Melvyn Bragg

Last updated

The Lord Bragg

Official portrait of Lord Bragg crop 2.jpg
Born (1939-10-06) 6 October 1939 (age 81)
Carlisle, Cumberland, England
Alma mater Wadham College, Oxford
  • Broadcaster
  • presenter
  • interviewer
  • commentator
  • novelist
  • scriptwriter
Notable work
In Our Time
Television The South Bank Show
Political party Labour

Melvyn Bragg, Baron Bragg, CH , HonFRS , FBA , FRSL (born 6 October 1939), is an English broadcaster, author and parliamentarian. [2] He is best known for his work with ITV as editor and presenter of The South Bank Show (1978–2010), and for the BBC Radio 4 documentary series In Our Time .


Earlier in his career, Bragg worked for the BBC in various roles including presenter, a connection that resumed in 1988 when he began to host Start the Week on Radio 4. After his ennoblement in 1998, he switched to presenting the new In Our Time, [3] an academic discussion radio programme, which has run to over 870 broadcast editions and is a popular podcast. He was Chancellor of the University of Leeds from 1999 until 2017. [4] [5]

Early life

Bragg was born on 6 October 1939 in Carlisle, [6] the son of Mary Ethel (née Park), a tailor, and Stanley Bragg, a stock keeper turned mechanic. [7] He was given the name Melvyn by his mother after she saw the actor Melvyn Douglas at a local cinema. [8] He was raised in the small town of Wigton, [8] where he attended the Wigton primary school [9] and later The Nelson Thomlinson School, [6] where he was Head Boy. [8] He was an only child, born a year after his parents married. His father was away from home serving with the Royal Air Force for four years during the war. His upbringing and childhood experiences were typical of the working-class environment of that era. [8]

When he was a child, he was led to believe that his mother's foster mother was his maternal grandmother. His grandmother had been forced to leave the town owing to the stigma of her daughter being born illegitimately. [8] From the age of 8 until he left for university, his family home was above a pub in Wigton, the Black-A-Moor Hotel, of which his father had become the landlord. [8] Into his teens he was a member of the Scouts and played rugby in his school's first team. [8] Encouraged by a teacher who had recognised his work ethic, Bragg was one of an increasing number of working-class teenagers of the era being given a path to university through the grammar school system. [8] He read Modern History at Oxford University, in the late 1950s and early 1960s. [7]



Bragg began his career in 1961 as a general trainee at the BBC. [6] He was the recipient of one of only three traineeships awarded that year. [8] He spent his first two years in radio at the BBC World Service, then at the BBC Third Programme and BBC Home Service. [10] He joined the production team of Huw Wheldon's Monitor arts series on BBC Television. [10] He presented the BBC books programme Read All About It (and was also its editor, 1976–77) [6] and The Lively Arts, a BBC Two arts series. [11] He then edited and presented the London Weekend Television (LWT) arts programme The South Bank Show from 1978 to 2010. [12] His interview with playwright Dennis Potter shortly before his death is regularly cited as one of the most moving and memorable television moments ever. [13] By being just as interested in popular as well as classical genres, he is credited with making the arts more accessible and less elitist. [13]

He was Head of Arts at LWT from 1982 to 1990 and Controller of Arts at LWT from 1990. He is also known for his many programmes on BBC Radio 4, including Start the Week (1988 to 1998), [14] The Routes of English (mapping the history of the English language), and In Our Time (1998 to present), which in March 2011 broadcast its 500th programme. Bragg's pending departure from the South Bank Show was portrayed by The Guardian as the last of the ITV grandees, speculating that the next generation of ITV broadcasters would not have the same longevity or influence as Bragg or his ITV contemporaries John Birt, Greg Dyke, Michael Grade and Christopher Bland. [15]

In 2012 he brought The South Bank Show back to Sky Arts 1. [16] In December 2012, he began The Value of Culture , a five-part series on BBC Radio 4 examining the meaning of culture, expanding on Matthew Arnold's landmark (1869) collection of essays Culture and Anarchy . [17] In June 2013 Bragg wrote and presented The Most Dangerous Man in Tudor England, broadcast by the BBC. This told the dramatic story of William Tyndale's mission to translate the Bible from the original languages to English. In February 2012, he began Melvyn Bragg on Class and Culture , a three-part series on BBC2 examining popular media culture, with an analysis of the British social class system. [18] Bragg appeared on the Front Row "Cultural Exchange" on May Day 2013. He nominated a self-portrait by Rembrandt as a piece of art which he had found especially interesting. [19] In 2015, Bragg was appointed as a Vice President of the Royal Television Society. [20]


Having produced unpublished short stories since age 19, Bragg had initially decided to become a writer after university. He recognised that writing would not, initially at least, earn him a living, and he took the opportunity at the BBC that arose after he had applied for posts in a variety of industries. [8] While at the BBC, he continued writing. Publishing his first novel in 1965, he decided to leave the BBC to concentrate full-time on writing.

In 1972 he co-wrote the script for Norman Jewison's film Jesus Christ Superstar (1973). Although he published several works, he was unable to make a living, forcing a return to television by the mid-1970s. [8]

A novelist and writer of non-fiction, Bragg has also written a number of television and film screenplays. Some of his early television work was in collaboration with Ken Russell, for whom he wrote the biographical dramas The Debussy Film (1965) and Isadora Duncan, the Biggest Dancer in the World (1967), as well as Russell's film about Tchaikovsky, The Music Lovers (1970). Most of his novels are autobiographical fictions, set in and around the town of Wigton during his childhood. [8]

Bragg received a variety of reviews for his work, some critics declaring it outstanding and others suggesting it was lazy. Many suggested that splitting his time between writing and broadcasting was detrimental to the quality, and that his media profile and his known sensitivity to criticism made him an easy target for unjust reviews. The Literary Review's prize mocking his writing of sex in fiction, according to The Independent, was awarded not on readers' nominations, but simply because it would be good PR. [21] From 1996 to 1998 he also wrote a column in The Times newspaper; he has also occasionally written for The Sunday Times , The Guardian and Observer . [9]


Bragg's friends include the former Labour Party leaders Tony Blair, Neil Kinnock and Michael Foot, and former deputy leader Roy Hattersley. [9] He was one of 100 donors who gave the Labour Party a sum in excess of £5,000 in 1997, the year the party came to power under Blair in the general election. [22] The following year he was appointed by Blair to the House of Lords as the life peer Baron Bragg, of Wigton in the County of Cumbria, [23] [24] one of a number of Labour donors given peerages. This led to accusations of cronyism from the defeated Conservative Party. [22]

In the Lords he takes a keen interest in the arts and education. [8] According to The Guardian in 2004, he voted 104 times out of a possible 226 in the 2002/3 session, only once against the government, on the Hunting Act. [9] He campaigned against it on the grounds it could affect the livelihoods of Cumbrian farmers. [25] In August 2014, Bragg was one of 200 public figures who signed a letter to The Guardian opposing Scottish independence in the run-up to September's referendum on that issue. [26]


Bragg has defended Christianity, particularly the King James Bible, although he does not claim to be a believer himself, seeing himself in Albert Einstein's term as a "believing unbeliever", adding that he is "unable to cross the River of Jordan which would lead me to the crucial belief in a godly eternity." [27] In 2012, Bragg criticised what he claimed to be the "Animus and the ignorance" of the atheist debate. [28]

In August 2016, Bragg publicly accused the National Trust of "bullying" in its "disgraceful purchase" of land in the Lake District, which could threaten the Herdwick rare breed of sheep as well as the Lake District's historic farming system, for which the region was nominated as a Unesco World Heritage site. [29] [30]

Personal life

Bragg married his first wife, Marie-Elisabeth Roche, in 1961, [6] and in 1965, they had a daughter Marie-Elsa Bragg. [31] Roche was a French viscountess studying painting at Oxford. [8] In 1971, Roche killed herself. [32] "I could have done things which helped and I did things which harmed", he told The Guardian in 1998. "So yes, I feel guilt, I feel remorse." [33] Bragg's second wife, Cate Haste, whom he married in 1973, [6] is also a television producer and writer, whose literary work includes editing the 2007 memoir of Clarissa Eden, widow of Anthony Eden, and collaborating with Cherie Booth, wife of Tony Blair, on a 2004 book about the wives of British prime ministers. They have a son and a daughter. In June 2016 it was reported that Bragg and Haste had separated amicably, and that Bragg now shared a home with former film assistant Gabriel Clare-Hunt, a woman with whom he had an affair in 1995. [34]

Bragg has publicly discussed two nervous breakdowns that he has suffered, one in his teens and another in his 30s. [35] His first breakdown began at age 13. Inspired by a passage in Wordsworth's The Prelude , he found ways to cope, including exploring the outdoors and the adoption of a strong work ethic, as well as meeting his first girlfriend. [8] The second followed his wife's suicide. [13] He traces the origin of a lifelong nervousness of public speaking to the experience of giving a reading from the lectern as a choirboy at age 6. [8]

At the age of 75, his life was profiled in the BBC Two television programme Melvyn Bragg: Wigton to Westminster, first broadcast on 18 July 2015. He lives in Hampstead, London, [13] but still owns a house near his home town of Wigton. [8] He is a member of the Garrick Club [13] and a supporter of Carlisle United [36] and Arsenal. [37] He is the vice president of the Carlisle United Supporters Club London Branch. [38]

Bragg is a relative of Sir William Henry Bragg and his son Sir Lawrence Bragg, who were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1915 for their work in x-ray crystal structure analysis. He presented a Radio 4 programme on the subject in August 2013. [39] [40]

Positions and memberships

Awards and honours

Literary prizes
Film & television awards
Other awards



Non-fiction books

Children's books


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  3. Hepworth, David (2 March 2013). "In Our Time: Melvyn Bragg's superior radio masterclass". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 25 April 2013.
  4. Lord Bragg of Wigton (born 1939),; retrieved 13 December 2017
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  9. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 The Guardian profile: Melvyn Bragg, The Guardian, Steven Morris, 17 September 2004
  10. 1 2 Article by Melvyn Bragg in British Mensa Magazine, January 2002, p. 7.
  11. Bignell, Jonathan (2012). Beckett on Screen: The Television Plays. Manchester University Press. ISBN   978-0719064210.
  12. "ITV Fact File on The South Bank Show". Retrieved 29 September 2014.
  13. 1 2 3 4 5 Melvyn Bragg: A Northern hero in our time, The Independent (London), 13 June 2014
  14. Simon Elmes, And Now on Radio 4: A Celebration of the World's Best Radio Station, London: Random House Books, 2007, pp. 72-73.
  15. Melvyn Bragg, last of the ITV grandees, The Guardian, Ben Dowell, 6 May 2009
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  19. "Images for Melvyn Bragg's Cultural Exchange". BBC. Retrieved 12 June 2013.
  20. "Royal Television Society announces new appointments | Royal Television Society". Retrieved 6 April 2017.
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  22. 1 2 ""Luvvies" for Labour". BBC News. 30 August 1998.
  23. Minutes and Order Paper - Minutes of Proceedings from the House of Lords, 28 October 1998.
  24. "No. 55222". The London Gazette . 11 August 1998. p. 8731.
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  27. Melvyn Bragg (11 June 2011). "Melvyn Bragg: My first steps back on the road to faith". The Daily Telegraph. London.
  28. Ward, Victoria (14 March 2012). "Melvyn Bragg attacks Richard Dawkins' 'atheist fundamentalism'". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 16 November 2019.
  29. "Melvyn Bragg accuses National Trust of bullying in farm row". The Guardian . 30 August 2016. Retrieved 1 September 2016.
  30. Reporters, Telegraph (30 August 2016). "Lord Bragg attacks 'mafia style' National Trust over Lake District land purchase". The Telegraph. ISSN   0307-1235 . Retrieved 16 September 2020.
  31. Guinness, Daphne (14 July 2008). "Melvyn in the Middle". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 14 July 2008. first wife was an aristocrat. I didn't know that for a year.
  32. Reporters, Telegraph (20 June 2016). "Melvyn Bragg 'Article behind Paywall, not available. leaves wife to move in with woman 16 years his junior'" . Retrieved 16 November 2019 via
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  34. "Melvyn Bragg 'Article behind Paywall, not available. leaves wife to move in with woman 16 years his junior'". The Telegraph. London. 20 June 2016.
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  38. "LONDON BRANCH: Hit The Bar issue 300 out this weekend". Carlisle United F.C. Official Site. 26 April 2018.
  39. Garner, Louise. "Bragg on the Braggs". Retrieved 16 November 2019.
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  43. "2010 | University of Cumbria". Retrieved 16 November 2019.
  44. "UCL Honorary Graduands and Fellows 2014". UCL News. 11 September 2014. Retrieved 16 November 2019.
  45. "Friends of the British Library Annual Report 2006/07" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 15 April 2010. Retrieved 7 September 2009.
  46. "No. 62150". The London Gazette (Supplement). 30 December 2017. p. N26.
  47. "Melvyn Bragg to receive BAFTA Academy Fellowship Award". BBC News. 1 June 2010.
  48. "Bragg opens namesake drama suite". BBC News. 17 October 2005. Retrieved 4 October 2011.
Academic offices
Preceded by
The Duchess of Kent
Chancellor of the University of Leeds
Succeeded by
Dame Jane Francis
Orders of precedence in the United Kingdom
Preceded by
The Lord Ahmed
Baron Bragg
Followed by
The Lord Sawyer