Radio Times Festival – we were there!

Venerable listings mag Radio Times launched its very first TV/Radio/Book festival this year 24-27 September in the grounds of Hampton Court Palace – and we were there!Not exactly in lights... ... but on the programme!

Not exactly in lights…
… but on the programme!

The line-up was starry. Everything from the stars and writers ofWolf Hall to Doctor Who and Call the Midwife. David Attenborough, Peter Capaldi, Brucie, Andrew Marr, Jon Snow, Thomas the Tank Engine, Simon Schama, Phillipa Gregory… The best-known names in British telly and publishing in fact.  And Steve and me, talking about Britain’s Greatest Generation  and how we rose to the challenge of getting 90 and 100-year olds to tell their stories for the series and the book.

Yes, we were in a marquee, and our select but lovely audience gamely put up with competition from a VERY LOUD session on Radio 4 coming from the other end of the tent. We just about made ourselves heard over the theme tunes to Listen With Mother and The Archers...

But these are quibbles.  It was a privilege to be part of such a buzzy and well-organised event. Afterwards we went to sessions with Russell T Davies (writer of Dr Who, Bob & Rose, and the amazing and under-rated Second Coming) and Peter Kosminsky – a hero of mine who directed Wolf Hall  and who has been making brilliantly controversial drama-docs for more than 30 years –The Government Inspector, The Promise, Britz, Shoot to Kill among them.

Worryingly, both speakers were pessimistic about the future of the BBC and seemed convinced that the Tories are intent on dismantling it out of spite, revenge or pure ideology. We’ve been here before and the Beeb has survived political onslaughts from governments of all stripes. But it is Britain’s most precious cultural asset and events like this that round up so many BBC gems and talents remind us just what we’ve got to lose. I predict a Luvvie – and a public – fight-back.

This was the first RTFest – let’s hope it becomes an annual fixture. Popular culture deserves no less.


Inspirations, Compulsions and Comfort Zones

Gus Bialick (centre) featured in ‘Britain’s Greatest Generation’

My inspiration and my comfort zone is The Past. Twentieth century social history to be exact. All my books so far have been, in some way or other, real-life stories about 20th century people. Three have them have a specific focus on WW2.

Perhaps this is less inspiration, more compulsion. Writing for me is a way of understanding the past, how it shaped my parents’ generation and so how it shaped me and mine.

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