We British

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Episodes

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20th-century Jukebox20151008

The British are brilliant at writing poems. On National Poetry Day, Andrew Marr is using them to tell our story. The 20th century arrives and so does the BBC archive. Simon Armitage, Juliet Gardiner, Kate Tempest, Kei Miller and Glyn Maxwell help Andrew to paint a fresh portrait of the 20th century in poems.

Foundation Stones20151008
Foundation Stones20151008

The British are brilliant at writing poems. On National Poetry Day, Andrew Marr is using them to tell our story.

In this opening episode Andrew looks at the various origins of our story found in some of the earliest verses written in these islands. Then he plunges into the majestic weirdness and strange familiarity of the medieval world. Before, in the figure of Chaucer he finds the first stirrings of an English ascendancy.

With Simon Armitage, Patience Agbabi, Gillian Clarke, Carol Ann Duffy and Jacob Polley.

We'll hear the origins of our British poetry, and of our national character, in poems like The Ruin, Y Goddodin and the Canterbury Tales. And fans of Lord of the Rings and King Arthur will recognise the mediaeval landscapes of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

Hopeful Romantics20151008
Hopeful Romantics20151008

The British are brilliant at writing poems. On National Poetry Day, Andrew Marr is using them to tell our story.

The British are supposedly poor at romance, but they make excellent Romantics. The Romantics dominate our sense of what a poet is. Infact they loom pretty large in our sense of what an individual is. An outpouring of poetic genius not seen before or since. Yet this might just be the period when poetry went completely off the rails.

With Richard Holmes and Lucy Newlyn. Poems by Wordsworth, Byron, Coleridge and Clare and a new one by Andrew Motion; plus the archteypal romantic artist - a singing nightingale. Reader: Siobhan Redmond.

Previously On We British20151008
Previously On We British20151008

The British are brilliant at writing poems. On National Poetry Day, Andrew Marr is using them to tell our story. To start the evening Andrew presents a recap of the highlights of the day.

Restoration To Revolution20151008
Restoration To Revolution20151008

The British are a people of poetry. On National Poetry Day, Andrew Marr is using the best British poems to tell our story. Episode 4 brings us into the 18th century. An age in which we tried hard to be civilised whilst enjoying the fact that we were not. The Age of Reason? No - an uneasy peace, not sedate, or reasonable, or ordered, and least of all enlightened. With literary scholars, John Mullan and Judith Hawley, the cartoonist Martin Rowson and a song from the times sung by Lucie Skeaping. Reader: Siobhan Redmond.

The Afterparty20151008
The Afterparty20151008

Contemporary poetry and music broadcast live from the Radio theatre to celebrate the final act of We British: A Epic in Poetry will include live poetry performed by some of our new and best loved British poets including Simon Armitage, Mike Garry, Hollie McNish and Roger McGough. Music is provided by singer/songwriter Ricky Ross and Pauline Black of the Selecter.

Producer: Maggie Ayre.

The People's Shipping Forecast20151008
The People's Shipping Forecast20151008

The poet Murray Lachlan-Young reads a poetic reimagining of the Shipping Forecast, based on listeners' suggestions.

The poet Murray Lachlan-Young presents his own poetic take on the Shipping Forecast.

The Rise Of England20151008
The Rise Of England20151008

The British are brilliant at writing poems. To celebrate National Poetry Day, Andrew Marr is using them to tell our story. In this episode Andrew Marr examines the long 16th century - from the rise of the Tudors to the elegance of Shakespeare. The 16th century is as elegant and brutal as a deft execution. This is a story of English power - entrenched in the South East of the country and never really relinquished. But also of Scottish elegance - the poets of the age reading and re-writing Virgil and the classics long before their Southern brethren.

Joining Andrew are a great cast of poets, historians and experts who help guide us through this golden age of poetry.

Black Country poet Liz Berry opens the programme, reclaiming Shakespeare for the Midlands with Sonnet 18 - 'Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?'.

We follow the path of Tudor aggression to Ireland, where professor Andy Orchard explores Seamus Heaney's reinterpretation of one of the great Irish anti-colonial poems: Brothers. And we observe the rise of power in the South East as Barry Rutter, founder of Northern Broadsides theatre company, describes his theatrical rebellion against it.

Diane Purkiss takes us to the heart of Tudor London: poets like Isabella Whitney chronicling the growth of the city, it's wealth and its dangers. We hear the torment of one the earliest-known female poets, Anne Askew, as she prepares to be burned at the stake.

A high-water mark in poetic brilliance is reached, as the sonnet arrives on these shores. Poet Don Paterson reads one of his own, and we hear Ben Jonson's extraordinary sonnet written for his dead son.

And do you know which Scottish poet outshone Shakespeare in his day? Professor Robert Crawford introduces us to George Buchanan.

The Victorians20151008
The Victorians20151008

The British are brilliant at writing poems. On National Poetry Day, Andrew Marr is using them to tell our story. By the middle of the evening Andrew has reached the Victorian Age accompanied by Sir Ian McKellen, Siobhan Redmond, Dinah Birch, Daljit Nagra, Michael Rosen and Matthew Sweet

The Victorians were a confident bunch but also terribly anxious. 'Play up, play up and play the game' pales against the tectonic anxiety of poems like Dover Beach. And we are still caught in Victorian dilemmas about capitalism, social justice, colonialism, marriage, science and faith.

We'll be guided through the 19th century by poems like Tennyson's In Memoriam, Edward Lear's The Owl and the Pussycat, and Modern Love - George Meredith's portrait of a failing marriage; and we'll hear Victorians at their most unbuttoned in Elizabeth Barratt-Browning's seduction poem, Lord Walter's Wife.

Things Fall Apart20151008
Things Fall Apart20151008

The British are brilliant at writing poems. On National Poetry Day, Andrew Marr is using them to tell our story.

Episode three watches the world fall apart as Britain descends into war. Elizabeth I is dead. The Scottish King has inherited the English throne. After the Tudor age, came the greatest crisis in British history - civil war, religious fanaticism, King Vs Parliament, family vs family, faith vs faith in all corners of the land. As the poet John Donne bewailed "'Tis all in pieces, all coherence gone".

But this period of turbulence produced some of Britain's finest poetry; we hear great poems by Andrew Marvell, George Herbert, John Donne and John Milton, together with lesser known works by Anne Bradstreet and Margaret Cavendish.

With readings by Fiona Shaw, Alice Oswald, Barrie Rutter and Simon Russell Beale.