Chalke Talk

The podcast from the Chalke Valley History Festival
Released every Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings


Latest releases

  • 63. M: MAXWELL KNIGHT, BRITAIN’S GREATEST SPYMASTER
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    Maxwell Knight was a paradox. A jazz obsessive and nature enthusiast, he is seen today as one of MI5’s greatest spymasters, a man who did more than any other to break up British fascism. Drawing on declassified documents, private family archives and interviews, Henry Hemming reveals not just the shadowy world of espionage but also […]

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  • 62. CHATSWORTH
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    Chatsworth has one of Europe’s most significant and diverse art collections which has grown with each generation, encompassing Old Masters, antiquities, contemporary ceramics, modern sculpture and computer portraits to name but a few. The 12th Duke of Devonshire talks through his predecessors’ contributions to the collection, the house and the surrounding landscape and touches upon […]

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  • 61. THESE ISLANDS: A LETTER TO BRITAIN
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    In the first ever CVHF Directors’ Lecture, Professor Ali Ansari reveals, in a passionately eloquent plea, why Britain should re-examine some of its historical myths, and why misrepresentations of the past are harming the unity that is the bedrock of our United Kingdom.

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  • 60. ELIZABETH I AND HER WORLD
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    In this talk for secondary schools, historian and author of important textbooks Ben Walsh covers the background to Elizabeth I’s reign. He explains the lives of ordinary people in England at that time giving context to the events of the period. He also shows how historians investigate their subjects.

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  • 59. A WOMAN OF NO IMPORTANCE: THE UNTOLD STORY OF THE AMERICAN SPY WHO HELPED WIN WORLD WAR II
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    In 1942, the Gestapo sent out an urgent transmission: “She is the most dangerous of all Allies spies. We must find and destroy her.” The target in their sights was Virginia Hall, a Baltimore socialite who talked her way into Special Operations Executive, the spy organisation dubbed Winston Churchill’s “Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare.” Sonia Purnell […]

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  • 57. A DISGUSTING LOOK AT HISTORY: FROM THE BLACK DEATH TO THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE
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    Comedian, author and lover of quirky history, Charlie Higson takes us on a journey through some of the more disgusting and revolting parts of history, from the bubonic plague and other horrible diseases and hideous agues to the myths of the zombie apocalypse. Despite the grotesque subject matter, this is suitable for all ages.

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  • 56. 1821: THE GREEK WAR OF INDEPENDENCE
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    It began as a spark in the Peloponnese and grew to suck in the Great Powers. James Heneage describes an eleven-year adventure full of heroism and unspeakable savagery with a glittering, international cast that included Byron, Delacroix and hundreds of young philhellenes who went out to fight and die. It ended with the last naval […]

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  • 55. DEUTSCHES AFRIKASCORPS KNIGHTS CROSS WINNER
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    Günter Halm (1922-2017) discusses with James Holland and Rob Schäfer his fascinating wartime memories. He was a veteran of the Second World War who fought under Rommel in the Deutsches Afrikakorps, and who won the Knight’s Cross for his part in the First Battle of Alamein in July 1942, and later served in Normandy.  

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  • 54. US FOREIGN POLICY SINCE THE COLD WAR
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    In this lecture to senior school pupils, Dr Christopher Fuller starts with an overview of a 100 years of history in a few minutes in order to understand the decisions made by policy-makers at the end of the Cold War. He covers the emergence of a unipolar age; the ‘end of history’ interpretation; how globalisation […]

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  • 53. START AGAIN: HOW WE CAN FIX OUR BROKEN POLITICS
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    Britain today is divided by generation, education, place and attitude. In this time of tumult, when Britain is wrestling with the question of what sort of nation it wishes to be, its politics is stuck. Drawing on lessons from history, Philip Collins proposes new answers to today’s most urgent questions: questions of education, work, health, […]

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  • CRIME AND PUNISHMENT IN THE VICTORIAN COUNTRYSIDE
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    In this talk for junior pupils at the Chalke Valley History Festival for Schools, Jamie Byrom tells of ‘Sarah’s Sad Story’. Using the local records in Devon from the Victorian era, he follows her from early childhood to her first job as a servant aged ten (although claiming to be thirteen) to her incarceration in […]

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  • ARNHEM: THE BATTLE FOR THE BRIDGES, 1944
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    The battle of Arnhem, the great airborne fight for the bridges in 1944, was a courageous strategic gamble that failed. Britain’s best- selling historian Antony Beevor, using often overlooked sources from Allied and German archives, reconstructs the terrible reality of the fighting and questions whether this plan to end the war could ever have worked, […]

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  • THE WOMAN WHO SAVED THE CHILDREN: EGLANTYNE JEBB
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    Eglantyne Jebb not only helped save millions of lives, she also permanently changed the way the world treats children through the foundation of Save the Children. Clare Mulley brings to life this brilliant, charismatic, and passionate woman, whose work took her between drawing rooms and war zones, defying convention and breaking the law, until she […]

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  • CHINA’S WAR WITH JAPAN 1937-45: A STRUGGLE FOR SURVIVAL
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    In 1937 the ‘Marco Polo Bridge Incident’ plunged China and Japan into a conflict of extraordinary duration and ferocity – a war that would result in many millions of deaths and completely reshape East Asia in ways that we continue to confront today. Professor Rana Mitter explains how Japan’s failure to defeat China was the […]

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  • HISTORY’S PEOPLE: PERSONALITIES AND THE PAST
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    What difference do individuals make to history? Scrutinising the lives and behaviour of great and lesser-known figures of the past, internationally-acclaimed historian Margaret MacMillan investigates the decisions they made that changed our lives irrevocably. What is the concept of leadership? And how, for better or worse, have personalities influenced the way we see our past […]

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  • SAS: ROGUE HEROES
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    The history of the SAS is an exhilarating tale of fearlessness and heroism, recklessness and tragedy. Ben Macintyre, best-selling author of Agent Zigzag, tells the story of David Stirling, the eccentric young officer who was given permission by Churchill to recruit the most ruthless soldiers he could find, thereby founding the most mysterious military organisation […]

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  • CRAEFT: HOW TRADITIONAL CRAFTS ARE ABOUT MORE THAN JUST MAKING
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    In a period of meaningless mass manufacturing, handcrafted products command a premium. But there was a time when craft meant something very different; the Old English word cræft possessed an almost indefinable sense of knowledge, wisdom, and power. Historian and broadcaster Alex Langlands investigates the mysterious lost meaning, resurrecting the ancient craftspeople who fused exquisite […]

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  • VIETNAM: AN EPIC TRAGEDY 1945-1975
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    In an acclaimed retelling of the Vietnam tragedy, Max Hastings offers a balanced account of how and why the Vietnam War unfolded as it did, and a gripping description of what it was like to take part, based on the testimony of scores of participants – communist and anti-communist Vietnamese, Chinese railway engineers, Soviet missile […]

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  • THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY
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    The story of philosophy is an epic tale: from classical antiquity to the present, it is the unending quest for an understanding of reality, truth and value by some of the most creative minds in the world. Professor Anthony Grayling gives a comprehensive account of the great adventure of philosophy, mainly in the Western tradition […]

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  • 43. BAITING THE RUSSIAN BEAR
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    With Mary Ann Sieghart in the chair, Peter Frankopan, Marina Litvinenko and Edward Lucas look at the historical background to the rapidly re-emerging cold war. From the Napoleonic Wars to the Second World War and beyond, through to the current escalating tensions, they explain why the West has traditionally had such a fraught relationship with […]

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  • 42. AFRICAN-AMERICAN CIVIL RIGHTS
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    In this talk to senior school pupils, Dr Gareth Davies explains what ‘Jim Crow’ was, and what sustained it before examining what destabilised and finally destroyed it. He finishes by discussing what replaced ‘Jim Crow’ and shows evidence of progress.

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  • 41. THE AGINCOURT ARCHER
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    Experimental archaeologist Dave Allan discusses the daily life of an English longbowman from his training to the skills needed. Drawing upon real artefacts from different bows to arrowheads, this offers a compelling insight.

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  • 40. THIS IS SHAKESPEARE
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    Shakespeare, a genius and prophet whose timeless works encapsulate the human condition like no others. A writer whose vision, originality and literary mastery were second to none. Professor Emma Smith debunks these common perceptions of the Bard and instead introduces an intellectually, theatrically and ethically exciting writer who treated topics such as individual agency, privacy, […]

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  • 39. A BRIEF HISTORY OF EVERYONE WHO EVER LIVED: THE STORIES IN OUR GENES
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    In a captivating journey through the expanding landscape of genetics, Adam Rutherford, geneticist and broadcaster, argues that our genomes should be read not as instruction manuals, but as epic poems. Touching on everything from Neanderthals to murder, redheads to race, and dead kings to plague, he decodes the mystery behind who we are and how […]

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  • 38. THE SHEPHERD’S LIFE
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    James Rebanks’s personal memoir and history of life as a Lakeland shepherd was a surprise best-seller, inspired by reading W.H. Hudson’s iconic account of a Wiltshire shepherd as a young man. In this talk he explains the timeless nature of this special form of farming which, in the Lakeland fells, remains largely unchanged over the […]

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  • 37. TUDOR DYEING: FROM SHEEP TO CLOTH
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    From the process of dyeing to the weave, mother and daughter team Lindsey and George Ratcliffe demonstrate how Tudors would have prepared wool from fleece and turned it into a range of clothing.

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  • 36. THEY CALLED IT PASSCHENDAELE
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    Lyn Macdonald remains revered as the great chronicler of the human experience of the Western Front and has recorded interviews with more veterans of the First World War than any other. In this talk she returns to the subject of her first book, the Battle of Passchendaele, fought over a hundred years ago in 1917, […]

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  • 35. TEN CITIES THAT MADE AN EMPIRE
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    Historian, broadcaster and former Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt takes a new approach towards the history and decline of the British Empire. By examining the stories and defining ideas of ten of the most important cities, he shows how they transformed the culture, economy and identity of the British Isles for good.

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  • 34. THE DREYFUS AFFAIR
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    In this talk, best-selling author Robert Harris turns to one of the key scandals in French history, the Dreyfus Affair. Discussing this infamous miscarriage of justice that rocked France in the years before the First World War, he brings new insights to this world of secret service dealings, cover-ups and betrayal…

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  • 33. SOLDIER, SPY: A SURVIVOR’S TALE
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    Victor Gregg (born 1919) had an extraordinary war and his adventures did not end in 1945. In this very special event, he discusses with Rick Stroud what it was like fighting in North Africa, escaping the ruins of Dresden where he had been a prisoner of war on the night the city was bombed, and […]

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  • 32. LIVING IN THE IRON AGE
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    In this talk, specially designed for younger pupils, Chris Culpin develops and widens their knowledge of the Iron Age. Using examples of their extraordinary metalwork and impressive hill-forts, the talk shows how different archaeological techniques continue to broaden our understanding of life in Iron Age Britain.

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  • 31. NATO: SAFEGUARDING FREEDOM – 1949 TO THE PRESENT
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    General Sir Adrian Bradshaw, a former Commander of UK Land Forces, spent three years as Deputy Supreme Allied Commander of Europe, working with our NATO allies. This talk outlines his thoughts on the history of NATO, the challenges it has faced and those that still confront it today as the ripples of discord sweep across […]

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  • 30. THE BURNING CHAMBERS: THE FRENCH WARS OF RELIGION, HUGUENOTS v CATHOLICS
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    Kate Mosse discusses one of the darkest periods in French history. The Wars of Religion began in 1562 and ended, after millions had been massacred or displaced, with the Edict of Nantes in 1598. She examines the power struggles between Catholic and Protestant factions in Carcassonne, Paris, London and Amsterdam and how this dark history […]

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  • 29. THE SECRET LIFE OF BLETCHLEY PARK
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    The code breakers of Bletchley Park played an absolutely crucial part in the Allied victory in the Second World War. Best-selling historian Sinclair McKay tackles the story of this iconic place, drawing on his conversations with many of the brilliant men and women who served there during the war.

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  • 28. SALAFI-JIHADISM: THE HISTORY OF AN IDEA
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    No topic has gripped the public imagination as dramatically as the spectre of global jihadism. While much has been said about the way jihadists behave, their ideology remains poorly understood. Shiraz Maher, an authority on radicalisation, charts the intellectual underpinnings of Salafi-Jihadism from its origins in the mountains of the Hindu Kush to the jihadist […]

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  • 27. KING ALFRED AND THE BATTLE FOR WESSEX
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    Broadcaster and historian Professor Michael Wood tells the incredible story of King Alfred’s Battle for Wessex. After defeat at Chippenham, Alfred’s kingdom was reduced to a postage stamp of marshland in Somerset, yet he survived and built his army again, leading them to victory at Ethandun. It is unquestionably one of the great moments in […]

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  • 26. D-DAY: BY THOSE WHO WERE THERE
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    In this moving event to mark the 70th Anniversary of D-Day, two veterans of that campaign talk about their experiences with Stuart Tootal, former commander of 3 Para in Afghanistan. Fred Glover (1926-2020) was the only British infantryman known to have fought with the French Resistance while David Render (1925-1917) served with the Sherwood Rangers […]

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  • 25. THE DRAMA OF THE GREAT REFORM BILL 1832
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    In November 1930, the Duke of Wellington declared. ‘the beginning of reform is the beginning of revolution. Despite his fears, a bill to introduce greater democracy was duly presented to Parliament. Eminent historian, Antonia Fraser, discusses with William Waldegrave how this most divisive of bills led to a complete change in the way Britain was […]

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  • 24. UNDERSTANDING AMERICAN GOVERNMENT
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    At times America’s complicated system of Federalism has seemed like a model of rational and democratic government — at others it has seemed like a recipe for obstruction and chaos. Nicholas Cole discusses the circumstances in which America’s government was created, the objectives of its founders, and whether the assumptions of the eighteenth century are […]

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  • 23. THE FIRST WORLD WAR: THE HUMAN EXPERIENCE AND LEGACY
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    The First World War still captures the imagination, but how do you paint a picture of people that are long gone? How do you put their existence in context with the manner in which they died, so that future generations retain a connection to the human impact of WW1 that transcends tales of strategic success […]

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