The Reith Lectures were inaugurated in 1948 by the BBC as a ‘stimulus to thought and contribution to knowledge’ and has remained a flagship programme in Radio 4’s broadcasting ever since. The name marks the historic contribution made to public service broadcasting by Lord Reith, the founder of the BBC. John Reith maintained that broadcasting should be a public service which ‘enriches the intellectual and cultural life of the nation’. It is in this spirit that the BBC each year invites a leading figure to deliver a series of lectures on radio, aiming to advance public understanding and debate about significant issues of contemporary interest.
The first BBC Reith lecturer was the philosopher, Bertrand Russell, and in the seventy years since there have been seventy-seven different speakers. Usually a set of four lectures are delivered every year by the invited speaker. In Remarkable Minds nineteen lecturers have been featured by journalist, broadcaster and author, Anita Anand. These span topics across art, science, nature, technology, history, religion, society, culture and politics. In each case a highlight essay from the lecture series has been chosen.
Anita Anand is the presenter of the Reith Lectures. In her foreword to Remarkable Minds she writes:
The Reith Lectures are often controversial, but have also proven themselves to be remarkably presecient too. …
The Reith Lectures not only reflect the time in which they were delivered, but often take a scalpel to the insecurities faced by the world at the given moment. …
Though the subject matter of the Reith Lectures has certainly been diverse, that cannot always have been said of the lecturers. Initially they were exclusively male until Margery Perham, the colonial historian, delivered her lectures in 1961. They were also all white. Robert Gardiner, the Ghanaian professor and economist, who served the United Nations broke the mould in 1965, when he delivered his series of lectures considering the state of race relations internationally. Since then, the effort to find diverse voices from a spread of disciplines, with a wealth of different experiences has been tangible and a real credit to successive Radio 4 controllers.
Remarkable Minds is a wonderful introduction to the variety of subjects introduced and discussed during the Reith Lectures. In fact the entire collection of lectures may be heard on Apple Podcasts. Here is the link.
18 September 2019