2015 Festival

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Free Thinking20151106

This year's Free Thinking Lecture is given by the American poet Claudia Rankine. Her book 'Citizen: An American Lyric' is a New York Times best seller and has become an instant classic. At one of the most volatile moments in American race history, her meditations on the language used to describe tennis star Serena Williams and on events such as the Ferguson riots and the shooting of the teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida provide the vehicle for an incisive interrogation of justice and injustice, exposing the myth of a 'post-racial' 21st century.

A professor of English at the University of Southern California and a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, Claudia Rankine grew up first in Kingston Jamaica and then New York City and has also lived in England. 'Citizen' has been called 'the book of a generation' and one which 'throws a Molotov cocktail' at the idea that the struggle against racial injustice has been won.

The winner of this year's Forward Prize for Poetry, the PEN Open Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award comes to Sage Gateshead to talk to Free Thinking presenter Matthew Sweet about the power of language and what it means to be black in the new millennium.

Recorded in front of an audience at the Free Thinking Festival at Sage Gateshead.

Free Thinking20151117

Science progresses by breaking the rules of the past. New observations need new theories to explain them. Einstein's Theory of Relativity made sense of observations that Newton's Laws of Motion could not. But how can we distinguish between the brilliant ideas that change our view of the world and those that are plain wrong? And does that make science too cautious to try out new ideas?

Joining Free Thinking presenter Rana Mitter are:

Professor Carlos Frenk, founding Director of the Institute for Computational Cosmology at Durham University and winner of the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society in 2014

Jim al-Khalili, Professor of Physics at the University of Surrey and presenter of BBC Radio 4's The Life Scientific and TV documentaries. His books include Paradox: The Nine Greatest Enigmas in Science, Black Holes, Wormholes and Time Machines and Quantum: A Guide For The Perplexed

Dr Katy Price from Queen Mary, University of London, author of Loving Faster Than Light: Romance and Readers in Einstein's Universe

Dr Tom Shakespeare from the University of East Anglia, who co-founded the Café Scientifique network, which now has hundreds of affiliates in UK and worldwide.

Recorded in front of an audience at the Free Thinking Festival at Sage Gateshead.

Free Thinking20151117

Science progresses by breaking the rules of the past. New observations need new theories to explain them. Einstein's Theory of Relativity made sense of observations that Newton's Laws of Motion could not. But how can we distinguish between the brilliant ideas that change our view of the world and those that are plain wrong? And does that make science too cautious to try out new ideas?

Joining Free Thinking presenter Rana Mitter are:

Professor Carlos Frenk, founding Director of the Institute for Computational Cosmology at Durham University and winner of the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society in 2014

Jim al-Khalili, Professor of Physics at the University of Surrey and presenter of BBC Radio 4's The Life Scientific and TV documentaries. His books include Paradox: The Nine Greatest Enigmas in Science, Black Holes, Wormholes and Time Machines and Quantum: A Guide For The Perplexed

Dr Katy Price from Queen Mary, University of London, author of Loving Faster Than Light: Romance and Readers in Einstein's Universe

Dr Tom Shakespeare from the University of East Anglia, who co-founded the Café Scientifique network, which now has hundreds of affiliates in UK and worldwide.

Recorded in front of an audience at the Free Thinking Festival at Sage Gateshead.

Free Thinking20151118

Actress Juliet Stevenson - whose work on theatre, film and TV includes Les Liaisons Dangereuses, The Village and the BAFTA award winning Truly Madly Deeply - comes to Sage. She's joined on stage by Natalie Abrahami, who directed Stevenson in an acclaimed recent revival of Samuel Beckett's Happy Days at the Young Vic in London. They ask: how easy is it to break rules in the theatre?

The text of a play contains stage directions - sometimes very precise. If the play is a classic, audiences and critics may have fixed ideas about what they expect to see. Matthew Sweet chairs a discussion which lifts the curtain on the experimentation that goes on in the rehearsal room and before the TV cameras roll.

Natalie Abrahami is directing a production of Queen Anne at the Royal Shakespeare Company. It's a new play by Helen Edmundson which

explores the relationship between Queen Anne and the Duchess of Marlborough. It runs at the RSC from November 19th 2015.

Free Thinking20151118

Actress Juliet Stevenson - whose work on theatre, film and TV includes Les Liaisons Dangereuses, The Village and the BAFTA award winning Truly Madly Deeply - comes to Sage. She's joined on stage by Natalie Abrahami, who directed Stevenson in an acclaimed recent revival of Samuel Beckett's Happy Days at the Young Vic in London. They ask: how easy is it to break rules in the theatre?

The text of a play contains stage directions - sometimes very precise. If the play is a classic, audiences and critics may have fixed ideas about what they expect to see. Matthew Sweet chairs a discussion which lifts the curtain on the experimentation that goes on in the rehearsal room and before the TV cameras roll.

Natalie Abrahami is directing a production of Queen Anne at the Royal Shakespeare Company. It's a new play by Helen Edmundson which

explores the relationship between Queen Anne and the Duchess of Marlborough. It runs at the RSC from November 19th 2015.

Free Thinking20151119

"By 2029 computers will have emotional intelligence and be as convincing as people". Ray Kurzweil, Google's Director of Engineering, predicts this scenario - also explored in Channel 4's recent hit drama, Humans.

So what are the skills needed for the 21st century workplace and do humans have them?

According to Paul Mason, TV journalist and author of PostCapitalism, we face seismic change in part due to the revolution in information technology.

Paul Mason joins Lucy Armstrong, Chief Executive of The Alchemists - who help companies grow, and Richard and Daniel Susskind, authors of The Future of the Professions, who argue we will no longer need doctors, lawyers, accountants, teachers and others to work as they did in the 20th century.

Chaired by Free Thinking presenter Rana Mitter in front of an audience at the Free Thinking Festival at Sage Gateshead.

Free Thinking20151123

Angela Carter's work was described by Salman Rushdie as 'without equal and without rival'. The award winning author of novels including The Bloody Chamber, Wise Children and Nights at the Circus was a pioneer of English magic realism who re-imagined fairy tales and explored boundary breaking and rebelling against the confines of society. Her non fiction book The Sadeian Woman explored the ideaology of pornography.

Thirteen years after her early death, the novelists Joanna Kavenna and Natasha Pulley join Angela Carter's literary executor Susannah Clapp and her friend the cultural critic Christopher Frayling to discuss Carter's writing and influence with Free Thinking presenter Philip Dodd. The readings are performed by Emily Woof.

Christopher Frayling is the author of Inside the Bloody Chamber: on Angela Carter, the Gothic, and other weird tales which draws on the letters he and Carter exchanged.

Joanna Kavenna is the author of five novels including Come to the Edge. In 2013 she was included in the Granta List of 20 best young writers.

Natasha Pulley is the author of The Watchmaker of Filigree Street and a graduate of the creative writing programme at the University of East Anglia.

Susannah Clapp is the author of A Card from Angela Carter and Theatre Critic for The Observer.

Recorded in front of an audience at the Free Thinking Festival Sage Gateshead.

Producer: Zahid Warley.

Free Thinking20151124

What is going on inside Britain's families? From three-parent families and surrogacy, to stepfamilies - the fastest rising type of home in the UK - the days of the 'traditional' family are apparently over. The divorce rate in the UK stands at 42%, the highest in the EU, yet nearly 75% of us apparently consider ourselves to be happy with our lives at home. So what are the new rules of family life?

Joining Free Thinking presenter Anne McElvoy are:

Anne Fine - the first Children's Laureate and an acclaimed author of books for adults and children including Madame Doubtfire and Telling Liddy.

Tobias Jones - a novelist and communalist who opened his home as a sanctuary for people in a period of crisis and explores the results in his new book, A Place of Refuge: an Experiment in Communal Living.

Professor Sarah Cunningham-Burley, Professor of Medical and Family Sociology, Centre for Population Health Sciences and founding co-director, Centre for Research on Families and Relationships, University of Edinburgh.

Dr Tom Shakespeare from the University of East Anglia researches disability studies, medical sociology and ethical aspects of genetics.

Recorded in front of an audience during the Free Thinking Festival at Sage Gateshead.

Free Thinking20151125

Every day we read lurid headlines about alcohol abuse and the consequences of binge drinking for the young at home and abroad. But a deeper look reveals a complicated picture of alcohol use in Britain. Champagne is still linked with celebration, while pubs are closing up and down the country. University freshers' weeks are adjusting to reflect the increasing number of students who are teetotal - but doctors are reporting a rise in patients with liver damage. How should society accommodate people who drink to excess and those who don't want to drink at all?

Dr Sally Marlow from King's College, London is an expert in addiction. In a specially commissioned Free Thinking talk she explores the hypocrisy in society around alcohol.

Joining the debate chaired by Free Thinking presenter Philip Dodd are:

Professor Barry Smith - philosopher from the University of London's School of Advanced Study and wine columnist for Prospect magazine.

David Yelland - former editor of the Sun and a Trustee of Action on Addiction and Patron of the National Association for Children of Alcoholics.

Shelina Zahra Janmohamed, author of Love in a Headscarf and Muslim women's activist, who blogs at Spirit 21 and who is a lifelong teetotaller.

Recorded in front of an audience at the Free Thinking Festival at Sage Gateshead.

Free Thinking20151126

Do men and women have different attitudes to rule breaking? With changing ideas about gender, can we say that our minds are wired differently? Helen Fraser, head of the Girls' Day School Trust said recently that 'being the compliant girl is never going to get you anywhere'. What are the rules today for relationships and getting on in society? Is it time to throw out received ideas and challenge the advice given to young people?

Free Thinking presenter Rana Mitter chairs a debate that takes the shape of a rule-breaking game show. Our panellists are:

Sheila Hancock - actress and author of three non-fiction books and a novel Miss Carter's War

Journalist Bim Adewunmi - culture editor at Buzz Feed UK, who writes often about popular culture and how it intersects with gender and race

Neil Bartlett, theatre director and author whose most recent novel is The Disappearance Boy

Jonny Mitchell, the headmaster in Channel 4's Educating Yorkshire and now the Head of the Co-operative Academy of Leeds

Recorded in front of an audience at the Free Thinking Festival at Sage Gateshead.

Free Thinking20151208

Joanne Harris, the multi-million selling author of Chocolat, discusses her new novel, The Gospel of Loki, inspired by the Norse god of trickery, mischief and deception, a shape-shifter whose cultural manifestations range from 13th-century legends to Marvel comics and video games. She's joined by Radio 3 New Generation Thinker Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough.

They debate the enduring power of Norse mythology in conversation with Free Thinking presenter Anne McElvoy recorded in front of an audience at the Free Thinking Festival at Sage Gateshead and broadcast as part of The Northern Lights season.

Producer: Jacqueline Smith

(Main image l-r: Joanne Harris, Anne McElvoy, Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough).

01Free Thinking20151109

For over 400 years it's been claimed that the first Medici Duke of Florence was mixed race, his mother a slave of African descent. Catherine Fletcher of Swansea University asks if this extraordinary story about the 16th-century Italian political dynasty could be true. Or do the tales of Alessandro de' Medici tell us more about the history of racism and anti-racism than about the man himself?

The New Generation Thinkers are the winners of an annual scheme run by the BBC and the Arts and Humanities Research Council to find academics at the start of their careers who can turn their research into fascinating broadcasts.

The Essay was recorded in front of an audience at the Free Thinking Festival at Sage Gateshead. If you want to hear Catherine Fletcher discussing her research you can download the Essay and conversation as an Arts and Ideas podcast.

Producer: Jacqueline Smith.

Does Britain need more people like Russell Brand, Vivienne Westwood, Richard Branson and Boris Johnson? In business people talk of the power of the 'disruptive influence', but is the route to success actually based on discipline and obeying rules - or should we emulate those mavericks prepared to take risks and think differently?

Philip Dodd asks which institutions should consider ripping up their rule books and starting again. Joining this debate about law, politics, business and the history of our relationship with rule-breaking is:

Simon Heffer is a historian, Daily Telegraph columnist and author of Strictly English: The correct way to write... and why it matters and High Minds.

Peter Tatchell has been campaigning for human rights, democracy, LGBT freedom and global justice since 1967.

Joyce Quin is a former MP for Gateshead East and has held a number of ministerial posts including at the Home Office and Foreign and Commonwealth Office. She now sits in the House of Lords.

Recorded in front of an audience at the Free Thinking Festival Sage Gateshead.

02Free Thinking20151110

The colourful life of Arthur Macmurrough Kavanagh overturns everything we think we know about disabled people's lives in the 19th century. Born without hands and feet, he was an adventurous traveller and a Member of Parliament, a tiger-hunting landowner whose attempts to resist the rising tide of Irish nationalism were ultimately defeated, and whose amazing career has been largely forgotten. But how did his first biographer meet the challenge of writing his life?

Clare Walker Gore of the University of Cambridge discusses The Life of Arthur Macmurrough Kavanagh and what this fascinating biography contributes to our understanding of disabled people in the 19th century.

The New Generation Thinkers are the winners of an annual scheme run by the BBC and the Arts and Humanities Research Council to find academics at the start of their careers who can turn their research into fascinating broadcasts.

The Essay was recorded in front of an audience at the Free Thinking Festival at Sage Gateshead. If you want to hear Clare Walker Gore answer questions about her research you can download The Essay and conversation as an Arts and Ideas podcast.

Producer: Zahid Warley.

Are the rules of drama increasingly influencing the way the world is presented to us? TV news bulletins now employ chapter headings, dramatisations and music. Hollywood transforms real life stories into dramatized blockbusters at a dizzying rate. As it becomes harder to separate fact from fiction are we overvaluing the 'real'? In this new multimedia environment, do we understand what the new rules of fiction and storytelling are?

Sorting out facts from faction with Free Thinking presenter Matthew Sweet are:

John Yorke, a visiting Professor at Newcastle University, is a former Controller of Drama at the BBC and Channel 4, whose CV includes East Enders, Shameless, Life on Mars, George Gently and Wolf Hall. He is the author of Into the Woods: How Stories Work and Why We Tell Them.

Journalist Bim Adewunmi is culture editor at Buzz Feed UK and writes often about popular culture and how it intersects with gender and race

Allan Little is a journalist and broadcaster and has been a foreign affairs reporter for the BBC for 25 years, reporting from more than eighty countries. He was recently awarded the Charles Wheeler Award for Outstanding Contribution to Broadcast Journalism.

Emily Woof is a radio and theatre writer, a performer and novelist. She grew up in Newcastle. Her latest novel is The Lightning Tree.

Recorded in front of an audience at the Free Thinking Festival at Sage Gateshead.

03Free Thinking20151111

'Widows are exceptions to every rule', Charles Dickens tells us in his first novel, The Pickwick Papers, published in 1837. Eighty years later, in 1917, a tune called 'Widows are Wonderful' rings through the theatres and homes of a war-stricken Britain. 'Widow! That great, vacant estate!' writes poet Sylvia Plath after the Second World War as the country grieves in silence.

Nadine Muller of Liverpool John Moores University uncovers the hidden history of widows in Britain from the 19th century to the present day and explores what has made them so tragically melancholic, exceptional, and wonderful in British culture.

The New Generation Thinkers are the winners of an annual scheme run by the BBC and the Arts and Humanities Research Council to find academics at the start of their careers who can turn their research into fascinating broadcasts.

The Essay was recorded in front of an audience at the Free Thinking Festival at Sage Gateshead. If you want to hear Nadine discussing her research you can download the Essay and conversation as an Arts and Ideas podcast.

Producer: Jacqueline Smith.

'We are all atheists about most of the gods that humanity has ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further'. Richard Dawkins' book "The God Delusion" created waves when it was first published nearly 10 years ago. Rebutting religions of all kinds Dawkins became one of 'the New Atheists', a group of thinkers including Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett. He first came to public attention though in 1976 with his iconic book "The Selfish Gene" which popularised the gene-centred view of evolution. In 2013 he was voted the world's top thinker in Prospect magazine's poll of over 10,000 readers from over 100 countries.

Richard Dawkins talks to Philip Dodd about his memoir, "Brief Candle in the Dark" in which he explores his life in the intersection between culture, religion and science.

Recorded in front of an audience at the Free Thinking Festival at Sage Gateshead

Producer: Luke Mulhall.

04Free Thinking20151112

For nearly 200 years, the name Cunard has evoked glamorous images of sleek cruise ships and transatlantic sea travel. Yet the legacy of the Cunard family's black sheep, the disinherited granddaughter Nancy Cunard, is less well-known.

Sandeep Parmar of the University of Liverpool explores the tragic life of this scion of a wealthy family who became a revolutionary poet, publisher, modernist muse, anti-fascist and anti-racism activist.

The New Generation Thinkers are the winners of an annual scheme run by the BBC and the Arts and Humanities Research Council to find academics at the start of their careers who can turn their research into fascinating broadcasts.

The Essay was recorded in front of an audience at the Free Thinking Festival at Sage Gateshead. If you want to hear Sandeep Parmar discussing her research you can download The Essay and conversation as an Arts and Ideas podcast.

Producer: Torquil Macleod.

From TV talent contests such as The Great British Bake Off and Strictly Come Dancing to the pressures of school exams and job interviews - competition is at the heart of the way we live our lives. What can we learn from sports stars whose lives are geared to cultivating a healthy competitive instinct? Is the desire to be successful bringing out the best in us - or the worst?

Constructively and co-operatively arguing with Free Thinking presenter Anne McElvoy are:

Margaret Heffernan, entrepreneur, CEO and author of A Bigger Prize: Why Competition isn't Everything and Willful Blindness

Matthew Syed, former England Table Tennis number one and Times columnist and author whose books include Bounce: The myth of talent and the power of practice and, most recently, Black Box Thinking: The Surprising Truth about Success.

Cath Bishop, Olympic medallist and World Champion rower, worked as a British diplomat specialising in conflict issues, working in Bosnia and Iraq and is now a leadership speaker specialising in topics relating to high performance and resilience.

Christopher Frayling, author and broadcaster, former head of Arts Council England

Recorded in front of an audience at the Free Thinking Festival at Sage Gateshead.

Producer: Luke Mulhall.

05Free Thinking20151113

Thousands of soldiers fought in kilted regiments during the First World War. But what kind of cultural identity was adopted with the kilt? How far was it pervaded by a fatalistic sense of the Celt who 'went forth to the war but - always fell', or by the memory of the Highland Clearances?

Peter Mackay of the University of St Andrews explores poetry and first-hand accounts from the war to find out.

The New Generation Thinkers are the winners of an annual scheme run by the BBC and the Arts and Humanities Research Council to find academics at the start of their careers who can turn their research into fascinating broadcasts.

The Essay was recorded in front of an audience at the Free Thinking Festival at Sage Gateshead. If you want to hear Peter Mackay discussing his research you can download The Essay and conversation as an Arts and Ideas podcast.

Producer: Jacqueline Smith.

06Free Thinking20151116

The 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum and this year's general election led to a passionate debate about nationhood and nationalism. Kylie Murray of the University of Oxford discusses the ways in which the sentiments about Anglo-Scottish relations and about Scottish identity can be seen in 15th-century Scottish literature including the Scottish Latin chronicle, the Scotichronicon and Harry's The Wallace, a vernacular epic poem about William Wallace, the champion of Scottish independence.

The New Generation Thinkers are the winners of an annual scheme run by the BBC and the Arts and Humanities Research Council to find academics at the start of their careers who can turn their research into fascinating broadcasts.

The Essay was recorded in front of an audience at the Free Thinking Festival at Sage Gateshead. If you want to hear Kylie Murray discussing her research you can download The Essay and conversation as an Arts and Ideas podcast.

Producer: Jacqueline Smith.

In the hunger for new ideas, are we forgetting the hard-earned lessons of the past? Rana Mitter chairs a discussion recorded in front of an audience at this year's Free Thinking Festival at Sage Gateshead.

James Rebanks is the Cumbrian shepherd sharing his farming knowledge with thousands of followers on his twitter account @herdyshepherd1

His book A Shepherd's Life has been reprinted several times since its publication earlier this year.

Professor Veronica Strang is a cultural anthropologist based at Durham University and the author of The Meaning of Water.

07Free Thinking20151117

The 1667 recipe book by Sir Kenelm Digby featured tea with eggs brought from China, sugared mallow-leaves that cured gonorrhea and 'pan cotto' cooked by Roman Cardinals. Digby had journeyed far and wide to collect his dishes, feasting with pirate chieftains in Algiers and munching melons in the eastern Mediterranean.

Joe Moshenska of the University of Cambridge explores Kenelm Digby's culinary travels, revealing startling contacts between Britain and the East, between alchemy and cookery, and between the past and the present.

The New Generation Thinkers are the winners of an annual scheme run by the BBC and the Arts and Humanities Research Council to find academics at the start of their careers who can turn their research into fascinating broadcasts.

The Essay was recorded in front of an audience at the Free Thinking Festival at Sage Gateshead. If you want to hear Joe Moshenka discuss his research you can download The Essay and conversation as an Arts and Ideas podcast.

Producer: Torquil MacLeod.d.

Producer: Torquil Macleod.

08Free Thinking20151118

From a breakfast drink to start the day to the treatment of bullet-wounds, beer has been a constant accompaniment to British life for centuries. Nowhere was this truer than in Imperial India where beer played a central role in colonial commerce, medicine and leisure.

Sam Goodman of the University of Bournemouth explores this colonial drinking culture and how many of its habits have lingered to the present day, noting that whilst the Empire might be long gone, British taste for beer has proved remarkably consistent.

The New Generation Thinkers are the winners of an annual scheme run by the BBC and the Arts and Humanities Research Council to find academics at the start of their careers who can turn their research into fascinating broadcasts.

Recording in front of an audience at the Free Thinking Festival at Sage Gateshead. If you want to hear Sam Goodman discuss his research you can download The Essay and conversation as an Arts and Ideas podcast.

Producer: Torquil Macleod.

09Free Thinking20151119

The brutal treatment of Jews in Vichy France during the Second World War that culminated in their roundup and deportation is widely known. But is this the only way to consider Jewish life at this time? Focusing on the Jewish Scouting Movement.

Daniel Lee from the University of Sheffield reveals the possibility of coexistence between the Vichy regime and the Jews, exposing a world of Jewish creativity and expression that flourished just as the regime?s antisemitic measures intensified.

The New Generation Thinkers are the winners of an annual scheme run by the BBC and the Arts and Humanities Research Council to find academics at the start of their careers who can turn their research into fascinating broadcasts.

The Essay was recorded in front of an audience at the Free Thinking Festival at Sage Gateshead. If you want to hear Daniel Lee discussing his research you can download The Essay and conversation as an Arts and Ideas podcast.

Producer: Zahid Warley.

10Free Thinking20151120

The 18th century was the age of politeness - and of bawdiness. Fine manners and fine art co-existed with earthy attitudes to sex and the body, even in the most elevated circles.

Curator and art historian Danielle Thom of the Victoria and Albert Museum explains why classical sculpture, the high point of 18th-century artistic taste, had a surprising influence on rude, lewd and erotic prints; and what this tells us about the surprisingly modern attitude to sexuality in the Georgian period.

The New Generation Thinkers are the winners of an annual scheme run by the BBC and the Arts and Humanities Research Council to find academics at the start of their careers who can turn their research into fascinating broadcasts.

The Essay was recorded in front of an audience at the Free Thinking Festival at Sage Gateshead. If you want to hear Danielle Thom answer questions about her research you can download The Essay and conversation as an Arts and Ideas podcast.

Producer: Zahid Warley.