223 episodes

A rich selection of documentaries aimed at relentlessly curious minds, introduced by Rhianna Dhillon.

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A rich selection of documentaries aimed at relentlessly curious minds, introduced by Rhianna Dhillon.



    What would you do with a day out of time? The leap day, 29th February, is the result of an unsolved 3000 year-old problem. Conceived by the Egyptians, passed on to the Romans and reformed by Pope Gregory, it’s all too often a day that passes by without another thought. This year, the artist Monster Chetwynd won’t let that happen. Known for her exuberant large-scale multi-person performances in fantastical environments, she delves deep into the leap year's ancient history and bizarre sexist customs to inspire a new radiophonic performance. True to Chetwynd-form, she brings together a group friends and collaborators in her Glasgow studio to reimagine everything she learns about the leap day into a wildly playful theatrical happening. Monster Chetwynd was the first performance artist nominated for the Turner Prize in 2012. Her work includes a multi-person Cat Bus (2010), a Bertolt Brecht and Betty Boop-inspired children’s play Dogsy Ma Bone (2016), and giant luminous slugs slithering up the stairs and façade of Tate Britain (2018).

    With contributions from Kristen Lippencott, former director of the Royal Observatory, Greenwich.

    Performance featuring Marc David, Bob Moyler, Jessica Ramm, Anna Danielewicz and Rabi.

    Produced by Eliza Lomas
    Mixed by Olga M Reed
    Photo credit: Monster Chetwynd

    A Boom Shakalaka production for BBC Radio 4

    • 28 min
    A Sense of Direction

    A Sense of Direction

    Many animals can navigate by sensing the earth's magnetic field. Not humans, though. But might we have evolved the sense but forgotten how to access it? 40 years ago a British zoologist thought he had demonstrated a homing ability in humans. But his results failed to replicate in America and the research was largely discredited. But new evidence suggests that our brains can in fact detect changes in the magnetic field and may even be able to use it to navigate. Jolyon Jenkins investigates, and talks to a Pacific traditional seafarer who has learned to navigate vast distances across the ocean with no instruments, and who describes how, when all else fails, he has been able to access what he calls "the magic". Is the magic still there for all of us, just waiting to be rediscovered?

    Producer: Jolyon Jenkins

    • 29 min
    A Mathematician's Guide to Beauty

    A Mathematician's Guide to Beauty

    What does a mathematician really mean when they describe something as beautiful? Is it the same type of beauty we perceive in art or music or landscapes - and is it something that the average member of the public can grasp?

    Mathematician Vicky Neale has felt a deep emotional and aesthetic response to her subject since she was little. Now a Fellow of Balliol College, Oxford University, in this programme she presents her own personal take on what constitutes the idea of the beautiful in mathematics - drawing connections between other fields like art, music, literature and engineering.

    Vicky talks to celebrated maths communicator Marcus du Sautoy about the connections between mathematics and literary narrative, and interviews the acclaimed structural engineer Roma Agrawal about how she strives to create beauty when she’s engineering skyscrapers, sculptures and bridges.

    Meanwhile, pianist Nicholas Ross tells us how composers like Mozart have used mathematical ideas like the Golden Section and Fibonacci Sequence to structure their works. Does it really have an impact on a listener’s enjoyment of them?

    Historian June Barrow-Green outlines the history of beauty in maths - from the Ancient Greeks, through a Sanskrit treatise on beauty, to the philosophy of GH Hardy whose Mathematician’s Apology of 1940 famously said “there is no permanent place in the world for ugly mathematics”. Vicky also takes a stroll around a wet Blenheim Palace - or at least tries to - with philosopher Angie Hobbs, to explore what mathematicians and artists mean by aesthetic ideas like “elegance”, “economy” and “surprise” - and why they appeal.

    Producer: Steven Rajam
    A Whistledown production for BBC Radio 4

    • 28 min
    The Inside Story of Election 19

    The Inside Story of Election 19

    What lies behind Boris Johnson's overwhelming election victory? In this programme, Anne McElvoy talks to the key figures across the political spectrum about how the 2019 general election was fought and lost.

    To what extent was this a 'Brexit election' and how did the Conservative Party reach out to voters in places that it had not won for decades and in some cases generations? Why did the Opposition Parties agree to holding the election in the first place? What led to Labour's worst defeat since 1935 and why did Jeremy Corbyn's campaign fail to make the impact he had made in 2017? Why did the Liberal Democrats struggle to make the breakthrough that they had hoped for and what difference did the Brexit Party's decision to stand down in Conservative held seats make to the result.

    Producer: Peter Snowdon

    • 28 min
    Cyrano for Hire

    Cyrano for Hire

    It's hard to think of a more intimate, personal form of communication than the love letter. We seal them with our kisses, salt them with our tears, are present in every inky smudge. So it's a truth universally acknowledged that we usually write them ourselves.
    But not necessarily...

    Cathy FitzGerald hears what it's like to be a love-letter ghostwriter from Rebecca L. Pierce, who runs Love Letter for Hire. Whether you need a letter to make up or a letter to break up, Rebekah can help - but she'll ask you some searching questions along the way.
    Author and former ghostwriter Samara O'Shea introduces one of her clients, Steven, and together they share the story of a letter written in despair. And we hear about Vida Select, a company that offers "virtual dating assistants" who'll write flirty messages to potential matches for you on Tinder, Plenty of Fish and other online dating websites.

    Cathy decides to have a go for herself and sets up Cyrano for Hire. Her first client is Jason from Brooklyn - what will his girlfriend, Elke, make of her ghostwritten love letter?

    Presenter and Producer: Cathy FitzGerald
    Executive Producer: Steven Rajam
    Photo: David Gochfeld
    Interviewees: Rebekah L Pierce, Samara O'Shea, Steven, Chloe Rose Stuart Ulin, Scott Valdez, Jason Nunes, Elke Dehner

    A White Stiletto production for BBC Radio 4

    • 28 min
    My Name Is... Immie

    My Name Is... Immie

    "When I was in primary school, I remember being asked to draw our house. I drew our temporary accommodation, which back then was just an ordinary house. And I think about children living in these office blocks - what would they draw?"

    When Immie was growing up, she lived in emergency and then temporary accommodation with her mum and three sisters. Temporary can be permanent for many people, but today she feels much more secure. Then one day something odd happened. She was on the bus, on the to deck, looking into the first floor of an ugly office block on the side of the busy A12 in north east London. She could see it had been converted, and there were people living up and down all seven floors. In tiny flats. Some of them were much smaller than the government's minimum space standard.

    Immie wanted to know how this was possible.

    We often hear that there is a national housing crisis, but don't always understand what that means. Immie, who is just 22, has made over 80 freedom of information requests to find out how many people are being temporarily housed in office blocks. She discovers that it is perfectly legal to do this - developers can bypass normal planning regulations thanks to Permitted Development Rights or PDR. She meets an architect and a council leader who both say it's wrong, though their reasons are not the same.
    Features interviews with architect Julia Park of Leviit Bernstein; and Joseph Ejiofor, the head of Haringey Council ... plus some dramatic location recordings too.

    The producer in Bristol is Miles Warde

    • 27 min

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