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 Richard Ovenden Talk

The Richard Ovenden Talk
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.

During a visit to Lake Como, in Italy, in 1833, Fox Talbot was unhappy with his lack of success at sketching the scenery. It prompted him to dream up a new machine with light-sensitive paper that would automatically make the sketches for him. On his return to England, he began work on this project at his home, Lacock Abbey, in Wiltshire.

Using fascinating illustrations, Richard - executive head of the Bodleian Libraries, in Oxford - showed how Fox Talbot later invented the calotype process, which was a precursor to the photographic processes of the 19th and 20th centuries. He developed photography as an artistic medium, often exploring light and shade and Richard showed us some of Fox Talbot’s fascinating images of Oxford in the mid-19th Century and also – particularly striking - a view of the River Thames in London before the Houses of Parliament were built. He also recorded remarkable images in Paris and Reading.

Fox Talbot’s work in the 1840s on photo-mechanical reproduction led to the creation of the photoglyphic engraving process – the precursor of photogravure. His contribution is now considered so important that the Bodleian Library embarked on a campaign in December, 2012 to secure the archive and prevent it being broken up.

At Cambridge, Richard told us, Fox Talbot had read classics but later on – between 1822 and 1872 – he contributed many papers to the Royal Society, often on mathematical subjects. But he also studied physics and astronomy, as well as the archaeology and history of Mesopotamia for 20 years, and was among the first to decipher the cuneiform inscriptions of Nineveh. He even served as MP for Chippenham, in Wiltshire, for three years.

Early on, he had begun research on optical processes, which later dove-tailed into his work with photography, experimenting with chemicals to retain images of windows and light at Lacock Abbey. Indeed, an image of a lattice-window at Lacock, taken in August 1835, may have been taken from the oldest negative in existence.

However, Fox Talbot was not alone in his pioneering work. In France, Louis Daguerre exhibited some pictures in January, 1839 – his “Daguerreotypes”, pictures on silver plates - to the French Academy of Sciences. Three weeks later, Fox Talbot reported his “art of photogenic drawing” to the Royal Society. His process based the prints on paper that had been made light-sensitive, rather than bitumen or copper-paper.

Fox Talbot, added Richard, went on to develop the three primary elements of photography - developing, fixing, and printing. Although simply exposing photographic paper to the light produced an image, it required extremely long exposure times. By accident, he discovered that there was an image after a very short exposure and, although he could not see it, he found that he could chemically develop it into a useful negative. The image on this negative was then fixed with a chemical solution. This removed the light-sensitive silver and enabled the picture to be viewed in bright light. With the negative image, Fox Talbot realised he could repeat the process of printing from the negative and, consequently, his process could make any number of positive prints, unlike the Daguerreotypes. He called this the “calotype” (later, the “talbotype”) and patented the process in 1841 – although his reluctance to share his knowledge with others lost him some friends.

In 1842, in recognition of his photographic discoveries, he received the Rumford Medal of the Royal Society. Fox Talbot also licensed Henry Collen, the miniature painter, as the first professional calotypist. Fox Talbot's negative-positive process eventually succeeded as the basis for almost all 19th and 20th century photography.

In 1843–44, he set up an establishment in Baker Street, Reading, for the purpose of mass-producing salted paper prints from his calotype negatives. The Reading Establishment (as it was known) also produced prints from other calotypist's negatives and even produced portraits and copy prints at the studio. Talbot’s The Pencil of Nature (1844-46), published in six installments, was the first book with photographic illustrations. Its 24 plates document the beginnings of photography primarily through studies of art objects and architecture.

Just before last August's deadline, Richard told us, the Bodleian reached the £2.2 million needed to secure the archive after liasing with a dealer in New York, who was acting for the family. A large grant of £1.2 million from the National Heritage Memorial Fund gave the appeal a vital boost and there was also a gift of £200,000 from the Art Fund. Last spring, sixteen images by leading contemporary photographers were also donated for sale at Sotheby’s to support the campaign. Richard suggested that it would take several years to order the Fox Talbot archive - but it would forever provide a rich research recource in Oxford.. About 140 people attended Richard’s talk on a night with ferocious winds – and the heating system came into its own.

“Richard’s brilliantly lucid and informative talk provided a wonderful insight into the work of William Fox Talbot, who is perhaps not quite given the credit he deserves for transforming the way we see the world. To view early photographic images of well-known places in the 1840s – rather than paintings – was, indeed, remarkable. A fascinating start to what will probably be another peerless year of talks in Wootton – Adam Porter, London


Lone Droscher Nielsen, who has spoken on four occasions at the Wootton Talks about her orangutan rescue and rehabilitation centre in Indonesia, has been knighted and awarded the highest order in her native Denmark - the Knight of the Danish Flag - for her services to conservation.

Prince Henrik, husband of Queen Margrethe II, presented Lone with the award at an informal ceremony at the royal family's castle, near Copenhagen.

The Talks Team would like to congratulate Lone on this magnificent achievement in recognition of all her work saving the orangutan - and to again thank her for sharing her experiences with us in Wootton in recent years.

Lucy Hughes-Hallett

Friday February 6th 2015

Lucy is a cultural historian and author of The Pike, the smash-hit biography of the debauched Italian poet, daredevil and fascist Gabriele D’Annuzio, which won universal and unequivocal praise from reviewers and was garlanded with awards.

Last year, the book won the Samuel Johnson Prize and it was also given the 2013 Costa Book Award for biography, the Duff Cooper Prize, as well as being shortlisted for the Paddy Power Political biography of the Year. The Pike recounts how, in September 1919, D’Annunzio, a successful poet and occasional politician, declared himself Commandante of the city of Fiume in modern-day Croatia.

His intention was to establish a utopia based on his fascist and artistic ideals - and it proved the dramatic pinnacle to an outrageous career. D’Annunzio became a national hero and his evolution from idealist romantic to radical right-wing revolutionary is seen as a political parable. His ideological journey, culminating in the failure of the Fiume project, reflects the political turbulence of early 20th-century Europe and the emergence of fascism.

In The Pike, Lucy addresses the cult of nationalism and the origins of political extremism – and at the centre of the book stands the charismatic D’Annunzio - a figure as deplorable as he is fascinating.


Sunday Times - Hughes-Hallett has a great talent for encapsulating an era or an attitude …The fact that almost 700 pages flew by bears testimony to how pleasurable and readable those pages were.

Francis Wheen, Daily Mail - This is a magnificent portrait of a preposterous character … D’Annunzio was deplorable, brilliant, ludicrous, tragic but above all irresistible, as hundreds of women could testify. His biographer has done him full justice.

Daily Telegraph - Hughes-Hallett chooses not to judge, taking the position that disapproval is not an interesting response. Instead she teases apart the man from his self-made myth… She is never seduced by her subject, repeatedly reminding us of his fundamental lack of empathy, something elegantly encapsulated by the cover image itself: D’Annunzio mirrored, frozen in self-admiration.

Lucy is also the author of Cleopatra: Histories, Dreams and Distortions, which won both the Fawcett Prize and the Emily Toth Award. She also wrote the highly-praised Heroes: Saviours, Traitors and Supermen. Lucy has written book reviews for all the major newspapers, in particular The Sunday Times. She is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

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

Matthew Engel

Friday March 6th 2015

Matthew is leading journalist and author, renowned for his wit and perception, He worked on The Guardian newspaper for 24 years as both Cricket Correspondent and Feature Writer, before moving to the Financial Times, where he covers major stories, including the forthcoming General Election.

Matthew has written several well-received books and edited 12 of the 151 editions of Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack, the Bible of cricket.
His books include Tickle the Public, a much-praised history of the popular press, Extracts from the Red Notebooks and Eleven Minutes Late. In 2014, he also edited The Highlights - an anthology of the work of the late Frank Keating, the doyen of sports writers on The Guardian.

For Matthew’s talk in Wootton, his subject will be his latest book, called Engel’s England. It is a celebration of the remarkable and continuing distinctiveness of every part of England and is the product of a three-year journey through 39 counties and one capital - an average of just over one a month. “I never had a dull day, and I never met a county I didn’t love,” he says.

In 2010-11, Matthew was appointed Visiting Professor of Media at Oxford University, a post previously held by a succession of broadcasting stars and sponsored by Rupert Murdoch’s company, News International. This involved four lectures entitled “Please, mister, can we have our ball back? Sport, the media, and the people”.

The final lecture was a nuanced assessment of the extent of Rupert Murdoch’s then seemingly boundless power within sport. A few months later the phone-hacking scandal burst into public consciousness; his disgraced paper the News of the World closed down; and, amid much embarrassment, Matthew says Oxford University quietly failed to appoint anybody else to the media chair.

Matthew lives in Herefordshire with his wife, Hilary, daughter, Vika, and a lot of animals. His son, Laurie, died of cancer in 2005, aged 13. Since then, the LINK Laurie Engel Fund has raised £1.2million in his memory, first to build a new Teenage Cancer Trust unit, which opened to acclaim in 2010, and now to create a new ward that will enable the pre-teens to enjoy similar facilities. Of the thousands of articles Matthew has written, he says the best-remembered by far is the story of Laurie’s illness.

Matthew says that one of his ambitions is to see Northamptonshire win the Cricket County Championship. Or, failing that, for Northampton Town to return to the top division of English football, which they reached for a single season in 1965-66, before being relegated, rather unluckily. That year, they drew with Manchester United and Arsenal, and beat the then-mighty Leeds and Aston Villa, all of which Matthew saw, without quite believing it.

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

Jan Harlan

Friday March 27th 2015

“No artist – no art. No love – no quality.”

Jan is the brother-in-law of Stanley Kubrick, the celebrated film director, and worked as Kubrick’s executive producer and for Warner Bros on as series of landmark films - “Barry Lyndon”, “The Shining”, starring Jack Nicholson, “Full Metal Jacket” and “Eyes Wide Shut”, starring Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise.

Jan started out as Kubrick’s assistant on “A Clockwork Orange”, where he was able to observe close-up a highly self-critical filmmaker as he struggled to shift the magic from the page to the screen. Jan’s job was to deal with rights issues and music, although his duties later expanded to include negotiating rights and obtaining permissions, as well as finding and purchasing equipment and making deals.

Acquiring a 50mm f 0.7 lens, from Zeiss, for candle-lit photography, was just one of his many demanding tasks. The lens was originally developed for Nasa for satellite photography, although it could not really be used for filming for many reasons - one of which was its lack of depth of field at f 0.7. “But obstacles were never a good enough reason for Kubrick to abandon his goal,” reflects Jan.

After Kubrick’s death in 1999, Jan worked with Steven Spielberg on “A.I. Artificial Intelligence” and also made a documentary called: “Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures” .Later, also for Warner Bros, he made a documentary about the British actor, Malcolm McDowell. He also made movies with students filming musicians and also a film with an international youth orchestra, based around the Dvorak Cello Concerto, with Alexander Baillie.

Jan had started his professional life in pre-computer times with organisation systems in Frankfurt, Zurich and Vienna. In the early 1960s, he lived in New York and worked in stream-lining data processing operations and often met up with Stanley Kubrick, who had been married to his sister, Christiane, since 1958, after she appeared in Kubrick’s film, Paths of Glory.

”We shared many interests, but working for him was never a topic at that time, “ recalls Jan. It was some years later, in 1969, that Kubrick asked Jan to join him on his project making a film about Napoleon. Kubrick wanted to shoot parts of this film on location in Romania, where he would have had the national cavalry at his disposal to film various sections of the Napoleonic campaigns and battles.

Jan and his wife moved to England for the pre-production of this vast project, which was eventually abandoned by MGM, when another film on Napoleon, called “Waterloo” with Rod Steiger, went into production. Kubrick then invited Jan to stay on with him. “The prospect of getting involved in film-production with such a great teacher was, of course, most appealing”, he adds.

“Film-production is a logical manufacturing process. It needs an artist passionately in love with his vision to turn it into a work of art”. For his talk in Wootton, Jan will focus on two topics for aspiring film-makers with a lot of enthusiasm and little money – how sound-design can be used to effectively re-enforce the dramatic impact of images; and on the potential gains to be made by the young filmmaker by producing a “calling card” in the form of a short film on a limited budget..

In addition to lecturing at film schools and serving in juries at international competitions, Jan worked with the publisher, Taschen, on various publications and with the Film-Museum, in Frankfurt, and the University of the Arts London in connection with a large exhibition about the life and work of Stanley Kubrick.

This exhibition has been touring the world since 2004 and has been shown in Berlin, Melbourne, Rome, Paris, Amsterdam, Los Angeles, Sao Paulo and other cities and is currently in Toronto. In March 2015 it will travel to Mexico and will open in Seoul/Korea on 30th October 2015.

We are extremely grateful to Jan for donating his time. His talk will last well over an hour, with many illustrations, and it is particularly suited to those with a keen interest in the cinema

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

Bill Oddie

Friday April 17th 2015 (75th Talk)

Bill is known to millions as an ornithologist, conservationist and the presenter of wildlife programmes, such as Springwatch, Autumnwatch and Bill Oddie Goes Wild. He has also written numerous articles for specialist bird magazines, as well as many books, with some illustrated with his own paintings and drawings.

For his talk in Wootton, Bill will be discussing his latest book, called Bill Oddie Unplucked: Columns, Blogs and Musings, which is an expanded collection of his published musings about birds and bird-watching, and the wildlife he has seen on his travels over the years. It covers a wide range of subjects, from a less than satisfactory press trip to the Galapgaos in the 1980s to encounters with orcas in Argentina and Iceland and an invisible tiger in India.

Bill originally became famous as one of The Goodies comedy team in the 1970s, along with Tim Brooke-Taylor and Graeme Garden. At Cambridge, he wrote scripts for That Was The Week That Was and was later a key performer in the series, I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again, when many of his musical compositions were also featured.

On television Bill was a co-writer and performer in the comedy series, Twice a Fortnight with Graeme Garden, Terry Jones, Michael Palin and Jonathan Lynn. Later, as well as their comedy success, The Goodies also released records, including "Funky Gibbon" and "Black Pudding Bertha", which were hit singles in 1974–75. Bill also co-wrote many episodes of the television comedy series Doctor in the House.

Bill's highly successful nature programmes, often produced by Stephen Moss, also include Birding with Bill Oddie; Britain Goes Wild and The Great Kenyan Bird Safari. On its first evening of broadcast in 2004, Britain Goes Wild set a record for its time-slot on BBC Two of 3.4 million viewers, whilst Springwatch, with Kate Humble, later became a wildlife broadcasting phenomenon, attracting up to 5 million viewers.

Bill is a former council member of the RSPB and is a vice-president of the League Against Cruel Sports. In 2011, Bill featured as an investigator in Snares Uncovered - Killers in the Countryside. The film, commissioned by animal protection charity, OneKind, carried out an expose of snaring in Scotland and, during the investigation, Bill discovered over 70 snare traps.


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


OX20 1DZ

John Lloyd & John Mitchinson Talk, Summer 2009

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Ashmolean Museum

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