Chalke Talk

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


Latest releases

  • 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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  • 22. REMEMBERING THE FUTURE: HISTORY AS A CORDIAL FOR DROOPING SPIRITS
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    We cannot change the past, but we are responsible for how we remember it. The Irish, Welsh and Scots have recovered their sense of identity through a fresh remembering of their heritage. Richard Chartres, former Bishop of London, proposes a creative response to the post-Brexit challenges to the English national identity and examines what needs […]

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  • 21. MARGARET THATCHER: A LIFE AND LEGACY
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    As Britain’s first woman Prime Minister, and one of the most controversial figures in twentieth century Britain, few people have been more discussed than Margaret Thatcher. Preeminent academic Sir David Cannadine gives a historian’s perspective on the life, politics and legacy of this formidable leader. He is Dodge Professor of History at Princeton, and General […]

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  • 20. BRIGHT YOUNG THINGS: CECIL BEATON, REX WHISTLER AND THE WILTSHIRE SET
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    From the hedonistic Bright Young Things of the 1920s emerged a group of artists who found inspiration and freedom in south Wiltshire where they discovered havens in which they could push the boundaries of artistic freedom. Cecil Beaton and Rex Whistler were among the finest artists of their generation, one a photographer and designer, the […]

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  • 19. GAME OF QUEENS: THE WOMEN WHO MADE SIXTEENTH CENTURY EUROPE
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    Best-selling Tudor biographer Sarah Gristwood turns her expert eye to the Renaissance courts of Isabella of Castile, Margaret of Austria, Katherine of Aragon, Marguerite of Navarre, Anne Boleyn, Catherine de Medici, Mary Tudor, Elizabeth Tudor, Mary Stuart and others. An extraordinary cast of women who held power throughout the Continent in the face of great […]

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  • 18. THE FRENCH REVOLUTIONS
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    In this talk for senior school pupils, Jonathan Fenby outlines the causes of the French Revolution which began in 1789. He explains that this was the beginning of a cycle of revolutions followed by counter-revolutions and discusses how the French liked to believe that their country was a beacon of humanity with progressive values of […]

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  • 17. BRITAIN BEGINS
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    12,000 years ago, as the ice sheets retreated, bands of hunter- gatherers spread slowly northwards from mainland Europe, re- colonizing the islands we know as Britain and Ireland. Who were our early ancestors and how directly can we trace our modern population back to them? Sir Barry Cunliffe, Emeritus Professor of Archaeology at Oxford, explains […]

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  • 16. A BRIDGE TOO FAR: A VETERAN OF ARNHEM
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    Peter Clarke was a glider pilot who landed and then fought with his fellow airborne troops at Arnhem in September 1944. Here, in conversation with Paul Beaver, he talks about and discusses his memories of that doomed battle and the remarkable story of what followed.

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  • 15. BEHOLD, AMERICA: A HISTORY OF AMERICA FIRST AND THE AMERICAN DREAM
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    Professor Sarah Churchwell offers a history of “America First,” one of Trump’s campaign slogans. Although popular wisdom attributes the phrase to Charles Lindbergh and the isolationist “America First Committee” of 1940-1941, the expression has a longer, and darker, history, a story of nativism and the Ku Klux Klan, of “100 percent Americanism” and isolationism, and […]

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  • 14. APPEASING HITLER: CHAMBERLAIN, CHURCHILL AND THE ROAD TO WAR
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    On 30th September 1938, Neville Chamberlain stepped off an aeroplane and announced that his visit to Hitler had averted the greatest crisis in recent memory. He declared it was ‘peace for our time’, but within a year Britain was at war with Germany. Tim Bouverie gives a compelling reappraisal of the immense drama of those […]

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  • 13. THE CRUSADES AND MEDIEVAL WARFARE
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    In this talk for senior schools, Professor Jeremy Black gives an insight into the motivations of the Crusaders. In addition to the notion that Jerusalem should be ‘freed’, this period saw the expansionism of European feudal society, a new role for the papacy, and developing commercial opportunities, as well as a desire to protect Constantinople. […]

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  • 12. THE PATIENT ASSASSIN: A TRUE TALE OF MASSACRE, REVENGE AND THE RAJ
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    On April 13th 1919, the British Indian Army opened fire on a crowd attending an unauthorised public meeting in Amritsar. Over 1,000 unarmed Indians were killed. Among the survivors was a young man who made a vow of vengeance that would ultimately prove successful. Prompted by her own family connections to the Amritsar massacre, Anita […]

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  • 11. THE NOBLE REVOLT: THE ENGLISH CIVIL WAR
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    John Adamson is one of the country’s most brilliant historians and a leading authority on the Civil War. In this talk, he discusses what he calls ‘the noble revolt,’ challenging some of our perceptions of that conflict between Parliament and King while casting new and relevant light onto one of the most tumultuous and significant […]

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  • 10. FIGHTING WITH THE FRENCH RESISTANCE
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    Jean Jammes was a schoolboy in 1944 when, that summer, he joined the Resistance group led by his father in the countryside around Épernon. Involved in numerous actions of sabotage, he also helped capture three German officers and was awarded the Croix de Guerre. In this very special event he talks to Peter Caddick-Adams about […]

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  • 09. ISTANBUL: A TALE OF THREE CITIES
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    Award-winning historian, author and broadcaster Bettany Hughes gives a captivating portrait of the momentous life of Istanbul based on meticulous research gathered over a decade and brand new archaeological evidence. A ground-breaking history of this world-class city from its very beginnings in Neolithic times through 8,000 years of human habitation to the present.

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  • 08. IMMIGRATION IN ANTIQUITY
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    Immigration is one of the most hotly debated matters of our current age, but it’s far from being a recent phenomenon. Rather, the mass movement of peoples was as relevant to those living in ancient times as it is now. In this timely talk, Tom Holland questions how people in antiquity felt about immigration and […]

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  • 07. THOMAS JEFFERSON AND THE EMPIRE OF THE IMAGINATION
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    Worshipped, pilloried, and forever debated. Such is the fate of Thomas Jefferson, whose actions and ideas — more than those of any of the other Founding Fathers —still divide Americans two centuries later. Pulitzer Prize-winning author and Harvard Professor Annette Gordon-Reed extends the analysis of Jefferson in light of prevailing attitudes towards politics, slavery, genetics, […]

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  • 06. THE SILK ROADS: A NEW HISTORY OF THE WORLD
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    In this brilliant major reassessment of world history, Peter Frankopan gives a compelling account of the forces that have shaped the global economy and the political renaissance in the re-emerging east. He explores the forces that have driven the rise and fall of empires, determined the flow of ideas and goods and are now heralding […]

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  • 05. HERODOTUS: THE FATHER OF HISTORY
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    The ‘Father of History’ was a Greek living in Persia in the 5th century BC but was the first person to write down the stories from the past. Herodotus’ Histories remains one of the richest and most read books of all time, and in this talk renowned classicist Professor Paul Cartledge discusses the life of […]

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  • 04. THE PARIS PEACE TREATIES
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    This talk by Dr Peter Caddick-Adams for senior pupils at the Chalke Valley History Festival for Schools, challenges some assumptions about the aftermath of the First World War. The armistice in 1918 was a truce but fighting continued in Eastern Europe and the Middle East for several years. He explains that the Treaty of Versailles […]

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  • 03. AROUND THE WORLD IN 1847
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    Turtle Bunbury takes a fast-paced look at the world as it was 170 years ago. Featuring an exceptional cast of characters from those who explored the world’s oceans to show stopping entertainers, his talk also encompasses the intrepid pioneers who crossed the prairies of the Americas, the genius of Liszt and Mendelssohn, the Irish soldiers […]

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  • 02. THE KING’S WITCH: JAMES I AND THE GUNPOWDER PLOT
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    In this talk, inspired by her debut novel partially set at nearby Longford Castle, Festival favourite Tracy Borman takes us into the turbulent world of the early Stuart court, where King James I waged a war on witches and Catholics alike. It was not long before a dark campaign to destroy both King and Parliament […]

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  • 01. NO TURNING BACK: LIFE, LOSS AND HOPE IN WARTIME SYRIA
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    Award-winning journalist Rania Abouzeid presents reportage of unprecedented scope. From the first rumblings of dissent in 2011, she shows the unravelling of a nation: peaceful protests collapsing into violence, families shattered, and religious conviction sharpened by rage to a radical point. She reveals how Syrians found new ways to resist as the cruelty of the […]

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