95 episodes

In-depth conversations with some of the world's leading artists and creatives across theatre, visual arts, music, dance, film and more. Hosted by John Wilson.

This Cultural Life BBC Radio 4

    • Society & Culture
    • 4.9 • 35 Ratings

In-depth conversations with some of the world's leading artists and creatives across theatre, visual arts, music, dance, film and more. Hosted by John Wilson.

    Salman Rushdie

    Salman Rushdie

    One of the world’s greatest novelists, Salman Rushdie has won many prestigious international literary awards and was knighted for services to literature in 2007. He won the Booker Prize in 1981 for Midnight’s Children, a novel that was also twice voted as the best of all-time Booker winners. In 1989 Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini declared that Rushdie’s fourth novel, The Satanic Verses, was blasphemous and pronounced a death sentence against its author. For over a decade he lived in hiding with close security, a period of his life that he wrote about in the 2012 memoir Joseph Anton. His most recent book Knife details the horrific stabbing he survived in 2022.
    Talking to John Wilson, Salman Rushdie recalls his childhood in Bombay, and the folk tales and religious fables he grew up with. He chooses Indian independence and partition in 1947 as one of the defining moments of his creative life, a period that formed the historical backdrop to Midnight’s Children. He discusses how, having first moved to England as a schoolboy and then to New York after the fatwa, the subject of migration has recurred throughout much of his work, including The Satanic Verses. Rushdie also explains how "surrealism, fabulism and mythical storytelling” are such an influence on his work, with particular reference to his 1999 novel The Ground Beneath Her Feet which was inspired by the ancient Greek tale of Orpheus and Eurydice. As Rushdie says, "truth in art can be arrived at through many doors”.
    Producer: Edwina Pitman
    Archive used:
    BBC News, 12 Aug 2022
    Newsnight, BBC2, 12 Aug 2022
    BBC Sound archive, India: Transfer of Power, 15 August 1947
    Nehru: Man of Two Worlds, BBC1, 27 Feb 1962
    Midnight's Children, Book at Bedtime, BBC Radio 4, 27 August 1997
    Advert, Fresh Cream Cakes, 1979
    BBC News, 14 Feb 1989
    The World At One, BBC Radio 4, 14 Feb 1989
    BBC News, 28 May 1989
    Today, BBC Radio 4, 27 April 1990
    Clip from Curb Your Enthusiasm, Season 9, episode 3

    • 43 min
    Judy Chicago

    Judy Chicago

    John Wilson's guest is the pioneering American artist, author and educator Judy Chicago. Having run the first ever feminist art course in California, she established herself as a powerful advocate of women artists in the early 1970s. She is best known for a ground-breaking installation piece called The Dinner Party, a monumental work which was made with the help of a team of ceramists and needle-workers over five years and first displayed in 1979. Now enjoying her sixth decade as an artist, Judy Chicago is regarded as a trailblazing figure in the art world.
    Judy recalls studying at the Art Institute of Chicago's children's classes at the age of five, and afterwards wandering around the galleries upstairs where she was particularly drawn to the Impressionists. It was here that she first decided to become an artist. As a young woman she moved to the west coast to pursue her dream. Although she found the art scene there "inhospitable" to women, she was inspired by a group of male artists including Ed Rucha, Larry Bell and Bill Al Bengton, associated with the LA-based Ferus gallery.
    Judy also cites discovering Christine de Pisan, the Italian-born French medieval poet at the court of King Charles VI of France, as a turning point in her own research and art practice. Like Judy herself, de Pisan had faced obstacles because of her gender and sought to challenge contemporary attitudes towards women by creating an allegorical City of Ladies. She is one of the women represented in Judy Chicago's landmark work The Dinner Party.
    Producer: Edwina Pitman
    Archive used:
    Omnibus: Judy Chicago's Dinner Party, BBC1, 13 January 1981
    Rebel Women: The Great Art Fight Back, BBC4, 10 July 2020

    • 43 min
    Neil Jordan

    Neil Jordan

    Oscar-winning director, screenwriter and novelist Neil Jordan made his name with the 1984 movie The Company Of Wolves, adapted from an Angela Carter short story. His 1986 film Mona Lisa earned BAFTA and Golden Globe awards for its star Bob Hoskins. Jordan scored an even bigger critical and commercial hit worldwide with The Crying Game, which had six Academy Award nominations including best screenplay which was won by Neil Jordan himself. His 20 feature films made over 40 years also include an adaptation of Ann Rice’s novel Interview With the Vampire, Irish revolutionary drama Michael Collins and The End Of The Affair, adapted from the Graham Greene novel.
    Neil Jordan talks to John Wilson about his upbringing in a Dublin suburb, the son of a school teacher father who encouraged an early love of storytelling. After working as a labourer, and in a Dublin theatre for a while, he met filmmaker John Boorman (Point Blank, Deliverance, The Emerald Forest) who, in 1980, was shooting his Arthurian legend film Excalibur at film studios in Ireland. Boorman invited Neil Jordan to direct a documentary about the making of Excalibur, an experience which started his filmmaking career. Jordan also chooses the 1943 Jean Genet novel Notre Dame des Fleurs - Our Lady Of The Flowers - as a formative influence on his screenwriting. He recalls the struggles to make The Crying Game and how the film’s producer Harvey Weinstein objected to the inclusion of a trans character, a supporting role for which Jaye Davidson was nominated as best actor at the 1992 Academy Awards.
    Producer: Edwina Pitman
    Archive used:
    Clip from A Fistful of Dollars, Sergio Leone, 1964
    Clip from Excalibur, John Boorman, 1981
    Clip from The Crying Game, Neil Jordan, 1992
    Neil Jordan accepts his Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, 1992
    Clip from The Crying Game, Neil Jordan, 1992
    Clip from Michael Collins, Neil Jordan, 1996

    • 44 min
    Zadie Smith

    Zadie Smith

    Zadie Smith grew up in north west London and studied English at Cambridge University. After a publisher’s bidding war when she was just 21, her debut novel White Teeth became a huge critical and commercial hit on publication in 2000 and won several awards including the Orange Prize, now known as the Women’s Prize for Fiction, and the Whitbread first novel award. Since then, with books including On Beauty, NW and Swing Time, Zadie Smith has established herself as one of the world’s most successful and popular living novelists, renowned for her witty dialogue and explorations of cultural identity, class and sexuality. Her most recent book The Fraud is her first historical novel.
    Zadie Smith talks to John Wilson about her upbringing in Willesden, North West London, with her Jamaican born mother and white English father. She chooses C S Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe as an early formative influence and remembers how its themes of danger, power and betrayal were intoxicating to her as a young reader. Zadie talks about the creative influence of her husband, the poet Nick Laird, and of the cultural impact of a trip she made to west Africa in 2007 which inspired much of her 2016 novel Swing Time. She also reflects on her role as an essayist who in recent years, has increasingly written about global political and social issues.
    Producer: Edwina Pitman

    • 43 min
    Lily Allen

    Lily Allen

    Renowned for the autobiographical candour of her lyrics, Lily Allen has sung about the pitfalls of fame, drugs, broken relationships and motherhood. She was nominated for a Grammy Award for her debut album Alright Still and after the release of It’s Not Me, It’s You in 2010 won a Brit Award and three Ivor Novello Awards, including Songwriter of the Year. In 2021 she embarked on a stage acting career starring in 2.22 A Ghost Story, for which she was nominated for an Olivier Award. More recently, with her childhood friend Miquita Oliver, she launched her BBC podcast series Miss Me.
    Talking to John Wilson, Lily recalls a sometimes sad and troubled childhood. Her father, the actor and comedian Keith Allen, had left the family home when she was four, and her film producer mother Alison Owen was often away working. She chooses as her first formative experiences a school concert in which she performed the song Baby Mine from the Disney movie Dumbo and captivated the audience. She recalls how the first started writing and recording her own songs, and built up a fanbase with the on-line platform MySpace. She chooses, as key musical influences the 1979 song Up The Junction by Squeeze, and the 2004 album A Grand Don’t Come For Free by Mike Skinner, otherwise known as The Streets. Lily Allen also reflects on the pressures of juggling life in the spotlight with motherhood, and how theatre acting has offered her a new creative challenge.
    Producer: Edwina Pitman

    • 43 min
    John Adams

    John Adams

    The work of composer and conductor John Adams blends the rhythmic vitality of Minimalism with late-Romantic orchestral harmonies. He emerged alongside Philip Glass, Steve Reich and other musical minimalists in the early 1970s, and his reputation grew with symphonic work and operas that tackle recent history including Nixon In China, the Death Of Klinghoffer and Dr Atomic. He is the winner of five Grammy Awards and the Pulitzer Prize for Music, and is one of America’s greatest and most performed living composers.
    Born and raised in New England, Adams learned the clarinet from his father and played in marching bands and community orchestras during his formative years. He began composing at the age of ten and heard his first orchestral pieces performed while still a teenager. He tells John Wilson about the huge influence the composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein and his televised Young People's Concerts had on him. He also reveals how jazz band leader and composer Duke Ellington influenced how he writes for the orchestra, and how Charles Dickens inspired him to embrace accessibly in his compositions.
    Producer: Edwina Pitman
    Extract from Leonard Bernstein's Young People's Concert, What Does Music Mean? CBS, 18 January 1958, © The Leonard Bernstein Office

    • 43 min

Customer Reviews

4.9 out of 5
35 Ratings

35 Ratings

cloudhand1 ,

Excellent listening

I was sad to hear that John Wilson was leaving Front Row, so it’s wonderful to hear him again with his gentle and insightful questions exploring the arts and culture.

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