Village Hall Talks at Wootton-By-Woodstock

Past Speakers

October 3rd 2008
Ben spoke on the history of English landscape gardening in the 18th Century. His talk gave an overview of the work of Bridgeman, Kent, Brown and Repton with particular emphasis on Rousham and Stowe, as well as Blenheim. Ben also told the story of the discovery of one of the lost Repton Red Books, showing that new discoveries can still be made even in an area as intensively researched as the history of landscape gardening.

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November 7th 2008
Laurence is creative director of BBC TV Factual Programmes and has won many awards for his four series on World War II, including The Nazis: A Warning from History. Under his editorship, Timewatch, BBC TV’s historical documentary series, won three Emmys in three years. His new six-part series, called World War II – Behind Closed Doors, is due for transmission this autumn.

December 5th 2008
Boris is professor of ancient history at Royal Holloway, University of London, and will talk about his involvement with the Trireme Project, which created a replica ancient war ship, powered by 170 oarsmen on three levels. A Wootton resident, he is also renowned for achieving six rowing Blues at Oxford, which remains a record, and has umpired the Boat Race twice.

January 23rd 2009
Henry is the author of international best-selling espionage thrillers and children’s books. He is also the London Editor of Vanity Fair (the country’s biggest-selling luxury magazine), and also a columnist on The Observer, focusing on surveillance and the powers of the state

February 13th 2009
Mark is Controller of BBC Radio 4, a national institution, which is revered as one of the world’s greatest speech radio stations. This year, it was named Station of the Year at the Sony Radio Academy Awards. Mark will give an insight into operations at Radio 4 and then take questions.



March 13th 2009
Ian is chief executive of the All England Lawn Tennis Club, which organsies the world's greatest tennis championsips at Wimbledon. Ian oversees all aspects of the tournament, including the commissioning this summer of the new retractable roof over Centre Court and multi-million pound prize money - with the winner of the women's Single's Final now getting the same money as the men.
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April 17th 2009

John Lloyd is a legend of British comedy, having produced - among others - the classic hits Blackadder, Not the Nine O'Clock News, Spitting Image and, latterly, the QI programmes, which are broadcast on BBC1 on Friday evenings, under the chairmanship of Stephen Fry. John, who lives in West Hendred, in Oxfordshire, also created The News Quiz and Quote...Unquote on BBC Radio 4 and a host of other classic comedy shows. He set up the Quite Interesting company and is the co-author of the best-selling QI books along with....

John Mitchinson, who is the chief researcher for the QI series and says he has amassed such a huge amount of information that his wife describes his brain as a "skip". John, who lives in Great Tew, used to be a senior manager for Waterstones and says he has found the job of his dreams. He is now managing director of Quite Interesting Limited and looks after the company's online bookshop.

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Paul Oliver

May 8th 2009
Paul, a Wootton resident, is a world authority on the blues and has written ten books on the subject. He also made his own recordings of peformers in the Deep South, including interviews with legendary artists, which form a unique archive. He has been a regular on BBC Radio for 50 years. .

Lord Howe

June 12th 2009
Geoffrey Howe was Margaret Thatcher’s longest-serving Cabinet minister and one of her staunchest supporters .

Ivo Dawnay

September 18th 2009
Ivo Dawnay, Director of Communications at the National Trust, who delighted the audience with a talk with the intriguing title: Revoluntionaries in Pearls. .

Robert Hardy

October 16th 2009
Robert is one of the country's leading actors, having appeared in many celebrated roles on stage, television and radio. He is also a world authority on the longbow and its use in medieval battles, in particular at Agincourt. .


November 13th 2009
Founder of a rehabilation centre for orangutans in Indonesian Borneo, which is the world's biggest primate rescue project, caring for over 700 animals. Orangutans are seeing their habitat destroyed after the rainforest is cleared to produce palm oil - an ingredient in many products we all use on a regular basis. Lone recently starred in Orangutan Diary on BBC Two and has been voted the World's Greatest Living Dane. .


December 12th 2010
Without doubt, our most cerebal speaker so far was Rupert Sheldrake, the science writer and broadcaster who has a doctorate in biological research from Cambridge. In the past, Rupert has been branded “the most controversial scientist on Earth” on the basis of many of his theories, including his radical idea of memory in nature. .


February 12th 2010
Michael lives in Wootton and is one of the country's leading lute-makers, with his craftsmanship renowned in many parts of the world. He has made instruments for many of the most celebrated lutenists, such as Sweden's Jakob Lindberg, who regularly uses Michael's instruments whilst playing in some of the world's major concert halls. They are also played when accompanying Dame Emma Kirkby, the leading early music soprano and a close friend of Michael's.

Oliver James

March 19th 2010
A packed hall of 105 people listened to a fascinating talk entitled "Affluenza - Did Thatcherism Drive Us Bonkers?" on March 19th by Oliver James, the psychologist and author.


April 9th 2010
Living in a bed-sit in London in the Sixties, after arriving from South Africa, Prue Leith started out making lunches for directors' dining-rooms and ended up as one of the country's most successful businesswomen, running large catering companies and a teaching school, as well as serving on the boards of several major organisations.


May 7th 2010
Wootton is lucky in having several people who are the best in their field, but it is fair to say that Paul Oliver is unique in being a world authority on both the Blues and vernacular architecture. Having spoken last year on music from the Deep South, Paul gave a magisterial talk on May 7th about different styles of dwelling around the world


June 4th 2010
One of the most moving passages in Colin Dexter's captivating talk on June 4th was when he described how one exceptional teacher at his school in Stamford gave him the chance to borrow any book from his library. Colin chose a novel by Thomas Hardy and so he developed his love of words and stories, which was to culminate in his own contribution to the canon of English literature with the Inspector Morse novels.


July 2nd 2010
Gerry Anderson is one of the world's leading producers and directors of futuristic marionette shows, such as Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet, often using a porcess called supermarionation, in which puppets' mouths move in response to a pre-recorded tape. Gerry's first television production was the children's series, The Adventures of Twizzle, in 1957, but his career entered a global dimension when he started making the futuristic shows during a long partnership with Lew Grade. Recently, Gerry hinted that new programmes, featuring Thunderbirds and Captain Scalet, could be made using more modern technology.

Sam Kiley

September 17th 2010
The conflict with the Taliban was brought into sharp focus when Sam Kiley, one of th e world's leading war reporters, showed detailed footage of soldiers he had taken during the six months he spent with the British Army in the Helmand province of Afghanistan.

Will Hutton

October 8th 2010
Will is a world-renowned political-economic commentator, who the Prime Minister, David Cameron, recently invited to head a major enquiry examining top public sector pay. He has also had an illustrious media career as a former Editor-in-Chief of The Observer, as well as Economics Correspondent of BBC TV's Newsnight. Will was chief executive of The Work Foundation from 2000-2008 and is currently its executive vice-chairman. In 1992, he won the What The Papers Say award for Political Journalist of the Year.

Tony Buzan

November 5th 2010
Tony is a world-renowned author and educational consultant, and a proponent of so-called Mind Mapping and mental literacy to improve memory and maximise the use of brain power. He has worked with Olympic athletes, leading academics, politicians and businessmen around the world, as well as many other leading figures in teaching them how to devlop mental power.

Tony has appeared at the Albert Hall on a number of occasions and we are thrilled that he has agreed to speak in Wootton. He has written or co-written over a hundred books in 30 languages and he has launched his own software program to support Mind Mapping, called iMindMap.

Clive Aslet

December 3rd 2010
Clive is a former editor of Country Life magazine and is now its editor-at-large, and is an expert on British architecture, as well as a campaigner on countryside and other issues..

Tim Willcox

December 13th 2010
TIM WILLCOX, Wootton's own BBC TV foreign correspondent, gave an illustrated talk about his experiences covering the recent remarkable mining rescue operation in Chile, which transfixed the world - from the first desperate days to the thrilling climax. Tim's reports were viewed around the world and he used his Spanish to interview the Chilean president, Sebastian Pinera. His covereage won plaudits in the letters-column of the Radio Times. Mulled wine and mince pies will be served.

Marek Kukula

March 18th 2011
Public Astronomer at the Royal Observatory, in Greenwich Marek often appears on radio and television, including on the recent landmark series, Stargazing Live on BBC Two, which attracted record viewing figures and confirmed astronomy as a major emerging field of interest among the public in the UK.

Robin Lane Fox

April 8th 2011
For over one hundred people, the perfect end to a glorious spring day on April 8th was to listen to Robin Lane Fox, the Financial Times gardening writer for 40 years, in full flow for an hour and a half (without a single note) recounting anecdotes about his own magnificent garden at Milton-under-Wychwood, as well as the dramatis personae in Oxford colleges, and discussing the merits of the best suppliers of plants and fertilisers.

Harry Sidebottom

May 6th 2011
Dressed in jeans and with his infectious dry wit, Harry Sidebottom was the polar-opposite of the stereotype of a classics and ancient history teacher. As well as lecturing in Greek and Roman history at Oxford, Harry is the renowned author of the three best-selling Warrior of Rome novels, which have sold in their thousands around the world and have established him as one of the leading exponents of fiction based on the Roman Empire, with his books always riding high in the Sunday Times charts.

Paul Smith

June 10th 2011
At a time when most stories about the environment are full of doom and gloom, it was wonderfully uplifting to listen to Paul Smith talk about the Millennium Seed Bank Partnership, which is undoubtedly one of the world's greatest conservation projects.

Lucinda Lambton

June 24th 2011
A packed hall; was treated to the inimitable delivery of Lucinda Lambton (without doubt a national treasure) when she spoke on June 24th about the Queen Mary's Dolls' House, the magnificent little bulding created between 1921-24 under the guidance of Sir Edwin Lutyens, renowned at the other design extreme as the architect behind much of New Dehli, in India, as well as iconic country houses.

David Rooney

September 16th 2011
"What time is it?" - an easy question to answer nowadays when many people can just glance at their wrist or look at their computer screen - but less so in the past when far fewer people had time-pieces. Yet David Rooney, a former Curator of Timekeeping at the Royal Observatory, in Greenwich, told the fascinating story of the Belville family who - from 1836 to 1940 - sold the time to subscribers in central London, using an 18th Century pocket-watch, called Arnold.

The Martin Kemp Talk

October 14th 2011
Leonardo da Vinci is probably the most diversely talented man who has ever lived and, on October 14th, we had the privilege of having as our speaker Martin Kemp, Emeritus Professor in the History of Art at Oxford University, and the world’s leading expert on the Renaissance genius.

The Jon Snow Talk

November 11th 2011
Veteran news anchor Jon Snow has presented Channel Four News for over twenty years and has interviewed many powerful politicians and world figures.

Bill Turnbull

December 2nd 2011
Bill is one of the main presenters of Breakfast on BBC One and has covered stories in over 30 countries around the world, including four yerars as Washington Correspondent in which he reported on the trial of O.J. Simpson and the Monica Lewinsky sandal, which rocked the Clinton presidency. Bill is also a keen beekeeper and recently published his acclaimed book, The Bad Beekeeper's Club, which is a humorous account of the ups and downs of the activity.

Trudie Lang

January 13th 2012
Trudie works for Oxford University's Centre for Tropical Medicine and is a leading expert in conducting medical research studies in developing countries. Her work has focused largely on maleria, for which she has set up and run large-scale drug and vaccine trials across many African countries. -

Jeremy Paxman

February 3rd 2012
Jeremy has been a presenter on the BBC's Newsnight programme since 1989 and is renowned for his forthright interviewing technique. He is also the quizmaster on University Challenge, as well as the author of several acclaimed books, including those on the English, Victorians, Westminster politicians, royalty and fishing. For his talk in Wootton, he discussed his latest book, called Empire, which examines Britain's colonial past.

Tim Birkhead

March 2nd 2012

Tim is Professor of Behaviourial Ecology at the University of Sheffield and one of the world's leading authorities on birds. His research has helped to re-shape our understanding of bird mating systems and his talk was particularly relevant, with springtime on the horizon.

His latest book, called Bird Sense, is based on a conviction that we have consistently underestimated what goes on in a bird’s head. It addresses quertions of what it is like to be a swift, flying at over 100 kilometres an hour? And what's happening when a nightingale sings, and how does its brain improvise?

Roger Tempest

March 30th 2012
Roger Tempest is an expert in the regeneration of country estates. He lives at Broughton Hall in the Yorkshire Dales, which is now home to 53 business and he has won many awards for enterprise. Roger recently bought and renovated Aldourie Castle, on the banks of Loch Ness. The project involved over a thousand suppliers and won the Historic Houses Association/Sotheby's Restoration Award for 2011 .

Laurie Maguire

April 20th 2012
Laurie is Professor of English Literature at Magdalen College, Oxford, and specialises in Shakespeare but her dramatic interests are wide - from ancient Greece to contemporary theatre. Her talk in Wootton will focus on the image of Helen of Troy, who was the subject of her highly-acclaimed book, Helen of Troy: From Homer to Hollywood. .

Esther Ranzen

May 18th 2012
Television royalty came to Wootton on May 18th when Esther Rantzen, one of the country’s most admired broadcasters, spoke about her career and gave an insight into the many outstanding campaigns she has been involved with over the past 35 years. .

Craig Ogden

June 8th 2012
As a result of the demand for tickets to listen to Craig Ogden, one of the world's greatest classical guitarists, the landmark 40th Village Hall Talk on June 8th 2012 was moved fifty yards to St Mary's Church - which could both accommodate more people and also provide a better acoustic for a magical guitar. The audience wasn't disappointed and the evening proved to be one of the most memorable so far.

Sarah Simblet

July 6th 2012
It became apparent that we were in the company of a consummate artist during Sarah Simblet's magisterial talk on July 6th when she detailed the intricate process in which she builds up her botanical drawings of a leaf or stem (or even a mature tree) from a rough preparatory outline with a pencil to the multi-layered finished article in ink. Sarah is a remarkable graphic artist and her status has been confirmed with the work in her three major reference books that she has both written and illustrated. Her drawings have a wonderful elegance, often depicting movement and energy, and highlight the structure and function of plants - demonstrating her extraordinary skill and passion for her work.

Robin Laurance

September 7th 2012
One of the most haunting images during Robin Laurance’s compelling talk on photojournalism on September 7th was of a young Haitian girl who had been shot dead for stealing a humble tray and a picture during riots. She lay on the ground, blood coming from a single wound, but then Robin showed us a second picture – a group of photographers from around the world taking pictures of the dead girl. Disturbingly, a key difference in the two photographs was that one of the girl’s arms had been moved so that it created a better picture.

David Nobbs

October 5th 2012
For the fourth birthday of the Talks, our guest was David Nobbs,, who hit the perfect celebratory note on October 5th with his hilarious anecdotes of writing for some of great British comedians and comedy-actors over nearly half a century. David is perhaps most renowned for creating The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, starring Leonard Rossiter, which ran for several series on the BBC and has entered the pantheon of iconic television programmes, with lines like Reggie's constant excuses for being late at the office - "Badger ate the junction-box at New Malden" - as well as the mantra-like "I didn't get where I am today", which has entered the lexicon of great comedic phrases.

Dominic Sandbrook

November 2nd 2012
To many people, the 1970s were a decade of intense ambivalence - endless strikes, with rubbish piled high in Leicester Square, the three-day week resulting from the miners' dispute with the Tory government, as well as sky-high inflation. On the other hand, Dominic Sandbrook pointed out in his fascinating talk on November 2nd that the decade had a distinct cultural identity resulting from the emergence of iconic music, fashion and theatre, in addition to classic television comedy shows, such as Rising Damp, Porridge and Steptoe and Son, which were so strong that they are still shown today. The decade certainly had drab aspects to it and on occasions during Dominic's talk, it was hard to recall fondly the days of the Wilson-Callaghan governments or, indeed, Ted Heath's with the restrictions in the use of electricity - when the opening hours of stores were restricted and television stopped at ten in the evening.

Mike Birkhead

November 23rd 2012
Rarely can the power and majesty of tigers and elephants have had such an impact as when Mike Birkhead played the footage he had compiled for his talk on November 23rd - spellbinding photography had captured these creatures at close-quarters and the haunting images, combined with their roaring and trumping, made for an extraordinary experience.

Mike is one of the world's leading wildlife film-makers and the compilation had been specially edited for his appearance in Wootton, offering a remarkable insight into the logistics and techniques involved in filming such magnificent creatures.

Simon Heighes

December 12th 2012
Wafting aromas of warming mince pieces and gently-mulling wine set the festive scene for the first Wootton Christmas Musical Talk on December 12th. On stage, Simon – a village resident and a familiar voice on BBC Radio 3 - acted as an historical DJ, taking us on a magisterial and witty tour of the sights and sounds of Christmas past.

Hairs on the backs of spines went up as he took us on a journey to ancient Egypt to hear an extraordinarily atmospheric BBC broadcast from the Cairo Museum in 1939 – when the silver and copper trumpets found in Tutankhamun's tomb were played for the first time in 3000 years. And the link with Christmas? The decorative images adoring the bell-ends of the trumpets hark back to the great Egyptian festival celebrating the birth of the god Horus – around December 25th

Peter Gibbs

January 11th 2013

A record audience of 145 was ample evidence of how much everybody is fascinated by the weather - both on a daily basis and also in the long-term, with the prospect of climate change. And the fascinating talk by Peter Gibbs, one of the BBC's leading forecasters, on January 11th offered a wonderful insight into all the complexities of the difficult science of predicting the weather. Peter, who is also co-chairman of Gardeners' Question Time on Radio 4, pointed out that the weather happens on many different scales, both in space and time, ranging from a shower of a short duration to depressions covering hundreds of miles. And answering the simple question - when is it going to rain? - can involve computers making millions of calculations a second as the atmosphere swirls, whilst the Earth continues its rotation.

Sinclair McKay

February 8th 2013
One of the greatest feats of wartime skill and endurance was the operation at Bletchley Park, the estate in Buckinghamshire, where ciphers and codes from several enemy countries were decryted - leading to such a high level of intelligence that the war was shortened by several years and countless lives were saved.

The Secret Intelligence Service bought the estate in 1938 when it was felt necessary to expand code-breaking operations and, in his talk on February 8th, Sinclair detailed how it brought together people from all social backgrounds, including academic specialists, such as mathematical geniuses like Alan Turing, cryptographers, linguists, Egyptologists and, amazingly, even astrologers. Some were recruited because of their exceptional original-thinking, but others were initially hired simply because they were related to men who played golf with Bletchley Park’s director, Alastair Denniston.

Tricia Stewart

March 15th 2013
For years, the annual Women's Institute calendar had been the paragon of convention - but then eleven women aged between 45 and 65 from the Yorkshire Dales blew all that apart in 1999 when they posed naked to highlight traditional WI crafts. The calendar became a global sensation and sold in its tens of thousands to raise money for leukaemia research. It was the brainchild of Tricia Stewart, who told a packed hall on March 15th how the women of the Rylstone and District WI, near Skipton, went from developing a novel idea to appearances on prime-time US television shows and the release of a major film chronicling their project, as well as stage productions throughout Europe.

Following the launch, there was global interest. The story featured in the national press and the women modelled at the Savoy during London Fashion Week and took calendars to Buckingham Palace for the Queen and the Queen Mother, whilst the Oldie magazine awarded them “The Oldie Exposure of the Year” and they were made Women of the Year

Richard O. Smith

April 12th 2013
Our 50th talk, with springtime in the air, required an evening of extreme fun and Richard O. Smith provided the perfect recipe. Over the course of a hilarious hour on April 12th, he examined two great sources of amusement - eccentric British sports and mischief at Oxford over the centuries.

Perhaps only the British would conceive of sports like the pantomime-horse Grand National, toe-wrestling, the 100-metre sprint in high heels, or wrestling in in Lancashire in a pond of gravy supplied by Bisto - with participants hosed down by the fire brigade afterwards

Nicholas Cleobury

May 3rd 2013
For many musicologists, Benjamin Britten is given the same genius tag as John Dowland, Henry Purcell and Edward Elgar - but to others, his music is seen as lacking in memorable melodies and quite dour.

But Nicholas Cleobury, in his wonderful talk on May 3rd, made a convincing case that Britten was, indeed, a towering musical force who had put 20th Century English music on the world map.

Will Gompertz

May 31st 2013
In the past, modern art was often seen as a sham but there are ever-growing youthful crowds, uninterested in old paintings of seascapes and Dutch country scenes, who cruise the Tate Modern – but, as Will Gompertz, the BBC’s Arts Editor, pointed out in his highly informative and entertaining talk on May 31st, there is still the problem of “comprehension”. What does it all mean?

Fashions have changed and it is now much more acceptable to promote the merits of modern art – and, as Will claimed, ever since Marcel Duchamp transformed a urinal into a sculpture and called it Fountain nearly a century ago, art has often ceased to be all about skill.

Charles Hill

June 28th 2013
Received wisdom is that the theft of major works of art is usually carried out at the direction of a billionaire stroking a white cat in a remote castle high in the Alps, surrounded by Old Masters and iconic modern paintings. But Charles Hill, one of the world’s leading art theft detectives, pointed out at his compelling talk on June 28th that nearly all theft of such art is not undertaken on orders from the super-rich – but by low-level criminals intent on trying to break into international crime with the help of a trophy.

Charles told a packed audience that such villains have seen films, such as the Thomas Crown Affair or Sean Connery in Entrapment and think that stealing such works of art is cool. Even the less intelligent ones realise that it is impossible to sell a stolen Monet or Cezanne to an art dealer – but it can still offer kudos, and to arrive at a meeting with a drugs cartel with an Old Master tucked under the arm can be helpful proof of criminal status.

Matthew Rice

July 26th 2013
For much of the time, Matthew Rice runs one of the biggest ceramic manufacturers based solely in the UK with his wife, Emma Bridgewater, but another of his passions is architecture – especially that of churches and their many and varied features. During breaks from designing new ranges of earthenware and tinware for their factory at Stoke-on-Trent, Matthew is often to be found exploring the churches and the vernacular architecture of buildings around Staffordshire and also near his homes in Oxfordshire and Norfolk. The result has been a couple of fascinating and idiosyncratic books – Rice’s Architectural Primer and the follow-up Rice’s Church Primer, which had just been published. It combines Matthew’s wonderful sketches and watercolours of church features, as well as descriptions of architectural details, which reflect a range unparalleled in the world.

Lord Blair

October 4th 2013
In a career spanning over 30 years, Lord Blair – the former Metropolitan Police Commissioner - saw changes in the types of crimes that now confront police officers, with the emergence of suicide bombers in the name of Islam and cyber-crime among recent additions. During his first year as Metropolitan Commissioner, he led the response to the terrorist bombings in London in July 2005 when 52 were killed and over 700 injured, with many losing limbs. But despite the murderous and pernicious nature of killers and criminals, he told a packed hall that he remains a powerful advocate of not arming police officers as a matter of course (only the UK, New Zealand and Finland follow the same practice) because he believes it would not decrease violent crime – and once issuing more arms is pursued, there would be no going back.

Christopher Brown

November 1st 2013
Few artists have had such a profound influence on English portrait-painting as Anthony van Dyck, the Flemish Baroque genius who is perhaps most famous for his portraits of Charles I and his family and court – painted with a relaxed elegance that would be the dominant influence in the style for the next 150 years. Professor Brown, director of the Ashmolean Museum, in Oxford for the past 15 years, gave us a magisterial insight during his talk on November 1st into the life and talent of this most revered artist. As well as detailing van Dyck’s remarkable career as a portraitist, Dr Brown also highlighted his biblical and mythological subjects and his role as an important innovator in watercolour and etching.

Lone Droscher Nielsen

November 22nd & 23rd 2013
Of the 57 events that we have held over the past five years, those featuring the work with orangutans in Indonesia by Lone Droscher Nielsen remain both the most heart-wrenching and yet also the most uplifting. Lone first appeared at the Wootton Talks in 2009 and again drew large audiences when she returned exactly four years later for a couple of nights on November 22nd and 23rd, highlighting both the cruelty of which people are capable – and also the determined spirit of others to help save the orangutan from extinction in the wild.

Lone Droscher Nielsen

December 13th 2013
Nick Hooper has composed the music for a couple of blockbuster Harry Potter films, as well as winning two Baftas for his work on television drams, including Prime Suspect, with Helen Mirren. In addition, he has written the music for award-winning wildlife films made for the Disney Studios, as well as the BBC – when the producer was Mike Birkhead, who spoke so engagingly in Wootton in 2012.

Meanwhile, his wife, Judith, works as a musical therapist – helping both children and adults with emotional challenges, as well as physical and learning disabilities.

Lone Droscher Nielsen

January 10th 2014
David first appeared in Wootton in September 2011 when he gave a fascinating and hilarious talk about Ruth Belville, the so-called Greenwich Time Lady, who sold the time to the people of London using an 18th century timepiece, called Arnold, which was set to within a tenth of a second at the Royal Observatory, in Greenwich.

For his much-anticipated second appearance on January 10th, David - now a curator at the Science Museum - gave an equally brilliant exposition of the life of Alan Turing, a genius considered the father of modern computing and artificial intelligence. But set against all his pioneering achievements was a tragic personal life.

Sally Kettle

February 7th 2014
In the days building up to the 60th Wootton Talk on February 7th, there had been apocalyptic weather, with widespread and rain and flooding – so it was quite appropriate that our landmark speaker should be Sally Kettle, who has entered the record books as the first woman to have braved horrendous weather and row across the Atlantic twice, from east to west, including once with her mother, which followed years of arguments and silence.

After returning to the UK, Sally was determined to have another attempt and planned to enter the Ocean Rowing Society Atlantic Regatta, starting in January 2004 – again in the boat, Calderdale. She subsequently pulled off the miracle of persuading her mother, Sarah, to join her in this second attempt to cross the Atlantic. After years of not speaking, they set off from the Canaries and – whilst often exhausted and debilitated - experienced the wonders of the ocean, marvelling at whales, flying fish, sea turtles, sharks, night-time phosphorescent algae and even one bird which stayed with them for over 2,000 of miles. Whilst rowing, they passed the time playing games, such as eye-spy, and reading stories to one another at bedtime.

Robert Adam

March 7th 2014
At one point during his magisterial talk on global architecture on March 7th, Robert Adam – an architect practising “traditional” neo-classical design - showed us photographs of a series of major cities, all crammed with glass-and-metal skyscrapers, and asked us to name them. Only New York, with the Manhattan skyline, seemed familiar, whilst all the others – with their homogenous designs - looked broadly identical and could have been anywhere.

Wootton TED-Style

April 4th 2014
(Technology, Entertainment, Design) is a global set of conferences under the slogan "ideas worth spreading". Speakers are given a maximum of 18 minutes to present their ideas in the most innovative and engaging ways they can. Past presenters include Bill Clinton, Jane Goodall, Al Gore, Richard Dawkins, Bill Gates, Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, and many Nobel prizewinners.

TED was founded in 1984 as a one-off event and its annual conference began in 1990, in Monterey, California. TED events are now held throughout the U.S. and in Europe and Asia, offering live streaming of the talks.

They address a wide range of topics within the research and practice of science and culture - and there are over 1,000 talks on the TED website. For the first Wootton TED-style evening, three eminent speakers presented magisterial talks and delighted a packed hall with their ability to condense huge and complex subjects into just 18 minutes

Ross King

May 2nd 2014
The dome on Florence Cathedral, completed in the mid-15th Century by the volatile genius, Philippo Brunelleschi, is considered one of the masterpieces of the Renaissance and Ross King gave a magisterial talk on May 2nd detailing how the landmark construction was achieved. Brunelleschi is also renowned for his development of linear perspective, as well as many other accomplishments, including sculpture, mathematics, engineering and even ship design. However, Ross told us little is known about Brunelleschi's early life to explain his remarkable transition from goldsmith to architect - and, no less importantly, the evolution from his training in the gothic or medieval style to the new classicism in architecture and urbanism within the Renaissance, with his work winning admiration from both Leonardo and Michelangelo.

Hugh Pym

May 31st 2014
At the height of the banking crisis in 2008-9, Hugh Pym told us in his fascinating talk on May 31st that there was a real possibility that – unless firm action had been taken – cash-point machines would have closed and the Army could have been deployed to prevent riots on the streets of Britain as people tried to get hold of their money.

Richard Van Emden

June 27th 2014

Richard is one of the world’s leading historians of the First World War and he gave a fascinating talk on June 27th about boy soldiers in the conflict. He came to Wootton the day before the centenary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, which helped trigger the conflict, and so the timing was highly appropriate.

Harry Bucknall

July 18th 2014

One of the hottest days of the year was the ideal back-drop for Harry Bucknall to describe – in a supremely witty and informative talk - the pilgrimage he undertook two years ago between St Paul’s Cathedral, in London, and St Peter’s Basilica, in Rome. It was a journey covering over 1,400 miles on foot over a route taking him through vineyards and villages, as well as over the Alps and across mighty rivers, like the Po, and which led him to meeting some extraordinary and colourful people along the way.

Mark Avery

September 19th 2014

One of the most melancholy episodes in the ecology of the world occurred a hundred years on September 1st 1914 when the last passenger pigeon on Earth, called Martha, died in Cincinnati Zoo in the United States. Dozens of other species of bird have become extinct in recent decades – but what makes this story even more poignant was that the bird was the most numerous on the planet, with flocks in its native North America estimated at several billion just 50 years before the species vanished forever. Its demise is also unique in that the precise time of its extinction can be pin-pointed to within a few hours.

David Hone

October 24th 2014

Dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures, roaming the Earth tens of millions of years ago, have always held a powerful (and often terrifying) fascination – and yet their behaviour still remains an enigma because palaeontology is dependent solely on the remains of ancient creatures.

However, Dave Hone, in his fascinating talk to mark our sixth birthday on October 21st, showed how it is possible for trace fossils to give an insight into dinosaur behaviour, including whether they behaved as “social” animals working together. In addition, computer simulations and comparisons with modern animals can offer clues to the behaviour of dinosaurs. Even so, Dave conceded that understanding this area of research still relies heavily on a significant amount of speculation.

Julie Summers

November 21st 2014

The 1924 British Expedition to Mount Everest has always been shrouded in mystery – did Sandy Irvine, aged only 22, and George Mallory make it to the summit, 30 years before Hillary and Tenzing? Both men disappeared high on the mountain’s north-east ridge, only a short distance from the top, and perished in their attempt – Mallory’s body was discovered in 1999, but Irvine’s has never been found.

What made Julie Summers’s compelling and moving talk on November 21st even more poignant was that Sandy Irvine was her great-uncle and his courage and determination have played a major part in her family’s history. Letters home from Sandy, long thought to be lost, later turned up in a wooden chest, adding an extra melancholic aspect to the entire story.

Drew Gardner

December 12th 2014

For many people, an intriguing fantasy is contemplating how famous figures from the past would look and behave if they suddenly reappeared today. For his project, called The Descendants, Drew had not quite brought these people back to life, but he produced the next best thing – transforming descendants to resemble their forebears in famous portraits, and with astonishing results. Drew told us at our 70th talk on December 12th that he performed badly at school, although he has always been fascinated with history. And it was this passion which led him to recreating portraits of some of the most iconic historical figures.

Richard Ovenden

January 9th 2015
It is impossible to conceive of a world without photographs – a world without illustrations in magazine and newspapers, or a family portrait on a wall. But the development of photography in England can be traced back directly to William Henry Fox Talbot who, as Richard Ovenden told us in his magisterial talk on January 9th, was an extraordinary Victorian pioneer and polymath.

Lucy Hughes-Hallett

February 6th 2015
The name of Gabriele d’Annunzio does not perhaps hang on everybody’s lips – and yet he was a fascinating Italian who was both deplorable and charismatic. As such, he was worthy of the eight years that Lucy spent researching his life for her multi-award winning biography.

Matthew Engel

March 6th 2015
Whilst many English people may dream of living in Tuscany, Umbria, Provence – or even Barcelona, Vancouver or San Francisco, - Matthew Engel was adamant in his highly witty and entertaining talk on March 6th that England remains the most diverse and fascinating country in the world.

Jan Harlan

March 27th 2015

Jan Harlan was the executive producer on many of the landmark films made by his brother-in-law, the iconic American director, Stanley Kubrick. Together, they fashioned such powerful movies as Barry Lyndon, The Shining, with Jack Nicholson, Full Metal Jacket depicting the Tet offensive during the Vietnam War, as well as Eyes Wide Shut (Kubrick’s last movie), starring Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise.


April 17th 2015
(Technology, Entertainment, Design) is a global set of conferences under the slogan "ideas worth spreading". Speakers are given a maximum of 18 minutes to present their ideas in the most innovative and engaging ways they can. Past presenters include Bill Clinton, Jane Goodall, Al Gore, Richard Dawkins, Bill Gates, Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, and many Nobel prizewinners.

TED was founded in 1984 as a one-off event and its annual conference began in 1990, in Monterey, California. TED events are now held throughout the U.S. and in Europe and Asia, offering live streaming of the talks.

They address a wide range of topics within the research and practice of science and culture - and there are over 1,000 talks on the TED website. For the second Wootton TED-style evening, three eminent speakers presented magisterial talks and delighted a packed hall with their ability to condense huge and complex subjects into just 18 minutes

Kevin Telfer

May 8th 2015
Millions poured on to the streets for joyous celebrations after Winston Churchill announced the German surrender and Victory in Europe on May 8th 1945. People played in the fountains in Trafalgar Square and rode on the tops of buses around London but Kevin Telfer pointed out in his highly informative talk – based on his latest book, Summer of 45 - that the following months, building up to Victory in Japan in August were a complicated period, full of continuing upheaval.

Robin Lane Fox

June 5th 2015
On a warm and sunny June evening, after countless of days of wind and chill, Robin Lane Fox made a much-anticipated return visit to Wootton following his first appearance here in April 2011. Again, his theme was primarily gardening but he made several amusing forays into life at New College, Oxford, where he is now an emeritus fellow, but retains the title of Garden Master - overseeing the maintenance of the celebrated borders and lawn.

Clare Mackintosh

September 18th 2015

After twelve years as a senior officer with Thames Valley Police, spending time in CID and as a commander in public order, Clare Mackintosh decided to leave the service to spend more time with her three young children and to pursue a career as a writer. It was a move which proved a sensational success with the publication in 2014 of her debut novel, I Let You Go.

Robin Laurance

October 16th 2015

For our seventh birthday evening on October 16th, it was hard to think of a more appropriate speaker than Robin Laurance, the leading photojournalist, talking about fascinating and imaginative birthday presents which have been given down the years, including those handed to the rich and famous.

Julie Summers

November 13th 2015

Julie first spoke in Wootton in November last year when her theme was the 1924 British Everest Expedition, which included George Mallory and her great-uncle, Sandy Irvine. On November 13th this year, she focused on another illustrious member of her family – her grandfather, Lieutenant-Colonel Philip Toosey, who was the senior Allied officer in charge during the Second World War at the Japanese prisoner of war camp at Tamarkan, in Thailand, from where the men helped build the notorious Bridge on the River Kwai.

Andrew Gant

December 11th 2015
For our Christmas evening on December 11th, we were delighted to welcome Andrew Gant, the leading musician, singer, composer, academic and author to talk about his books, called Christmas carols – from Village Green to Church Choir – and also, just published, O Sing Unto the Lord, which traces the history of church music from Anglo Saxon times.. Helping him illustrate his talk were fifteen singers from the wonderful North Cotswold Chamber Choir, who sang several pieces.

John Goodall

January 22nd 2016

One of the enduring delights of the English countryside is the extraordinary range of parish churches, with their astonishing diversity of architecture and internal features. And, as John Goodall highlighted in his captivating talk on January 22nd, it is possible to walk into most parish churches and stand in front of (and often touch) cultural riches, which may have been in the same position for centuries.

Bel Moonney

February 12th 2016

Bel Mooney is one of the country's leading writers and has published six novels and over 30 books for children - but she is also well known for her career as an advice columnist - firstly on The Times and currently on the Daily Mail, where her words in both print and online are read by millions around the world.

Guy Browning

March 11th 2016
Guy came to Wootton with a reputation for being a highly entertaining and witty speaker – and during his talk on March 11th he showed just why he has won so many plaudits. During a riotous hour of constant laughter, Guy took us through his varied career which has so far included working in the advertising industry, journalism and, more recently, writing and directing a feature film.

Martin Wainwright

April 8th 2016

Midway through Martin Wainwright's incisive and illuminating talk on April 8th on aspects of the North-South divide in England, he showed us a series of images which highlighted perfectly how preconceptions of the two halves can be wildly wrong. One picture showed the pit-head of a coal-mine - which was actually in Somerset; another showed rows of terraced-houses - which was revealed as Swindon; another showed quaint black-and-white buildings - which was, in fact, central Manchester; one more showed a striking stately-home - which was in North Yorkshire; whilst others showed bucolic rolling fields with hedge-rows - which were largely in the North.

Alexander Sturgis

May 6th 2016

It was quite apt that Alexander Sturgis, Director of the Ashmolean Museum, in Oxford, should begin his talk on May 6th with a magic trick before discussing the strategies that artists use to deceive the eye. Alexander, an accomplished magician performing under the name The Great Xa, tore up a copy of The Sun newspaper and then - through the power of illusion - appeared to bring it back again, completely intact.

Vince Cable

May 27th 2016

With only four weeks to go until the landmark referendum on staying in or leaving the EU, it was suitable timing that Sir Vince Cable, the urbane former Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills appeared as our speaker on May 27th. As a leading campaigner for staying in the EU, Sir Vince gave us some behind-the-scenes glimpses of how membership had been beneficial during his time in the Cabinet - such as during the days when General Motors were thinking of closing their Vauxhall factory at Ellesmere Port. Sir Vince flew to the US to discuss the crisis and finally won an agreement for the factory to remain open - just so long as the UK remained within the EU, so that trading benefits were maintained.

Oliver Cox

July 1st 2016

Whilst the political parties were engaged in widespread blood-letting at Westminster over leadership contests, it was invigorating and reassuring on July 1st to have Oliver Cox talking about the life and work of Lancelot "Capability" Brown, often referred to as "England' greatest gardener" following his influence in over 170 parks surrounding some of the country's finest country houses - and with many designs, such as those at Blenheim, still intact.

Robert Matthews

September 16th 2016

Robert, a Visiting Professor in Mathematics at Aston University, started his talk on September 16th by admitting that he – perhaps like most of the audience – found probability a boring and difficult subject at school. Only years later did he begin to realise that it held the key to understanding the effect of chance, randomness and uncertainty - of which there’s no shortage in our lives. As an academic, Robert has focused on using the theory of probability to understand such things, and earlier this year published Chancing It, a popular-level book on the subject.

Laurie Maguire

October 14th 2016

To celebrate our 90th talk, on our eighth birthday, we were delighted to welcome back Laurie Maguire, Professor of English Literature at Magdalen College, Oxford, a leading authority on the life and works of William Shakespeare - and who has been in great demand this year on the 400th anniversary of the playwright's death. Laurie told us on October 14th that, nearing the end of this anniversary year, she wanted to think about memory and commemoration - and so had called her talk Remembering Shakespeare.

Emma Bridgewater

November 11th 2016

Emma is renowned for creating iconic jaunty pottery designs over the past 30 years and she lifted the early winter gloom on November 11th when she detailed her remarkable career from the early days experimenting with spongeware in a Brixton flat to establishing one of the biggest pottery companies making products only in the UK - employing up to 300 people in Stoke- on-Trent in an operation with a multi-million pound turnover. However, she admitted that,she now realises how unready she was in the early days for the demands that lay ahead.

Tim Birkhead

December 2nd 2016

Sir David Attenborough wrote in the latest edition of BBC Wildlife magazine that Tim's new book on birds' eggs, called The Most Perfect Thing, featured some magnificent science - but it was written in a completely accessible way for the general reader. And, indeed, this proved to be case with Tim's talk on December 2nd when he led us through the wonders of birds' eggs in all their amazing forms.

Sir Anthony Seldon

January 13th 2017
Our first speaker of 2017 was Sir Anthony Seldon, former head teacher at Wellington College, in Berkshire, who has written or edited about 40 books, including biographies of John Major, Gordon Brown, Tony Blair and David Cameron. He has also set up several influential groups, including the Centre for Contemporary British History and Action for Happiness - and, indeed, his talk was called "How to Live a Happier Life in 2017"

Jonathan Berman

February 10th 2017

For many of us, the conductor of an orchestra creates an alchemy which can produce music triggering every possible emotion - although relatively few of us have an intimate knowledge of how the process works. In his talk on February 10th, Jonathan Berman offered a magisterial guide to the role of a conductor and how they "sculpture" the composer's work to create a sound which, more often than not, can be quite magical.

Tom Heap

March 3rd 2017

Reporting these days on the major issues affecting the environment is so often skewed in favour of a pre-determined agenda - whether it be the existence of climate change, nuclear power or farming. And so it was both enlightening and encouraging to hear Tom Heap, one of the presenters on BBC Countryfile, give such a fair-minded assessment of a wide range of issues during his illuminating talk on March 3rd.

John Simpson

March 31st 2017

With his inimitable calm presence, John told us during his talk on March 31st about the time he and his team stumbled across Osama bin Laden and some of his followers in Afghanistan - when bin Laden offered a man $500 dollars to drive his truck over John. The man thought about it for a while but then declined. Of course, John was quite relieved that he wasn't flattened - but what irritated him as much, he said, was that bin Laden thought his life was only worth $500. This was just one of the many fascinating stories that John, the BBC World Affairs Editor, shared with us - mostly extremely serious, but also shot through with a self-effacing English modesty, tinged with humour.

Peter Frankopan

April 28th 2017

As a teenager, Peter Frankopan told us in his spellbinding talk on April 28th, he was uneasy about the narrow geographic focus in history which seemed to concentrate solely on the United States and Western Europe, leaving the rest of the world largely untouched. He told us that he had been taught about the Romans in Britain, the Norman conquest of 1066; Henry VIII and the Tudors; the American War of Independence; Victorian industrialisation; the Battle of the Somme and the rise and fall of Nazi Germany.

Chris McGrath

May 26th 2017

Just a few days before the running of this year's Derby at Epsom, it was fascinating to discover during Chris McGrath's talk on May 26th that 95 per cent of all thoroughbred champions have a line that can be traced back to an episode in the 18th Century involving a Yorkshireman, Thomas Darley. He had operated as a merchant with the Levant Company in Arabia for many years and Chris showed us an image of the beautiful city of Aleppo as it was at the time - compared with its tragic ruins today. It was here that Darley bought a young Arab colt, which he brought back home and used to start a bloodline from which so many flat-racing champions are descended. The complete story is told in Chris's recent book, Mr Darley's Arabian, which was short-listed for the prestigious Williams Hill Sports Book of the year.

Henry Marsh

June 23rd 2017

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.

Michael Williams

September 15th 2017

With a certain irony, Michael's talk on September 15th was delayed slightly because Marylebone Station in London was shut and he had to hot-foot it to Paddington, having to stand for some of the journey to Oxford to give his talk, called....The Joy of Railways. However, Michael offered a great deal of positive evidence to counter-balance his experience that night - and to show that the romance of the railways is still very much alive.

Alexandra Shulman

October 12th 2017

For the 100th talk on our 9th birthday on October 12th, Alexandra Shulman, editor of Vogue until her retirement in June, gave a highly entertaining and informative insight into the world of fashion magazines. She had held the editorship for 25 years and recalled working with some of the greatest fashion photographers, such as Mario Testino (renowned for taking iconic pictures of the Princess of Wales) and David Bailey who, whilst Alexandra occasionally found him stubborn, always produced peerless work.

Jinny Blom

May 25th 2018

Jinny Blom Talk

Sir Chay Blyth

February 8th 2019

Sir Chay Blyth Talk

Bart van Es

March 22nd 2019

Bart van Es Talk

Nick Nelson

May 17th 2019

Nick Nelson Talk

Stephen Westaby

June 21st 2019

Stephen Westaby Talk

Alex Rogers

September 13th 2019

Alex Rogers Talk

David Rooney

October 11th 2019

David Rooney Talk

Dominic Sandbrook

November 22nd 2019

Dominic Sandbrook Talk

Antonia Keaney

January 17th 2020

Antonia Keaney Talk

Richard Norton-Taylor

February 21st 2020

Richard Norton-Taylor Talk

Patrick Marnham

March 11th 2022

Patrick Marnham Talk

Ross King

April 8th 2022

Ross King Talk

Mike Berkhead

May 6th 2022

Mike Berkhead Talk

Rana Mitter

June 17th 2022

Rana Mitter Talk

Rosamund Young

July 15th 2022

Rosamund Young Talk

Matthew Engels

September 30thh 2022

Matthew Engel Talk

Chris Floyd

October 21st 2022

Chris Floyd Talk

Paul Atterbury

November 25th 2022

Paul Atterbury Talk

Patrick Woodroffe

January 20th 2023

Patrick Woodroffe Talk

Jack Straw

February 10th 2023

Jack Straw Talk

Martin Jennings

March 10th 2023

Martin Jennings Talk

Henry Marsh

April 14th 2023

Henry Marsh Talk

Simon Parker

May 12th 2023

Simon Parker Talk

Tim Birkhead

June 9th 2023

Tim Birkhead Talk

Mensun Bound

September 15th 2023

Mensun Bound Talk

Tom Fort

October 13th 2023

Tom Fort Talk

Jon athan Keates

November 10th 2023

Jonathan Keates Talk

Sally Wainwright

December 15th 2023

Sally Wainwright Talk

Jeremy Irons

January 19th 2024

Jeremy Irons Talk

Sir Ian Macfadyen

February 16th 2024

Sir Ian Macfadyen Talk

Prue Leith

March 22nd 2024

Prue Leith Talk

Roger Tempest

April 19th 2024

Roger Tempest Talk

Peter Radford

May 17th 2024

Peter Radford Talk

Susie Dent

June 14th 2024

Susie Dent Talk


All Talks Start
At 7:30pm

Tickets Cost
£10 For

Max Capacity

OX20 1DZ

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