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.

The John Simpson Talk

The John Simpson Talk

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.

Equally extraordinary was the time John and his cameraman were covering the Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing when the authorities persuaded an army general to send in the troops - and the killing began. The two men ran for the sanctuary of their hotel, only to find the security forces milling around. They barricaded themselves in their room, taking care not to venture outside after a South Korean journalist was shot on the adjoining balcony, but then decided to try and escape, with John putting the video-tape of the events inside his sock and trousers. He found himself in the lobby, surrounded by secret-police and with the tape-holder starting to clank as he limped along. He thought he was bound to be rumbled but, just at that moment, gunfire broke out in the street and the police were distracted and he was able to scuttle away, clanking as he went. After initially laying down in the gutter, he managed to escape and finally managed to get the film out of the country and broadcast around the world. Again, it was an extraordinarily dangerous situation, but John still managed to find humour in the situation.

On a more pleasurable level, John described his journey deep into Amazonia, as far as the border with Peru, and spent time with a remote tribe, who gave him and his crew a warm welcome. At night, one of the elders started mixing roots and leaves from plants, crushing them into a liquid - and offered a bowl to John. For quite a while, nothing happened and he thought he was immune to any influence, but then the Moon and stars started to pulsate, the trees seemed to bend over and touch one another and, quite magically, a six-feet tall goldfish wearing a straw hat and sunglasses emerged from the water and put its fin around John. It was at that moment that he knew the potion had, indeed, kicked in. The experience only lasted a short time but John was pleased he was able to control it, going in and out of the hallucination when he wanted - and so he felt quite secure.

In the near future, John plans to visit the tribe again for a film, although he doubts many of those he met will still be alive as the average life-expectancy is only about 32. Also in the plans is a month-long trip to Tibet to make a film about one of the world's most secretive countries - of course, it is still under Chinese control and John acknowledges it will be an extremely testing project, but one which still appeals to him greatly at the age of 72. However, John said the BBC (where he has worked for 50 years and reported on 47 wars) is now extremely strapped for cash, with cuts constantly taking place, and overseas work is much more limited than in the past - like in the days when he and a crew would cover events in Iran for a few weeks before returning home and then heading back again after a period of recuperation. These days, such a productive rhythm simply wouldn't be possible - even though the public's appetite for news remains strong, with viewing figures for the Ten O'Clock News holding up well. But he added that there was little doubt that, in general, interest in world affairs is waning and he feared that the UK was becoming seriously insular.

When asked about his most difficult assignments, he highlighted the many trips to Iraq following the invasion - witnessing all the death and destruction and the evidence that the invasion by the coalition forces had, indeed, been a disaster and that the price was now being paid. Another of the more distressing episodes was when he was the BBC South Africa correspondent and he witnessed the shacks of "coloured" (mixed race) people being razed to the ground - and the authorities threatening the BBC with expulsion for describing the machines used in the destruction as "bulldozers", rather than the correct technical term for the vehicle. Either way, they were used to destroy the homes of blameless people in a wretched act. However, on a far lighter note, he told of one his first jobs for the BBC in the 1960s when the Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, punched him in the stomach after he had approached him for an interview at King's Cross Station. In the official BBC written account of the exchange, the report simply reads: "John Simpson said: Aaaaargh!" John told us he has always kept meticulous notes of all his assignments over the 50 years since his first days working for the corporation and these are being given to his alma mater, Magdalene College, iCambridge.

Over 130 people packed the hall for John's fascinating talk, delivered with all the charm of the urbane Englishman - and he sold and signed many copies of latest book, We Chose to Speak of War and Strife: The World of the Foreign Correspondent, the 15th book John has written, including two novels.

"John was everything I thought he might be - recounting stories about appalling situations, but all shot-through with a self-effacing modesty and humour. In his fifty years with the BBC, he has clearly seen human beings at their worst and best and, fortunately for us, survived all the conflicts to be able to share his experiences with us. I like the idea of BBC World Affairs Editor having visions of a huge goldfish, wearing sunglasses, in the depths of the Amazon. I will hold that image next time I watch John reporting from some dreadful conflict with his legendary balance and insight - Lynn Woan, Oxford


Friday April 28th 2017.

Peter is author of The Silk Roads: A New History of the World, which has been an international best-seller. It was named The Daily Telegraph's History Book of the Year in 2015. whilst it also topped The Sunday Times non-fiction charts, remaining in the Top Ten for seven months - as well as being Number One in China, India, Ireland and many other countries around the world. William Dalrymple described it as a "historical epic of dazzling range, ambition and achievement" and The New Statesman described Peter as "the history rock star du jour"

Peter is Senior Research Fellow at Worcester College, Oxford and Director of the Oxford Centre for Byzantine Research. He works on the history of the Mediterranean, Russia, the Middle East, Persia Central Asia and beyond, and on relations between Christianity and Islam. He also specializes in medieval Greek literature, and translated The Alexiad for Penguin Classics and was recently appointed as a special adviser to the United Nations..

Peter also often writes for the international press, including The New York Times, The Financial Times and The Guardian and has contributed to many TV and radio documentaries. He was recently profiled about The Silk Roads in China Daily, China's largest English language newspaper, and in Good Times, in Pakistan.

Peter studied History at Jesus College, Cambridge, where he was Foundation Scholar, Schiff Scholar and won the History Prize in 1993, when he took a first-class degree. He completed his doctorate at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, where he was Senior Scholar before moving to Worcester College as Junior Research Fellow. He has been Senior Research Fellow since 2000 and is also a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, the Royal Society of Arts, the Royal Anthropological Institute and the Royal Asiatic Society.

Peter has held visiting Fellowships at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington DC, owned by Harvard University, and Princeton, and has lectured at universities all over the world including Cambridge, Harvard, Yale, Princeton and NYU. Peter also chairs a collection of family businesses in the UK, France, Croatia and the Netherlands, including a group of hotels, which he set up with his wife Jessica in 1999.

He is actively involved with several charities, mainly in the areas of education, international development, gender studies and classical music. Peter also chairs the Frankopan Fund, which has granted more than two hundred and thirty scholarships and awards to outstanding young scholars from Croatia to study at leading academic institutions in the UK, USA and Europe.

A chorister at Westminster Cathedral as a boy, as well as a music scholar at school and later choral scholar at Cambridge, Peter is an accomplished musician and has recorded many albums as a singer and instrumentalist. He also won Blues at both Oxford and Cambridge for minor sports and also played for an England Football XI in charity games against Germany and Brazil at Wembley and has represented Croatia at cricket.

He plays cricket for the Authors CC, which in recent years, have toured India and Sri Lanka, and played against the Pope's First XI in England and Rome. In August 2016, he was crowned Single Wicket Champion of All England at Broadhalfpenny Down, where many of cricket's rules and regulations were devised.

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


Friday May 26th 2017.

Chris is racing correspondent of The Independent and lives in Combe, near Woodstock. He will be talking about his book, called Mr Darley's Arabian: High Life, Low Life, Sporting Life: A History of Racing in 25 Horses, which was published in 2016 to great acclaim and was shortlisted for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award.

In 1704, a bankrupt English merchant sent home the colt he had bought from Bedouin tribesmen near the ruins of Palmyra. Thomas Darley hoped this horse might be the ticket to a new life back in Yorkshire. But he turned out to be far more than that - and, although Mr Darley's Arabian never ran a race, 95 per cent of all thoroughbreds in the world today are descended from him. For the first time, Chris traces this extraordinary bloodline through twenty-five generations to our greatest modern racehorse, Frankel.

The story of racing is about Man's relationship with horses, and Mr Darley's Arabian also celebrates the men and women who owned, trained and traded the stallions that extended the dynasty. The great Eclipse, for instance, was bred by the Duke who foiled Bonnie Prince Charlie's invasion (with militia gathered from Wakefield races) and went on to lead the Jockey Club. But the horse only became a success once bought and raced by a card-sharp and brothel-keeper - the racecourse has always brought high and low life together.

Chris expertly traces three centuries of scandals, adventures and fortunes won and lost, with our sporting life offering a fascinating view into our history. With a canvas that extends from the diamond mines of South Africa to the trenches of the Great War, and a cast ranging from Smithfield meat salesmen to the inspiration for Mr Toad, and from legendary jockeys to not one - but two - disreputable Princes of Wales (and a very unamused Queen Victoria), Mr Darley's Arabian highlights the many faces of the sport of kings.


An excellent history. . McGrath is one of the finest sportswriters of this generation . Brilliant (David Walsh SUNDAY TIMES)

A racing book like no other - a book of remarkable scope (Robin Oakley THE SPECTATOR)

Erudite, wry and astute . .extraordinary horses and a rich seam of cultural history woven into a fascinating book (Melanie Reid THE TIMES, Book of the Week)

A vivid, sweeping history of impressive scope. McGrath's eye for a story and eloquent turns of phrase will delight (Nick Pulford RACING POST)

The introduction made my arms tingle as McGrath recalls Frankels's win at the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket in 2011... Racing life, social life and equine life are all neatly pulled together and expertly rendered into a compelling story. each chapter is a satisfying vignette of a Darley descendent, the jockeys, trainers, rakes and rank who were involved. Chance and fortune, deals and dodging - it's like Derby Day on the page (Alexandra Henton THE FIELD)

A racy gallop . . a teeming, colourful survey [with] a great deal to inform and entertain (Nicholas Clee, The OBSERVER)

A dark horse contender (EVENING STANDARD)

If you are interested in attending this talk or would like to reserve a ticket please Contact us


Friday June 23rd 2017.

Henry is a pioneering brain surgeon and has spent a lifetime operating on the surgical frontline. There have been exhilarating highs and devastating lows, but his love of neurosurgery has never wavered. Until 2015, he was senior consultant neurosurgeon at St George's Hospital, in south London, one of the country's largest specialist brain surgery units.

Henry specialises in operating on the brain under local anaesthetic and he was the subject of a BBC documentary, called Your Life in Their Hands, which won the Royal Television Society Gold medal. Since 1992, He has worked in Nepal and also with neurosurgeons in the former Soviet Union, mainly in the Ukraine, with protégé neurosurgeon Igor Kurilets, and his work there was the subject of the BBC Storyville film, The English Surgeon.

Henry has a particular interest in the influence of hospital buildings and design on patient outcomes, as well as staff morale and he has broadcast and lectured widely on this subject. His 2014 memoir, called Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery, was praised widely and became a best-seller. According to The Economist, the book is "so elegantly written that it is little wonder some say that in Mr Marsh neurosurgery has found its Boswell"

In his new book, called Admissions – A Life in Brain Surgery, Henry reflects again on what forty years spent handling the human brain has taught him. Moving between encounters with patients in his London hospital to those he treats in the more extreme circumstances of his work abroad, Henry faces up to the overwhelming burden of responsibility that can come with trying to reduce human suffering.

Unearthing memories of his early days as a medical student and the experiences that shaped him as a young surgeon, Henry explores the difficulties of a profession that deals with probabilities rather than certainties - and where the overwhelming urge to prolong life can come at a tragic cost for both patients and for those who love them.

Henry attended the Dragon School, in Oxford, and Westminster School, in London. At first, he studied PPE at Oxford, graduating with First Class Honours, before later graduating with honours in medicine from the Royal Free Medical School. Henry is married to the social anthropologist, Kate Fox, and spends his spare time making furniture and keeping bees.

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


Friday September 15th 2017.

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


OX20 1DZ

John Lloyd & John Mitchinson Talk, Summer 2009

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