In 1957 Stevie Smith published a poetry collection called Not Waving But Drowning – and its title poem gave us a phrase which has entered the language.
Its success has overshadowed her wider work as the author of more than half a dozen collections of poetry and three novels, mostly written while she worked as a secretary. Her poems, printed with her pen and ink sketches, can seem simple and comical, but often beneath the surface lurk themes of melancholy, loneliness, love and death.
Associate Professor in the School of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia
Lecturer in Twentieth Century Literature at the University of Bristol
Professor of Modern and Contemporary Literature at the University of Southampton
The photograph above shows Stevie Smith recording her story Sunday at Home, a finalist in the BBC Third Programme Short Story competition in 1949.
On 21 May 1838 an estimated 150,000 people assembled on Glasgow Green for a mass demonstration. There they witnessed the launch of the People’s Charter, a list of demands for political reform. The changes they called for included voting by secret ballot, equal-sized constituencies and, most importantly, that all men should have the vote.
The Chartists, as they came to be known, were the first national mass working-class movement. In the decade that followed, they collected six million signatures for their Petitions to Parliament: all were rejected, but their campaign had a significant and lasting impact.
Visiting Fellow in History at Newcastle University and Chair of the Society for the Study of Labour History
Professor of Modern British History at the University of East Anglia and President of the Royal Historical Society
Reader in Modern British History at Queen Mary, University of London.
The image above shows a Chartist mass meeting on Kennington Common in London in April 1848.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the pioneering Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe (1546 – 1601) whose charts offered an unprecedented level of accuracy.
In 1572 Brahe's observations of a new star challenged the idea, inherited from Aristotle, that the heavens were unchanging. He went on to create his own observatory complex on the Danish island of Hven, and there, working before the invention of the telescope, he developed innovative instruments and gathered a team of assistants, taking a highly systematic approach to observation. A second, smaller source of renown was his metal prosthetic nose, which he needed after a serious injury sustained in a duel.
The image above shows Brahe aged 40, from the Atlas Major by Johann Blaeu.
Emeritus Professor in Early Modern History at the Open University
Associate Professor of History at Swansea University
Affiliate Scholar in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the discovery made in 1911 by the Dutch physicist Heike Kamerlingh Onnes (1853-1926). He came to call it Superconductivity and it is a set of physical properties that nobody predicted and that none, since, have fully explained. When he lowered the temperature of mercury close to absolute zero and ran an electrical current through it, Kamerlingh Onnes found not that it had low resistance but that it had no resistance. Later, in addition, it was noticed that a superconductor expels its magnetic field. In the century or more that has followed, superconductors have already been used to make MRI scanners and to speed particles through the Large Hadron Collider and they may perhaps bring nuclear fusion a little closer (a step that could be world changing).
The image above is from a photograph taken by Stephen Blundell of a piece of superconductor levitating above a magnet.
Professor of Experimental Condensed Matter Physics at the University of Bristol and Radbout University
Professor of Physics at the Cavendish Laboratory at the University of Cambridge
Professor of Physics at the University of Oxford and Fellow of Mansfield College
Producer: Simon Tillotson
Rawls' Theory of Justice
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss A Theory of Justice by John Rawls (1921 - 2002) which has been called the most influential book in twentieth century political philosophy. It was first published in 1971. Rawls (pictured above) drew on his own experience in WW2 and saw the chance in its aftermath to build a new society, one founded on personal liberty and fair equality of opportunity. While in that just society there could be inequalities, Rawls’ radical idea was that those inequalities must be to the greatest advantage not to the richest but to the worst off.
Professor of Philosophy at the University of Warwick
Professor of Political Philosophy at the University of York
The Alfred Landecker Professor of Values and Public Policy at the Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford and Fellow of Wolfson College
Producer: Simon Tillotson