journalist James Baldwin, African American writer
Precious Lunga, epidemiologist Wangari Maathai, Kenyan environmental and political activist
Martin Jennings, sculptor Charles Sargeant Jagger, sculptor of British World War One war memorials
Susan Calman, Scottish comedian Molly Weir, Scottish actress
Nitin Sawhney, musician and producer Jeff Buckley, singer-songwriter
Eliza Manningham-Buller, former Director General of MI5 Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States

Series 39, April 2016 - present[edit]

Guest Nominee Presenter
Anthony Horowitz, novelist and screenwriter Alfred Hitchcock, film director Matthew Parris
Nancy Dell'Olio, lawyer Lucrezia Borgia, Italian princesses
Ray Peacock, Comedian Lenny Bruce, Comedian
Sudha Bhuchar, actress Zohra Sehgal, Indian actress
Graeme Lamb, SAS commando Christine Granville, spy
Timmy Mallett, TV presenter Richard the Lionheart, King
Charles Moore, journalist Gordon Hamilton-Fairley, medical oncology
Ann Limb, chair of the Scout Association George Fox, founder of the Quaker
Frank Turner, folk singer Joseph Grimaldi, comedian

Series 40, August 2016 - present[edit]

Guest Nominee Presenter
Hilary Devey, television personality Gracie Fields, actress Matthew Parris
Alex Salmond, Scottish former First Minister Thomas Muir, Father of Scottish Democracy.
Sara Pascoe, stand-up comedian Virginia Woolf, writer
Georgina Godwin, journalist Dag Hammarskjold, Secretary General of the United Nations
Tony Hawks, Comedian Marshall Rosenberg, psychologist
Maureen Lipman, actress Cicely Saunders, nurse
Eliza Carthy, folk musician Caroline Norton, poet
A. A. Gill, writer Neville Chamberlain, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
Cyrus Todiwala, chef Dadabhai Naoroji, first British Indian MP


  1. ^ Great Lives at

External links[edit]