The Darkest Hour

Insomnia is one of the great obsessions of our time. Writers, artists, thinkers and leaders have always battled with sleep - from Van Gogh to Oscar Wilde, Winston Churchill to Margaret Thatcher. Shakespeare's night owls are legendary, from Lady Macbeth to Brutus, while Charles Dickens' insomnia took him on nocturnal walks in search of inspiration. But in our 24-hour culture, insomnia - this ability to switch off - has become something of a modern obsession, with today's writers and bloggers thinking nothing of tapping away at keyboards or pounding the streets for solace in the wee small hours.

Episodes

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01Margaret Drabble2011100320130225

In the first of this series, in which five night owls explore their own battles with sleeplessness, distinguished author Margaret Drabble looks at ageing and sleeplessness. She asks why, after years of insomnia, it's become something of an old friend to her, and extols the delights of the compensatory nap.

This series will also feature John Sutherland on the rich history of insomnia in literature; A L Kennedy on finding the nights too thrilling for sleep; poet Michael Symmons Roberts on poetry and insomnia; and actor Juliet Stevenson on why a creative life often means a life in search of sleep.

Producer: Justine Willett

First broadcast in October 2011.

Insomnia is one of the great obsessions of our time.

Writers, artists, thinkers and leaders have always battled with sleep - from Van Gogh to Oscar Wilde, Winston Churchill to Margaret Thatcher.

Shakespeare's night owls are legendary, from Lady Macbeth to Brutus, while Charles Dickens' insomnia took him on nocturnal walks in search of inspiration.

But in our 24-hour culture, insomnia - this ability to switch off - has become something of a modern obsession, with today's writers and bloggers thinking nothing of tapping away at keyboards or pounding the streets for solace in the wee small hours.

In the first of this series, in which five night owls explore their own battles with sleeplessness, distinguished author Margaret Drabble looks at ageing and sleeplessness.

She asks why, after years of insomnia, it's become something of an old friend to her, and extols the delights of the compensatory nap.

Author Margaret Drabble explores how insomnia has become something of an old friend.

02John Sutherland2011100420130226

Today, literary critic and author John Sutherland on the rich history of insomnia in literature from Macbeth to Heathcliffe, and on the battle so many writers, including himself, seem to have with sleep.

John Sutherland is Emeritus Lord Northcliffe Professor of Modern English Literature at University College, London. He is an acclaimed literary critic and the author of many award-winning memoirs and books on literary criticism.

Producer: Justine Willett

First broadcast in October 2011.

Insomnia is one of the great obsessions of our time.

From Van Gogh to Dickens, Winston Churchill to Margaret Thatcher, our writers, artists, thinkers and leaders seem to have been in constant battle with sleep.

But in our current 24-hour culture, insomnia, this ability to switch off, has become something of a modern obsession for us all.

In this series, five night owls explore their own battles with sleeplessness, the rituals and frustrations as well as the occasional joys of being awake when the rest of the world sleeps.

John Sutherland is Emeritus Lord Northcliffe Professor of Modern English Literature at University College, London.

He is an acclaimed literary critic and the author of many award-winning memoirs and books on literary criticism.

Literary critic and author John Sutherland explores the history of insomnia in literature.

03A L Kennedy2011100520130227

Insomnia is one of the great obsessions of our time. From Van Gogh to Dickens, Winston Churchill to Margaret Thatcher, our writers, artists, thinkers and leaders seem to have been in constant battle with sleep. But in our current 24-hour culture, insomnia, this ability to switch off, has become something of a modern obsession for us all. In this series, five night owls explore their own battles with sleeplessness, the rituals and frustrations as well as the occasional joys of being awake when the rest of the world sleeps.

Today: though she knows her caffeine-fuelled, all-night writing sessions must end, author A L Kennedy explains why she has always found the nights too thrilling and full of possibility for mere sleep.

Producer: Justine Willett

First broadcast in October 2011.

Insomnia is one of the great obsessions of our time.

From Van Gogh to Dickens, Winston Churchill to Margaret Thatcher, our writers, artists, thinkers and leaders seem to have been in constant battle with sleep.

But in our current 24-hour culture, insomnia, this ability to switch off, has become something of a modern obsession for us all.

In this series, five night owls explore their own battles with sleeplessness, the rituals and frustrations as well as the occasional joys of being awake when the rest of the world sleeps.

Author AL Kennedy explores why she has always found the nights too thrilling to sleep.

04Michael Symmons Roberts2011100620130228

Insomnia is one of the great obsessions of our time. From Van Gogh to Dickens, Winston Churchill to Margaret Thatcher, our writers, artists, thinkers and leaders seem to have been in constant battle with sleep. But in our current 24-hour culture, insomnia, this ability to switch off, has become something of a modern obsession.

In this series, five night owls explore their own battles with sleeplessness, the rituals and frustrations, as well as the occasional joys of being awake when the rest of the world sleeps. Today: Michael Symmons Roberts, whose libretto for the 2011 Welsh National Youth Opera 'The Sleeper' imagines a world where humans have lost the gift of sleep, looks at why he has been so fascinated by insomnia, and at why so many poets have taken inspiration from sleeplessness.

Michael Symmons Roberts is an award-winning poet and author and broadcaster. His poetry has won the Whitbread Poetry Award, and been shortlisted for the Forward Prize and T.S. Eliot Prize.

Producer: Justine Willett

First broadcast in October 2011.

Insomnia is one of the great obsessions of our time.

From Van Gogh to Dickens, Winston Churchill to Margaret Thatcher, our writers, artists, thinkers and leaders seem to have been in constant battle with sleep.

But in our current 24-hour culture, insomnia, this ability to switch off, has become something of a modern obsession.

In this series, five night owls explore their own battles with sleeplessness, the rituals and frustrations, as well as the occasional joys of being awake when the rest of the world sleeps.

Today: Michael Symmons Roberts, whose libretto for the 2011 Welsh National Youth Opera 'The Sleeper' imagines a world where humans have lost the gift of sleep, looks at why he has been so fascinated by insomnia, and at why so many poets have taken inspiration from sleeplessness.

Michael Symmons Roberts is an award-winning poet and author and broadcaster.

His poetry has won the Whitbread Poetry Award, and been shortlisted for the Forward Prize and T.S.

Eliot Prize.

Poet Michael Symmons Roberts examines why he has been so fascinated by insomnia.

05 LASTJuliet Stevenson2011100720130301

Insomnia is one of the great obsessions of our time. From Van Gogh to Dickens, Winston Churchill to Margaret Thatcher, our writers, artists, thinkers and leaders seem to have been in constant battle with sleep. But in our current 24-hour culture, insomnia, this ability to switch off, has become something of a modern obsession.

In the last of this series, in which five night owls explore their own battles with sleeplessness, Juliet Stevenson looks back on her own struggle with insomnia, both as an actor and mother, and asks why a creative life often means a life in search of sleep.

Producer: Justine Willett

First broadcast in October 2011.

Insomnia is one of the great obsessions of our time.

From Van Gogh to Dickens, Winston Churchill to Margaret Thatcher, our writers, artists, thinkers and leaders seem to have been in constant battle with sleep.

But in our current 24-hour culture, insomnia, this ability to switch off, has become something of a modern obsession.

In the last of this series, in which five night owls explore their own battles with sleeplessness, Juliet Stevenson looks back on her own struggle with insomnia, both as an actor and mother, and asks why a creative live often means a life in search of sleep.

Actor Juliet Stevenson on why a creative life often means a life in want of sleep.