Great Lives

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.

Great Lives
Running time28 mins
Country of originGreat Britain
Home stationBBC Radio 4
Hosted byJoan Bakewell
Humphrey Carpenter
Francine Stock
Matthew Parris
Produced byChris Ledgard
Original release24 August 2001 – present
No. of series44
No. of episodes282
PodcastPodcast RSS feed


Series 0, August – November 2001Edit

Guest Nominee Presenter
Tim Waterstone, founder of bookshop chain Clement Attlee former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
Rosie Boycott, journalist Sir Ernest Shackleton, polar explorer
Terence Conran, food & design entrepreneur André & Édouard Michelin, French inventors of the detachable pneumatic tyre & the travel guide
Ralph Steadman, cartoonist & caricaturist Friedrich Nietzsche, German philosopher
Barbara Castle, Labour politician & former Cabinet Minister Sylvia Pankhurst, suffragette
Frank Delaney, writer & broadcaster Henri Matisse, French artist
Jonathan Miller, theatre & opera director, physician Marshall McLuhan, communication theorist & philosopher
Fay Weldon, writer H. G. Wells, visionary author
Rabbi Lionel Blue, rabbi & 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 & former Cabinet Minister King Alfred the Great, 9th-century King of Wessex

Series 1, May – August 2002Edit

Guest Nominee Presenter
Ned Sherrin, broadcaster, television producer & 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 & former Foreign Secretary Field Marshal Viscount Slim, military leader
Frederic Raphael, author & screenwriter Alexander the Great
Janet Street-Porter, journalist & media executive Marquis de Sade, French philosopher, revolutionary politician & libertine
Chris Barber, jazz trombonist & bandleader Louis Armstrong, American jazz trumpeter & singer
Sue Limb, writer & 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 2002Edit

Guest Nominee Presenter
Bernard Manning, comedian, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Albanian Roman Catholic nun Humphrey Carpenter
Sir Paul Nurse, geneticist & cell biologist, Erasmus Darwin, 18th century physician
Darcus Howe, writer & broadcaster, C. L. R. James, Caribbean revolutionary & cricket writer
Bea Campbell, journalist & author Rachel Carson, marine biologist & conservationist
Muriel Gray, journalist & broadcaster, M. R. James, writer of ghost stories
Ahdaf Soueif, novelist & cultural commentator, Umm Kulthum, Egyptian singer, songwriter & 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 & former Cabinet Minister
Greg Dyke, media executive, Captain James Cook, explorer

Series 3, April – June 2003Edit

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

Series 4, October – December 2003Edit

Guest Nominee Presenter
Peter Bazalgette, television executive Noël Coward, playwright, composer, director, actor & singer Humphrey Carpenter
Kit Wright, writer Samuel Johnson, author & 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 & Labour peer Octavia Hill, co-founder of the National Trust
Clement Freud, broadcaster, writer, politician & chef Tommy Cooper, comedian & magician
Armando Iannucci, comedian & writer Charles Dickens, novelist
Linda Smith, comedian Ian Dury, singer
Ann Leslie, journalist Mary Kingsley, writer & explorer

Series 5, April – June 2004Edit

Guest Nominee Presenter
Lord Alistair McAlpine, Conservative politician Machiavelli Humphrey Carpenter
Denis Healey, Labour politician, former Chancellor of the Exchequer Ernest Bevin, Labour politician, former Foreign Secretary
Ruth Lea, economist Pyotr Tchaikovsky, composer
George Monbiot, journalist, environmental activist & writer Thomas Paine, American author & revolutionary
Benedict Allen, explorer Horatio Nelson, naval hero
Charles Wheeler, journalist & 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, former Chancellor of the Exchequer Benjamin Disraeli, 19th century Conservative Prime Minister
Lord May, scientist Joseph Banks, naturalist & botanist

Series 6, October – December 2004Edit

Guest Nominee Presenter
Dillie Keane, actress, singer & comedian Gilbert & Sullivan, librettist & composer of comic operettas 1 Humphrey Carpenter
Baroness Jay, former Labour 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, publisher & political thinker
Gerry Anderson, broadcaster Burt Lancaster, American actor
Tim Marlow, art historian & broadcaster Marvin Gaye, soul singer
Shami Chakrabarti, civil-rights campaigner George Orwell, author & journalist
Marjorie Wallace, writer & charity chief executive Sir Edward Elgar, composer
David Puttnam, film-maker Michael Collins, Irish nationalist leader (repeat of Programme 1?)
Lucinda Lambton, writer & broadcaster Captain Henry Morgan, privateer
  • 1The programme originally was scheduled by 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 2004Edit

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

Series 7, April – June 2005Edit

Guest Nominee Presenter
Joe Queenan, humorist, critic & 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, American industrialist, investor & 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 & statesman

Series 8, October 2005 – February 2006Edit

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

Series 9, April – June 2006Edit

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

Series 10, August – September 2006Edit

Guest Nominee Presenter
Christopher Hitchens, author & 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, broadcaster & journalist W. H. Auden, poet
Elaine Showalter, feminist literary critic Julia Ward Howe, 19th-century American abolitionist, social activist & poet
Lord John Biffen, Conservative politician & former Minister Stanley Baldwin, Conservative Prime Minister
Joanna MacGregor, pianist Nina Simone, singer & civil rights activist
Adair Turner, businessman & academic Charles Darwin, naturalist & evolutionary scientist

Series 11, December 2006 – January 2007Edit

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

Series 12, April – May 2007Edit

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 & writer Claude McKay, poet
Barry Cunliffe, archaeologist Julius Caesar, Roman Emperor
Phil Hammond, broadcaster, physician & comedian George Bernard Shaw, Irish dramatist & Fabian Society pamphleteer

Series 13, August – October 2007Edit

Guest Nominee Presenter
Jude Kelly, theatre director & producer Lilian Baylis, theatrical producer & manager Matthew Parris
David Trimble, politician Elvis Presley, American singer
Maggi Hambling, painter & sculptor Rembrandt, Dutch artist
The Earl of Snowdon, photographer & Alex Moulton, engineer Alec Issigonis, car designer
Michael Craig-Martin, conceptual artist John Cage, avant-garde composer
David Rowntree, drummer with Blur & 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 2008Edit

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 & pathologist
Roger Graef, documentary maker Groucho Marx, American comedian & film star
Jacqueline Wilson, author of children's literature Katherine Mansfield, writer
Joe Simpson, mountaineer Hermann Buhl, mountaineer

Series 15, April – May 2008Edit

Guest Nominee Presenter
Mark Gatiss, actor & writer Peter Cushing, actor Matthew Parris
Rhona Cameron, comedian Charles Bukowski, novelist & 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 & civil rights activist
Simon Armitage, poet Ian Curtis, lead singer with Joy Division
Nicholas Parsons, actor & radio & TV presenter Edward Lear, painter & poet
Arabella Weir, comedian, actress & writer Joyce Grenfell, actress, comedian & singer-songwriter
Colin Dexter, crime writer A. E. Housman, scholar & poet

Series 16, August – September 2008Edit

Guest Nominee Presenter
Jon Snow, journalist & broadcaster Lord Longford, Labour politician & prison reformer Matthew Parris
David Lammy, politician Richard Pryor, comedian
David Attenborough, zoologist & 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 & spy
Ian Hislop, editor of Private Eye William Hogarth, painter, engraver & satirist

Series 17, December 2008 – February 2009Edit

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 & writer Beachcomber, columnist
David Soul, actor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German theologian & Resistance figure
Tracy-Ann Oberman, actress Bette Davis, American film actress
Pam Ayres, poet Tony Hancock, comedian & actor
Redmond O'Hanlon, travel writer Alfred Russel Wallace, naturalist
Rachel De Thame, horticulturalist Margot Fonteyn, ballerina
Ken Livingstone, former Mayor of London Robert F. Kennedy, American politician & brother of president John F. Kennedy

Series 18, April – May 2009Edit

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, broadcaster & physician Fred Astaire, dancer & actor
Misha Glenny, journalist Giovanni Falcone, Italian judge & anti-Mafia campaigner

Series 19, August – September 2009Edit

Guest Nominee Presenter
Andrew Motion, Poet Laureate Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Poet Laureate Matthew Parris
David Miliband, Member of Parliament & (then) Foreign Secretary Joe Slovo, South African ANC leader
George Galloway, Member of Parliament John Cornford, poet & activist
Dervla Murphy, travel writer Freya Stark, travel writer
Rolf Harris, Australian television presenter & 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 & anti-apartheid activist
Paul Daniels, magician Harry Houdini, American escapologist
John Major, former British Prime Minister Rudyard Kipling, poet & author

Series 20, December 2009 – February 2010Edit

Guest Nominee Presenter
Sir Ranulph Fiennes, explorer Henry V, King of England Matthew Parris
Rich Hall, stand-up comedian Tennessee Williams, American dramatist
Neil Innes, musician & performer Vivian Stanshall, musician & comic writer
Munira Mirza, London Mayoral advisor on arts & culture Hannah Arendt, German-American political philosopher
Christopher Biggins, actor & television presenter 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 & evolutionary biologist Bill Hamilton, evolutionary theorist

Series 21, April – May 2010Edit

Guest Nominee Presenter
John Godber, playwright Bertolt Brecht, writer & 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 & television producer Richard Buckminster Fuller, architect & futurist
Stuart Rose, chairman of Marks & Spencer Matthew Flinders, cartographer
Baroness Sarah Hogg, economist & journalist Charlotte Guest, polymath & businesswoman
Brian Cox, physicist Carl Sagan, astronomer & astrophysicist
Viv Anderson, England footballer Arthur Wharton, athlete & football player

Series 22, August – September 2010Edit

Guest Nominee Presenter
John Harris, journalist & 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 & social reformer
Eleanor Bron, actress Simone Weil, French philosopher & mystic
Edwina Currie, former Member of Parliament & government minister Golda Meir, former Prime Minister of Israel
Digby Jones, former director of the CBI Winston Churchill, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
Robert Winston, surgeon, scientist, broadcaster and politician Michel de Montaigne, writers of the French Renaissance
Gerald Scarfe, cartoonist Walt Disney, animator

Series 23, November 2010 – January 2011Edit

Guest Nominee Presenter
Mark Borkowski, public relations Malcolm McLaren, impresario & talent manager Matthew Parris
John Hegley, poet D.H. Lawrence, novelist
Gerry Robinson, businessman Samuel Beckett, Irish playwright
Lionel Blair, dancer & television personality Sammy Davis Jr, dancer, singer & entertainer
Neil Kinnock, former Leader of the Labour Party Aneurin Bevan, founder of the NHS & Labour Cabinet Minister
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 political leader 1
  • Garvey was previously nominated by Yvonne Brown in Series 7 Programme 7 1

Series 24, April – May 2011Edit

Guest Nominee Presenter
Clive Sinclair, British inventor Thomas Edison, American inventor Matthew Parris
Charles Hazlewood, conductor Leonard Bernstein, conductor & composer
Diana Quick, actress Simone de Beauvoir, French philosopher
Sue MacGregor, broadcaster Kathleen Ferrier, contralto singer
Lynne Truss, writer & journalist Lewis Carroll, author of Alice in Wonderland & mathematician
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 2011Edit

Guest Nominee Presenter
Tim Butcher, journalist Graham Greene, author & 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 & poetry curator William Shakespeare, poet & playwright
Simon Day, comedian & actor 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 & conservationist

Series 26, December 2011 – January 2012Edit

Guest Nominee Presenter
Michael Sheen, actor Philip K. Dick, science fiction writer Matthew Parris
Raymond Tallis, philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, German philosopher
Steven Pinker, psychologist & 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 & campaigner against nuclear weapons
Emma Kennedy, actress Gracie Allen, comedian
Clare Gerada, doctors' leader Vera Brittain, writer, feminist & pacifist
Baroness Warsi, Conservative politician & former government minister Razia Sultana, 13th-century Indian princess

Series 27, April – May 2012Edit

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

Series 28, July – September 2012Edit

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

Series 29, December 2012 – January 2013Edit

Guest Nominee Presenter
Martin Broughton, chairman of British Airways & the British Horse Racing Board Dick Francis, crime novelist & former jockey Matthew Parris
Francesca Simon, children's writer & author of the Horrid Henry books Jean Cocteau, French writer, artist & film director
Lemn Sissay, author & broadcaster Prince Alemayehu, favourite prince of Queen Victoria
Stuart Maconie, radio presenter & music critic Ralph Vaughan Williams, composer & 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 & biographer
Carol Klein, gardening expert William Robinson, Irish-born journalist & gardener

Series 30, April – May 2013Edit

Guest Nominee Presenter
Peter Hitchens, author & columnist George Bell, Anglican theologian & bishop Matthew Parris
Bobby Friction, DJ & presenter Galileo Galilei, Italian pioneer astronomer
Chris Tarrant, television presenter Kenny Everett, comedian and former disc jockey
John Blashford-Snell, explorer David Livingstone, explorer
Gyles Brandreth, writer & 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 & writer Primo Levi, Italian Holocaust survivor, writer & chemist
Dr Lucy Worsley, Chief Curator at Historic Royal Palaces Florence Nightingale, nurse, health administrator & statistician

Series 31, August – October 2013Edit

Guest Nominee Presenter
Russell Grant, astrologer & broadcaster Ivor Novello, composer & 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 & 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 2014Edit

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 & TV personality Dave Allen, comedian
Mark Constantine, businessman & founder of Lush cosmetics Kahlil Gibran, poet
Sara Cox, radio presenter Lisa 'Left Eye' Lopes, hip-hop artist

Series 33, April – May 2014Edit

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 & 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 & actor Jake Thackray, singer-songwriter
John Craven, journalist & television presenter Isambard Kingdom Brunel, 19th-century British engineer
Emma Kirkby, soprano singer Henry Purcell, 17th-century composer
Michael Palin, Python, writer & broadcaster Ernest Hemingway, American writer

Series 34, August – October 2014Edit

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

Series 35, December 2014 – January 2015Edit

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 & politician
Philippa Langley, historian Richard III, 15th -century King of England
Tom Solomon, neurologist Roald Dahl, children's writer
Michael Dobbs, politician & novelist Guy Burgess, spy
Eve Pollard, journalist & former newspaper 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 – May 2015Edit

Guest Nominee Presenter
Trevor McDonald, news presenter Learie Constantine, Trinidadian cricketer & politician Matthew Parris
Rachel Johnson, author & journalist Lady Ottoline Morrell, literary hostess & associate of the Bloomsbury Group
Kulvinder Ghir, comedian & actor Zoran Mušič, Slovene artist & survivor of Dachau
Helen Ghosh, Director General of the National Trust James Lees-Milne, writer & 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, August – September 2015Edit

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

Series 38, December 2015 – January 2016Edit

Guest Nominee Presenter
Dickie Bird, cricket umpire Sir Leonard Hutton, English cricketer 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 & producer Jeff Buckley, singer-songwriter
Eliza Manningham-Buller, former Director General of MI5 Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States

Series 39, April – May 2016Edit

Guest Nominee Presenter
Anthony Horowitz, novelist & 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 – September 2016Edit

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 Hammarskjöld, 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

Series 41, December 2016 – January 2017Edit

Guest Nominee Presenter
Lucy Porter, comedian Cary Grant, American actor Matthew Parris
Ben Kingsley, actor Elie Wiesel, Romanian-born, American Jewish Nobel laureate
Orlando Murrin, food writer Dinu Lipatti, Romanian pianist
Ruth Holdaway, sports personality Helen Rollason, sports journalist
Suzannah Lipscomb, historian C. S. Lewis, novelist
Akram Khan, choreographer Srinivasa Ramanujan, mathematician
Len Goodman, dancer Lionel Bart, composer
Chris Patten, Chancellor of the University of Oxford Pope John XXIII, pope

Series 42, April – May 2017Edit

Guest Nominee Presenter
Gary Kemp, songwriter Edward William Godwin, architect Matthew Parris
Germaine Greer, feminist writer Dame Elizabeth Frink, sculptor
Ermonela Jaho, soprano Mother Teresa, nun
Anton du Beke, dancer Arnold Palmer, golfer
Peaches Golding, consultant Shirley Chisholm, Member of U.S. Congress (Dem)
Steven Knight, screenwriter Sitting Bull, Lakota chief
Sue Cameron, columnist Emma of Normandy, queen consort
Peter Williams, businessman Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple Inc

Series 43, August – September 2017Edit

Guest Nominee Presenter
Maxine Peake, actor Ellen Wilkinson, Labour MP & Cabinet Minister Matthew Parris
Stephen Fry, comedian, actor & writer P.G. Wodehouse, writer, creator of Jeeves
Sathnam Sanghera, journalist & author Alexander Gardner, explorer
Don McCullin, photojournalist Norman Lewis, travel writer
Tracy Chevalier, novelist Mary Anning, fossil collector & working-class woman from Lyme Regis
Helen Sharman, first British in space Elsie Widdowson, dietitian
Nicholas Stern, Economist Muhammad Ali, boxer & civil rights activist
Andrea Catherwood, presenter & journalist Constance Markievicz, Irish politician & suffragette
Helena Morrissey, City boss Rachael Heyhoe Flint, cricketer & businesswoman

Series 44, December 2017Edit

Guest Nominee Presenter
Will Gregory, musician Flann O'Brien, novelist Matthew Parris
Cornelia Parker, sculptor Marcel Duchamp, French painter
Louise Richardson, political scientist Daniel O'Connell, Barrister
Nazir Afzal, Chief Crown Prosecutor Mahatma Gandhi, Indian independence leader
Gisela Stuart, Labour MP Joseph Chamberlain, Labour MP
Helen Arney, presenter Hertha Ayrton, physicist, and suffragette
Justin Marozzi, historian Herodotus, Ancient Greek historian
Liza Tarbuck, actress Nikola Tesla, Serbian inventor
Gisela Stuart, Labour MP Joseph Chamberlain, Secretary of State

Series 45, April 2018 – May 2018Edit

Guest Nominee Presenter
Vic Reeves, comedian, actor and artist Captain Beefheart, American musician Matthew Parris
Adrian Utley, musician Miles Davis, American jazz musician
Laura Serrant, professor Audre Lorde, American poet and activist
Tej Lalvani, businessman Richard Feynman, American theoretical physicist,
Ayesha Hazarika, comedian and political commentator Jayaben Desai, trade unionist
Simon Callow, actor Orson Welles, American actor
Mica Paris, soul singer Josephine Baker, American Vaudeville performer
Suzy Klein, TV and Radio presentator Hedy Lamarr, actress
Barbara Stocking, former head of Oxfam Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia

Series 46, September 2018 – December 2018Edit

Guest Nominee Presenter
Hanif Kureishi, writer David Bowie, musician Matthew Parris
Erica Wagner, former literary editor of The Times Roald Amundsen, Norwegian polar explorer
Simon Evans, comedian John Stuart Mill, philosopher
Patricia Greene, actor Elizabeth, Countess of Shrewsbury
Helen Glover, Olympic rower Alison Hargreaves, mountaineer
Greg Jenner, historian Gene Kelly, American dancer
Cherie Blair, barrister Rose Heilbron, England's first woman judge.
Mark Carwardine, zoologist Douglas Adams, writer
Christina Lamb, author and correspondent Benazir Bhutto, former Prime Minister of Pakistan

Series 47, December 2018 – January 2019Edit

Guest Nominee Presenter
Samira Ahmed, freelance journalist, Laura Ingalls Wilder, American writer Matthew Parris
Russell Kane, writer, comedian Evelyn Waugh, English writer
Tim Smit, businessman Humphrey Jennings, English documentary filmmaker
Frank Cottrell Boyce, screenwriter Tove Jansson, Finnish-Swedish author and creator of the Moomins
Mark Steel, comedian Charlie Chaplin, actor and comedian
Nikesh Shukla, author Ghulam Mohammad, Great Gama, Pakistani wrestler
Suzanne O'Sullivan, neurologist Oliver Sacks, neurologist and author
Rohan Silva, entrepreneur, columnist, former policy advisor to David Cameron and George Osborne Colin Chapman, creator of Lotus Cars
Matt Lucas, comedian, screenwriter, actor Freddie Mercury, musician, songwriter, lead vocalist of Queen

Series 48, April 2019 – May 2019Edit

Guest Nominee Presenter
Shappi Khorsandi, comedian Emma, Lady Hamilton , spouse of Lord Nelson Matthew Parris
Helen Lewis , journalist Catherine de' Medici, Queen consort of France
Tom Holland, historian Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians
Ian McMillan, poet Malcolm Lowry, writer
Kirill Gerstein , Russian American pianist Ferruccio Busoni, composer
Caroline Criado-Perez, feminist campaigner Jane Austen, writer
Jeremy Deller, artist Brian Epstein, The Beatles' manager
Shirley Collins, folk singer Alan Lomax, American song-hunter
Kamila Shamsie, writer Asma Jahangir, human rights lawyer

Series 49, April 2019 – May 2019Edit

Guest Nominee Presenter
Lucy Irvine, adventurer and author. Robinson Crusoe, fictional characters Matthew Parris
Ed Balls, British Labour and Co-operative politician Herbert Howells, composer
Laura Marling, folk singer-songwriter Lou Andreas-Salome, first woman psychoanalyst
Caroline Quentin, actress Sir John Vanbrugh, playwright and architect
Shaun Ley, Broadcaster Ramsay MacDonald, First UK Labour Prime Minister
Philippa Perry, psychotherapist Maria Montessori, Italian educator
Fiona Shaw, actress Eleonora Duse, actress
Sindhu Vee, comedian Prince Rogers Nelson
Chibundu Onuzo, author Constance Cummings-John, Sierra Leonean educationist
Jessie Ware, singer Donna Summer, American singer
Frances O'Grady, trade uninionist Ernie Bevin, trade uninionist

Series 50, December 2019 – January 2020Edit

Guest Nominee Presenter
Peter Oborne, journalist William Brown and his creator, Richmal Crompton Matthew Parris
Lindsey Hilsum, Channel 4 News reporter Lee Miller, War photographer and model
Jeremy Paxman, broadcaster Nicholas Ashley-Cooper, 12th Earl of Shaftesbury, Victorian era politician
Janice Turner, journalist Enid Blyton, novelist
Bill Bailey, comedian Alfred Russel Wallace,naturalist
Ken Clarke, politician Charlie Parker, Jazz sax player
Josie Long, comedian Kurt Vonnegut, American author
Andi Oliver, chef Toni Morrison, American Nobel Prize-winning author

April 2020 - September 2020Edit

Guest Nominee Presenter
Rick Stein,chef Jim Morrison, rock singer Matthew Parris
Frank Cottrell Boyce, script writer Tove Jansson, creator of Moomin
Kate Stables, musician Ursula Le Guin , American author
Olivette Otele, historian Maya Angelou, African-American writer
Daniel Rigby, TV author Victoria Wood, comedian
Sally Phillips, comedian Myrna Loy, American film actress
Anand Menon, political scientist Billy Bremner, footballer
Sara Wheeler, author Sybille Bedford, author
Dolly Alderton, author Doris Day, American actress
Margaret MacMillan, Canadian historian Benito Mussolini, Italian fascist dictator
Jessie Burton, author Frida Kahlo, Mexican painter
Peter Frankopan, historian Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, Soviet rocket scientist
Jessie Ware, English singer Donna Summer, American singer
Frances O'Grady, trade unionist Ernest Bevin, Labour politician and trade unionist
Tom Allen, comedian Kenneth Williams, English actor
David Adjaye, Ghanaian-British architect Okwui Enwezor, Nigerian curator
James Graham, playwright John Maynard Keynes, economist
Michael Wood, historian Xuanzang, Chinese monk and traveller
Philippa Gregory, novelist Katherine Parr, sixth wife of Henry VIII
David Spiegelhalter , professor Frank Ramsey, mathematician
Diane Morgan, comedian Hugh Dowding,Air Chief Marshal
Rob Rinder, barrister Jessica Mitford, civil rights activist and investigative journalist
David Jonsson, actor Jean Michel Basquiat, American artist
Caroline Catz, actor Delia Derbyshire, composer
Cori Crider, human rights lawyer Cesar Chavez, Rights activist


  1. ^ Great Lives at

External linksEdit