TV & Radio


November 2022. Radio 4 Front Row. Ronald Blythe at 100. 

 Screenshot 2022 11 20 at 21.30.39  Nicholas Pocock Staffa 1792

March 2022. Treasures from the Golden Age of British Watercolours. Martyn Gregory's exhilarating collection of watercolours came for sale at Christie's in the spring, and I had the pleasure of discussing some of the absoute highlights with the Head of Sale, drawings specialist Annabel Kishor. In this short film we look at  work by John Varley, William Turner of Oxford, William Green of Ambleside - and an artist I hardly knew about, Nicholas Pocock (1740-1821), who made one of the earliest watercolours of Fingal's Cave. 


January 2022. Radio 3. Free Thinking: 'How to Create a Modernist Masterpiece'



JUN p07 Ode to

October 2021. Radio 3 Free Thinking 'Twilight'

I wanted to bring the poet William Collins (1721-1759) into the discussion. HIs 'Ode to Evening' is full of strangeness, sudden shifts of scale, high style and deep feeling. It was one of the most influential odes of the eighteeth century, and cast its odd light on many perceptions of the twilight hour. Collins has not been much talked about on his 300th birthday, but is not quite forgotten. 

The words and music of Sally Beamish in this programme will light up any dusk. 


Georges de La Tour LEducation de la Vierge The Frick CollectionA master of intimate candlelight:Georges de La Tour, The Education of the Virgin, c.1650


December 2020. Radio 3 Free-Thinking: ‘Winter Light’

SussexBOXGROVEStMaryStBlaisemichaelcoppinsCC BY SA4.01Boxgrove Priory, Sussex, where the Hilliard Ensemble recorded music by Pérotin


November 2020. Radio 3 Private Passions.

I was delighted to explore my love for early music and its connection with some of the landscapes that have meant most to me. I chose pieces by Benjamin Britten, Laura Cannell, Schubert, Pérotin, Anonymous 4, Simon Rowland-Jones, and Thomas Tallis. 

November 2020. Radio 4 Start the Week: ‘Derrida, Woolf, and the pleasure of reading’


August 2018. BBC 1, Imagine: Tacita Dean. Produced by Katy Homan. I talked about Dean's Romanticism, her play with scale, her re-thinking of the sublime. 

May 2018. Radio 3, Between the Ears: The Sheep of Art. This is itself a work of art made in binaural sound by producer Sara Jane Hall. There are a lot of sheep bells involved. I've always been intrigued by 'pastoral' poetry. Why have writers been so drawn to shepherds?; do shepherds really embody ideals of innocence, wisdom, faithful love and lyrical song? I wanted to know what real shepherds make of Damian and Corydon and whether their job made them liable to break into verse. Sara Jane and I travelled to southern Spain to visit writer and shepherd Chris Stewart, who took us in turn high into the mountains to visit Paco, who walks with his sheep in the way shepherds would have done in ancient Greece. We learnt more than we could fit into the half-hour programme, and it was one of the most surprising pieces of literary research I have done. 

P1040221.JPG    P1040215.JPG


28 May 2017. Sunday Feature: The Bloomsbury Lighthouse.
A programme about writers at the Ministry of Information during WW2, recorded in the distinctively echoing art deco corridors of Senate House. I recalled Laurie Lee’s experiences there, and was one of four presenters each representing a different writer.

7 May 2017: Dawn chorus.
This was one of the most strange and wonderful nights of my life. Radio 4 broadcast live for seven hours from the reed beds at RSPB Ham Wall in Somerset as the birds started to wake. Brett Westwood, Will Young and others showed us what to listen for. I interrupted the birds every now and again to talk about human dawns: ‘aubade’ poems, Milton’s imagined dawn in Paradise, Charles Lamb’s dislike of getting out of bed.

10 April 2017. R3 Free Thinking Special. A conversation about place and belonging, recorded live in Newcastle with Simon Armitage.

free thinking


16 August 2016. Radio 4 Great Lives. Sara Pascoe chose Virginia Woolf. 

May 2016. R4 Clouds in Trousers, a five-part radio drama written by Katie Hims in response to Weatherland.
The series follows Zoe as she grows up, with every turn of her life marked by the weather. Music by Jon Nicholls; produced by Tim Dee.

1 - Ice
2 – Sun
3 -  Rain
4 - Shelter
5 – Flood

May 2016. ‘A British History in Weather’, my 10-part series for Radio 4, produced by Tim Dee. This was broadcast over two weeks, with two omnibus editions, and it’s available to listen again.

1. The Weather Indoors
2. The Wisdom of Winter
3. Wind
4. Sun
5. Punishing Weather
6. Holiday on Ice
7. Rain
8. In Cloudland
9. Storm
10. Beginnings and Endings

Animation students from Ravensbourne College made short films to accompany the programmes. Foong Mei Pang’s beautiful evocation of British summers through history takes us right into Jonathan Swift’s sweltering dining room…

10 April 2016. Interviewed guest on R3 Sunday Feature: 1816: The Year without a Summer, presented by Corin Throsby.


August-September 2015 'A Walk of One's Own – Virginia Woolf on Foot', a 4-part series on Radio 4, produced by Sara Jane Hall. Tuesday mornings at 9.30 from 11 August. In the first episode I follow Woolf to Southern Spain, where she visited her friend Gerald Brenan in 1923. In the remote mountain village of Yegen, I hear stories of how she sat sunbathing under citrus trees…

February 2015. Radio 3 Sunday Feature 'Eric Ravilious: Chalk and Ice'. Includes interviews with Hermione Lee, Frances Spalding, Peter Davidson and Robert Macfarlane – and a visit to the wonderful Fry Art Gallery in Saffron Walden.

Spain. With Chris Stuart.
Kensington Gardens. With Hermione Lee.
Cornwall. With Michael Bird.
Sussex. With Scarlett Baron. 

spain chris stuartcornwall michael bird


September 2014. My programme about Mrs Dalloway will be on BBC4 and iPlayer.

July 2014 Review on Free Thinking of Virginia Woolf at the National Portrait Gallery on BBC Radio 3.


August 2013. Interval talk during Prom 51 on BBC Radio 3. A discussion with Sam West of Britten’s poetic settings.

June 2013. Review on Nightwaves of Chagall: Modern Master at Tate Liverpool.

April 2013. Review on Nightwaves of Paul Nash and Clare Nielson at Pallant House in Chichester.

March 2013. The Essay: 'A Taste for the Baroque', recorded in Bristol for BBC Radio 3's 'Baroque Spring'. You can ‘listen again’ to my essay on the architectural legacy of baroque in Britain, as well as other essays in the series by writers including Tessa Hadley and Chloe Aridjis.

February 2013. I go down onto the Thames shore to talk about Frost Fairs and painting in Tales of Winter for BBC4.

January 2013. The Art of Winter on BBC 4. In a series of contributions to this documentary, I go down onto the shingle by the Thames and up onto windy rooftops in the footsteps of Abraham Hondius, who painted London’s frost fairs in the seventeenth century. I also talk more generally about the history of winter art.

January 2013. Radio 3 Sunday Feature: 'A Brief History of Being Cold'. I present 45 minutes of poetry, music and ideas about our experience of cold. I go out in the snow with Simon Armitage and visit Katherine Swift’s garden in Shropshire. There are contributions from A.S. Byatt, Richard Hamblyn, Adam Gopnick, Francis Spufford, and Peter Davidson, and readings by Fiona Shaw. This programme is best heard indoors on a dark, frosty evening, but you can listen anytime using this link.


October 2012. Twenty Minutes: 'A Darker Shade of Green'. I contributed with Lara Feigel to an exploration of pastoral between the wars.

October 2012. Discussion on Nightwaves: As ash die-back reached crisis point, I discussed the cultural significance of ash trees with A.S. Byatt.

September 2012. Discussion on Nightwaves: 'The Pursuit of Happiness'. While economists gave their interpretations of the 'well-being' agenda, I looked at the history of happiness in literature.

May 2012. I contributed to the BBC project My Own Shakespeare, a series in which 29 people chose a passage from Shakespeare and talked about its particular significance for them. The series was produced by Jeremy Mortimer and Lucy Collingwood, and all the My Own Shakespeare podcasts are available to download.

May 2012. Discussion on Nightwaves of the Ashmolean's major new exhibition The English Prize. The show is a kind of time capsule, displaying the cargo recovered from the Westmoreland when it was captured by French privateers on its way from Livorno to London. On board were the souvenirs purchased by young men on the Grand Tour, from prints, sculptures and watercolours to helpful guide books and parmesan cheeses.

May 2012. Discussion on Nightwaves of the British Library exhibition 'Writing Britain', which features works that have helped to shape our ideas of place and landscape.

April 2012. Nightwaves special on the British landscape. A panel discussion with writers Martin Palmer and Tristram Gooley, and Fiona Reynolds, director of the National Trust. Presented by Juliet Gardiner.

January 2012. The long winter evenings have made me think about the history of artificial light. Listen here to my essay 'Light in the Dark'.

light in the dark


December 2011. A brilliant new exhibition of Graham Sutherland's work opens at Modern Art Oxford, curated by the artist George Shaw. Richard Cork and I discussed Sutherland on 2016. ‘During Wind and Rain’. A 10-part ‘narrative history’ series for Radio 4. Produced by Tim Dee. August-September 2015 ‘A Walk of One’s Own – Virginia Woolf on Foot’, a 4-part series on Radio 4, produced by Sara Jane Hall. Tuesday mornings at 9.30 from 11 August. In the first episode I follow Woolf to Southern Spain, where she visited her friend Gerald Brenan in 1923. In the remote mountain village of Yegen, I hear stories of how she sat sunbathing under citrus trees… Front Row.

November 2011. I will be at Radio 3's 'Free Thinking Festival' in Gateshead on 5th November, and as it's bonfire night I'll be talking about fireworks. I love a firework display, whether it's an extravaganza on the Thames or sparklers in the back garden. I wanted to know more about the history and the art of fireworks - from China, to medieval mystery plays, to eighteenth-century pomp, to our modern civic celebrations. Listen to my programme 'Twenty Minutes' here.

July 2011. Tim Dee produced an excellent series of programmes on the theme of 'Dark Arcadias' for The Essay on radio 3. I contributed an essay on Rex Whistler, Cecil Beaton, and arcadian fantasies between the wars. It's not available on Listen Again but details of the series are here.

wilton estate

The Wilton estate, much loved by Rex Whistler

June 2011. Each of the New Generation Thinkers (see below) presented a short piece on Nightwaves to give a taste of their research. I gave a first public outing to my very embryonic thoughts about English culture and the weather in a 'A Brief History of Being Cold'.

June 2011. I am very excited to have been chosen as one of ten New Generation Thinkers in a collaborative scheme run by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and Radio 3. Read the Guardian article about the scheme here.

new generation thinkers

Here we all are (as featured on the Guardian front page!)