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 Tom Heap Talk

The Tom Heap Talk

Reporting these days on the major issues affecting the environment is so often skewed in favour of a pre-determined agenda - whether it be the existence of climate change, nuclear power or farming. And so it was both enlightening and encouraging to hear Tom Heap, one of the presenters on BBC Countryfile, give such a fair-minded assessment of a wide range of issues during his illuminating talk on March 3rd.

Countryfile now attracts audiences of five to nine million on a Sunday evening, making it Britain's most popular factual programme. Under various BBC guidelines, it is imperative for presenters to offer a balanced assessment on any given topic, but Tom also suggested that stories about the environment need not always be doom and gloom - highlighting the impressive resurgence of several species of bird (including raptors and the highly successful reintroduction of red kites in Oxfordshire), as well as an increase in the number of wild animals, such as badgers and beavers.

Even with the BBC's requirement to be impartial, Tom was keen to point out that there are, indeed, often two valid sides to many environmental issues - such as wind-turbines, which he said might not look out of place in certain locations, and where the up-side is the production of clean energy. Equally, opponents of some intense farming activities might also give weight to the argument that consumers are now used to buying cheaper food - often, in part, the result of some farming methods.

Tom also ventured into the uncertain world of farming in the UK, post-Brexit, and detailed his experiences in Sussex - where he had been filming for Countryfile before dashing to Wootton. There, he had spoken with horticultural farmers who rely very heavily on migrant labour to pick their crops and, without them, a great deal would stay in the ground and rot. With the best will in the world, the farmers had told him that British workers simply often don't have the same commitment and aptitude to work long hours in the fields - and the future is deeply unclear, if migrant-workers were no longer allowed to come and work in the UK.

For his appearance in Wootton, Tom was in conversation with Susanna Spicer, a classical singer of great renown who has been to several talks over the years and, indeed, is Tom's cousin. They spoke about Tom's early career in broadcasting, working as a junior on the Today programme (including covering one story in Blackpool with Sue MacGregor when they stumbled, to slight embarrassment, on a piece of rock in a novelty-shop, shaped like a male appendage). He later became the BBC's rural affairs correspondent before joining Countryfile, where he concentrates on the more journalistic investigations, unearthing key details within important current stories.

At the same time, Tom is the main presenter of Costing the Earth on Radio 4 (the country's only dedicated environment series), which has taken him around the world, although Tom pointed out that he often covers several stories for other programmes in any one far-flung country - to ensure licence-payers' money is spent efficiently. Over the years, Tom has also reported for several editions of Panorama, where he has investigated areas such energy, farming, food and wildlife - and where his own input can be even greater than on Countryfile, where a team of researchers, based in Bristol, can sometimes play a significant part in the coverage of a story.

Along with the other presenters, Tom appeared at Countryfile Live at Blenheim Palace last summer, when thousands descended to catch a glimpse of the stars. The event is due to be repeated at Blenheim for three days in August, with Tom apologising in advance for any possible congestion, although he remained hopeful that Thames Valley Police had a comprehensive plan to deal with the traffic. Nearly 130 people listened to Tom's fascinating conversation with Susanna - conducted in front of Marlene Fisher's wonderful backdrop featuring meadows in Wootton and other iconic landmarks in the village....and which Tom had much admired.

"It was a delight to be in the company of such an accomplished broadcast journalist as Tom - in particular because he had none of the starry elements so often associated with people appearing on television. He gave a very fair-minded view on several key environmental issues but he wasn't averse to providing some personal opinions - and we came away thinking that, despite current and future problems with the countryside and environment as a whole, there is probably far more positive news available than might be assumed through simply reading newspapers and magazines - Brian Loughlin, Bicester


Friday March 31st 2017.

John is the BBC World Affairs Editor and has spent all his working life with the corporation, reporting from over 120 countries, including 30 war zones and he has interviewed many world leaders.

John read English at Magdalene College, Cambridge, and his first job in 1966 was as a trainee sub-editor on BBC radio news. He later became a reporter and, on his first day, the former Prime Minister Harold Wilson punched him in the stomach for what he saw as the sudden and impudent appearance of the novice's microphone.

John later became the BBC's political editor in 1980–81 and also presented The Nine O'clock News before becoming Diplomatic Editor in 1982. He had also served as a correspondent in South Africa, Brussels and Dublin and became BBC World Affairs Editor in 1988 and presented an occasional current affairs programme, called Simpson's World.

John's remarkable reporting career has included many landmark events:

  • He travelled back from Paris to Tehran with the exiled Ayatollah Khomeini on 1st February 1979 - a return that heralded the Iranian Revolution as millions lined the streets of the capital.
  • In 1989 he avoided bullets at the Beijing Tianamen Square massacre and, later that year, reported on the fall of the Ceausescu regime in Bucharest.
  • John spent the early part of the 1991 Gulf War in Baghdad before being expelled by the authorities.

  • He reported from Belgrade during the Kosovo War of 1999, where he was one of a handful of journalists to remain in the Yugoslav capital after the authorities had expelled those from Nato countries at the start of the conflict.
  • Two years later, in 2001, John was one of the first reporters to enter Afghanistan, famously disguising himself by wearing a burqa, and subsequently Kabul in the US-led invasion of Afghanistan.
  • While reporting on a non-embedded basis from Northern Iraq in the 2003 Iraq war, John was injured in a friendly-fire incident when a US warplane bombed the convoy of American and Kurdish forces with which he was travelling. The attack was caught on film - a member of John's crew was killed and he himself was left deaf in one ear.
  • During the 2011 Libyan civil war, John travelled with the rebels during their westward offensive, reporting on the war from the front lines and coming under fire on several occasions.
  • In December 2016, he presented a Panorama special, called John Simpson: 50 Years on the Frontline, revisiting the people and places that have had most impact on him.

    John has received numerous awards and also published a dozen books chronicling his remarkable career, including his most recent book, called We Chose to Speak of War and Strife: The World of the Foreign Correspondent, which will be available for sale and signing at his talk in Wootton.

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


    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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