The Faber Podcast

Roderick Bailey was able to draw on long-classified documents for his dazzling recreation of the cloak-and-dagger war fought by British secret agents in the Special Operations Executive (SOE) against Mussolini's Fascist Italy during the Second World War, which climaxed in one of the most extraordinary episodes of the whole conflict. Now stationed as a historian at the University of Oxford, Bailey was commissioned by the Cabinet Office to pen the official history of the war waged by the SOE. His account is incredibly pacy and readable, telling the story from both sides and recounting exploits so daring and implausible (for example, a little-known plot to assassinate Il Duce in 1942) that - if this were fiction - they would be dismissed as implausible. Here is the author speaking to the Faber Podcast.

Akhil Sharma was born in New Delhi and emigrated to the US in the late 1970s. Having initially pursued a career in investment banking he came to prominence as a writer in 2001 with his debut novel, An Obedient Father, which won the Hemingway/PEN Award. And in 2007 he was named as one of Granta's Best of Young American Novelists. So expectations for what Akhil would do next have been high for some time. Family Life, mirroring events in Akhil's own life - his brother suffered a severe head injury and was left brain-damaged - has been a dozen years in the writing, has undergone many drafts and considerable pruning. But it's now with us and being rapturously received on both sides of the Atlantic.

Distinguished writer, essayist and anthologist Ronald Blythe is best-known for his classic portrayal of 1960s Suffolk village life, Akenfield. This year sees publication of a new memoir, The Time by the Sea, in which he remembers life in the mid-1950s and the early years of the Aldeburgh Festival, with a social scene dominated by the likes of Benjamin Britten, Peter Pears, Imogen Holst, John and Christine Nash and many other artists, writers and musicians. Blythe recounts also his discoveries - in the arts, botany, and the history and geography of his native county. It's a wonderfully nostalgic interview recalling a bygone era, recorded in the seclusion of Blythe's remote home on the Essex/Suffolk border.

After concluding his Britten interviews, George Miller had one final, burning Britten-related question, which he put to Colin Matthews. It was about a musical sign that Britten had invented and named after that quintessential East Anglian wading bird, the curlew …

The premise of the fifth of our Benjamin Britten centenary podcasts is a simple one - we ask our contributors (John Bridcut, Colin Matthews and Dobrinka Tabakova) if they could take just one work by Britten to a desert island, what would it be? Given the extensive breadth of Britten's catalogue, this is easier said than done ...

In the fourth of our special podcasts to mark the centenary of the birth of Benjamin Britten, we examine the great British composer's musical legacy - his music, the recordings, his place in the concert hall, and his influence on a younger generation of composers. John Bridcut talks us through the process of rating all of Britten's works for his book 'Essential Britten', and how he used a star-rating system. Colin Matthews, who worked alongside Britten, remembers his sheer professionalism, whilst Dobrinka Tabakova, a representative of younger composers, shares her appreciation of Britten's passion for people and his consideration of the human condition.

Graham Farmelo first appeared on the Faber Podcast in 2009 to tell us about his book on physicist Paul Dirac, The Strangest Man, which went on to earn the author the Costa Biography Award. He’s back to discuss his new book, Churchill’s Bomb, a fascinating and pacy story of how Britain became a nuclear power, seen through the lens of Winston Churchill’s career. Churchill, as we learn, always had an interest in science. He was a devoted reader of H. G. Wells, and Churchill himself pondered the nuclear question in his writing. In 1937 he contemplated the destructive potential that science’s mastery of nature held out – at a time when many scientists still doubted a nuclear bomb was achievable – and asked, ‘Are we fit for it?’ The book is also a story of how the centre of nuclear physics shifted from Britain to the USA, and the coming into being of post-war geopolitics in which nuclear capability would loom so large. (

The third programme in our series of Britten podcasts looks at perhaps the most controversial aspect of Britten’s biography – the sequence of relationships he had throughout his life with adolescent boys. The principal guest in this instalment is John Bridcut, who produced a documentary and subsequently wrote a book entitled ‘Britten’s Children’. Also featuring here is Colin Matthews who tells us about the reservations he had with Britten’s score for ‘Death in Venice’, some of them to do with its seemingly overt autobiographical character.

In the second of our specially commissioned podcasts to mark the centenary of the birth of Benjamin Britten, we look at some of the evidence that later writers and musicians have to work with when they come to assess Britten the musician and the man. He was a notorious hoarder - tens of thousands of letters, manuscripts, draft manuscripts, annotated scores. He seldom tore things up and proved to be a brilliant archivist. Contributing to this podcast are author and film-maker John Bridcut and composer Colin Matthews.

In this series of podcasts to mark the centenary of Benjamin Britten our interviewer George Miller speaks with a number of people who knew Britten, or who have written about him, or been captivated and inspired by his music from across several generations. In the first episode (of six) we focus on first encounters. Joining us in conversation are composers Colin Matthews and Dobrinka Tabakova, author and film-maker John Bridcut, and Akenfield author Ronald Blythe, whose new book recalling his and Britten’s days in Aldeburgh – The Time by the Sea – was published earlier in 2013. (