Presenters include Nicholas Parsons, Joanna Trollope, John Cooper Clarke and Fiona Shaw among others Second series begins Monday 19 October at 8pm on BBC Four.
BBC Four today announces that The Secret Life Of Books is returning with a second series examining why major literary masterpieces were and remain so vital today.
Providing a foretaste of the series, Dr Janina Ramirez’s film on The Faerie Queene was broadcast on 13 October as part of the BBC poetry season.
In addition to Dr Janina Ramirez, the presenters in the new series include legendary punk poet John Cooper Clarke exploring a memoir of drug addiction; national treasure Nicholas Parsons on a collection of nonsense verse; actor and director Fiona Shaw on a Victorian classic; former political journalist John Sergeant with a children’s adventure tale; and novelist and sharp-eyed observer of provincial life Joanna Trollope with a nostalgic hymn to rural life.
These are works which possess so much significance that they have evolved into something that is more than just literature, defining their age in a way that history books never can and continually shaping the imagination of Britain.
On a journey that takes them across the length and breadth of the British Isles, the presenters return to the original manuscript or rare first edition of their chosen work to reveal its hidden history and explore why it was of such importance in its time – and why it continues to resonate today.
Cassian Harrison, Editor of BBC Four, says: “Over the last few months, viewers have been enjoying an exciting period of unprecedented and innovative literary coverage right across the BBC, including, amongst many examples, BBC One’s The One Show broadcasting live from the Hay Festival, the expansion of the BBC Book Club, BBC Radio 2’s literary competition and Talking Books on BBC World News. This second series of The Secret Life of Books continues the BBC’s ongoing commitment to more books and literature content.
“The new series itself has a fantastically eclectic mix of literary works and our six presenters will offer great insight and knowledge.”
The Secret Life Of Books (6×30) was commissioned by Mark Bell and is produced in partnership with the Open University. The series continues on 19 October at 8pm on BBC Four with Nicholas Parsons’ film on Edward Lear. The exec producer is Richard Bright.
Nicola Watson, Professor of English Literature at The Open University and academic consultant on The Secret Life Of Books, says: “What’s so exciting about the series is that we are taken on an adventure of discovery, learning the biography of each of these masterpieces in the company of presenters who champion their favourite book.
“We unearth how the books came to be written and what inspired them, who they were written for, how their meanings have changed, and why they still hold the imagination of the nation.
“What’s especially fascinating is to look in detail at so many of the original authors’ manuscripts and see the traces of their thinking and working.”
Edward Lear’s Nonsense Songs with Nicholas Parsons
Lifelong fan of Edward Lear, Nicholas Parsons revisits to the book that gave the world The Owl and The Pussycat, to explore the fine line between joy and melancholy in Lear’s writing, and discover how the epileptic, bronchial, asthmatic depressive pioneered a new kind of poetry that married brilliant wordplay with astonishing artwork.
The Mill On The Floss with Fiona Shaw
Multi-award-winning actor and director Fiona Shaw explores the genesis of her all-time favourite book, The Mill On The Floss, and discovers how the scandal that caused George Eliot (born Mary Ann Evans) to take a male pen name was also played out in the plot of her classic novel about a woman’s thwarted intellectual ambitions and complex sexual desires.
Confessions Of An English Opium Eater with John Cooper Clarke
Performance poet and former heroin addict John Cooper Clarke explores Thomas de Quincey’s autobiographical classic, Confessions Of An English Opium Eater, and discovers how his fellow Mancunian’s addiction memoir avoids the clichés of modern ‘misery-lit’ in favour of something much more unsentimental and psychologically powerful.
Cider With Rosie with Joanna Trollope
Bestselling chronicler of modern country life Joanna Trollope traces the roots of her favourite book, Cider With Rosie, to uncover how Laurie Lee blended fact and fiction in his wistful elegy to a disappeared rural world – and reflect on why a book with such dark, hard-edged undercurrents continues to have such a popular appeal.
Swallows And Amazons with John Sergeant
Former journalist and keen amateur sailor John Sergeant takes to the water in the wake of the plucky young heroes of Arthur Ransome’s Swallows And Amazons and learns how a globe-trotting foreign correspondent and acquaintance of Lenin and Trotsky came to perfect a new, more authentic kind of children’s literature that featured real children doing real things in real places.
The Faerie Queene with Nina Ramirez
Dr Janina Ramirez unravels Edmund Spenser’s Elizabethan epic The Faerie Queene to reveal how this fantasy world of elves, nymphs, and questing knights was written in the midst of the brutal Tudor occupation of Ireland and how the writer’s growing disillusionment with the conflict was coded into the poem’s restless verse.