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
No. of series44
No. of episodes282
PodcastPodcast 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

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 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 and former Cabinet Minister Sylvia Pankhurst, suffragette
Frank Delaney, writer and broadcaster Henri Matisse, French artist
Jonathan Miller, theatre and opera director, physician Marshall McLuhan, communication theorist and philosopher
Fay Weldon, writer H. G. Wells, visionary author
Rabbi Lionel Blue, rabbi 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 and former Cabinet Minister King Alfred the Great, 9th-century King of Wessex

Series 1, May – August 2002

Guest Nominee Presenter
Ned Sherrin, broadcaster, television producer 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 and former Foreign Secretary 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

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, Caribbean revolutionary and cricket writer
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 and former Cabinet Minister
Greg Dyke, media executive Captain James Cook, explorer

Series 3, April – June 2003

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

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 ad Labour peer 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

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 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, former Chancellor of the Exchequer Benjamin Disraeli, 19th century Conservative Prime Minister
Lord May, scientist Joseph Banks, naturalist and botanist

Series 6, October – December 2004

Guest Nominee Presenter
Dillie Keane, actress, singer and comedian Gilbert & Sullivan, librettist and 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 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 chief executive 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

Hogmanay Special, 31 December 2004

Guest Nominee Presenter
Eddi Reader, Scottish singer-songwriter Robert Burns, Scottish poet Humphrey Carpenter1

Series 7, April – June 2005

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, American 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

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
Adam Hart-Davis, historian and broadcaster Nevil Shute, novelist and aeronautical engineer
Helen Lederer, writer and actress Dorothy Parker, writer and poet
Annie Nightingale, radio broadcaster Marty Feldman, comedian and actor

Series 9, April – June 2006

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 Programme 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, journalist and broadcaster W. G. Grace, English cricketer
Krishnan Guru-Murthy, journalist and broadcaster Robin Day, broadcaster and political interviewer

Series 10, August – September 2006

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, broadcaster and journalist 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 and former Minister Stanley Baldwin, Conservative Prime Minister
Joanna MacGregor, pianist Nina Simone, singer and civil rights activist
Adair Turner, businessman and academic Charles Darwin, naturalist and evolutionary scientist

Series 11, December 2006 – January 2007

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 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 and former government minister Pope John Paul II

Series 12, April – May 2007

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 and physicist
Pauline Black, singer and actor Billie Holiday, American jazz singer
Fiona Bruce, television presenter and 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, broadcaster, physician and comedian George Bernard Shaw, Irish dramatist and Fabian Society pamphleteer

Series 13, August – October 2007

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

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

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 and 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

Guest Nominee Presenter
Jon Snow, journalist and broadcaster Lord Longford, Labour politician and prison reformer Matthew Parris
David Lammy, politician Richard Pryor, comedian
David Attenborough, zoologist 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, engraver and satirist

Series 17, December 2008 – February 2009

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
Rachel De Thame, horticulturalist Margot Fonteyn, ballerina
Ken Livingstone, former Mayor of London Robert F. Kennedy, American politician and brother of president John F. Kennedy

Series 18, April – May 2009

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

Series 19, August – September 2009

Guest Nominee Presenter
Andrew Motion, Poet Laureate Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Poet Laureate Matthew Parris
David Miliband, Member of Parliament and (then) Foreign Secretary 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 television presenter and artist Kyffin Williams, Welsh artist
Boris Johnson, (then) 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, poet and author

Series 20, December 2009 – February 2010

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 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, actor and 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 and evolutionary biologist Bill Hamilton, evolutionary theorist

Series 21, April – May 2010

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

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 Member of Parliament and 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 2011

Guest Nominee Presenter
Mark Borkowski, public relations Malcolm McLaren, impresario and talent manager Matthew Parris
John Hegley, poet D.H. Lawrence, novelist
Gerry Robinson, businessman Samuel Beckett, Irish playwright
Lionel Blair, dancer and television personality Sammy Davis Jr, dancer, singer and entertainer
Neil Kinnock, former Leader of the Labour Party Aneurin Bevan, founder of the NHS and Labour Cabinet Minister
Barry Cryer, comedian J. B. Priestley, novelist and playwright
Jim Al-Khalili, Iraqi-born physicist Gertrude Bell, writer, traveller, politician and administrator
Katherine Whitehorn, journalist Mary Stott, campaigning journalist
Kwame Kwei-Armah, playwright and actor Marcus Garvey, African-American political leader 1

Series 24, April – May 2011

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, author of Alice in Wonderland and mathematician
Caroline Lucas, British Green Member of Parliament 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

Guest Nominee Presenter
Tim Butcher, journalist Graham Greene, author 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 and 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 and conservationist

Series 26, December 2011 – January 2012

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 and former government minister Razia Sultana, 13th-century Indian princess

Series 27, April – May 2012

Guest Nominee Presenter
Owen Sheers, Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, Welsh poet Matthew Parris
Will Self, journalist and novelist Oscar Wilde, Irish dramatist and writer
Erin Pizzey, writer and campaigner Gertrude Stein, writer, philanthropist and art collector
Tom Robinson, singer, broadcaster and activist 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 literary editor, novelist and memoirist Francisco Goya, Spanish painter
Lynn Barber, British journalist and interviewer Sebastian Walker, founder of Walker Books, a publishing house for children

Series 28, July – September 2012

Guest Nominee Presenter
Des Lynam, sports commentator Henry Cooper, English heavyweight boxer Matthew Parris
Janine di Giovanni, foreign correspondent and author Josephine Bonaparte, wife of Napoleon Bonaparte
Rory Stewart, Conservative Member of Parliament, author and 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 and one half of the duo Laurel and Hardy
Stephen Frears, film director Karel Reisz, film director
Alan Johnson, politician and former Labour 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

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, artist 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

Guest Nominee Presenter
Peter Hitchens, author and columnist George Bell, Anglican theologian and bishop Matthew Parris
Bobby Friction, DJ and 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 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 Holocaust survivor, writer and chemist
Dr Lucy Worsley, Chief Curator at Historic Royal Palaces Florence Nightingale, nurse, health administrator and statistician

Series 31, August – October 2013

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

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

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 television 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

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, former Director General of MI5 and writer Dorothy L. Sayers, crime writer
Andrew Adonis, Baron 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

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
Tom Solomon, neurologist Roald Dahl, children's writer
Philippa Langley, historian Richard III, 15th -century King of England
Michael Dobbs, politician and 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, Prime Minister and President of Finland during World War II

Series 36, April – May 2015

Guest Nominee Presenter
Trevor McDonald, news presenter Learie Constantine, Trinidadian cricketer and politician Matthew Parris
Rachel Johnson, author & journalist Lady Ottoline Morrell, literary hostess and associate of the Bloomsbury Group
Kulvinder Ghir, comedian & 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, August – September 2015

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, former Conservative Party leader 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 and former Cabinet Minister
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 & actress Katharine Hepburn, Hollywood actress

Series 38, December 2015 – January 2016

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 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 – May 2016

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 – September 2016

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 2017

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 2017

Guest Nominee Presenter
Gary Kemp, songwriter Edward William Godwin, architect Matthew Parris
Germaine Greer, feminist writer Dame Elisabeth 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
Iain Lee, broadcaster Andy Kaufman, entertainer and performance artist

Series 43, August – September 2017

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

Series 44, December 2017 - January 2018

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
Helen Arney, presenter Hertha Ayrton, physicist, and suffragette
Gisela Stuart, Labour MP Joseph Chamberlain, Liberal MP
Justin Marozzi, historian Herodotus, Ancient Greek historian
Liza Tarbuck, actress Nikola Tesla, Serbian inventor

Series 45, April – May 2018

Guest Nominee Presenter
Vic Reeves, comedian, actor and artist Captain Beefheart, American musician Matthew Parris
Ayesha Hazarika, comedian and political commentator Jayaben Desai, trade unionist
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
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, July – September 2018

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 2019

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
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 – May 2019

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, July – September 2019

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

Series 50, December 2019 – January 2020

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

Series 51, April – June 2020

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 K. 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

Series 52, August – September 2020

Guest Nominee Presenter
Margaret MacMillan, Canadian historian Benito Mussolini, Italian fascist dictator Matthew Parris
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

Series 53, December 2020 – January 2021

Guest Nominee Presenter
Philippa Gregory, novelist Katherine Parr, sixth wife of Henry VIII Matthew Parris
David Spiegelhalter, professor Frank Ramsey, mathematician
Diane Morgan, comedian Hugh Dowding, Air Chief Marshal
Robert 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

Series 54, April – June 2021

Guest Nominee Presenter
Jonathan Kent, director Patricia Highsmith, author of The Talented Mr Ripley Matthew Parris
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, journalist and author Chinua Achebe, novelist
Eddie Piller, broadcaster and record producer Kenny Lynch, singer, songwriter, entertainer
KT Tunstall, singer-songwriter Ivor Cutler, poet, author, artist and humorist
Jonathan Dimbleby, broadcaster Harry Hopkins, American statesman
Arlo Parks, singer-songwriter Elliott Smith, singer
Ben Miller, actor, comedian and author William Hazlitt, critic and essayist
Rosie Millard, journalist and broadcaster Edward III of England, king

Series 55, August – September 2021

Guest Nominee Presenter
Michael Booth, author Hans Christian Andersen, author Matthew Parris
Tasmin Little, violinist Yehudi Menuhin, violinist
Devi Sridhar, professor of global public health Althea Gibson, tennis player
Lindsay Johns, writer and broadcaster Frantz Fanon, psychiatrist and philosopher
Tristram Hunt, director of the V&A Josiah Wedgwood, master potter
Peggy Seeger, folk singer Ewan MacColl, folk singer and activist
Dorothy Byrne, president of Murray Edwards College Catherine of Siena, saint, mystic, activist and author
Yanis Varoufakis, politician and economist Hypatia, ancient Greek mathematician
Ruth Rogers, chef and restaurateur James Baldwin, African-American writer

Series 56, December 2021 – January 2022

Guest Nominee Presenter
Niall Ferguson, historian J. R. R. Tolkien, author of The Lord of the Rings Matthew Parris
Rory Sutherland, marketing guru Johnny Ramone, musician
Nina Sosanya, actor Jeanne Baret, first female circumnavigator
Priyanga Burford, actor Noor-un-Nissa Inayat Khan, princess and WWII special agent
Richard Walker, MD of Iceland William Lever, founder of Unilever
Lady Hale, judge Lady Rhondda, suffragette and businesswoman
Roma Agrawal, engineer and author Mrinalini Sarabhai, Indian classical dancer
Henry Normal, poet Spike Milligan, author and Goon

Series 57, April – May 2022

Guest Nominee Presenter
Brian Cox, actor Lindsay Anderson, film director Matthew Parris
Donald Macintyre, journalist Tom Hopkinson, newspaper editor
Janet Ellis, Blue Peter presenter Kaye Webb, Puffin Books editor
Lolita Chakrabarti, playwright and actor Ira Aldridge, actor
Joe Swift, garden designer Gil Scott-Heron, poet and musician
Terry Christian Tony Wilson, "Mr Manchester"
Rob Newman, comedian Franklin D. Roosevelt, US President
Anna Maxwell Martin, actor Joan Rhodes, strongwoman
Susie Boyt, novelist Judy Garland, film-star

Series 58, May – Sep 2022

Guest Nominee Presenter
Pat Nevin, footballer Johan Cruyff, Dutch footballer Matthew Parris
Holly Walsh , actress BS Johnson, novelist
Bobby Seagull , mathematics teache Ravi Shankar, Indian sitarist
John Timpson, businessman Kathleen Ollerenshaw, educationalist
Kate Bingham, Venture capitalist Rosalind Franklin, chemist a
Romy Gill , food writer Amrita Pritam,poet
Lesley Garrett , soprano singer, George Lascelles, 7th Earl of Harewood, opera manager
Cressida Cowell , children's author, Astrid Lindgren,creator of Pippi Longstocking
Bonnie Greer, playwright The women of the Morant Bay rebellion

Series 59, Dec 2022 – Jan 2023

Guest Nominee Presenter
Olia Hercules, Ukrainian chef and food writer Alla Horska, Ukrainian painter Matthew Parris
Olivia Laing, writer Christopher Lloyd, gardener and writer
Noddy Holder, frontman of Slade Chuck Berry, Rock'n'roll pioneer
Bob Harris, radio presenter Matt Busby, football player and manager
Minette Batters, President of NFU Henry Plumb, Baron Plumb, politician
Nick Hayes & Patrick Barkham Roger Deakin, writer, wild swimmer, environmentalist
Chris McCausland, comedian Kurt Cobain, musician in Nirvana
Adjoa Andoh, actor Zora Neale Hurston, writer and anthropologist

Series 60, Apr – May 2023

Guest Nominee Presenter
Qasa Alom, broadcaster Arthur Ashe, tennis champion Matthew Parris
Christopher Clark, historian Frederick the Great, King of Prussia
Dwayne Fields, 2nd black man to reach North Pole Matthew Henson, 1st black man to reach North Pole
John Robins, comedian Frank Zappa, musician
Gillian Burke, biologist and TV presenter Kofi Annan, UN Secretary-General
Edward Coke, prosecutor of Guy Fawkes Jesse Norman, government minister Ian Hislop
Jon Ronson, journalist Terry Hall, musician with The Specials
Jake Arnott, novelist John Gay, 18th-century writer

Series 61, Jun – Sep 2023

Guest Nominee Presenter
Ellie Gibson, comedian Tony Benn, politician Matthew Parris
Susie Dent, etymologist, Thomas Mann, German writer
Matthew Gould, diplomat Stamford Raffles, colonialist
Sophie Scott, neuroscientist Hattie Jacques, actress
Kate Raworth, scientist Donella Meadows, enviromentalist
Chris Watson, musician Ludwig Koch, broadcaster
David Bintley,ballet dancer Ninette de Valois, dancer
Patrick Holden,dairy farmer Lady Eve Balfour, organic farmer
Chi-chi Nwanoku, musician Jessye Norman, American opera singer
Ken Loach, film director Gerrard Winstanley, religious reformer

Series 62, Nov– Dec 2023

Guest Nominee Presenter
Walter Murch, American film director Mohammad Mossadegh, former Iranian prime minister Matthew Parris
Iszi Lawrence, broadcaster Diana Barnato Walker, aviator
John Gray, philosopher JG Ballard, writer
Faye Tozer, singer Eartha Kitt, singer
Jimmy Wales, co-founder of the Wikipedia Thomas Jefferson, 3rd President of the United States


  1. ^ Great Lives at