Melvyn Bragg, Baron Bragg, CH, FRS, FBA, FRSL (born 6 October 1939),
is an English broadcaster, author and parliamentarian. He is best
known for his work with ITV as editor and presenter of The South Bank
Show (1978–2010), and for the Radio 4 discussion series In Our Time.
Earlier in his career, Bragg worked for the
in various roles
including presenter, a connection that resumed in 1988 when he began
Start the Week
on Radio 4. After his ennoblement in 1998, he
switched to presenting the new In Our Time, an academic discussion
radio programme, which has run to over 700 broadcast editions, and is
a popular podcast. He was Chancellor of the
University of Leeds
University of Leeds
1999 until 2017.
1 Early life
3 Personal life
4 Positions and memberships
5 Awards and honours
8 External links
Bragg was born on 6 October 1939 in Carlisle, the son of Mary Ethel
(née Park), a tailor, and Stanley Bragg, a stock keeper turned
mechanic. He was given the name Melvyn by his mother after she saw
Melvyn Douglas at a local cinema. He was raised in the
small town of Wigton, where he attended the
school and later The Nelson Thomlinson School, where he was Head
Boy. He was an only child, born a year after his parents married.
His father was away from home serving with the
Royal Air Force
Royal Air Force for
four years during the war. His upbringing and childhood experiences
were typical of the working class environment of that era.
As a child, the woman he was led to believe was his maternal
grandmother was in reality the foster parent of his own mother; his
grandmother having been forced to leave the town due to the stigma of
her daughter being born illegitimately. From the age of 8 until he
left for university, his family home was above a pub in Wigton, the
Black-A-Moor Hotel, of which his father had become the landlord.
Into his teens he was a member of the Scouts and played rugby in his
school's first team. Encouraged by a teacher who had recognised his
work ethic, Bragg was one of an increasing number of working class
teenagers of the era being given a path to university through the
grammar school system. At university he read
Modern History at
Wadham College, Oxford, in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Throughout his working life, Bragg has combined a career in
broadcasting with one in writing.
Bragg began his career in 1961 as a general trainee at the BBC. He
was the recipient of one of only three traineeships awarded that
year. He spent his first two years in radio at the
Service, then at the
BBC Third Programme and
BBC Home Service. He
joined the production team of Huw Wheldon's Monitor arts series on BBC
Television. He presented the
BBC books programme Read All About It
(and was also its editor, 1976–77) and The Lively Arts, a
arts series. He then edited and presented the London Weekend
Television (LWT) arts programme
The South Bank Show
The South Bank Show from 1978 to
2010. His interview with playwright
Dennis Potter shortly before
his death is regularly cited as one of the most moving and memorable
television moments ever. By being just as interested in popular as
well as classical genres, he is credited with making the arts more
accessible and less elitist.
He was Head of Arts at LWT from 1982 to 1990 and Controller of Arts at
LWT from 1990. He is also known for his many programmes on
Start the Week (1988 to 1998), The Routes of English
(mapping the history of the English language), and In Our Time (1998
to present), which in March 2011 broadcast its 500th programme.
Bragg's pending departure from the South Bank Show was portrayed by
The Guardian as the last of the ITV grandees, speculating that the
next generation of ITV broadcasters would not have the same longevity
or influence as Bragg or his ITV contemporaries John Birt, Greg Dyke,
Michael Grade and Christopher Bland.
In 2012 he brought
The South Bank Show
The South Bank Show back to Sky Arts 1. In
December 2012, he began The Value of Culture, a five-part series on
BBC Radio 4
BBC Radio 4 examining the meaning of culture, expanding on Matthew
Arnold's landmark (1869) collection of essays Culture and Anarchy.
In June 2013 Bragg wrote and presented The Most Dangerous Man in Tudor
England, broadcast by the BBC. This told the dramatic story of William
Tyndale's mission to translate the Bible from the original languages
to English. In February 2012, he began
Melvyn Bragg on Class and
Culture, a three-part series on BBC2 examining popular media culture,
with an analysis of the British social class system. Bragg
appeared on the Front Row "Cultural Exchange" on
May Day 2013. He
nominated a self-portrait by
Rembrandt as a piece of art which he had
found especially interesting. In 2015, Bragg was appointed as a
Vice President of the Royal Television Society.
Having produced unpublished short stories since age 19, Bragg had
initially decided to become a writer after university. He recognised
that writing would not, initially at least, earn him a living, and he
took the opportunity at the
BBC that arose after he had applied for
posts in a variety of industries. While at the BBC, he continued
writing. Publishing his first novel in 1965, he decided to leave the
BBC to concentrate full-time on writing. Although he published several
works, he was unable to make a living, forcing a return to television
by the mid-1970s.
A novelist and writer of non-fiction, Bragg has also written a number
of television and film screenplays. Some of his early television work
was in collaboration with Ken Russell, for whom he wrote the
biographical dramas The Debussy Film (1965) and
Isadora Duncan, the
Biggest Dancer in the World (1967), as well as Russell's film about
The Music Lovers
The Music Lovers (1970). Most of his novels are
autobiographical fictions, set in an around the town of
By the 1990s, having received a range of reviews for his work, from
outstanding to lazy, some critics were suggesting that splitting his
time between writing and broadcasting was detrimental to the quality,
and that his media profile and his known sensitivity to criticism made
him an easy target for unjust reviews. According to The Independent,
The Literary Review's prize mocking his poor writing of sex in fiction
was awarded not on readers' nominations, but simply because it would
be good PR. From 1996 to 1998 he also wrote a column in The Times
newspaper; he has also occasionally written for The Sunday Times, The
Guardian and Observer.
Bragg's friends include the former Labour Party leaders Tony Blair,
Neil Kinnock and Michael Foot, and former deputy leader Roy
Hattersley. He was one of 100 donors who gave the Labour Party a
sum in excess of £5,000 in 1997, the year the party came to power
under Blair in the general election. The following year he was
appointed by Blair to the
House of Lords
House of Lords as the life peer Baron Bragg,
Wigton in the County of Cumbria, one of a number of Labour
donors given peerages. This led to accusations of cronyism from the
defeated Conservative Party.
In the Lords he takes a keen interest in the arts and education.
The Guardian in 2004, he voted 104 times out of a
possible 226 in the 2002/3 session, only once against the government,
on the Hunting Act. He campaigned against it on the grounds it
could affect the livelihoods of Cumbrian farmers. In August 2014,
Bragg was one of 200 public figures who signed a letter to The
Scottish independence in the run-up to September's
referendum on that issue.
Bragg has defended Christianity, particularly the King James Bible,
although he does not claim to be a believer himself, seeing himself in
Albert Einstein's term as a "believing unbeliever", adding that he is
"unable to cross the River of Jordan which would lead me to the
crucial belief in a godly eternity."
In August 2016 Bragg publicly accused the National Trust of "bullying"
in its "disgraceful purchase" of land in the Lake District, which
could threaten the
Herdwick rare breed of sheep.
Bragg married his first wife, Marie-Elisabeth Roche, in 1961, and
they had a daughter, Marie-Elsa. Roche was a French viscountess
studying painting at Oxford. Ten years later Roche killed herself.
"I could have done things which helped and I did things which harmed",
The Guardian in 1998. "So yes, I feel guilt, I feel
remorse." Bragg's second wife, Catherine Mary Haste, whom he
married in 1973, is also a television producer and writer, whose
literary work includes editing the 2007 memoir of Clarissa Eden, widow
of Lord Avon, and collaborating with Cherie Booth, wife of Tony Blair,
on a 2004 book about the wives of British Prime Ministers. They have a
son, Tom, and a daughter, Alice. In June 2016 it was reported that
Bragg and Haste had separated amicably, and that Bragg now shared a
home with former film assistant Gabriel Clare-Hunt, a woman with whom
he had an affair in 1995.
Bragg has publicly discussed two nervous breakdowns that he has
suffered, one in his teens and another in his 30s. His first
breakdown began at age 13; inspired by a passage in Wordsworth's The
Prelude, in the following years he found ways to cope, including
exploring the outdoors and the adoption of a strong work ethic, as
well as meeting his first girlfriend. The second followed his
wife's suicide. He traces the origin of a lifelong nervousness of
public speaking to the experience of giving a reading from the lectern
as a choirboy at age 6.
At the age of 75, his life was profiled in the
BBC Two television
programme Melvyn Bragg:
Wigton to Westminster, first broadcast on 18
July 2015. He lives in Hampstead, London, but still owns a house
near his home town of Wigton. He is a member of the Garrick
Club and a supporter of Arsenal F.C. and Carlisle United. He
is the Honorary President of the CUSC London Branch.[clarification
Positions and memberships
President of the
National Campaign for the Arts (since 1986)
St Catherine's College, Oxford
St Catherine's College, Oxford (1990)
Border Television 1990-96 (deputy chairman 1985-90)
Honorary Fellowship from
Wadham College, Oxford
Wadham College, Oxford (1995)
Governor of the
London School of Economics
London School of Economics (since 1997)
Peerage - Baron Bragg (since 1998)
Chancellor of the
University of Leeds
University of Leeds (1999-2017)
President of the charity MIND (2002)
Honorary Fellowship of the
British Academy (2010), for "public
understanding of the arts, literature and sciences"
Honorary Fellowship of
Royal Society (2010)
Honorary Doctorate of Literature (DLit), University College London
President of the National Academy of Writing
Vice President of the Friends of the British Library.
Chairman of the Arts Council Literature Panel
Member of the Order of the Companions of Honour
Member of the Order of the Companions of Honour (CH) (2018)
Awards and honours
Writers' Guild Screenplay Award (1966)
Mail on Sunday/John Llewellyn Rhys Prize for Without a City Wall
Time/Life Silver Pen Award for
The Hired Man (1970)
Northern Arts Association Prose Award (1970)
Bad Sex in Fiction Award
Bad Sex in Fiction Award for A Time to Dance (1993)
WH Smith Literary Award for
The Soldier's Return (2000)
Son of War, Crossing The Lines, and A Place in England, all
long-listed for the Man Booker Prize
Film & television awards
Broadcasting Guild Award (1984)
British Academy of Film and Television Arts Dimbleby Award (1986)
BAFTA TV Award for An Interview with
Dennis Potter (1995)
BAFTA Academy Fellowship Award (2010)
Best New Radio Series for Routes of English (2000)
Royal Television Society Lifetime Achievement Award (2015)
Ivor Novello Musical Award (1985)
Honorary Degree from the
Open University as Doctor of the University.
Millom School Drama Studio (2005)
The South Bank Show
The South Bank Show Lifetime Achievement Award (2010)
Sandford St.Martin Trust Personal Award (2014)
For Want of a Nail (1965)
The Second Inheritance (1966)
Without a City Wall (1968)
The Cumbrian Trilogy:
The Hired Man (1969)
A Place in England (1970)
Kingdom Come (1980)
The Nerve (1971)
Josh Lawton (1972)
The Silken Net (1974)
Autumn Manoeuvres (1978)
Love and Glory (1983)
The Maid of Buttermere (1987) (based on the life of Mary Robinson)
A Time to Dance (1990)
Crystal Rooms (1992)
Credo (1996) also known as The Sword and the Miracle
The Soldier's Return Quartet:
The Soldier's Return (1999)
A Son of War (2001)
Crossing the Lines (2003)
Remember Me... (2008)
Grace and Mary (2013)
Now is the Time (2015)
Speak For England (1976)
Land of The Lakes (1983)
Laurence Olivier (1984)
Cumbria in Verse (editor) (1984)
Rich: The Life of Richard Burton (1988)
King Lear in New York (1994)
On Giants' Shoulders (1998)
Two Thousand Years Part 1: The Birth of Christ to the Crusades (1999)
Two Thousand Years Part 2 (1999)
The Routes of English (2001)
The Adventure of English (2003)
Twelve Books That Changed the World (2006)
In Our Time (editor) (2009)
The Book of Books (2011)
A Christmas Child (1977)
My Favourite Stories of Lakeland (editor) (1981)
The Debussy Film (1965)
Isadora (1968) (with
Clive Exton and Margaret Drabble)
Play Dirty (1968)
The Music Lovers
The Music Lovers (1970) (directed by Ken Russell)
Jesus Christ Superstar (1973) (co-written and directed by Norman
^ a b "Lord Bragg of
Wigton FRS FRSL FRTS". British Academy. Archived
from the original on 12 January 2012. Retrieved 4 October 2011. Public
understanding of the arts, literature and sciences. Broadcaster,
presenter, interviewer, commentator, novelist, scriptwriter.
^ Sherwin, Adam (25 March 2013). "
Melvyn Bragg calls on new
to reverse 'shrinking arts coverage'". The Independent. London.
Retrieved 25 April 2013.
^ Hepworth, David (2 March 2013). "In Our Time: Melvyn Bragg's
superior radio masterclass". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 25 April
^ Lord Bragg of
Wigton (born 1939), leeds.ac.uk; retrieved 13 December
^ Gillen, Nancy. "Chancellor
Melvyn Bragg to officially reopen Edward
Boyle Library on 13 July". Retrieved 2017-12-13.
^ a b c d e f g h i j k Quicke, Andrew. "Melvyn Bragg". Encyclopedia
of Television. Museum of Broadcast Communications. Retrieved 4 October
^ a b Barratt, Nick (11 August 2007). "Family detective: Melvyn
Bragg". The Telegraph. London. Retrieved 8 April 2013.
^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r Melvyn Bragg:
BBC Two, 18 July 2015
^ a b c d e f g
The Guardian profile: Melvyn Bragg, The Guardian,
Steven Morris, 17 September 2004
^ a b Article by
Melvyn Bragg in British Mensa Magazine, January 2002,
^ Bignell, Jonathan (2012). Beckett on Screen: The Television Plays.
Manchester University Press. ISBN 978-0719064210.
^ "ITV Fact
File on The South Bank Show". Itv.com. Retrieved 29
^ a b c d e Melvyn Bragg: A Northern hero in our time, The Independent
(London), 13 June 2014
^ Simon Elmes, And Now on Radio 4: A Celebration of the World's Best
Radio Station, London: Random House Books, 2007, pp. 72-73.
^ Melvyn Bragg, last of the ITV grandees, The Guardian, Ben Dowell, 6
^ Dowell, Ben (25 March 2013). "
Melvyn Bragg expected to stay with Sky
Arts for two more years". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 25 April
^ "The Value of Culture". Folksonomy. 4 January 2013. Retrieved 4
Melvyn Bragg on Class and Culture", bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 3 April
^ "Images for Melvyn Bragg's Cultural Exchange". BBC. Retrieved 12
Royal Television Society announces new appointments Royal
Television Society". rts.org.uk. Retrieved 2017-04-06.
^ Profile: A time to dance back to Cumbria?: Melvyn Bragg, cultural
supremo in a crisis, The Independent (London), 27 November 1993
^ a b ""Luvvies" for Labour".
BBC News. 30 August 1998.
^ Minutes and Order Paper - Minutes of Proceedings from the House of
Lords, 28 October 1998.
^ "No. 55222". The London Gazette. 11 August 1998. p. 8731.
^ "Bragg battles for hunting reprieve".
BBC News. 11 January 2001.
Retrieved 17 July 2015.
^ "Celebrities' open letter to Scotland – full text and list of
signatories". The Guardian. London. 7 August 2014. Retrieved 26 August
Melvyn Bragg (11 June 2011). "Melvyn Bragg: My first steps back on
the road to faith". The Daily Telegraph. London.
^ Association, Press (30 August 2016). "
Melvyn Bragg accuses National
Trust of bullying in farm row". The Guardian. Retrieved 1 September
2016 – via The Guardian.
^ Guinness, Daphne (14 July 2008). "Melvyn in the Middle". Sydney
Morning Herald. Retrieved 14 July 2008. ...my first wife was an
aristocrat. I didn't know that for a year.
^ Burkeman, Oliver (6 June 2005). "Plato or Nietzsche? You choose".
The Guardian. Manchester. Archived from the original on 9 November
Melvyn Bragg 'leaves wife to move in with woman 16 years his
junior'". The Telegraph. London. 20 June 2016.
Daphne Guinness (14 June 2008). "Melvyn in the middle". Sydney
Morning Herald. Retrieved 4 October 2011.
Melvyn Bragg on becoming a fan – Arsenal, 1989". The Guardian.
London. 17 May 2009.
^ "Honorary Fellows of the Royal Society". Royalsociety.org. Retrieved
29 September 2014.
Friends of the British Library
Friends of the British Library Annual Report 2006/07" (PDF).
Archived from the original (PDF) on 15 April 2010. Retrieved 7
^ "No. 62150".
The London Gazette
The London Gazette (Supplement). 30 December 2017.
Melvyn Bragg to receive
BAFTA Academy Fellowship Award".
1 June 2010.
^ "Bragg opens namesake drama suite".
BBC News. 17 October 2005.
Retrieved 4 October 2011.
Wikiquote has quotations related to: Melvyn Bragg
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