Village Hall Talks at Wootton-By-Woodstock

The project was conceived to raise funds to renovate the village hall in Wootton-by-Woodstock, which was built almost entirely from timber over eighty years ago. Few who have attended the talks would disagree that the evenings have been an engaging mixture of serious insight and comedic observation and we think we are catering for the current thirst for live events in smaller venues.

Forthcoming Speakers:
Michael Williams   Alexandra Shulman

The Henry Marsh Talk

The Henry Marsh Talk

With complete candour, Henry Marsh, one of the world's leading brain surgeons, told us in his fascinating talk on June 23rd that - despite major medical advances in recent years - operating on the brain is far from being a story of unequivocal success and he gave us an insight into the feeling of holding somebody's life in his hands, cutting into the material which creates, thought, feeling and reason.

Indeed, Henry recounted how some of his operations had saved the lives of children in profoundly moving triumphs - but there have also been harrowing disasters and haunting regrets. He stressed that brain operations are still always a question of balancing the risks of triumph with failure - and he had learned to live with the consequences of trying to perform a potentially life-saving operation which may go wrong. He said that operations on the brain can still carry grave risks and surgeons must make agonising decisions, often in the face of great urgency and uncertainty..

Henry was in conversation with Robin Laurance, who takes portraits of our speakers (including Henry) and has also spoken himself on two occasions. Over the years, Henry said he had progressed from being a young surgeon who, perhaps, felt he was capable of doing anything to a more realistic assessment of the success rate of operations and a more sanguine reaction when some failed, despite all his years of experience and skill. One of the operations which gave him cause to reflect was on the brilliant structural engineer, Peter Rice, who had played a major role in the construction of ground-breaking projects, such as the Lloyd's building, in London, and the Pompidou Centre, in Paris. Whilst operating on a brain-tumour, Henry reflected that the cerebral matter he was working on had been capable of remarkable feats of engineering - and yet he was now incapable of saving it from destruction and Peter subsequently died.

Henry recounted many of his experiences, sometimes with black humour, in his best-selling memoire, Do No Harm, published in 2014, and he has followed this up with his latest book, Admissions. Henry always asks his patients if they would like a local or general anaesthetic, with the vast majority taking his advice and opting for a local. He much prefers this method of working, so he can ask patients for a response when he is operating on an area of the brain controlling, say, speech or movement - so he can assess the effect of his probing.

He also usually offers his patients a unique opportunity to view their own brain on a monitor - which, he conceded, is a relatively rare occurrence. With the cerebral cortex in a human being having anything between 15 and 33 billion neurons, it's evident that trying to eradiate the cause of any problem within the brain is a highly delicate operation - and one that requires huge dexterity.

Henry told us that, inevitably, the brain (which, he said, resembles shimmering gin rather than cottage-cheese, as some in the audience had thought)) shrinks with ageing and this can lead to dementia. although it's certainly not always a natural consequence - and he suggested that exercise and "trying to be happy" were two proven ingredients for warding off Alzheimer's Disease. At the other end of the age-range, he said the brain is far from fully formed in the late teens, especially at the front, which controls functions such as interaction with other people - and this can explain why young people can often be morose and socially clumsy.

Intriguingly, Henry told us that, after the Dragon and Westminster schools, he had initially studied PPE at Oxford before pursuing medicine and - like many current leading authorities on the brain - did not study a single science A-Level, suggesting wryly that you don't really need science to be a brain surgeon. For many years, Henry has worked at St George's Hospital, in south London and, ironically, confessed that he never wears a cycle-helmet when riding to work (despite operating on those with head injuries following an accident), but defended himself, saying he rode his ancient machine with great care.

In a vigorous cri de coeur, Henry claimed the UK spends a relatively small proportion of its GDP amount on health, compared with other leading countries - and told us that funding was at the heart of all the problems facing the NHS and he called for a Royal Commission to examine this key issue.

When living at his flat on Folly Bridge, in Oxford, Henry can often be seen writing in the Bodleian Library - but, not surprisingly, he is also supremely practical. Asked about his luxury if he were cast away on a desert island, Henry opted for a tool-box. Indeed, he has made an impressive range of furniture, in addition to keeping bees at his London home - producing honey which, he said, was of a far higher quality than that found in the countryside.

Nearly 140 people packed into the hall and were enthralled at Henry's insight and gentle humour when discussing such an intricate and delicate area of expertise. He also sold 19 copies of his book, Admissions, which had already been given a wide audience after it was Book of the Week on BBC Radio 4 a few weeks previously..

"Henry Marsh was a total star. Not only a leading brain surgeon, but also a magnificent honest and eloquent speaker - and writer. His conversation with Robin Laurance was so illuminating and served to emphasise his outstanding qualities of modesty, self-deprecation and also melancholy humour. We felt we were in the company of a magnificent and highly thoughtful craftsman, in all its facets - Richard Roughley, Witney


Friday September 15th 2017.
Proceeds from this talk will go towards upgrading the children’s play corner on the Wootton memorial playing fields.

His talk is called: The Joy of Railways

Michael is a leading author, journalist and academic - writing, broadcasting and blogging on transport, society and the media. He is the best-selling author of several highly-acclaimed books on Britain's railways, including On the Slow Train (Twelve Great British Railway Journeys); Steaming to Victory (How Britain's Railways Won the War); and his recently updated work, The Trains Now Departed (Sixteen Excursions into the Lost Delights of Britain's Railways). His talk will be packed with nostalgia - and some enjoyable armchair travelling for a winter's evening.

Michael is also a leading travel writer, reporting on journeys around the world for a variety of publications. In his academic role, he is co-editor and author of the book The Future of Quality News Journalism. Formerly, he was Deputy Editor of the Independent on Sunday, Executive Editor of The Independent, Head of News and Features at the Sunday Times; and he was also on the staff of The Times. Michael still regularly contributes to the national media, including the BBC, Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, New Statesman, the Tablet, The History Channel, as well as the specialist and business press.

In addition, Michael is chairman of the Springdene Care Homes Group in London and external examiner in the School of Media and Communication at Goldsmiths University, in London. He lives with his family in Camden Town, London.

If you would like to go on the waiting list please Contact us


Thursday October 12th 2017. Please Note Day Of Week.

100th Talk and 9th birthday

Alexandra was Editor of British Vogue from 1992 until her retirement in June this year - the longest-serving editor in the magazine's history. During that time, she won many awards, including Magazine Editor of the Year, given by the British Society of Magazine Editors. In 2013, she was included in Radio 4's Women's Hour list of the 100 Most Powerful Women in the UK and, in 2016, she was named as the PPA Editor of the Year in Vogue's centenary year. Alexandra was also given an OBE in the 2005 New Year's Honours List for services to the magazine industry.

Alexandra was educated at St Paul's Girls School, in London, and read social anthropology at Sussex University. In 1982 she joined Tatler after she had written a freelance article for the then editor, Tina Brown. As writer and Commissioning Editor, she remained at Tatler for five years, including a period as Features Editor. In 1987, Alexandra joined the Sunday Telegraph as Editor of the women’s pages and then moved to be Deputy Editor on the paper's tabloid section, which featured current affairs and photo-reportage.

Alexandra jpined Vogue as Features Editor in 1988 before moving to GQ as Editor in February 1990. She then returned to Vogue in 1992 and was to remain at the helm for the next 25 years.

In addition to her work with Vogue, Alexandra has written two novels, Can We Still Be Friends (2012) and The Parrots (2015), as well as a memoir, Inside Vogue: A Diary of My 100th Year, which was published last year.

If you would like to reserve a place for this talk please Contact us


OX20 1DZ

John Lloyd & John Mitchinson Talk, Summer 2009

Local Links

The Woodstock Bookshop

National Gardens Scheme (Oxfordshire)

The Killingworth Castle

Adrian Arbib Photography

Wootton Stores - The Village Shop

Robin Laurance Photography

Ashmolean Museum

The Bodleian Library - Exhibitions and Events

Woodstock U3A - University Of The Third Age

Woodstock Music Society

Wootton Community Website

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