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.

Forthcoming Speakers:
Matthew Engel  Jan Harlan  Wootton TED-Style Talk

The Lucy Hughes-Hallett Talk

The Lucy Hughes-Hallett Talk
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.

In her riveting talk on February 6th, Lucy fleshed out his extraordinary life as a poet, playwright, early pioneer of aviation, army officer, rabid nationalist – and who, through bragging and bluster, forged an international reputation for notoriety. He was also a major poet-seducer of women on a par with Lord Byron and many of his conquests were driven to despair and insanity following their inevitable rejection.

From an early age, Lucy told us, d’Annunzio was a prolific writer, publishing his first series of poems at the age of 16. However, his talent for self-promotion was evident the following year - just as an expanded second edition was about to be published – when a newspaper in Florence received a postcard saying d’Annunzio had fallen off his horse and died. The news was reported all over Italy, but it was not remotely true – it turned out that d’Annunzio has sent the postcard himself.

It was the start of an extraordinary career, writing more poetry, journalism and novels, as well as spending extravagantly (his father was a landowning wine merchant). He had a love of exotic interior design, regardless of whether he could afford it, and his writing co-existed with his relentless thrill-seeking, such as horse-rising, fox-hunting, flying – and the determined pursuit of women. By all accounts, he was not conventionally good-looking, with one description of him as a “frightful gnome with red-rimmed eyes, no eye-lashes, no hair, greenish teeth and bad breath” – but countless women found his voice irresistible, said Lucy.

As a measure of his daring-do, d’Annunzio took off from Venice in May 1915 on board a plane bound for Trieste – then still part of the Austro-Hungarian empire – with a young pilot and a cargo of bombs of propaganda. They came under fire near Trieste and d’Annunzio dropped bombs on Austrian submarines, as well as pamphlets he had written himself. One of the bombs even became stuck but – somehow – d’Annunzio managed to push it overboard and he returned home in triumph, setting out in a new role as a national hero.

Italy declared war on Austro-Hungary in May 1915 and the following three years of slaughter did nothing to dent his enthusiasm for war. D’Annunzio lost many friends, as well as an eye when his plane was shot down, but after the armistice, Lucy told us how he led a small rag-tag army of irregulars and mutineers into the disputed city of Fiume – and set himself up as its dictator. He reigned for 15 months as its “Duce”, until the Italian navy forced him out.

In 1921, d’Annunzio moved to a stylish villa above Lake Garda, living as a semi-recluse in a house designed as his personal shine, largely funded by the Fascist government to keep him out of the way – and he was still immersed in the pursuit of cocaine, interior design and women until his death in 1924. Few of d’Annunzio’s books are read widely today and he is largely forgotten, even in Italy, but, even though it may be hard to admire him, Lucy suggested that he was still an extraordinary man.

“Perhaps not many of us knew a great deal about Gabriele d’Annunzio, but Lucy’s crisp and captivating talk – given without a single note – fleshed out a man who was clearly exceptional, although hardly sympathetic. She brought him to life, leaving many of us with the feeling that it would have been interesting to have met him – and perhaps hear if it was all true about his mesmeric voice – Lynda Griffin, Banbury

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


Friday April 17th 2015 (The 75th Talk)

(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 speakers will present talks on another wide range of topics.


Trudie lives in Wootton and is Professor of Global Health Research within the Nuffield Department of Medicine at Oxford University and Director of the Global Health Network. She has worked in clinical trials for over twenty years within in the pharmaceutical industry, the World Health Organisation and academia.

At Oxford University, she developed wide-ranging expertise in running trials in regions of the world where evidence is lacking to drive improvements in health. She has set up a clinical trial facility in Kenya to focus on developing local research skills and, more recently, she devised and set up Global Health Trials – an online, research-led, facility to support and guide research teams in setting up studies combating disease such as malaria, neglected tropical diseases and maternal health issues.

This later evolved into the Global Health Network – a “virtual science park”, which hosts over 30 international collaborations across varied diseases and which aims to drive medical research by sharing knowledge, research tools and methods. Trudie often features on radio and television, including the BBC’s Newsnight and the Today programme to explain the latest research responding to life-threatening diseases, such as the recent outbreak of ebola in West Africa.

Trudie’s talk is called: ”From malaria to ebola: difficult research in difficult places”


Arthur lives in Wootton and is a world authority on Japanese affairs. He was Nissan Professor of Modern Japanese Studies and Director of the Nissan Institute of Japanese Studies, based at St Antony’s College, within Oxford University.

Arthur took his first degree in politics, philosophy and economics at Oxford and, later, a doctorate in international relations from the Australian National University, in Canberra. His interest in Japan first emerged after he went to the ANU as a graduate student in 1960. While initially working on Soviet foreign policy in Asia, he encountered Japan, began learning Japanese and read all he could find on that country, focusing on its politics and foreign policy. He spent 15 months in Tokyo, where he researched a PhD thesis on the foreign policies of the Japan Socialist Party, the main opposition party at that time, which advocated non-alignment (also called neutralism), and opposed the security pact with the United States, which had come into force at the end of the Allied Occupation in 1952.

After gaining his doctorate, he joined the ANU Department of Political Science and taught courses on Japanese politics and foreign policy, among other topics, until he moved back to Oxford in 1982.

Arthur’s talk is called: "Will Japan and China go to war?"


Jonathan lives in Wootton and is a leading international expert in the study of the retail sector. He is Associate Professor in Retail Marketing and Associate Dean of Degree Programmes at the Saïd Business School, in Oxford, and a Governing Body Fellow of Green Templeton College.

Jonathan is particularly renowned for his work on the effects of the Internet on consumer behaviour and its implications for future patterns of shopping, whilst his research also extends into innovation, entrepreneurship and retail planning and development. He is a founding member of the Oxford Institute of Retail Management, and has been its Academic Director since 1999.

Jonathan read Geography at Oxford University and later took a PhD at the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. He returned to Oxford in 1985 to work on research for Tesco on the application of new forms of technology and e-commerce, following a post at the University of Edinburgh as Research Fellow for the Coca-Cola Retail Research Foundation.

Jonathan’s talk is called: “I shop therefore I am: why we need shops"

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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